Institutional Sounds

 Organized space is a fixture of the institutions that structure the human world.  The Oxford Dictionary defines “institution”, as a society or organization founded for a religious, educational, social, or similar purpose. Within an institution, there are formal and informal elements. The formal elements of an institution include ceremonial and/or planned events and activities. Conversely, the informal aspects of an institution include more vague and flexible experiences. The soundscapes created by the institution, bring to light two separate viewpoints on that space. Does the soundscape of the institution shape the behavior of the occupants? Do the occupants of the institution influence the soundscape?

The institutional sounds themselves are often considered “white noise” to the occupants of the particular institutional soundscape. That is, these are the sounds that one would not think twice about when hearing them. These are background sounds that are so embedded within the identity of the institution that they essentially become part of the walls that enclose the space of the institution. Examples of institutional sounds one might hear during his or her everyday routine could include the various conversations and rings that sound in an office, or the sound of a train conductor announcing the next stop on one’s daily commute. Another defining factor of institutional sounds is their artificial nature. Some sounds are created through the mere action of a car driving by on the road or an A/C unit turning itself on and off within a household. These are general examples of how “white noise” can be drowned in the background from all other noises around us. Institutional sounds can be found almost everywhere that human influence can be found. Oberlin is no exception to this, and although it has many sounds in common with other institutions, these sounds in Oberlin have a particularly Obie twist to them.

Oberlin, like any other institutional soundscape as its distinct environment that highlight the features which are unique to Oberlin. Examples of the institutional sounds we recorded span a wide of Oberlin institutions. These range from the quiet creaking of the floors in Peters Hall to the organized chaos that is the practice rooms in the conservatory. All of these exhibit the different traits institutional sounds that Oberlin displays. The organized chaos of the practice rooms is a soundscape that is almost entirely unique to Oberlin, as many schools and conservatories do not operate at the same level as Oberlin, due to its high standing in the realm of music education. Similar to the organized chaos of the practice rooms, the recording of the football practice exemplifies how this type soundscape can be seen in many other environments that might not have much in common. The similarity between the two shows how two soundscapes can be described similarly, but almost have nothing in common. The practice rooms in the conservatory contains students who are playing in an organized manner, but when all these sounds are mashed together, it creates chaos. Similarly, each football player must go about each play in an organized manner in respect to their assignments, but when each player tries to execute their assignments, a form of chaos ensues. As previously mentioned, every institution has its own soundscape, and the institutions at Oberlin is no exception to this rule.