Why study sound? And who studies sound? Historians, geographers, scientists, conservationists, and architects do. Historians think about how the past sounded. Geographers consider how sounds define a sense of place. Scientists and conservationists study the effects of noise pollution on birds, whales, and other animals, and on human health. Architects think about the acoustics of buildings--to protect people from hearing too much noise or to allow them to hear music better.
In this activity, you will record a soundscape of your home or neighborhood. You will practice listening, investigate how sound can invite a deeper understanding of the past, and gain insight into the impacts of human behavior and technology on the natural world.
- Digital archive: an online collection of born-digital or digitized archival items; also a crowdsourced collection of materials documenting a particular topic or event
- Noise pollution: any unwanted or disturbing sound that affects the health and well-being of humans and other organisms
- Soundscape: an atmosphere or environment created by or with sound
- Soundmark: a sound that makes the soundscape of a certain place different from any other place
Step 1: Introducing Sound
How did you wake up this morning? Was it a noise that woke you up?
Here are three different types of “alarms” that people have used over the years in order to wake up:
- Rooster crowing: https://freesound.org/people/Lydmakeren/sounds/510906/
- Old-fashioned wind-up alarm clock: https://freesound.org/people/joedeshon/sounds/78562/
- Cell phone alarm
What could these different alarms tell you about a person’s life? Would someone who is living in a city wake up to a rooster? Would your parents have woken up to a cell phone alarm?
What other sounds might have been different in your parents’ day or grandparents’ day?
Step 2: Listening to Your Environment
Sit quietly with their eyes closed and listen closely to your environment.
- What do you hear?
- Can you distinguish between natural sounds and human-produced sounds?
- Is there a difference between sound and noise?
If you would like to learn more about noise pollution see the Noise Pollution encyclopedic entry from National Geographic's Resource Library and Effects of Noise on Wildlife from the US National Park Service.
Step 3: Recording a Soundscape
This example of a soundscape was submitted by a community member to Portland Public Library’s digital archive:
What do you hear? Do you think the sounds of this neighborhood would have been different before the pandemic?
Now it's time to create your own soundscape. You can create an original sound recording using a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Alternatively, you can create a word list of the sounds you hear around you.
- What did you learn by listening to your environment?
- Can you identify any soundmarks that make your home or neighborhood unique?
- How do you think sounds in your home or neighborhood have changed since March of 2020?
Give your soundscape a title, and identify the location, date, and time of day of the recording. This information will help researchers find and make use of their soundscape in the future!
If you'd like, share your soundscape with your local Maine Contemporary Archives project. (Use this list to find a participating library near you.) Each project has its own Terms and Conditions for contributions; get in touch if you have any questions!
National Archives: Analyze a Sound Recording
Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage: The Sound of Life: What Is a Soundscape?
US National Park Service: Effects of Noise on Wildlife