When working towards breaking the human/nature dichotomy, water is a natural commonality between the two. Over our long history, Humanity has been constantly taking not just water, but all kinds of elements of nature and manipulated them to be of use to us. We see water everywhere. It is used for us to clean ourselves, for watering lawns, and most importantly, for consumption. Humans ourselves are even made up of mostly water. Water is one of many key elements of nature that we can look at to understand the relationship between the natural world and humanity. This sub-exhibit showcases sounds of water from different perspectives, locations, and forms of movement.
This audio file was recorded above the lake grate on Furman University’s campus. When I think about lake noises, the sound I collected is not the first that enters my head. Rather, my brain generally envisions water lapping the shore or the sound of wind causing small waves. I was walking around the lake when I discovered this new sound-- something akin to a rushing waterfall. As I walked closer to the grate drain with a sign in front of it that said, “STAY AWAY FROM GRATE,” I peered down into a twenty foot drop-off where water was rushing from the lake to a new location. I didn’t quite understand where that water was going, but I enjoyed the calming sound of water in movement.
While the sound of water leaving a lake is generally not considered a typical “lake sound,” it is a part of the soundscape. Stefan Helmreich articulates that, “soundscapes might be judged by the extent to which “noise” … [has] been exiled” (Helmreich, 2010, p.10). This sound recording might be considered a sound that falls under the category of background noise-- a sound that doesn’t hold much significance. While categorizing sounds helps us better comprehend them, separating them isolates their interconnected meanings. If it were not for the grate drain that the lake water moves into, multiple subjects around the lake would be affected. Because of the guided water flow, the drain prevents water from over-collecting in the soil. Plants therefore do not receive too much water and additional wildlife is protected from flooding. Eidsheim wrote, “I believe that how we think about sound matters… if we reduce and limit the world we inhabit, we reduce and limit ourselves” (Eidsheim, 2015, p.3). If the importance of sounds heard anywhere in a soundscape are not contemplated, people will naturally limit their understandings of the world around them.
When I set out to find a lake water sound, I didn’t think I would end up recording a sound that is not a natural occuring sound in lakes. After learning more about the grate drain’s role in supporting the lake’s ecosystem and environment, I discovered the larger import of this sound. I then began to contemplate the deep interconnections between the biosphere and human-made structures-- such as the lake’s grate drain. Without considering this nexus of purposes and roles between all things, humanity misses an integral concept: humanity and nature are not separate. By isolating these two terms, we limit our capacity to understand them to their fullest. Understanding their meanings separately hides the deepest understanding of all-- that all things are connected. Viewing life through this lens, we then also limit our understanding of not just the world around us, but ourselves. Every second humans are making sound as is nature and thousands of other organisms. A dichotomy between the two serves no purpose for neither humanity or nature. Therefore, sounds like this are important to ponder in order to avoid a limited perspective on the world and its interconnections between all things.
Have you ever thought about what fish hear? If you’ve ever swam underwater you know what being underwater sounds like but more than likely you weren't able to be under the surface long enough, without disturbing the ecosystem’s sounds, to really hear what fish hear. Some may say that just like a tree falling in a forest when no one is around, trying to hear vibrations underwater such as fish may doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. However, as Nina Eidsheim points out “how we think about sound matters” (Eidsheim, 2015, p. 3). Every being is affected by the aspects of the environment they live in somehow which includes the sounds in said environment. So in this case we should not only think about the sounds or vibrations in terms of being sounds of vibrations but also in terms of what that means to the ecosystem experiencing the sounds. This recording was created in an attempt to think about the sounds fish live in. It was taken right outside The David E. Shi Center for Sustainability in the Koi pond. You are able to hear the vibrations created by someone walking along the path there as well as the brief sound of a fish.
I found myself unable to pass up what I was hearing- I had to stop and record it. The water bubbling over the rocks and dancing with itself created one of the most tranquil sounds I had ever heard. The Middle Saluda River runs through Jones Gap State Park about 30 minutes outside of Greenville, South Carolina. This quaint little river, almost even a stream, brought me back to my childhood when my parents would play recordings of rain and running water to calm my screaming, infant self. Many people speak fondly of rain on a metal roof or the soothing sounds of waves splashing rhythmically on a beach, but don’t think any further than what they personally are gaining from being where they are. The waves splashing on a beach are an aural reminder of the effects the wind and atmosphere are having on the water. In the case of the Middle Saluda River, the sound of water flowing over the rocks is an aural reminder of how nature, represented by the water, has to constantly grow, move, and modify itself in order to survive and continue existing around the anthropocene, which is represented by the rocks. As Guha discusses in “Radical American Environmentalism,” the idea of unspoilt nature is built upon perfection being the same as untouched by humanity(Guha, 1989, p. 236). However, humanity’s influence on the natural world doesn’t necessarily have to be negative. I argue that this sound of water flowing over rocks is symbolic of how nature and humanity can come together to form something that is deemed as calming, maybe even therapeutic, and something that harms neither nature nor humanity.
Fishing can be a relaxing pastime, it allows one to escape from the stress and bustle of everyday life. This sound was recorded at a private pond in Greenville, SC that has been managed for 30 years by the owners and their family. While some view fishing as unnecessary removal of living beings from their natural habitat, there is another side to the story. If there are too many fish in a pond or lake, the smaller fish end up eating all of the food and the larger fish die. By removing some of the smaller fish, the others are allowed to healthily grow and mature. These practices, often referred to as “population control” are in fact ethical practices to improve the overall quality of life for the other fish in the pond. This is an example of the problems caused by overpopulation. Hunting whitetail deer is also an example of population management practices. These practices are necessary because bass and whitetail deer have no natural predators in their environments. When populations grow to be too large and consume too many resources, the populations must decrease due to starvation and lack of habitat and available resources. In Radical American Environmentalism, Guha discusses Project Tiger, an effort to renew the native tiger population in India that displaced numerous local villages and their inhabitants (Guha 1989 p. 235). This is making a statement about the limited resources and space for habitats that are currently available as a result of burgeoning populations and past patterns of misuses of resources and the habitats they are extracted from.
One day I was outside in my backyard and I had just finished helping my dad with some pretty tough yard work. It was a pretty typical Spring day for the area: cool and windy. Due to the vast array of seasonal changes taking place, I was oddly more aware of the ecoacoustics around me. The grass was blowing in the wind, the birds were chirping with glee, and the nearby stream was flowing magnificently. However the sound that caught my ears was that of the garden hose that had been left lying in the grass. After having heard this sound many times before over my lifetime, I was surprised at how firmly it suddenly grasped my attention. Only this time it was so intriguing I felt like I would be unable to stop listening to it. The water was gushing from the opening of the hose into the light green grass and the lava rock next to it. The sounds as the rocks absorbed the water were especially captivating. I felt like this was the time to record this phenomenon. This was something that I felt was more than just the simplified definition of sound that we are so familiar with, it was something more than that and I wanted to find out what that was. As the professor Nina Eidsheim wrote in “Sensing Sound,” this “scene deserves a ‘thick description’ so that we can begin to tease out its intent and the meaning involved” (Eidsheim, 2015, p.1). This was something of an experience for me, one in which I realized had enlightened me in a way that actually surprised me. It made me realize that sound is not just vibrations that travel through the air, that it is in fact a part of what we see as the world around us. After all, it was Tim Ingold who wrote, “sound, in my view, is neither mental nor material, but a phenomenon of experience - that is, of our immersion in, and commingling with, the world in which we find ourselves” (Ingold, 2007, p.2).