Silence and Quiet, Music and Nature

I was watching a documentary about silence, when one phrase really struck me. The speaker, John Cage, said that the function of art ‘is to imitate nature in her manner of operation’. What I liked about this was that it reminded me of a piano piece called Nuvole Bianchi (White Clouds) by Ludovico Einaudi. The piece seeks to imitate the movement of clouds through pace, changes in volume and emotion. Absolute silence in the real world is rare, if not impossible to come by,  but, by seeking silence and thereby quiet and quieter places we can develop a deeper appreciation for the noises presented to us. We are able to find a deeper understanding of the world around us when we focus unstintingly on one particular sound (In Pursuit of Silence, 2016). I think that this is brought home when one hears the opening 1:08 seconds of the piano piece, which I have played and uploaded below.   

The playing of a few notes and then letting the music die out lets the mind focus on the next sound that is going to play, the silence drawing you in to focus your attention on the music.   

The link between nature and sound comes from the uniqueness of the  different aspects of each landscape and their individual individual soundscape. There is an affective aspect of sound, which stems from the relationship, exchanges and movements between body and place. This affective property in sound is what causes the body to have an emotional reaction or creating a feeling within a person. The affective capacity is so strong that some may go so far as to claim that sound can set the atmosphere and tone of a room or city. You do not have to be consciously listening to the sound to be affected by it (Gallagher, 2016) but when one does give a particular sound their full attention that noise can transport them to a different place and their imagination can conjure visuals, feelings and thoughts that the sound makes them relate to. This shows that music can play a key role in the production of place, literally or metaphorically, as a material setting. It can also become a concept or symbol that can be interpreted and represented in multiple ways through the creation of an affective atmosphere (Hudson, 2006). In the context of music relating to the sound of nature this would be the metaphorical reconstruction of a place as the music tries to symbolize and represent the moving white clouds through the sky. The video below tries to portray this. 

Silence, in and of itself, does not exist as a physical condition in the real world as noise is all around us. Rather silence should be thought of as our experience of noise in the world and what we individually define as silence (Shen, 2017). For me it is those moments when you are solely focused on one sound, one piece of music and it slowly fades…that is silence. 

Full Nuvole Bianchi Spotify Audio: https://open.spotify.com/track/3weNRklVDqb4Rr5MhKBR3D?si=IdmaXG8SQJ6yzkNRDStxtw  

Words 502 

Bibliography: 

Einaudi, L., 2020. Nuvole Bianchi. [Spotify] Decca Music Group Limited. 

Gallagher, M., Kanngieser, A. and Prior, J. (2016) Listening geographies: landscape, affect and geotechnologies, Progress in Human Geography 

Hudson, R. (2006) “Regions and place: music, identity and place”, Progress in Human Geography, vol. 30, no. 5, pp. 626-634. 

In Pursuit of Silence. 2016. [film] Directed by P. Shen. Roco Films. 

Shen, P. (2017) Form Out Of Formlessness. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@patrickyshen/form-out-of-formlessness-8710531358f6 

 

Smell, Memory, Place and a Touch of Nostalgia

In Western society smell is considered an unimportant sense, rather in a hierarchy of the senses proposed by the Societe d’Anthropolgie de Paris in 1978, it was placed last. The philosopher Kant even went so far as to call it the ‘animal sense’, saying that it was the sense with the least value and fascination attached to it. This is a perspective that has been carried through the past decades to the point where, in the West, we have reached a civilization of blandness. A society of people who seek to suffocate smells rather than explore them. The natural odor of the world, of its citizens, lies behind a veil of artificial smells that seek to give off a neutral or homogenized odor (Le Breton, 2006). People have even developed deodorants and perfumes which replace the odors they pleasant odors to ward-off the ones that they deem unpleasant and intrusive to their lives (Classen, 1992). In a study conducted by Rachel Winter she discovered that in public settings people would distance themselves from people who had perfume on, even if it smelled nice, whereas if a person had a neutral smell they went by unnoticed (Le Breton, 2006). This shows the western aversion to the sense of smell as they deem it a less important sense, as if they are hiding people’s natural odor.   

I found this passage quite interesting, as when I think of visiting my family in Kenya, the first thing I imagine is the smell of the land. A humid, earthy smell that fills one with life and nature or the smell the fruit trees that grow on my grandmother’s farm. I recall the smell of the people and the musky, dusty scent of the dirt roads. In comparison, when I think of Edinburgh I do not think of its smell or odor as it does not seem to have one that leaves a lasting impression as such, it is more bland and uninspiring, in my experience.   

Smell is an important aspect of everyday life and helps define a place (Kurtz, 2014). This is usually linked to the nostalgic feeling that comes from relating a place and the people in it with the smell being linked to a memory. This is true in the smell of earth and my grandmother as I have previously stated. It is by reliving these memories and situating ourselves into past experiences and scenarios that these smells come to the forefront in our mind. When smells arouse positive memories, there is a sense of nostalgia as one seeks to remember an idealized version of a scent, usually engendering some elation in mood and a positive atmosphere (Vannini, Waskul and Wilson, 2009).   

Therefore, whenever I think back to the smells of Kenya and home it always puts me in a good mood as I smell the hot red earth and ripe tropical fruit, the sunshine on my face and the feel of being one with nature.  

Words: 493 

References: 

Classen, C., 1992. The Odor of the Other: Olfactory Symbolism and Cultural Categories. Ethos, 20(2), pp.133–166. 

Le Breton, D. (2017) Scents of Self and Other: Smell, the Sense of Transition. In: Sensing the World: An Anthropology of the Senses, 1st ed. New York: Bloomsbury, pp.131-179. 

Kubartz, B. (2014) Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and Designing City Smell Environments. The AAG Review of Books, 2(3), pp.99-101. 

Vannini, P., Waskul, D. and Wilson, J. (2009) The Aroma of Recollection: Olfaction, Nostalgia, and the Shaping of the Sensuous Self. The Senses and Society, 4(1), pp.5-22. 

 

  

  

Taste, Flavor, Food

Picture a strawberry in your mind, imagine what it tastes like when you put it in your mouth and take a small bite. I can savour its sweetness, slight bitterness, juiciness and its fruitiness. Now I think about its flavor. I get the same answers. What is the difference then, between taste, and flavor?  When we employ these two terms in everyday life, we use them interchangeably. However, taste refers to one of the five senses and comprises the four basic tastes; sweet, bitter, sour and salty, with a fifth one, umami, which is meaty. Flavor, on the other hand, is the combination of gustation and olfaction. This means that flavors come from the act of tasting and the perception of smell of the food. In other words, the combination of tasting and smelling (Auvrey, Smith and Spence, 2015).  

Flavor is thus a multisensory perception of our food, not solely limited to taste. It has even been argued that changing the environment in which one eats, by altering sounds and colours, will further shape the flavour of what is being served to us. This act can be split into two stages: before the food arrives and whilst we are eating it. Before the food arrives, the sounds, smells and visuals around us build an expectation of what we think the food will be like. These are the exteroceptive senses. The interoceptive senses are those which are stimulated during consumption and petain to the sound of people chewing, the smell and aroma of the food we are eating, its taste and the sensation of the food in our mouths (Piqueras-Fiszman and Spence, 2014).  

Some chefs also like to enhance our experience by mixing different foods, which would, at first, seem incompatible or incongruous, thereby surprising the person eating the food. This can be done either by hinting in the menu at what is in the dish, to pique the diner’s curiosity and anticipation, or by keeping it hidden. The aim is to challenge the diner’s senses, surprising them with something different or new which will enhance their experience of a dish or a place. The chefs would take our expectation of what we think a dish is by its look and smell, and then challenge us through our senses (Piqueras-Fiszman and Spence, 2014). Surprises like this are reliant upon a diner’s experiences and hoping to challenge them with something different. Smell has the capacity to bring back pleasant or unpleasant memories and this is what happens with food. When we see a dish, smell it or read it on a menu we instinctively think back to what it tastes like or where our favourite version of that dish was made and eaten. Our memories are full of flavours and smells of tastes and foods we like, meaning that we can always compare what we are eating to past meals and experiences of food (Todd, 2018). Flavor is just an extension and more detailed approach to taste.  

Words: 495

References: 

Auvray, M., and Smith, B. and Spence C. (2015) Confusing tastes with flavours, in Stokes, D., Matthen, M. and Biggs, S. (eds.) Perception and its Modalities. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 247-276  

Piqueras-Fiszman, B. and Spence, C. (2014) The Multisensory Perception of Flavour. In: The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining. John Wiley and Sons, pp.183-213. 

Piqueras-FIszman, B. and Spence, C. (2014) Using Surprise and Sensory Incongruity in a Meal. In: The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining. John Wiley and Sons, pp.215-247. 

Todd, C. (2018) Tasting In Time: The Affective And Temporal Dimensions Of Flavour Perception. 

Darkness and Seeing: Stuck on a Rock Face

I am sat on the rocky Crags looking down at the footpath below me. My friend and I had decided to climb up part of the rock face to a small niche to enjoy the last few rays of sunlight and warmth. As the sun disappears and the light quickly fades, we realize we cannot see anything in front of us, let alone the way back down to the footpath. As I scan the space below me all I see are slight outlines of the rockface, no clear handholds or footholds, it is nothing but faint lines and etchings. Nothing solid or concrete.   

This is the power of darkness. It ‘engenders a sense of temporary dissolution’ where everything becomes less clear. The loss of clarity or light is what causes the sudden feeling of unease to creep up on me and make me scared, as I do not know how my body is in relation to my surroundings (Morris, 2011) since I no longer have the ability to see. It is as if I am lost in a ‘realm of insubstantial and indeterminate forms’ (Edensor, 2013). It is as if darkness has its own capacity to influence how people act and feel within its presence. Its own agency, in other words (Russo, 2007).   

I feel my heart start to palpitate quicker in my chest, a constant drum beat coursing through my body, growing louder with every thud. The pounding in my chest increases and I feel my heart stop. I am scared that I am stuck as I cannot see the world around me.  

Having a negative effect on my emotions ,bringing with it a backdrop of fear and panic which starts to settle within me as I imagine all the horrors that could happen to me if I am left to the darkness and what lurks within it. This comes from darkness’ effect or the underlying atmospheric mood which it creates (Anderson, 2014).  This explains why when I was stuck on the rocks on the Crags I felt a sense of fear wash over me.  It was not the peaceful darkness that washes over me every night as I am lying comfortably within my bed, or the darkness that envelops one at the theatre when it sets in and you know it is only for a moment before the light returns and you see again, bringing a sense of calm to the darkness because you know it is only a momentary blindness (Welton, 2013).   

In the absence of my sense of sight I had to rely on my sense of touch to get down the rockface, which for a time reverted my perspective on the world to one of touch instead of sight (Edensor, 2013). This thought struck me quite strongly a few weeks later whilst in a lecture on the sense of touch when the guest speaker Abbie Garrington said, ‘To touch is to know’. On that day I did see by touch. 

 

Words 495

References: 

Anderson, B. (2009) Affective atmospheres, Emotion, Space and Society 2: 77-81. 

Edensor, T. (2013) Reconnecting with darkness: gloomy landscapes, lightless places, Social and Cultural Geography 14(4): 446-465. 

Morris, N.J. (2011) “Night walking: darkness and sensory perception in a night-time landscape installation”, Cultural Geographies, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 315-342. 

Russo, C. (2007) The Concept Of Agency In Objects. [online] Brown.edu. Available at: https://www.brown.edu/Departments/Joukowsky_Institute/courses/materialworlds/1825.html.  

Welton, M. (2013) “The Possibility of Darkness: Blackout and Shadow in Chris Goode’s Who You Are”, Theatre Research International, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 4-19. 

Touching with My Feet

Our sense of touch encompasses our whole body. Stretching across or limbs, muscles, bones, nerves and joints with a layer of skin that is in constant contact to what is around us. It is our first form of contact to the world and the way of the world contacting and touching our body. The feel of the wind, taking a step on the ground or even just the sensation of our bed covers on top of us. We are in constant contact with the world through our skin (Le Breton, 2017) I found that this would be a good way to explore the everyday movement of just being in my flat and walking around in it through the sensations in my feet. 

Ever since Darwin and the rise of the theory of evolution people have been concerned with how our hands have enabled us to move forwards in the world and dominant universally. The only apparent used for feet was walking around and lend support when one was standing still to let hands roam free. However, it seems that by letting our hands explore the world and invent tools such as shoes and boots and socks we have lost touch with the actual feel of things through our feet. Previously our ancestors would walk barefoot everywhere and now no one then (Ingold, 2004). There is somewhat of a lost feeling when it comes to this sensation that is not talked excessively. This led me to think how I move about my flat. We have a soft white carpet so there is a no shoes policy inside the apartment 

When I came in from the groceries, I take my shoes off and step out onto the carpet. My feet lose their tight grip on the ground and my movements become a bit more slippery. I can feel a smooth surface beneath my feet, partially cushioned by socks, and it seems as if it is a bit easier to walk around. No interference between my feet and the carpet. Yet it still feels as if my feet are protected by something. I stop and slip off my socks. Wiggling my toes as they encounter the air. It is colder than I thought. My feet are not as warm without the socks. The carpet feels coarser, rougher and not as slippery but it feels nice. My feet feel at peace touching the carpet. Not to smooth or too rough just natural contact with the carpet. It is nice. 

There is a knowledge in touching the carpet through my feet where I seem to better understand it. It occurs through the reciprocal mutual touching and feeling of my feet to the carpet and the carpet to my feet. In some weird way we become one giant organism that is connected. Never apart. Unlike the other senses touch makes one decenter from the world around oneself and become one with it knowing it intimately (Hetherington, 2003).  

Words: 491

References: 

Hetherington, K. (2003) Spatial textures: place, touch and praesentia, Environment and Planning A 35: 1933-1944 

Ingold, T. (2004) Culture on the ground: the world perceived through the feet, Journal of Material Culture 9(3): 315-340 

Le Breton, D. (2017) Skin deep: touch, the sense of contact, in Sensing the World (translated by
Ruschensky, C.). London: Bloomsbury, pp. 95-130