A General Ecology of Things,

Barney Kass
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Previous updates:

Update #1:

The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think - Gregory Bateson

A General Ecology of Things is an exploration into social ecosystems, anthropology and community.

An ecosystem is defined as an interconnected biological community of perfectly individual organisms interacting with their physical environment. I invite you to observe yourself as an ecosystem. A complex system with highly collaborative elements that nourishes and ultimately enables us to survive. An ecosystem is reliant on a fine balance between everything within the “community” and the different mutualistic and parasitic relationships that exist within them.

Sound and music has been embedded in our culture for as long as people have formed communities. We hear as a form of protection and communication between each other and the environment. It has been argued that even the caves we once chose to live, pray and paint in during the Palaeolithic era were specifically chosen for their acoustic properties, either to protect us from intruders or to utilise reverberant spaces to create an ethereal euphoric environment. It has now developed over time into a powerful form of expression that binds us together. Cultures from around the world have used sound and ritual to connect with their surroundings and empower themselves for generations. A common hole in our cultural fabric surrounding well-being is connection.
Update #2:

How can we reconstruct our daily surroundings to recapture our sonic and physical environments?

Paul de Kort is a landscape artist who in collaboration with architects H.N.S to produce the ‘Ground Sound’ park in Amsterdam. The surrounding area was being deeply affected by the noise pollution from a nearby airport and the noisy city soundscape.

The park encourages the public to enjoy nature whilst minimising noise pollution coming from a nearby airport creating which was affecting the mental health of the surrounding residents and causing housing prices to drop.

This sound absorption is being done by the artist, de Kort, by selecting specific plants such as oak trees that have acoustic properties to absorb and reflect disturbing sound waves both protecting people inside the park and nearby homes.

The park also utilises sound mirrors originally a technique used in World War 2 as early warning devices. de Kort appropriates these mirrors to expose natural soundscapes at specific view/listening points. The mirrors are aimed towards a “peaceful” sonic environment; when a listeners head is at the focal point, they are exposed to the highlighted and calming soundscape.
Update #3:

To what extent are we entangled with our environment?

As we perceive our environment we both consciously and subconsciously collaborate with our surroundings.

Our anthropocentric world view ignores this ongoing performative collaboration we have with our environment.

Sound plays a huge role in this entanglement, it is also from all the senses one of the hardest to escape.

Sound triggers neurohormonal mechanisms in us all, it happens when we listen to music alone and subtly when we are perceiving our environment. To some with sound processing disorders this can be incredibly harmful and distressing and others such as alzheimers patients can sometimes ignite dead matter in the brain and help form a sustainable lifestyle.

Our current sonic environment within most cities is unsustainable and non-inclusive, the very machines and tools that contribute so much to our society are poisoning the spaces they inhibit with loud unstable sound. By allowing this to happen are we not polluting our own brain chemistry?

Update #4:

Bioacoustics is the study that investigates the relationship between biodiversity and environmental acoustics.

It investigates both humans and non-human sounds to learn about their relationships with each other. It looks at sound production, dispersion and reception noises with the aim to track and gauge the wellbeing of diverse ecosystems.

The video is an abstraction of the environmental and synthetic sounds I have collected or made.
Update #5:

I have been questioning what a city is?

A large town?

But what is a town?  

A built-up area with a name, defined boundaries, and local government, that is larger than a village and generally smaller than a city?

Whilst I’m sure that the inhabitants were implied. I question why these general ideologies could not have been based more substantially on perhaps the life living inside?

Photography by Al Leeming.
Update #6:

I have been trying to develop “A General Ecology of Things” to be more collaborative. Exploring how I can create a conversation with the environment.

In his book “Noise” Jacques Attali observes how soundscapes reflect our culture and noise a symbol of destruction. Alongside this Attali proposes that music is the conversion of this destruction or anxiety.

Through my previous research in this project, I have discovered many physical and mental repercussions linked to noise pollution. Thus, I have been questioning how I can create a Metamorphosis state to convert the 'destruction' into something more vibrant.

I have been using destructive bioacoustics recordings and converting the data into musical and visual information. This method aims to track and gauge these atmospheres' wellbeing whilst also creating something artistic out of the information.

Music and Visuals are a work in progress partially created with the system I am working on.

Update #7:

The health implications of noise pollution are vast and can have some seriously disabling effects on mental health. Epidemiological studies haves shown that, in comparison to rural areas, these health problems occur more often in urban settings. Surprisingly, noise pollution can be found in the London underground effecting mental wellbeing of the paying and trusting masses [1].

By combining music with industrial and natural field recordings I am trying to speculate on what potential sonic avenues could lead to more inclusive urban spaces. When we listen to non-abrasive sound in groups our pituitary gland releases a neurohormone called prolactin, a hormone that helps bond people together increasing empathy and relives stress as well as oxytocin which causes feelings of trust.

This has led me to question, how we can design cities soundscapes through musical thinking? And how by designing more harmonic spaces we can achieve more inclusive public spaces [2].

[1] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/psychological-medicine/article/abs/understanding-urbanicity-how-interdisciplinary-methods-help-to-unravel-the-effects-of-the-city-on-mental-health/5460CCEA80F446A9AA83D34AE1959335
[2] https://bethfinke.com/blog/2012/01/12/this-is-your-brain-on-music/#:~:text=Research%20shows%20that%20listening%20to,hormone%20that%20bonds%20people%20together

Update #8:

Over the last few months, I have been working on a how to source the bioacoustics data from ambient soundscapes. A bioacoustics device listens to the environmental sound converts it into numerical data or a spectrogram. After reading Latifah Munirah Kamarudin’s paper on building low-cost bioacoustics devices I began to create my own.

During this time, I began speaking with a professional musician about his experience dealing with excessive noise pollution in his living environment. We discussed how the introduction of the harmful sound affected his mental and physical well-being. After these conversations I placed the bioacoustics device by his flat and collected 48hrs of ambient sound and converted it into numerical data based on frequency,
amplitude and time of day.

I am hoping to dissect the noise found in the recordings, look for patterns and use the data in an artistic, sonic outcome.
Update #9:

“Music is the only noise I can bare” - excerpt from interview May 2021

I have been interviewing two musicians. One has recently been experiencing the effects of harmful noise pollution in their living space and more recently a musician with a sensory processing disorder. Through my conversations about how the two-experience sound both talked about how music has helped them cope with stressful sonic environments.

Since then, I have been analysing the bioacoustics data I have been collecting and begun to convert it into numerical data based on time of day, amplitude and frequency. After analysing this data, I have been using it to create music in the music production software Ableton.

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