Advertisement

Sonic Liminality: Soundscapes, Semiotics, and Ecologies of Meaning

Abstract

The spaces between the modernist categories of human and nonhuman, or nature and culture, are collapsing in the Anthropocene. As human technological influence continues become evidenced as a global geologic force, ‘liminal spaces’ expand. Liminal spaces are spaces at the intersections and aggregations of human- and nonhuman-animal umwelten mediated by technology. Soundscapes, the collection of human and nonhuman created sounds of a particular place and time, give us unique access to the semiotic exchanges that constitute those spaces. Soundscape ecology, the study of ecosystemic relations through sound, is a method by which to engage and understand those liminal spaces. Understanding liminal spaces in this context of soundscape ecology offers insights into new ways in which organisms relate to and within their environments through sign exchange; or, new ways animals engage complex worlds of experience. In this paper I articulate this argument and define ‘sonic liminality’ as a biosemiotic process of the creation and engagement in hybrid natures. I examine umwelt engagement through a specific case study: analysis of soundscapes at a local zoological park in the southeastern United States. I argue that the digital technology-driven empirical work of soundscape ecology gives semioticians access to informational ecosystems, and therefore to the ways in which information transforms the boundaries between individual organisms and their built and natural environments.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Notes

  1. 1.

    For what I see as the richest philosophical description of Peirce’s semiotic project(s), see T.L. Short’s 1997 book (Short 1997).

  2. 2.

    My thanks here to my 2017 undergraduate researcher, Evan Waldmann, for his help in reviewing the existing literature on liminality.

  3. 3.

    There is additional tension at the edges of conservation and animal welfare as well: zoos are committed to a species-level conservation mission through education, but also to an individual animal welfare model. This is a second level of liminality within that institutional structure.

  4. 4.

    The Central Florida Zoo has been an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (https://www.aza.org) since 2011.

  5. 5.

    A few months after data analysis concluded, the eldest bull, 22 year-old Emba, was euthanized after a relapse of an age-related degenerative spinal condition (Orlando Weekly 2018). He was attended ceremoniously by zoo staff and volunteers and the other giraffes for what several volunteers described as an emotional but tranquil last few moments.

  6. 6.

    Those results are contingent on big data algorithmic techniques which, at the time of this publication, are still being processed and analyzed. Future publications will examine these quantitative data in finer detail.

References

  1. Brambilla, G., & Maffei, L. (2010). Perspective of the soundscape approach as a tool for urban space design. Noise Control Engineering Journal, 58(5), 532–539.

  2. Carr, N., & Cohen, S. (2011). The public face of zoos: Images of entertainment, education and conservation. Anthrozoös, 24(2), 175–189.

  3. Chandler, D. (2007). Semiotics: The basics. New York: Routledge.

  4. Colléony, A., Martin, L., Misdariis, N., Clayton, S., Jalme, M. S., & Prévot, A.-C. (2017). Exoticism as a mediator of everyday experiences of nature: An anthropological exploration of soundscape in zoos. Human Ecology, 45(5), 673–682.

  5. Davison, A. (2006). The trouble with nature. Geoforum, 39, 1284–1295.

  6. Devitt, T. (2012). Aldo Leopold’s field notes score a lost “soundscape.” News. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved September 11, 2019, from https://news.wisc.edu/aldo-leopolds-field-notes-score-a-lost-soundscape/. Accessed 12 Sept 2019

  7. Farina, A. (2014). Soundscape ecology. Dordrecht: Springer.

  8. Farina, A., Lattanzi, E., Malavasi, R., Pieretti, N., & Piccioli, L. (2011). Avian soundscapes and cognitive landscapes: Theory, application and ecological perspectives. Landscape Ecology, 26, 1257–1267.

  9. Hitch, G. (2016). Phenology: Tracking nature through the seasons. AldoLeopold.org. Retrieved September 11, 2019, from https://www.aldoleopold.org/post/phenology-tracking-nature-through-the-seasons/. Accessed 12 Sept 2019

  10. Krause, B. (1987). Bioacoustics, habitat ambience in ecological balance. Whole Earth Review, 57, 14–18.

  11. Krause, B. (2012). The great animal orchestra. New York, NY: Profile Books, LTD..

  12. Mackrill, J., Jennings, P., & Cain, R. (2014). Exploring positive hospital ward soundscape interventions. Applied Ergonomics, 45, 1454–1460.

  13. Mäekivi, N., & Maran, T. (2016). Semiotic dimensions of human attitudes toward other animals: A case of zoological gardens. Sign Systems Studies, 44(1/2), 209–230.

  14. Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher Education, 49, 373–388.

  15. One Square Inch. (2018). One square inch: A sanctuary for silence at Olympic National Park. Olympic National Park: One Square Inch. Retrieved September 11, 2019, from https://onesquareinch.org. Accessed 12 Sept 2019

  16. Orlando Weekly. (2018). Central Florida Zoo’s popular giraffe Emba has died. Orlando Weekly. Retrieved September 11, 2019, from https://www.orlandoweekly.com/Blogs/archives/2018/10/01/central-florida-zoos-popular-giraffe-emba-has-died. Accessed 12 Sept 2019

  17. Pijanowski, B. C., Villaneuva-Rivera, L. J., Dumyahn, S. L., Farina, A., Krause, B. L., Napoletano, B. M., Gage, S. H., & Pieretti, N. (2011a). Soundscape ecology: The science of sound in the landscape. Bioscience, 61, 203–216.

  18. Pijanowski, B., Farino, A., Gage, S. H., Dumyahn, S. L., & Krause, B. L. (2011b). What is soundscape ecology? An introducation and overview of an emerging new science. Landscape Ecology, 26, 1213–1232.

  19. Schafer, R. M. (1977). The soundscape: Our sonic environment and the tuning of the world. Rochester: Destiny Books.

  20. Short, T. L. (1997). Peirce’s theory of signs. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  21. Sibley, D. (1995). Geographies of exclusion. Society and difference in the west. London: Routledge.

  22. Southworth, M. (1969). The sonic environment of cities. Environment and Behavior, 1(1), 49–70.

  23. Taff, D., Newman, P., Lawson, S. R., Bright, A., Marin, L., Gibson, A., & Archie, T. (2013). The role of messaging on acceptability of military aircraft sounds in Sequoia National Park. Applied Acousticsm, 84, 122–128.

  24. Truax, B. (1996). Soundscape, acoustic communication, and environmental sound composition. Contemporary Music Review, 15(1), 49–65.

  25. Tuana, N. (2008). Viscous porosity: Witnessing Katrina. In S. Alaimo & S. J. Hekman (Eds.), Material feminisms: 188–213. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  26. Turner, V. W. (1967). Betwixt and between: The liminal period in rites de passage. In The forest of symbols: Aspects of Ndembu ritual (pp. 93–111). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

  27. Turner, V. W. (1969). Liminality and Communitas. In The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure (pp. 94–130). New York: Transaction Publishers.

  28. van Gennep, A. (1909/1960). The rites of passage. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

  29. von Uexküll, J. (1909). Umwelt and innenwelt der tiere. Berlin: J. Springer.

  30. Webber, S., Carter, M., Smith, W., & Vetere, F. (2016). Interactive technology and human–animal encounters at the zoo. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 98, 150–168.

  31. Whitehouse, A. (2016). Listening to birds in the anthropocene. Environmental Humanities, 6, 53–71.

  32. Wiseman, S., Wilson, P. S., & Sepulveda, F. (2014). What comprises a healthy soundscape for the captive southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium Simum Simum)? The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 136, 2305.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Jonathan Beever.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Beever, J. Sonic Liminality: Soundscapes, Semiotics, and Ecologies of Meaning. Biosemiotics (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-019-09371-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Soundscape
  • Ecology
  • Umwelten
  • Liminal space
  • Philosophy
  • Semiotics
  • Zoo