There is no human/nature dichotomy. Humans and nature coexist and are irrevocably intertwined-- they cannot exist exclusively of each other. Sometimes, however, we as humans manipulate nature for our own pleasure. This exhibit aims to illustrate how humans create disharmony in our relationship with nature, often without even realizing it. Each recording featured in this exhibit is of a sound that we as humans cannot help but create by simply living our everyday lives. Some of these actions may seem harmless at face value, but when we look more closely into the deeper implications, we can recognize the extent of our disruption of the natural world. This sub exhibit aims to challenge our perspective on how humanity interacts with nature and force us to remember that even our smallest daily activities leave a considerable impact on our surrounding environment.
This is an audio recording of a Furman student walking through the tall grasses outside of North Village Housing on campus. This was recorded with an iPhone X. The grass is just at the bottom of the Building D apartment and lines the walkway to the parking lot. The student was walking through the grass to cut across the field to get to her car. The grass is long, dry and could be considered inconvenient for a student’s pathway to their car. Although this grass is used to provide a scenic view into the building, it is often seen as a disturbance. It’s natural purpose is not even considered in this situation, and therefore it's seen as unvaluable in that sense. This nature has become commodified and, for the most part, it's only value placed on these grasses by humans is that it is prettier than the ugly gravel underneath.
This human action reminded me of Thoreau’s recollection of walking as an art form; something that must be done to keep healthy and appreciate the world around us (Thoreau; 1862; 205). He considers it healing and a necessity. He also writes; “All good things are wild and free” (Thoreau, 1862; 234). We have discussed how wilderness is at times idealized, but there is no untouched land left on this Earth. The serene wilderness technically no longer exists. Instead, we have industrialized parking lots and housing for college students and more spread across the planet. This reminds me of of Rupi Kaur’s poem in “The Sun and Her Flowers”;
Look at what they’ve done
The earth cried to the moon
They’ve turned me into one entire bruise
-Green and blue
(Kaur; 2017; 120)
As we look around, we see transformed land that used to be completely untouched. Today, many humans believe they are entitled to do what they please with the land surrounding them. As Kaur writes, we are slowly but surely bruising the Earth. The wilderness that was so desirable is now impossible to find. This is why this sound falls under the dissonant category, as for humans to avoid intruding the landscape is merely impossible. The plants are seemingly only valued for decoration.
This recording is an auditory example of interference between humans and nature. Since the creation of man, the dichotomy between human beings and the natural world has been present. As time passes and the humanity evolves, the dichotomy grows more evident. In this recording you will hear the sound of fallen branches being manipulated by a person’s hands. Standing on the side of the James B. Dukes library, on Furman University’s campus, I recorded the sound of a person bending bits and pieces of branches that fell from the trees that are planted along the side of the library. Due to the brittle condition of the already dead branches, many can be heard as they break or snap. As I recorded this sound I thought about trees, when left in their natural habitat, are resilient and strong, with deep roots that sustain them for many years. These attributes remind me of the poem, “One Tree” as it reads, “One tree stretched tall, its branches high/and stiffly they, of movement none/stood true and straight, their course to run.” (Northover). I thought back to the hurricane that affected campus in the previous semester (Fall 2017) and how it caused many decent sized trees to fall around campus. Although the hurricane brought those trees down, it was not because the tree grew weak or damaged, it was because the ground which surrounded the roots of the tree became undurable and unable to bear the tree’s strength. The majority of trees around campus have been strategically placed for aesthetic appeal, but are still important to the biotic community. No matter the type of tree, each one is indispensable to the world in which we live, as it not only produces oxygen, but also gives society something to marvel and occasionally utilize. For example, many students on Furman’s campus utilize the sturdy structure of the trees to set up their Eno hammocks for their enjoyment. Trees are a vital piece of our ecosystem and are greatly depreciated with all the ways humanity relies on trees to sustain the world. To think of how easy it was for the small brittle branches to be bent and broken with such little force of hand when it came from such a deep rooted tree that withstood countless years of growth and exposure to nature itself, as well as mankind’s destructive and impactful devices.
This recording of lake water and chirping crickets was taken in the evening at Furman University’s lake. These sounds are not necessarily unique to this setting as they occur across the globe in similar atmospheres; however, some may say the Furman campus makes these sounds more magical than hearing them elsewhere. These sounds are commonly associated with quiet, calm, stillness, and peace; yet the question stands: ‘why?’. Who decided the natural phenomena of cricket chirps and lake water were/are fixed into a mental schema that is more or less concrete? This kind of thinking may be the result of an anthropomorphized world, where humans have laid claim to determining the function of natural processes for the benefit of themselves. The reality is that humans maintain a natural instinct to ascribe/categorize things in a manner that is manageable for them to understand and synthesize information they are presented with. To make the information somewhat tangible, language is the medium that allows for this synthesis. Words and sentences are constructed in order to communicate to one another about what is happening in the world, yet it very well may be the case that the language humans use is in fact too limited to express and articulate what is being seen or heard. For example, labeling the noises crickets make as the term ‘chirping’ may not fully capture the reality of that sound. Nina Eidsheim touches on this point in her work, “Sensing Sound” where she voices her concern about how “reducing a dynamic and multisensory phenomenon to a static, monodimensional one has ramifications beyond our use of the concept and metaphor of the figure of sound” and that “limiting conceptualization extends to and affects all who engage with it. That is, we reduce and limit the world we inhabit, we reduce and limit ourselves” (Eidsheim, 2015, p.3). This idea further expands on the reality that people have commoditized nature and Furman University is not a place removed from this fact. The commodification of nature at Furman can be seen directly when looking at the Lake. This area is known for being an accredited park which houses beautiful walking and biking trails, benches for resting, and the iconic Bell Tower. The fact of the matter is that the mere construction of this location to appear as a natural environment, to some degree takes away the naturalness of it. The challenge people are faced with is to determine how human influence affects nature or if that can even be suggested because humans are in fact natural themselves. David Foster Wallace in his work, Consider the Lobster argues the human influence of nature as being somewhat abusive and inconsiderate. He shows how a famous Lobster festival in Maine bring about great numbers of people who gorge themselves with food (lobsters) and paraphernalia for days on end and how this ultimately is taking away the lobster’s agency as and independent being (Wallace, 2004, 50). Similarly, Raja Shehadeh in her work, “Palestine Walks” expands on the tourism industry and how ever since industrialization has occurred and tourism has become a major avenue for economic gain for Palestine, the country itself has lost the natural and mystical beauty the tourism craves to reveal to its customers (Shehadeh, 2007, p. 2). Both of these authors show how humans often meet their desires at the expense of nature and this can be seen (or heard) in the sounds presented in this clip. The crickets chirping near the lake and the lake water itself speaks to the commodification of nature on the Furman University campus. Despite, the somewhat harsh accusations established here, there could also be an argument for how modernization is although taking control of nature, there is also a definite appreciation for it.
One day I was walking outside on my way to get food when I kicked a pebble. I have done this a thousand times without realizing it or intending to do so, but now that I have a heightened awareness of the ecoacoustics surrounding me, I noticed the sound this pebble made. I hesitate to use the word “sound” for its lack of depth. Nina Eidsheim talks a lot about how the word “sound” is a very narrow and suffocating term to use when describing what a person hears. She writes in her Introduction from “Sensing Sound” that “sonic reductions - that is, the tendency to constrain our understanding of sound through previously defined referents - arise from assumptions and values concerning the usefulness of sound in constructing meaning” (Eidsheim, 2015, p.2). What Eidsheim means is that in using the word “sound,” we are limiting our understanding of what we hear to listening. Instead, Eidsheim encourages us to appreciate what we hear for its unique value and meaning.
I later recreated this recording using a few differently sized, shaped, and textured rocks. I kicked the rocks along some bricks and a sidewalk and recorded it. The untrained person would hear nothing more than literally a rock bouncing on the ground. Calling on Eidsheim’s idea of a noise producing experience being more than a sound, this recording is a societal representation of humanity’s interference with nature. The first time I noticed I kicked the pebble, it was unintentional. When I went back to recreate the sound, I did it on purpose. I deliberately displaced this rock because I needed to do so for my personal needs. We kick pebbles around for entertainment all the time. Humanity uses nature for our own benefit and personal enjoyment, and in doing so we are disrupting nature. Is there any direct danger in kicking a pebble? Arguably no. However, something as seemingly harmless as kicking a rock is just a small representation of how humanity exploits nature for our own gains.
This sound is of me rustling coins around in my hand as I sat in my dorm room at Furman University. As I recorded this sound, I was thinking about a piece of ecocritical work by Jason W. Moore entitled, “Wall Street is a Way of Organizing Nature.” Moore addresses the concept of capitalism and how it relates to the natural world around us saying, “Capitalism’s basic tendency, the commodification of everything, is often considered a social process; in fact, it is powerfully ecological. The commodification of everything says that human nature, as labour productivity, is what really counts,” (Moore, 2011, 42). This led me to think about coins, a commodification-- and modification-- of nature that leads to our purchasing other items that are also commodifications of nature. This is a practice that isn’t foreign in any part of the world. It’s established in our pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, that are made of the worlds natural metals. This is only one example of assigning a price sticker to something that comes from the Earth, another major example being oil. Moore also states, “My view can be stated simply: Wall Street is a way of organizing nature, differently but no less directly than a farm, a managed forest, or a factory,” (Moore, 2011, 43) So, when we think of coins, something we typically have lying around, stuck in couch cushions, collecting in a jar (or cup holder in your car), we are able to see in that instance a parallel to how we treat nature, how it is utilized by us. There is progression, of course, to suggest attempts to improve our relationship with nature, in out many attempts to restore and improve the environment. However, when faced with capitalist habits, that force us to utilize the Earth’s resources to maintain the style of living we have - such as making cars that pollute the air, and even coins, being mass produced to serve as our form of currency that we constantly disregard, we end up in a constant loop of commodification.
This is an audio recording of gravel crunching under my feet as I walked around the courtyard of Furman University's Shi Center of Sustainability. After reading Thoreau’s “Walking” recently, I was inspired to discover “the art of walking” (Thoreau, 1862, p.657) in nature for myself, appreciating the natural environment as more than a mere backdrop for human life. Nevertheless, even in the ecologically mindful process of exploring a space dedicated to the preservation of the natural environment, humanity is unable to avoid interfering with the natural landscape, demonstrated in this clip by the crushing and grinding of rocks under my feet. The Shi Center is supposed to be demonstrative of an ecologically conscious way of life, yet even the construction of this sustainable house and its gardens are necessarily wrought with the appropriation of humanity of the natural world. Despite how much more sustainable the first Southern Living sustainable showcase home may be than the average American house, it is still unavoidably intrusive on the natural environment, as it prioritizes human comfort and style over the preservation of an untainted (a wistful impossibility) natural world. In addition to a four hour daily walk, Thoreau also advocates for the preservation of wilderness, saying that “in wildness is the preservation of the world” (Thoreau, 1862, p.665). However, such wilderness is an impossibility, as even Thoreau’s appreciative strolls through the “wilderness,” spoil the untouchedness of the landscape with humanity’s self-projection. Thoreau wished to view “man as part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society,” when what we actually need to do is think of man as part and parcel of nature and as a member of society (Thoreau, 1862, p.42). In his essay “The Trouble with Wilderness,” William Cronon (Cronon, 1996, p.89) argues that instead of attempting to divide the world into civilized and natural spaces, it is necessary for humanity to find a home in nature, learning to use our natural home with respect and responsibility since we cannot help leaving an impact. This recording is a demonstration of my own newfound awareness that even my smallest actions leave an imprint on the natural world in an endeavor to treat my home fairly and conscientiously.
This sound recording is of a 5 oz steak being sauteed in a hot pan. The pan rests upon an electric stove set to 150°F and has light covering of garlic-butter which can be heard popping in the beginning. This calm popping is then interrupted by the violent screams of steak searing. This type of destruction of flesh takes place in countless households across the globe everyday. Even I am guilty of this sin, as there has not been a week in my life I've gone without eating meat. I even remember as a child having "pig pickings" with my neighbors where all the dads would pick out a pig. The whole neighborhood would get together and have a large block party to cook the pig on a turnstile. Practices like these have been ingrained into our society for centuries and have become a norm. Yet even though said practices are so common, many are blind to the obvious truths. The most obvious of which being the degree of suffering animals endure just to fill our plates with food. We as humans do not see steak or meats as a by product of killing but of a product of celebration. David Foster Wallace outlines similar ideas in Consider the Lobster where he discusses tourism, celebrations, and lobster suffering from a commodified nature view. Wallace highlighted the evident suffering lobster endure when being freshly prepared, pointing out that celebrations about eating are celebrations of death and suffer. However, we as humans look past the suffering we cause and only care about our enjoyment. Wallace points out an extreme of this by describing "The World Largest Lobster Cooker" capable of boiling 100 lobsters alive at once, found at the Maine lobster festival (Wallace, 2004, p.60). These ideas reflect the trope of commodified nature, which has us humans seeing nature as only a commodity for our use. Raja Shehadeh only expands on this in Palestine Walks, which shares what his depiction of the slow death of nature looks from the hills near his childhood house due to human expansion (Shehadeh, 2007, p. 2). Humans take advantage of the natural environment nearly everywhere, causing enormous amounts of suffering to nature and animals alike. Ranging from the pain lobster and cows endure for food to the destruction of once serene hills for human residence. Even still this malace often is forgotten from the conscious mind of man because we do not directly cause it. We as a society have a deeply flawed system of consumerism which hides/refuses to address the blame of animal suffering. Yet the length that this suffering should be tolerated if it is in the means of human expansion is up to you.
This is the sound of a human and a dog playing the game, "Tug of War". Attempting to pull the rope away from its owner, the dog made several sounds such as stepping, growling, and jingling its collar. These sounds reminded me of apparent themes when thinking of interactions between society and nature. The dog's name was Titan, a name given to him by his original owner. Titan is a very happy dog and is full of energy, hence his love for Tug of War. As his collar jingles, he growls in excitement and competition. Titan growls much like a wild animal. This animal, who shares the family tree of wolves, has been domesticated into our society as pets. It is a strong illustration of humanity's hold on nature and what was once wild. Humanity has altered the earth for a plethora of years, including animals, plants, land, water etc. William Cronin extends this idea in "The Trouble with Wilderness" as he says, "Far from being the one place on earth that stands apart from humanity, it is quite profoundly a human creation-indeed, the creation if very particular human cultures at very particular moments in human history (Cronin, 1996, p. 69)." Cronin shows how humanity has changed wilderness over time and has enveloped into our society. Titan exemplifies this concept in the truest sense. Titan, a cross between a pitbull and a German shepherd, growls and fights for the rope as an animal might sound in the wild.
Behind Furman University’s Chapel lies a neglected patch of forest dominated by a canopy of native hardwoods and an understory of invasive species. A creek divides the rich soil, its banks covered in deceptively unnatural verdure. Japanese honeysuckle, privet, and tree-of-heaven - displaced ornamentals - now crowd out the native Carolina silverbells (Halesia carolina). The constant drone of Poinsett Highway floods the air, with each passing car an affront to the natural soundscape. Yet, in this corrupted wilderness a Pileated Woodpecker (Hylatomus pileatus), our largest and most elusive Piciform, makes its presence known. From a towering dead oak its powerful ululation can be heard over the din of traffic. A pattering of hollow drum beats resonates throughout the canopy. It conducts its business like any woodpecker, foraging on insects beneath the bark and nesting in tree cavities, however, this Pileated fulfills an ecological role in an ecosystem that has been tarnished by anthropogenic disturbances. It flies over a crown of invasive shrubs and competes with combustion engines to be heard in its own forest. In this way the woodpecker’s umwelt, its subjective universe, is constrained by human intervention. If, like Aldo Leopold, we attempt to delineate the umwelt of this woodpecker we find it inseparable from our own influence. The “semiotic processes of active relations” by which it understands its surroundings, then, are no longer natural, as they occur within a human-dominated land and soundscape (Potter, 2016, p.120). Thus, we must either accept that there is no nature remaining in this forest or redefine what is “natural” as Martin et al. have done with the concept of anthromes (Martin et al. 2014, p.3). In this view of nature, the ecological role of humans is integrated into the definition of ecosystem type and function, the human-nature binary is deconstructed, and the ideal of pristine wilderness is empirically challenged. Applying this understanding of nature to the Pileated in the Furman forest allows us to recognize our influence on its umwelt as the intrusion of one kind of nature on another: the human-dominated nature, which adjusts the environment to fit its needs and the human-absent nature, which asks to be restored.
When it comes to great American innovators, a few names probably spring to mind: Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, among others. But there is one name which most of us have read hundreds of times but scarcely pay any attention: Otis. Elisha Otis invented the safety elevator in 1852, and most American elevators still bear the name of the business he began, the Otis Elevator Company. (Brittanica, 1, 2011).
In the 19th century, as the historically rural nation became increasingly urbanized, new problems began to emerge. Overcrowding in slums and tenements, leading to the spread of disease, pollution, and poverty, and urban sprawl, the spread of a city into a previously rural or suburban area. With the invention of the elevator, buildings could be constructed to previously unimaginable heights. The first skyscrapers were built in the 1880s, at 10 stories, and by 1931 the Empire State Building towered over Manhattan at 102 stories.
The city has long posed a problem for environmentalists. They are both the symbol of human domination of the environment and the manifestation of human technological and social potential. Elevators and skyscrapers were initially condemned by the environmentalist movement as an example of urban excess, but more recently, they have been celebrated as a way to curb urban sprawl. The recent “green city” movement focuses on “trying to construct communities in new ways, without ravaging the resources and ecosystems that we depend on both physically and spiritually” (Sachs, 638, 2016).
Some urban theorists and historians have also pointed to their relationship to capitalism and political implications. Sandoval-Strausz argues that the “classic symptoms of urbanism” are the “interrelated phenomena of mobility, transience, and anonymity”, all of which were amplified by the advent of multi-dwelling buildings. That is, these tall buildings made possible the urban working class, and far from bettering their lives, made enabled higher rents and exploitative landlords (Sandoval-Strausz, 933, 2007).
Now, the elevator-enabled skyscrapers are a sign of political and economic power. New York’s One World Trade Center, the Burj Khalif in Dubai, the Shanghai Tower, the Imperial Towers in Mumbai all stand as testaments to the wealth and power of their cities and nations. Is the push to build taller, greater buildings a sign of more ecological urban planning, or of the continued capitalistic desire to conquer all available space? For urban dwellers, glimpses of unclaimed land from these heights may be the only way of viewing nature unutilized by humans—is there a better way of integrating nature into cities to build an environment which is both sustainable and livable?
This sound recording was made on the 16th floor of the Millennium Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio.