Last week, as part of MSc teaching on Holocene palaeoclimate, my students debated whether it was appropriate to ratify the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch. Key arguments in favour include humans altering the composition of the atmosphere, triggering biosphere collapse, and causing increased rates of sediment movement across the planet’s surface. Through land use change and technological developments we can argue that humans have also radically altered the soundscape. Writing in the forward to Metaphonics, Bernie Krause defines anthropophony as one of three types of soundscape. These include geophony, the sounds made by earth surface processes, such as rivers, glaciers and volcanos; biophony, the sounds of the animal kingdom; and anthropophony, defined as human-generated sound. Krause divides anthropogenic sound sources between controlled sound, such as music, and noise (incoherent and chaotic sound).
The Metaphonics project, led by Stuart Hyatt, explores these soundscapes1 through seven vinyl LPs recorded by the Field Works collective2, as well as the accompanying book, which collates essays on field recording and track by track recording notes. Alongside the geophonies of glaciers and volcanos, Hyatt leads us through various anthropophonies documenting place – Washington Street in Indianapolis, and Lancaster County (Pennsylvania) for example. Gustavo Valdivia3, in his essay Listening to the Anthropocene with Stuart Hyatt, observes that the Metaphonics projects offers an escape from thinking about the Anthropocene from a purely Earth System Science perspective: “…the sonic worlds that Hyatt presents us here come to rescue the geological – petrified –conceptual body of the Anthropocene by forcing it to vibrate”4.
1To Krause’s three soundscape divisions Hyatt adds cosmophony by using gravitational waves on the second LP of the Initial Sounds record.
2The Field Works collective includes a multitude of musicians either working in a band setting with Hyatt or producing tracks incorporating Hyatt’s field recordings. The latter includes Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Gazelle Twin, Matmos, Loscil, Rafael Anton Irisarri and Eluvium.
3Gustavo Valdivia provided sounds from the Quelccaya Glacier (Peru) for the Metaphonics project.
4Gustavo Valdivia Listening to the Anthropocene with Stuart Hyatt. In: Hyatt et al. (Eds.) Metaphonics. Jap Sam Books. p24.