This collection aims to explore a series of questions regarding the relationship between sound and the commercial world. How and why does sound change in different types of commercial spaces? How do those sounds shape the consumers’ experiences? In turn, how do consumers contribute to the soundscape?
Commercial can be defined as, “Engaged in commerce; trading.” Oberlin’s commercial district, while virtually limited to two intersections, shows a great variety of goods and services. This diversity of goods and services effectively represents the eclectic nature and tastes of the Oberlin student body and greater Oberlin community. Although this exhibit was compiled by Oberlin students, and includes sounds from in and around Oberlin, the variation in constructed commercial soundscapes can be applied universally.
The soundscapes of different commercial spaces vary depending on the targeted consumer base, as well as the nature of the goods offered. For instance, the soundscape of a convenience store is characterized by audible chatter, shuffling of products on shelves and the high-pitched beep of the barcode scanner at checkout. However, the sounds experienced in a pottery gallery might include soft music and the gentle hum of a pottery wheel.
Specific commercial environments encourage differing types of consumer behavior. Oberlin’s Slow Train Cafe’s welcoming aesthetic, created by its plush cushions and well-worn stacks of board games, facilitates social interaction, which in turn helps to define its soundscape. Physical attributes of a commercial space signal to its customers the appropriate way to behave and, therefore, the amount, type and volume of sound that is acceptable. In this way, the soundscape of commercial spaces is created through interaction between establishment and patron.
Sound is a powerful tool for those who shape the commercial world. It can be used to create a social environment that encourages interaction over warm drinks, or a calm, relaxing one that promotes quiet appreciation and potential purchase of art. Ultimately, these soundscapes are able to manipulate consumers into engaging with the commercial space and make purchases.
This is a recording of the general noises heard during checkout at a grocery store, with the beep of the scanner as it scans the barcode being the most prevalent one heard. Barcode scanners revolutionized the supermarket business. Prior to their advent, the only way to take inventory at any grocery store was to shut the store down and manually count products. Furthermore, checking out was often a long and monotonous process because each purchase had to be manually entered by a cashier. Although the barcode was envisioned as a solution to this problem as early as 1948, it was not brought to a real grocery chain until 1972. It quickly became clear that barcode scanners made maintaining inventories easier and more accurate, and kept grocery lines shorter. Nowadays, the supermarket depends on the barcode, and the high-pitched beep of the scanner is a part of the consumer’s everyday experience.
Rebecca Webb Carranza was the first person to begin manufacturing the now familiar triangle shaped tortilla chips in the 1940s. Tortilla chips are very brittle, so they are quite loud when they are broken.Their iconic crunching sound invokes a feeling of leisure and relaxation, as tortilla chips are a common snack food. This sound was made by Youtube user LovelySoundsASMR for her video Super Tingly Crinkly Bag & Eating Sounds - Crispy Tortilla Chips | ASMR | No Talking. This sound was chosen to represent a very common sonic phenomenon present in Agave, Oberlin’s popular Mexican cuisine restaurant. Agave is a commonly thriving social space late at night on the weekend, as it is the last place open in town.
This MP3 file contains a recording of the ambient noise of a restaurant/bar full of customers. The sound was made through a high quality recording device, as can be determined by the crisp and clear sonic nature of the file. The sound, in terms of history, is reminiscent of the millennia of restaurants, bars, pubs, and inns which would have had similar soundscapes. The sound is made due to human nature which entails discussion amongst fellow humans, creating a “full” soundscape, as people strive to be heard. In general this clip is an excellent reflection of that social nature that makes us as humans who we are. We do not simply eat and drink in silence; we are naturally prone to interacting with each other.
This sound was recorded as I crossed the street to, and entered, a small gallery in Oberlin. It represents the auditory transition from outdoors to indoors, and from public to private space. A car can be heard driving by, but the most prominent sound is that of the door entrance chime. This is a sound familiar to the consumer, particularly to those who frequent smaller, independent stores. The chime is generally used as an indicator to the manager or the sales assistant that a potential customer has just entered the store. For the consumer, a greeting and an offer of assistance typically follow it. Thus, the chime works to make the customer an active participant in the environment and soundscape of the establishment.
The DeCafe is a popular spot at Oberlin College, due to its central location on campus and the variety of products it sells. Besides selling some grocery items, it also offers coffee, a deli and a make-your-own smoothie station. A section of tables allow customers to eat, socialize and study. Students come and go all day, to grab a snack between classes or sit down to lunch with friends. The DeCafe presents an interesting overlap between the commercial and the institutional, in that it is managed by the college, so any money spent there is channeled back into the school. In this recording, a customized smoothie is blended, while indistinct chatter can be heard in the background.
Oberlin College provides Oberlin students and Oberlin residents with its own attempt of Craigslist, titled Oberlin Classifieds. Like Craigslist, this website provides a space for students and residents to list goods and services they are selling. When posting a good or service, sellers are prompted to provide an email address and/or a phone number where they can be contacted by potential customers. Oberlin Classifieds is unusual because, unlike other commercial spaces at Oberlin, there is no physical space that it occupies. I wanted to highlight this commercial irregularity, so I recorded a common part of Oberlin Classifieds transactions, the text message. Text messages are used by customers to reach out to sellers, to ask questions about the good or service being sold, and then to confirm or deny the interest of purchase by the customer.
Since 2002 Oberlin has had Infinite Monkey, a game and comic book shop. Game shops are unusual commercial spaces. Unlike most stores, customers are not expected to buy a product when entering. Game shops often act as social spaces, and many costumers use the shops simply as a spot to play games with other game enthusiasts. I wanted to capture the relaxed nature of Infinite Monkey, so I recorded a customer, sitting at one of the many tables within Infinite Monkey, sorting through Magic: The Gathering cards. The calming sounds of Oberlin combined with the quiet rustling and snapping of cards creates a laid back sonic environment not present in many other commercial spaces.