Week 5: An Enlightening Walk in Westwood

For this assignment, I took a walk around Westwood near the ice cream shop Saffron & Rose. The farther I walked from the shopping center, the closer I got to a residential neighborhood, and in that neighborhood was more nature compared to the shopping center.


My sound recording process was that I used the Voice Memo app on my phone to record the surrounding sounds as I was walking. Why I decided to capture the sound of a shopping center/residential area in Westwood is because I wanted to investigate what is already familiar and investigate if there is anything in the audio that surprises me with their presence. 


Usually when I take walks in urban settings, I only hear cars and people. Listening back to my soundscape, I was surprised to hear multiple birds. It is interesting that my brain usually ignores these background noises. My brain must be programmed to think that car and people are most important because their volume is the greatest, and they are essentially the only thing I see. I do not see any birds when I walk, hence I don’t usually notice them even though they are evidently chirping in the background.


As Bernie Krause stated in his TED Talk, every living thing has a sound signature, even ants. 


The soundscape I picked up from my walk reminded me of Krause’s Amazon rainforest soundscape. His soundscape consisted of many layers, and so did my audio file. There were birds chirping, people talking in the background, people closing car doors, cars driving all at the same time, layered on top of my footsteps and occasional leaves crunching. 


In his TED Talk, Krause mentions, “Tropical rainforests each produce a vibrant animal orchestra, that instantaneously organized the expression of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. And every soundscape that springs from a wild habitat generates its own unique signature, one that contains an incredible amount of information” (Krause).


I feel that Krause’s statement about wild habitats can also apply to the urban habitat which I captured a soundscape of. Any soundscape that springs from an urban habitat generates its own unique informational signature. 


However, at the same time, what Krause opened my eyes to is the sad reality of habitat destruction. In my soundscape, there was a lot more urban, human noise compared to biophony. This is because humans dominate the world and every day we kill more animals by reducing their habitat, such as polluting the ocean or cutting down trees. I imagine that even if I went to a dense forest to record my soundscape, although I would hear a lot of birds and more animals, the biophony would have been significantly less rich compared to soundscapes captured in the past, because animals have lost a great amount of natural habitat since then.


As we learned in lecture, sound is more than what meets the ear. It can influence what we see and feel as well. For example, we viewed the video where sound waves can manipulate sand and create beautiful designs. Not only were the visuals beautiful, but the music was meditative and had calming effects. I also learned in lecture that many sound waves are constantly traveling toward and through us, in our rooms and in classrooms. We just don’t notice because the sound waves are invisible. Radio waves reach us from far away and can penetrate walls and mountains. Sound waves from our electronic devices such as phones and televisions are constantly traveling through us. The presentation opened my eyes to the fact that there is still a lot that I don’t know about sound and the effects it has on us and objects. It was a privilege to learn about the many aspects of sound and I would love to learn more on my own.