Soundscape scholars and composers on a «sound walk» on Mount Koli (photo: Thomas Burkhalter).

Ethical Questions about Working with Soundscapes

I attended a soundscape conference on Mount Koli in Finland, and I really enjoyed this keynote paper by Andra McCartney. She asked a lot of important questions concerning what some would call «Sonic Tourism».

Andra McCartney published her keynote paper on the Soundwalking Interactions blog.

Text from keynote presentation at WFAE international conference Ideologies and Ethics in the Uses and Abuses of Sound, Koli, Finland, June 19, 2010. By Dr. Andra McCartney

When soundscape composers, documentarians and artists work with soundscapes, they are expressing relationships to the place of work and its inhabitants and visitors, to the sounds listened to, recorded from or projected into the place, and to the audience of the work. Each time a soundscape composer designs a soundwalk or a theatre piece, an installation or broadcast work, relationships with the world are expressed through how the maker treats the place, the sounds and the audience. Does the maker want to reveal particular sonic aspects of the place as it is, as it used to be, as it might be? Does the composer want to create an ideal place through sound and if so, what are the characteristics of this imaginary place and what ideas and values inform this utopic creation? How does the composer treat the sounds? How prominent are the composer’s treatments in relation to the sounds originally heard in that place, and what are the characteristics of this electroacoustic ecology? What are the dominant and masked sounds in the piece and how do they interact? What connections are there in the work between what is heard in the piece and the place of recording? Does the maker imagine the audience as deafened into numbness and needing to be awakened to true listening by the composer or soundwalk leader’s approach to the soundscape? Do we imagine the listener is ignorant and needing enlightenment? Do we think of the listener as possessed of original and unusual ways of listening, contributing to an expanded awareness of how to work with soundscapes? What are the ethics of this expression, and how are these ethics informed by underlying ideologies of sound, of sound production, and of sound ecology?

Please read the whole article here!


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Published on July 05, 2010

Last updated on March 28, 2020


Thomas Burkhalter is an ethnomusicologist and cultural producer from Switzerland. He is the founder and director of Norient – Performing Music Research (, and artistic director of the Norient Film Festival. Recent main projects include the documentary film «Contradict» (2019), the AV/theatre/dance performance «Clash of Gods» (2018), and the re-launch of Norient (2019). He published the book «Local Music Scenes and Globalization: Transnational Platforms in Beirut» (Routledge), and co-edited «The Arab Avant Garde: Musical Innovation in the Middle East» (Wesleyan University Press).
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