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.
This soundscape represents the sounds and general atmosphere one will experience in North Quad, including sounds from practicing sports teams, relaxing college students, and singing birds. Similarly, this soundscape also reflects the rush to get outside and enjoy the seasonal changes during a relief from freezing temperatures and snow. While the sounds in this recording are mostly from the practicing Quidditch club, started in 2011, there is also the distant chatter of other students laying on the grass, enjoying the sun and high temperatures.
Although the history and exact purpose of college quads and common spaces is unclear, it is most likely true that they have been utilized as a social space and as a break from the harsh expectations and requirements of the college. At the same time, these quads portray our main ideas about the intersection between the commercial, natural, and institutional — as in these quads, we are both trying to escape these institutional and commercial pressures, but are also consciously including these pressures in these spaces — through using them as work spaces.
In 1892 Oberlin College bought the 17-acre space with the intention of developing it as a nature preserve. Initially the Arb was a Ladies’ Grove. Currently, the Arb is a favorite location on campus to many students and is sometimes is used for field lessons in various classes. This recording is of the sounds of water being blown in tiny waves toward the pebbly edge of the main reservoir in Oberlin’s, the Arb. I put the recorder as close as possible to the pebbles as the water splashed up against them. It was very windy when I recorded the sound so there was a lot of activity within the splashing. The wind can be heard in the recording, however I filtered as much as possible out so that the water could be heard as clearly as possible. Also, a bird can be heard chirping in the recording. The sound of water and birds can be very calming. One can imagine that the space would have been a good location for women to experience nature.
This recording is of dried, but still attached, leaves being blown in a tree. The recording was made at the Arb at Oberlin College, a small nature reserve on campus, in early spring before trees regained their leaves. The recorder was placed as closely as possible to the leaves, in order to pick up their sound well, and the wind was filtered out to an extent. The harshness and franticness with which the leaves rattle is interesting in how unexpected it is. Typically sounds of nature are imagined to be very calm and soothing. One rarely realizes the amount of aggression that can exist in certain natural gestures such as leaves rattling or the violence with which the wind blows.
This recording is of the sound of muddy ground squishing as it is walked on. It was made at the Arb at Oberlin College, a small nature reserve on campus. It had rained previously in the day. The recorder was held at waist level while walking. Most of the wind picked up by the recorder was filtered out. It is interesting that many of the sounds associated with nature don’t exist independently. For example, a stick crunching as it is stepped on or the metric rustle of leaves as they are walked through. These are both sounds often associated with nature, however those sounds only exist because of humans. This squishing sound of the muddy ground is made by the natural world, however requires humans to create it.
Although this soundscape does not include natural sounds that were recorded at Oberlin, it still reflects the general atmosphere one would experience in a quad on campus. The atmosphere in this soundscape echoes both the activities and goals of whoever occupies the space, which, in this recording, is that of a studious, focused, but still mainly relaxed student body. One could hear a similar soundscape on a weekday afternoon or on a Sunday, which is known to be the busiest and most stressful day among college students.
Still, students often make a conscious effort to make these spaces remain lighthearted and relaxed rather than have them mimic the strictly quiet and fluorescent ambience of the libraries on campus.
This soundscape is a compilation of sounds that represent a party in one of the college's open spaces. The sounds include ambient talking, music, and other ambient natural sounds, such as wind and birds. This soundscape reflects the laidback nature of college students - relaxing on the weekends, being social, and playing music - something very prevalent in both Oberlin's history and culture.
Some students utilize quads as a place to party without the constraints, cost, and loudness of a defined party space, such as the 'Sco, the college's club.