In calling for a new understanding of sound, the French composer Erik Satie suggested that “…we must bring about a music which is like furniture – a music, that is, which will be part of the noises of the environment, will take them into consideration.” Creating such a music would be to open out to sound, to follow sound all the way to the point where it is no longer that; to the point where it becomes an army, or a chocolate cake, or a walk by the sea. One must know how to listen in ways other than in proper forms, if only to hear what is heard; if only to follow through the possibilities of a sounding out. One must listen to the heat, to the smell of death, to the return of good friends, for these sounds are long in the living of the ear.
With the rising popularity, and the obvious ubiquity, of ambient soundscapes, from deep trance to lush rainforests to rippling piano lines, Satie’s call for a furniture music, for a music that functions in the same manner as light and heat, inevitably intersects with the seamless surface of these new sonic environments, raising the possibility of who might be listening, and how they are listening. In this sense, the concept of ambience, as the trajectory of modern musical experience, releases hearing from the drive towards a pure sound, towards an absolute music, pointing instead towards the application of sound, towards the possibility of reconfiguring sound around what can be heard, around the act of hearing. Ecology, ornithology, ethnography and marine-biology; a vast typology of elements is brought together in a frenzy of sampling that sends the listener spinning off into a sonic ether.
The “sounds of the day” are made audible through their replication as compositions as part of an affective pulse that acts upon the way in which sound becomes apparent as sound, while enfolding the listener within a sonic space that creates an echo, a reverberation that alters the way of sounds in and around us.
- Nicholas Gebhardt (Australia) is a radio producer, writer and a musician who is currently completing his Ph.D on jazz and modernity in the History Department, University of Sydney.