Friday, March 4, 2011

Sound Recommendations

I imagine most visitors to this blog have spent at least a little time looking at webcams around the world. There are thousands of them these days, pointed at everything from beautiful ocean or mountain scenes, to private dressing rooms. It can be fun to explore these cameras when one has the urge to vicariously visit exotic spots. Unfortunately, the one thing that all of the ones I've visited lack is the added dimension of sound.

As you may have gathered from reading my previous postings on the subject, sound has been a preoccupation of mine for a long time. I spent the year before Mindport opened building what has become our WaveMusic exhibit, which creates music from the movement of water waves. During that period I also occupied myself recording local ambient sounds, then computer processing them in various ways. This all served to increase my awareness of the power of sound to affect our lives in both positively and negatively.

From time to time I search the web for sources of live "streaming" audio, and I don't mean podcasts or other sources of "canned" audio files, of which there are overwhelmingly many. What interest me is ambient local sound, preferably nature sounds, though almost any would interest me. Considering the fact that sound can be far more emotionally evocative than pictures, it surprises me that there aren't as many live ambient audio sites as there are webcams. . . or at least webcams that broadcast accompanying sound.

It's this evocative power of sound which has sent me on a quest for audio Internet sites, and has inspired me to collect quite a library of ambient sound CDs, featuring mostly nature sounds from various places around the United States and the world. When I want to escape some of the less pleasant sounds that afflict the neighborhood where I live, such as car traffic, chain saws, lawn mowers, aircrart, etc, I put one of these CDs in my player, don my sound-canceling headphones, and travel. . .

During a recent unsuccessful search on the web for live ambient sound, I did come across a wonderful site that was new to me, and which I recommend you visit if you find the subject of sound and "soundscapes" at all interesting. This site is maintained by the University of Utah, J. Willard Marriot Library, and it includes a large selection of animal sounds, ambient natural sounds, and several interviews, many of them downloadable for private use. I found some great recordings, captured in the Canyons of SE Utah, an area where I've spent extended periods hiking and camping over the last 40 years. Listening to these recordings puts me back there in imagination more surely than do the many photographs I've taken during my visits.

In closing, let me recommend the book that originally sparked my interest in sound: R. Murray Schafer's, The Tuning of the World. Schafer is a Canadian author and composer who has written a number of books on the subject of music education, music and sound, any of which is worth a read. He's developed techniques for what he calls "ear cleaning," a process of cultivating one's awareness of sound and exploring the effect it has on our lives and consciousness. Such exercises can help you become aware of ways in which various "soundscapes" may be affecting you adversely without your knowledge, but more important, can be a great source of relaxation and pleasure.

Oh, and if you run across any live streaming "web-ears," please drop me a note and let me know. You'll find my e-mail address on my personal staff page at

Kevin Jones

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