I created this as a project for my Civic Media and Tactical Design class this semester – I’m reposting it here because it was an interesting exercise and I feel strongly about the issues it addresses. The following originally appeared at that class blog. I hesitate to call this a sound construction or a work of sound design, for the reasons you’ll be able to see in my explanation.
I’ve named my project after an archaic term for low notes, the lowest note in the Greek musical scale. The sounds are taken from NOAA’s Vents Program index of unidentified sounds, very low frequency recordings captured by autonomous hydrophone arrays throughout the Pacific Ocean, including SOSUS (which was designed to detect Soviet submarines during the cold war). Although a researcher speculates some of the sounds are the movements of ice, its also very likely they’re biological in origin. The original recordings were sped up to 16x and 20x their original speed to make them listenable – I have restored them to their original speed (for the most part). Nobody really knows what made these sounds.
To use music as a metaphor, proslambanomenos emerge from the bottom of the music scale. They are the drone, or “burden” of a composition. From this biocentric viewpoint, if the earth is a composition, then the rhythms and systems located in the lowest spatial realm of the deep sea would be our lowest bass notes. As the sounds here are nearly subsonic, their realm is still associated with the Cambrian period, before the land was colonized, and today the ocean represents our subconscious. Exotic species have been found in ocean waters long after they were thought to be extinct.
My thought behind this involves intentionality and non-human agency, or biocentrism (as opposed to anthropocentrism). Noise is merely unwanted sound – but when we intentionally create sound constructions out of noise, we are approaching a totalizing order of music (or more generally, the art of sound), which envelopes and rationalizes our aesthetic decisions in accordance with other works, even in experimental methods. From the avant-garde to electronic composers, noise is assimilated into human constructions through which we communicate some meaning or expression. When one creates a noise for the sake of noise, there is a puerile aspect to that minimal amount of intention. I wanted to explore truly unintentional sound which is not given over to anthropocentric classification, since we often use natural sounds as acoustic symbols (a volcano explosion is powerful, a dog howl is mournful, etc). How can we divorce the sign from the signified? It’s a good start if we don’t understand the sign.
These sounds are also related to a critical issue in several ways. From a “deep ecology” perspective against anthropocentrism, ocean life and sounds like these are threatened by overfishing, resource and noise pollution which upset the delicate ecologies supporting the origin of these sounds, whatever it may be. The “biophony” of the natural world is encroached upon by the alteration of adjoining systems and industrial/human activities. In 2002 Natural Geographic reported that 83% of land on Earth is directly influenced by human activities. There are two issues here: will we destroy the source of these sounds before we have the chance to learn what they are? Or will we exhaust the unknown for anthropocentrism?