Monday, October 22, 2012

// response to assigned reading [chapters 4 & 5];
Lynch, K. (1972). What Time Is This Place? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Media Department.

In What Time Is This Place?, Kevin Lynch analyzes notions of human perception of the future and methodologies for speculation as an interrelated, recurrent process of prediction, expectation, action, evaluation and correction, through which a most desirable course may be charted, allowing civilization to relentlessly orient itself in the ever-changing present. Time, an idea that has been established through the human mind, developed and expressed through language, may proceed only through intelligent recognition, as perceived by man, and as long as man's permanence in the natural world is communicated to nature itself, 'the pristine' is tarnished and man assumes the role of 'the antipristine,' however this may be assuming an anthropocentric filter. Consider the following rejection of human permanence, an excerpt that Lynch borrows from The House of the Seven Gables:

We shall live to see the today, I trust, when no man shall build his house for posterity.… He might just as reasonably order endurable suit of clothes…so that is great-grandchildren should cut precisely the same figure in the world.… I doubt whether even one public edifice…should be built of such permanent materials.… Better that they should crumble to ruin, once in twenty years or thereabouts, as a hint to the people to reform institutions which they symbolize (Lynch 107).
As observed by a human, an outcome presenting itself in a truly pristine state is rare at best. The existence of 'the pristine' may navigate an inverse relationship to the presence of the modern, mechanically-augmented man. In Chapter Four, Lynch writes about conservation, a cultural value that is relatively new in the abundant West.
Conservation is the maintenance in the present of resources that, it is judged, will be important even in the long-range, largely unpredictable future: avoiding the loss or degradation of goods that are rather sure to be continuously reusable, owing to certain probable limits to the variation of events (Lynch 103).
The sociocultural conditions of the West are not necessarily conducive to a deep, personal respect or admiration for natural environments. With abundance, the range of the future is shortened without pressing concerns of depletion, a scenario in which immediacy hardly applies. Without compromise, there is danger of destructive paralysis, and so it is in the spirit of progression that I suggest a hybrid approach. By establishing unique spaces in the natural environment and preserving those places, 'the pristine' (or what is left of it, depending on your perspective) becomes a brilliantly dynamic classroom, bustling with life and truth, unmeddled by the niavity and clumsiness of man. It is crucial that a value system is firmly established that promotes innate respect and admiration for the natural world, and that is embraced ubiquitously throughout the social spectrum without being constrained to the upper-middle-class, as it has been until only quite recently.

As with anything debatable, conservation is not without opposition. For the sake of comparison, consider two movements, conservationism and preservationism, and the historical figures promoting them.

Gifford Pinchot, 1909
Conservationist Gifford Pinchot, also known as "Father of the U.S. Forest Service," worked closely with President Theodore Roosevelt to establish sustainable forestry practices, and was a strong proponent of the efficiency movement in the United States. Pinchot was concerned largely with speculation on futures of natural resources rather than the pristine condition of a place left undisrupted by human permanence. Pinchot was generally opposed to preservation for the sake of wilderness or scenery. His intentions revolved around shifting public land policy from simply extracting natural resources for the profit of privately held entities to a more exposed, federally owned and maintained approach to resource management (Wikipedia).

John Muir, 1907
In contrast, preservation is about caring for that which is naturally pristine by guarding it from decay and destruction. Preservationist and "Father of the National Park Service," John Muir, was a sincerely spiritual man, seemingly uninterested in the practice of ownership or material profit for the sake of development (Wikipedia). The forest was his cathedral, the waterfall was his chapel, the mountaintop, his altar. For Muir, 'the pristine' was sacred, and the Conservationist agenda to use it for the extraction of natural resources rather than fighting to protect it? Blasphemy!
We all flow from one fountain—Soul. All are expressions of one love. God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all (Wikipedia).
In my opinion, Muir was onto something much more timeless and and far richer than Pinchot. The world itself is driven by uncertainty, therefore, humans must be adaptive and creative, both of which are inherent characteristics of human nature. Lynch mentions the importance of retaining "stable symbolic focuses" as a means of maintaining a recognizable constant in an otherwise uncertain, shifting scenario (Lynch 110), which is seemingly more synchronous with Muir's preservationist attitude, even though Lynch is focusing on conservationist ideas. Lynch gives examples such as a church, a rock, and an ancient tree (110), but the same concept of preserving a symbolic anchor in the sea of time can be applied at a much greater scale, especially in context with the current era—global aggregation of people, communication, systems, information and technology—an era where human identity is shifting from the individual to the collective, hive-mind, which some are referring to as "Singularity" (a fascinating topic, but I will save that for a later entry). 'The pristine' as an arguably sacred element, may be that symbolic yet tangible anchor in the future. What if a portion of these special places on Earth were to be set aside as natural classrooms where public use and mechanized human permanence are forbidden, restricting access to approved proposals by researchers and scientists? Without some significant degree of strict preservation, mankind will stand by, high as s#%t on material wealth, watching the irreversible depletion of perhaps the most useful natural resource of all—the sheer genius of the purely natural world.

Gordon Hempton, 2012
As human impact continues to meddle with the grand opus of the natural world, 'the pristine' becomes a distant memory, increasingly inaccessible for the present, almost in a way that is similar to the science fiction motif of home being somewhere far away. "Soundtracker" and political activist from my own hometown of Indianola, Washington, Gordon Hempton would likely agree that 'the pristine' is found where noise pollution is not. With only three places left in the United States untarnished by noise pollution, it is clear that natural quiet is quickly becoming a memory—unless action is taken to preserve it.

In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency officially recognized noise, a word that comes from the Latin nausea, or sea-sickness, as a pollutant. Scientific reports have been emerging globally over the past decade, exposing the "damaging effects of persistent, mechanized noise on both wildlife and human populations. Animals depend on the ability to transmit sound for communication, procreation, and, ultimately, survival. Many, such as monkeys, canines, elephants, some amphibians, and especially birds, alter their tunes in areas of inescapable, human-caused noise" (Schatz 13). Furthermore, the fossil record shows that no species has evolved with the ability to suppress an aural sense, which may indicate the importance of sonic communication.

The World Health Organization has also determined noise to be the cause of several adverse health effects: sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, damage to work and school performance, hearing impairment (including tinnitus).

Hempton's passion for sonic data has led him to political activism, primarily concerning commercial aircraft noise and the sonic impact that eco-tourism has on natural places. He has been instrumental in the cooperation of the Federal Aviation Administration and United States National Park Service, two entities with conflicting attitudes and priorities, as well as the development of the recent Air Tourism Management Act, which monitors and regulates noise pollution generated by eco-tourism.

In 2009, Hempton, along with journalist John Grossman, published One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest To Preserve Quiet, a symbol for the alarming disappearance of natural silence. One Square Inch is marked by a red stone perched on a mossy log, which lives the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula. "'When I'm in a quiet place, there is a feeling of reverence that comes from the privilege of being part of nature,' says Gordon" (Schatz 11). Standing with Hempton at One Square InchSeattle Weekly journalist, Bryan Schatz, feels it too—"The silence calls to mind a saying: Quiet is not the absence of sound, but the presence of the world in its natural state" (Schatz 17).

Below is a video of Gordon Hempton speaking at TEDxAmazônia in São Paulo.

Although playing music has played a significant role in my life since I was very young, my fascination with ambient sound took root in March of 2011 when I began digitally recording high-resolution stereo audio to study and begin to really understand places and spaces. As much as I would like to continue this post with more of the research and writing that I've done on this topic, including two projects (one is a smartphone app that is still in process, the other, a hypothetical architecture project in Seattle, titled Library of Global Ambient Sound), I have other reading assignments to respond to in this weblog, so stay tuned!

// sources
Lynch, K. (1972). What Time Is This Place? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Media Department.
Schatz, Bryan. Saving Silence. Seattle Weekly. Volume 37, Number 17. 2012.
Wikipedia. <>.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jay,

    Your post reveals a genealogy of meanings surrounding the definition of nature. The founding fathers of the conservation movement convinced major industries and the government that they could work together to develop a sustainable management of water resources which in turn proved to be an "efficient" model and therefore profitable.

    However, I think Kevin Lynch did not have the same concerns about the environment when he published his book in 1972. His definition of nature is affected by a relative reality. He is aware that abundance is a myth and that our perception of nature is technologically induced. The water we drink, the food we eat, the urban landscape we live in, is corrupted by many toxic artifacts.The car, the highway, global warming, noise belong to a contemporary context. Moreover, when you talk about a distant memory of 'pristine" nature, I have yet to witness a natural landscape that has not been affected by human activities. (Eco-tourism, forestry management, national parks etc).
    What do you mean by pristine nature and how does it relate to your discussion on sound?

    Do we have a feeling of reverence for nature when in a quiet place? I do not know if natural silence even exists? Is technology our point of reference to determine whenever a place might be quiet or noisy?