Interview with Prof. Sabine Breitsameter: “We need to sharpen our hearing for a better understanding of the world”

By Valentina Petermann

On the occasion of the upcoming conference “The Global Composition 2018: Sound, Ecology, and Media Culture”,           Prof. Breitsameter talks about the multidisciplinary event that will take place in October 2018, in Dieburg, Germany.

How is The Global Conference an input to the sound community?

The conference will include the findings of many disciplines. Multi-and transdisciplinary scholarly and scientific individuals’ research will be discussed, shown and weighed against each other. This allows the field of the soundscape, sound studies and acoustic ecology to develop further and grow. It, too, is an opportunity for people to gain interest in topics they weren’t familiar with before or weren’t aware of. They’ll get to know new approaches and discuss new topics within the field. It’s a great occasion to develop synergies, maybe for research and artistic or professional collaborations. Another important aspect is that the conference will emphasize the discussion of acoustic ecology’s future of, and how to develop it for the next generations. As a conference opener, we’ll have, instead of an opening lecture, an opening dialog between one of acoustic ecology’s founder personalities, Hildegard Westerkamp, and me, into which we’ll involve the audience as well, and we are sure that there’ll be lively participation. This opening dialog will address acoustic ecology ’s historical basis, its status quo, and its perspectives. Beyond keynote lectures, we’ll have keynote workshops, which will pass on, relay and foster soundscape studies’ and acoustic ecology’s core methodologies. Thisf mixture of future-oriented sustainability and realizing and discussing acoustic ecology’s essentials is supposed to be the Global Composition 2018’s main characteristic.

How would you encourage new generations to join the conference?

Today’s young generations are people who grew up in a world of media. Therefore, from these generations many special approaches can be given, enriching the discussion on listening and the auditory world, and bringing acoustic ecology further. Therefore, we encourage young researchers and artists to bring in new ideas, approaches and different points of view: We’ll provide a special place to highlight the presentations of participants under 35 years of age.

Soundscape Studies’ context is changing rapidly and that implies that our hearing also changes. Consequently, our field is in constant renovation and readjustment and that means that we need to bring people into the discussion who are coined by a view that you can only have if you grew up in a media society.

“We have to have an event where we can bring together all the different approaches to this topic in a multidisciplinary way. What better than doing this in a conference?”

Why is Acoustic Ecology important for our future?

How do you see its development? I think this field will continue developing in a productive way. We have been leaving behind the times when the environmental sound was very heavy and very loud, for example in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when air and car traffic was increasing, same as the construction in the cities. Murray Schafer, acoustic ecology’s prominent founder, was often referring to the fact that these things have changed. During this time, there was a peak of environmental noise. As a result, counter initiatives and movements came up and these sounds slowly decreased. Now we seem to be – hopefully – over the major peak: building and transport machinery, house electronics, and other devices became less noisy. However, it is not only and mainly the question of noise which is important for acoustic ecology, but the topic of soundscape quality in general. This is closely related to research on the role of listening and the cultures of auditory worlds in today’s diverse and changing societies.

Which problems would you identify as the most urgent nowadays?

We still have to solve issues relating to noise and constant sound exposure, for example, there is research on how the soundscapes of airports or highways affect people living nearby. Is there an influence on their mental and cognitive development? Can they for example focus with the same intensity on reading a complicated book or having a complex conversation going? What role plays the disruption of intellectual and operational activities caused by the soundscapes? What happens to the part of society that’s exposed to them?

In our conference, we’ll have, for example, one of our Keynotes, Prof. Maria Klatte (University of Kaiserslautern), who has done research about children living under a flight path, and how their cognitive development is affected by their acoustic environment. Her research it is an example about where acoustic ecology needs to go to, why it needs to focus on the physical well-being but also on the mental health of people, and it addresses also priorities set by politics and economy.

Another important topic is identity and “Heimat”, expressed by a place’s soundscape: If the soundscapes of the industrialized countries become more and more uniform, how does this contribute to today’s urge to belong to somewhere specific, and to feel familiar, fearless, and at peace? Therefore, we have invited the German bio acoustician Walter Tilgner for a keynote talk on the sounds of “Heimat”, and its nature, relating to an overall culture of listening.

Game soundscapes are another important issue, as the medium of games is now becoming so prevalent. We are happy to have Prof. Milena Droumeva (Simon Fraser-University/Vancouver) giving a keynote lecture connecting this media related topic with the topic of gender and the auditory stereotyping of the sexes.

“When we make people more sensitive, we also give them an instrument to evaluate and appreciate the richness and the information you get from hearing and listening.”

Why is it relevant to have a space for sound in the field of education?

Education makes people more sensitive, aware and capable to navigate the everyday requirements of communication, which is to a huge extent based on hearing and listening. In the field of sound, education is crucial, because bringing people closer to the realm of the auditory means showing them its practical possibilities as well as its fascinations, and this leads to appreciation. to critical faculties and to the capability of being emphatic.

Emphasizing listening and the auditory world as a core topic of education means therefore also to provide approaches on how to deal with some important problematics of today’s social relations. In any case, we must not forget: We need to sharpen our hearing for a better understanding of the world. When we foster people’s acoustic sensitivity, we also give them an instrument to evaluate and appreciate the richness and the information you get from hearing and listening.

How would you encourage sound artists to participate in The Global Composition 2018?

Art is another important approach for creatic auditory awareness and, therefore, it is as important as any scientific or scholarly research. Sound, as it always surrounds us, is filling spaces; it is the environmental experience per se. In using and dealing with sound, you’re setting up an environment and creating a spatial experience. Today we are trained to hear loud sounds, like the ones in the city, limiting our hearing habits. That’s how we lose awareness for other sounds, like for the tiny ones and the ones further away. If we can train people and make an “ear cleaning” as Murray Schaffer says, we give the occasion to hear sounds we usually don’t. Sound art may offer alternative or “ideal” soundscape, offer counterdrafts to the existing soundscapes, and activate or encourage people to make changes in their everyday life, that won’t deprive them anymore from their hearing capabilities but unfold its richness.


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The Global Composition Conference 2018, Hochschule Darmstadt, Oktober 04-07, 2018

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