Exploring Our Environments and Lives Through Sound Waves: CPL October Meetup

On Friday, October 6, 2023, the CUNY Peer Leaders convened on Zoom for two hours with CPL Facilitator Kelsey Milian, Coordinator Jackie Cahill, and Director Lauren Melendez, who dialed in from the 2023 Mellon Conference at USF. Facilitator Kelsey Milian Lopez, who is pursuing a PhD in Ethnomusicology at the CUNY Graduate Center, guided participants in an inventory activity that gave everyone an opportunity to speak and share a sound memory. 

The prompt was: “Think about the sounds from your life that bring you a sense of nostalgia; this could be music, jingles, or even sounds so ingrained in your memory. Let’s share what these are! Do these sounds spark joy? bring back complicated feelings? Are they attached to a memory? Why these sounds?”

Participants shared their favorite songs, songs linked to their identities or that have a favorite memory associated with them; song artists their parents played for them when they were kids; intro music from favorite television shows and films; favorite voices or sounds of laughter; noises that surprised or disturb them; the sounds of the city; a lack of city noise while in the suburbs; the presence of birds and other animals in the suburbs; and more. 

After everyone had an opportunity to contribute, Milian grounded participants with a foundational introduction to soundscape studies, stopping to play sound recordings and asking participants to comment on what they noticed. In her brilliant incorporation of interactive listening exercises throughout her lecture, listeners remained fully engaged in the chat and in activities where they practiced identifying sound signals in an outdoor landscape (birds, water); soundmarks in a recording of an amusement park (the rollercoaster); and then keynotes, sound signals, and soundmarks such as language in a recording from downtown Tokyo. 

According to R. Murray Schafer, author of The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (1977), keynotes “outline the character of the people living there”; sound signals are “foreground sounds”; sound markers are “unique to an area.”

We took some time to go into breakout groups, each group focusing on one soundscape. In my group, we listened to a video game soundscape from Yoshi’s Adventure Ride in Super Nintendo Land in Japan. Later, when we came back to the main Zoom room, we found out that others had listened to a soccer game, a rainy day in Miami, an ice skating rink, a forest, or a coffee shop. Groups were tasked with answering several questions to apply what we had just learned from Milian’s interactive lecture. Some of the keynote sounds in the Yoshi Ride were upbeat and two-dimensional like a video game. Sound signals included bells and chimes, echoes from other parts of the park. As we listened we could also identify some soundmarkers like conversations in Japanese and the sounds of the ride itself. We used the Circle of Sounds chart that Milian provided (pictured below) to come up with some language to describe what we had heard. We chose “eventfulness” because the sounds were lively, cheerful, and upbeat yet bordering on chaotic because there was a lot of sonic information. 

After groups shared some of their conversations, Kelsey Milian introduced the CPLs to their next assignment. The Peer Leaders will be choosing a soundscape of their own and recording their soundscapes on their phones. They have some questions to answer, such as: identify some of the keynotes; is the space being affected by invasive forces such as construction; and how would you protect the soundscape? Then they will create their own album artwork for their soundscapes using Canva, Photoshop, or any program they like. In November, at their next in-person meetup, the Peer Leaders will share their soundscapes with each other. 

As a sound studies scholar, I was so delighted to be a part of this very special and reflective meetup. I learned so much from Facilitator Milian’s sound pedagogy and interactive listening exercises, and found the Peer Leader’s contributions so insightful and engaging. I cannot wait for the meetup on November 3rd to have our own gathering and listening session! 

You can view the slides from the presentation here, shared with permission from Facilitator Kelsey Milian. 


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