Sonic Walden

For those seeking their personal Waldens in sound and solitude

Monday, November 26, 2007

Quieting the Iron Beast

This photo of Walden's Pond illustrates the nature of sound waves. The pond resonates with transverse and longitudinal sound waves, and the train in the distance (unseen) cuts through the soundscape of the woods hidden behind the pond. As it passes by, its whistle announces its arrival, and just as quickly it fades out of hearing range.

I am all about trains, and Static issue 6 - ‘ALARM’ features a piece by Jonathan Pluskota and myself that extends from my sound work at Walden in Concord, Massachussetts and our recordings and research in the Shawnee National Forest of downstate Illinois, USA. The train has been conceptualizaed as a metaphor for progress, noise, and lost culture. Its whistle is both appealing and revealing to our conflicted views of what is noise and what is culture; and one might consider at what price does one sound displace another. As we look into the future, what happens when technology sheds its noisy entrance, and slips through our soundscapes and landscapes unheard and undetected, might there be a sense of cultural loss. That is only one of the many questions we contemplate in Static. We thank the editors Thomas Mansell, Richard Osborne, and Katherine Hunt for their acceptance of our work:

Essay: Quieting the Iron Beast: The Train Whistle as an Alarm

Sound Piece: Trained Alarms: A Salute to the Iron Beast (2:20)

Phylis Johnson, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Radio-Television, MC 6609, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, USA, 62901,

Jonathan Pluskota, Ph.D. student, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, USA, 62901,

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kampala Children: Soundscapes of Uganda

Playing with Sound. July 2007, the Stephen Jota Children's Centre, Kampala, Uganda.

Kampala, Uganda is city rich with sounds, from the rattling of old vans and jeeps weaving around the 3 foot holes in the roads to the inviting marketplace music that extends into the wee hours of the morning.
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What I remember most is the sound of more than 500 children singing in unison school songs and songs of hope for their nation. A week before my birthday, in mid-July 2007, a great part of my trip to Africa was spent in Uganda at the Stephen Jota Children's Centre, a home and school for orphans from the nearby slums. A region ravaged by AIDS, Malaria, and poverty hosts some of the most beautiful smiles and sounds in the world, at least from my sonic range and perspective. As I sort through my audio, it impresses me that the sounds that I remember most are those of the people, particularly the children as they grabbed the microphones to speak into my field recorders. I would rush to put my headphones on their heads, as they listened intently to their own voices in amazement. Each listened with a twisted eyebrow, coinciding with a puzzled and pensive smile, and followed with a shout of glee, all which informed me that they had discovered a new sense of self. I have included a few photos here, by request, for it has taken me much longer to put together my sound piece - from the hours and hours of sound that I recorded. I can still hear their voices, although months and thousands of miles away. Perhaps this summer I will visit them, but this time in my recording studio as I attempt to recreate the sonic love that poured into my field decks. So check back here in a few months to hear what's up with Kampala.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sound Dinner Revisited

What's on the menu - a little less bass and a hint of this and that. Here's the sound dinner revisited. Let's see if this version of Sound Dinner is somewhat gentler to your computer speakers. Still some wind rumble with which to contend. See earlier entry for more info on what you are listening to here:

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Welcome to Japan!

A series of Japanese sounds follow...there's birds and traffic from Shibata, Niigata and some "mall" sounds from Toyko - as well as a few surprises. All sounds were recorded by college students on a summer trip.

A typical morning in Shibata. So very quiet. The raw recording was comprised of extremely long stretches of "silence" - 70% silence, 20% wind, 10% birds - this segment represents a fairly accurate representation of nearly 60 seconds of particularly busy activity for the birds during a period of about 20 minutes. I refer to the term "silence" very broadly and loosely here.

Busy Intersection?

Here's "traffic" sounds at a major intersection outside the prison in Shibata - a town about 100,000. Fairly quiet for a busy intersection.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sound Dinner

All in all, nearly a dozen students headed for Japan - rural and uban - during Summer 2006. What is shared are the memories and impressions from some of the college students who attended a debriefing dinner. Here's a soundscape of what they heard, as remembered, with actual audio from their trip. The primary question centered around differences between Japan and U.S. sounds. Some of the students compared their sonic experiences within the context of other countries that they had travelled as well. Here's an except from the dinner, and field highlights from their trips. Spoiler: ending might be a bit bizarre for some listeners - includes excerpts from a worship service in Japan.

Sonic Tourist

On being tourists. Conversations of college students, upon arrival to Japan, 2006, from America.

Sonic Stroll I

A musical stroll through Japan - malls, stores, along the sidewalks (unprocessed)

Reflections - On Walking Japan

Sonic Stroll II. Recalling a musical stroll through Japan: music from malls and stores, and street musicians, etc. (processed)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nearly A Year Ago


COOLING WATERS OF APPROACHING WINTER - Last year on Thanksgiving, my family and I went on a recording stint to Concord, MA to hear Walden (and of course see it, too). Here's some pics, as I reflect - I remember that I never shared these photos.

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September 2006

Great times in Springfield. Chris and Julie (first pic) tagged along as I sought answers for my burning questions about the beginnings of the car radio in the early 1920s and 1930s, the romance between the car radio and the driver, the sense of freedom that music and the road give us, etc. I meet some really cool folks (see pics) - intelligent and knowledgeable. The more I find out, the more I realize I have only begun this project. Ultimately I will complete my book and hopefully accompany it with a soundscape that resonates road culture. What would have Thoreau thought - he was awed by the sounds of the train and its signaling of unrestrained technology.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tangled Up in Blue

Legendary Strip. First Cold Day - and of course, it is recording day. Here's one of three groups (Fall 362 ers) which took to the campus strip - with mini disc and flash recorders in hand to discover and seek out sounds for their first soundwalk/soundscape. They are picking up where the summer 2006 362ers left off. Great stuff so far. Josh and I plan to continue chronicling the sounds of the strip - forever. With SIUC located so close to the Shawnee National Forest, you never know what you might hear on the strip - a bit of urban in a natural soundscape. We will resume recording in the summer edition of 362, with intentions to create a sound installation somewhere on campus featuring life along the strip in all its sonic glory. For more photos, go to our class site,

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

SAP Adventures in Sound

Hear Sound Art & Practice (RT/MUS 362) students headed off on their first soundwalk - playing with hard disk recordings for the first time. Location: the beautiful campus of Southern Illinois University nestled in the Shawnee National Forest and renowned as of late for its deer attacks on students. The students have been on several SWs since then.

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Can you hear what I hear? Come along on 362's sound adventure - listen to group 2's findings along the way.