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.