Natural Sounds

At the start of this project, our aim was to collect sounds and soundscapes created by the natural environment; however, we soon found that separating the so-called natural world from social, institutional, and commercial worlds was an impossible task. For that reason, this collection explores the following questions: how do sounds created by the human world impose themselves onto and disrupt the sounds of the natural world? In turn, how do sounds created by the natural world shape spaces created to facilitate human experience? And, how might landscape architects and designers purposefully blend these sounds to create a social experience of this now fabricated natural environment?

We explored three spaces: the Arb (the arboretum, located on south campus and the most secluded area on campus), Tappan Square (a small park in the center of campus), and other open spaces, such as quads, on campus.

 The Arb, initially a Ladies’ Grove considered to be one of the only appropriate places for women to experience nature, was bought by Oberlin College in 1892 in ordered to be developed and maintained as a nature preserve. Today it is perhaps the most naturally secluded location on campus. It is often used in warmer months by various departments such as biology and creative writing for collection of data and class lessons. It consists of a large wooded section with a creek and a reservoir split into two small lakes. It is interesting that despite being perhaps to most secluded place on campus, one can still hear the quiet din of cars passing in addition to the sounds of people visiting the arb or who live in the houses along the northern most edge of the arb.  

 Tappan Square was opened in 1885 on 13 acres of public land. Charles Martin Hall dedicated the money to create the space. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and John Charles Olmstead, founders of Olmstead Brothers, a landscape design firm known for its design of Central Park. The square was named after Arthur and Lewis Tappan, famous abolitionists who were supporters of Oberlin College. The Tappans contributed money to Oberlin under the condition that the College opened admission to African-American students. The sounds that contribute the Tappan Square include: wind in the leaves on the trees, birds, the sound of ruffling glass, and the commercial sounds of Oberlin, including: the sound of cars passing, students going to class, and people going to the shops across the street.

There are a plethora of quads and designated open spaces on campus. These open spaces occupy a middle ground between institutional and natural spaces -- wherein people can work and relax simultaneously. Similarly, neither the college nor the students explicitly define the purpose of these open spaces - they are left to be defined moment by moment by whoever occupies the space.