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Soundscapes, Identities and Place: Renegotiating Heritage

Pasoulas, Aki, Martin, Brona, Knight-Hill, Andrew (2021) Soundscapes, Identities and Place: Renegotiating Heritage. In: Beast Feast 2021 - Recalibration, 22-24 April 2021, Birmingham, UK. (Unpublished) (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:91739)

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Soundscape studies often frame themselves in objective terms, regarding sounds as separated and removed from the world, in which they are divorced from their social or political context. This ideological standpoint perhaps has its roots in core questions of reality and abstraction and the notion that there is an absolute distinction between the sounds as experienced in the “real world” versus those experienced in the soundscapes constructed via recording. Even in heightened political moments the auditor is often an outside observer engaging from a detached and distanced perspective, "as an outsider — a migrant, a newcomer, a visitor — to the communities demonstrating, in some senses I held an objective viewpoint” (Rennie 2015: 17). But as the BLM movement has highlighted we must be incredibly careful of our apparent assumptions around objectivity, not least where we find ourselves in acknowledged contexts as outsiders. As Denis Cosgrove states of landscape: "Landscape is a way of seeing which is bourgeois, individualist and related to the exercise of power" (Cosgrove 1985:45). In the AHRC funded research project "Sonic Palimpsest: Revisiting Chatham Historic Dockyards” we are investigating the past via sonic means. It would be simple to treat this location as a politically and socially neutral site of industrial activity, to extract soundmarks and represent them as abstracted objects. But in so doing we risk failing to engage accurately with the identity of these objects, and worse, risk offering them up for potential re-appropriation to re-enforce existing misrepresentations. The political prescience of this discussion is highlighted by the government’s own early 2021 drive towards “protecting heritage for future generations” and "retain and explain" (linked in with their appointment of “free speech champions” for universities). (Twitter 2021). This very act of intervention by the Government acknowledges the significance of interpretation and highlights the politics and power balances at play in the representation of ideas and heritage. Therefore, it is with a sense of heightened purpose that we seek to engage, via our medium of sound, with a careful attention to wider social and political implications at play, and especially in response to notions of “protect” and “retain”. Chatham Dockyard was a military installation for 500 years. A vital shipyard that built the Royal Navy, enabling colonial dominion and all associated atrocities. The Medway towns within which it is situated suffers deprivation, a post-industrial location decimated by the closure of the yard in 1984. How do our sound worlds engage with this complex context? What are the political ramifications of our international research team engaging with this question and a site so strongly connected with British Imperialism? How can sound be deployed responsibly to engage diverse audiences, engaging in the social and political contexts which contribute to the making of place? What ideologies are our soundscapes re-enforcing or protecting?

Item Type: Conference or workshop item (Paper)
Projects: A Sonic Palimpsest: Revisiting Chatham Historic Dockyards
Uncontrolled keywords: heritage, sound, aural history
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council (
Depositing User: Aki Pasoulas
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2021 14:41 UTC
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2022 10:42 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Pasoulas, Aki.

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Martin, Brona.

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