Acoustic Fabrics: Threads from the Narragansett Bay

Research studio @ RISD Digital + Media, Fall 2021
Multimedia installation @ RISD Nature Lab, December 2021

Solo Project

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Soundscape ecology, or the study of the acoustic relationships between living beings and their environment, teaches us the importance of ambient sound and distinguishing sound from noise. A soundscape is characterized by three types of sound: biophony (sounds from biological sources), geophony (sounds from geological or geophysical sources), and anthrophony (sounds generated by humans). Soundscapes that are dominated by anthrophony are full of auditory clutter, a tangled knot of overlapping noises. Within natural ecosystems is a symphony of biophony and geophony that exists as an articulate conversation. Each species vocalizes at a specific frequency or pitch so as to intelligibly communicate and avoid overlapping with other species' voices, theorized as the acoustic niche hypothesis. As in orchestras, where each instrument plays a unique component of a broader whole, these bio-acoustic niches co-exist in harmony.

These natural orchestrations create a vibrant acoustic fabric that indicates biodiversity and ecosystem health. Absent human noise, natural soundscapes are a different kind of quiet that urges tuning in rather than tuning out, as we are inclined to do with our phones' silent mode, noise-canceling headphones, or white noise machines.

This piece invites you to take the role of conductor of this orchestra of natural and human-produced sounds collected at different sites along the Narragansett Bay. Play around and experiment. Change the volume of different sound snippets and listen, watch for bio-acoustic niches and how they may be affected by the presence of anthrophonic sounds.

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