“Two Open Ears” blog investigates how ambient sound, noise and music significantly shape our everyday experiences. Inspired by the likes of Brian Eno, John Cage and R Murray Shafer, the blog will draw from real world examples of innovative uses of sound as both a positive and negative force (e.g. as a healer in music therapy or as a weapon in Guantanamo bay’s torture techniques) as well as recent academic research.

This blog presents a direct challenge to the visual artists, designers, architects, town planners and politicians to open your ears! We fight for a shift in thinking – away from dominant visual design world to one where the practise of music and sound design is elevated to an equal footing. The first post below explores the current state of our soundscape and the following posts will investigate theories of noise, experimental soundscapes and music as used within design.

It’s written by Brian, manging director of music design company Open Ear

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OUT OF TUNE: The urban crescendo, deafening spaces and noise, noise, noise!

“ Modern man is beginning to inhabit a world with an acoustic environment radically different from any he has previously known.

 Noise pollution is now a world problem.

 The world soundscape has reached an apex of vulgarity in our time….

 Universal deafness is the ultimate consequence.”

R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape, 1977.

Ecologist R Murray Shafer, head of the World Soundscape Project, wrote the book “The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World”in 1977 to document many years spent measuring increasing sound levels in Western cities. He concluded that a combination of man-made factors contribute to the continuous and seemingly exponential rise in noise level in our urban areas. Shafer warns that the eventual outcome will be “universal deafness” for us all and predicts the sound levels will continue to rise to the increasing detriment of our health unless we change our ways with tighter regulation, better education and a process of ‘ear cleaning’.

Over 30 years on, Shafer’s apocalyptic warning seems to be more relevant that ever. Our cities have got louder. We continue to create noise in any way we can – new technologies, increased traffic, more people and more industry adds to the cacophony. Looking a little deeper, you can begin to see the reasons why – has our politicians, town planners, architects and design community in general neglected the sense of hearing?! Architectural spaces are filled with hard and reverberant surfaces because they ‘look nice’. Bars, restaurants and shops drown out our conversations with badly selected generic pop music. Websites batter you with intrusive soundtracks and hidden mute buttons. Mobile phones provide the unwanted soundtrack to our public transport journeys. The list goes on…

Why do we place such little importance on our city soundscapes and sound of the spaces within them? Why do our designers, architects, artists, creatives, not to mention politicians, continue to undervalue sound? Although sometimes there seems to be a fine line, sound doesn’t have to be noise! If used in the right way, it can have a significant and powerfully positive affect for anyone experiencing it. Science shows how music can be used to improve health, with music therapy being one of the best known means of combating mental illness. Business theory tells us that successful brands are not purely visual, with market leaders reaching out to consumers ears as well as their eyes. Psychology shows how big an influence music is over our choices – listening to music can tell us what wine to buy, encourage us to stay longer, spend more money and can even alter the taste of that wine! 

As more and more research continues to support the positive impact of sound on both a commercial and health level, we believe this presents the design community with a fantastic opportunity -  for collaboration, education and implemention of better sound! The following posts in this blog will give various examples, theory, and research to support and expand on the above. We welcome your comments and feedback, just make sure and keep your voices down …. 

See also (full reading list will be presented at the end of the month)

Noises – live AV project by Brian d’Souza and Ling Lee / Myspace

Positive Soundscapes
Spaces Speak, Are you Listening?

Find out more about Brian & Open Ear here.


Mix-Blog: A bit like a mix-tape but with blogs instead. Read more from the series here.