In Search of New Methodologies for a more Equitable Soundscape Composition: Communal Explorations of Manchester's Acoustic and Cultural Ecologies

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Soundscape Composition as Hildegard Westerkamp describes it in her 2002 article ‘Linking Soundscape Composition and Acoustic Ecology’ is a practice concerned with deep issues; exploring ecology, wellbeing of specific places through an aesthetic representation of those places. It has great potential to be a beneficial practice in encouraging us all to be acoustic ecologists and citizen scientists by engaging with the world around us. Some have lauded the potential of such practices to be a form of sonic agency in environmental problems. However, it can be a deeply problematic practice; there are issues around representation, locality and composer-audience relationship. Considering the practice from a sociopolitical context highlights a need to consider the subjectivity and positionally of the “composer”.

In a pilot project at the University of Manchester PhD student, Ryan Woods, has been searching for new methodologies of Soundscape composition that challenge the hierarchies and power dynamics found in much of the formative works to create a dynamic and accessible creative process that acts as representation for more than just an academic elite. The study attempts to create spaces for communal soundscape compositions to arise. This pilot focuses in particular on green spaces in South Manchester and the communities that use and care for these places.
Alongside individuals' ideas about identity and place, aesthetics, and wellbeing, wider questions arise about land access, development, local democracies, environmental stewardship and the more-than-human-world. Understanding and covering these complex and varied viewpoints is a challenge. Anthropological methodologies of ethical fieldwork, representation and understandings of sound and culture, have informed the running of community residencies in sound art and acoustic ecology. This acts as a way to explore space and learn about communities understandings of these spaces.

This paper discusses the methodologies and findings of the study as well as future potential for these ways of working; Exploring the potential for such practices working at the intersections of art, science and politics, to engage, learn from and represent a diversity of communities understandings, needs and wants which might feed into political decision making on a local level.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022
EventSonic Cartography 2022 - Chatham Historic Dockyard, Kent University, Chatham, United Kingdom
Duration: 28 Oct 202230 Oct 2022


ConferenceSonic Cartography 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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