- the component sounds of an environment.
Since the advent of the industrial age, the sounds of men and machines have dominated soundscapes the world over. The effects of this sonic effluence are comparable to the the air or waterways – all manner of living things suffer as a result. In a world dominated by headlines about war and finance, the importance of the world’s natural soundscapes and the consequences of this current degradation are routinely overlooked. Fortunately, in recent years this problem has been increasingly acknowledged by scientists working in the burgeoning field of acoustic ecology. Their work and these concerns are at the heart of my thesis.
In order to illustrate the extent and impact of soundscape degradation, I will produce a film that will take viewers on a journey across the globe to experience its effects first hand. We’ll travel to disparate and contrasting locations, from the world’s noisiest city to its remotest wilderness, before heading closer to home to see how sound pollution affects us on a daily basis. For part of the journey we’ll be accompanied by eminent and enigmatic acoustic ecologist Bernie Krause. Krause is notable for his past career as a musician and a tendency to combine artistic sensibility with scientific rigor. His relevant and expert insights will feature throughout.
The themes of soundscape degradation and acoustic ecology will also carry through to my academic thesis. A discussion of Krause’s working methods will serve as a starting point for a close observation of contemporary sound art practices, which are similarly characterised by the integration of sound science and scientific practice. Sound art is a broad term for an array of experimental art that is grounded in acoustic experimentation and increasingly influenced by acoustic ecology.
I will explore an array of sound art practices and analyse the work of various sound artists who frame their work within scientific contexts, integrate scientific data into their creations or use their art as a means to draw attention to soundscape degradation and other issues of scientific interest. I aim to determine how and why such practices are an effective means of communicating scientific concepts, what it is that makes them resonate with viewers and how they might help us to recognise, remedy, and raise awareness of issues related to acoustic ecology.
The past few years has seen a rapid increase in the use of DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras in a wide variety of narrative and documentary films. Their use results in a number of distinct aesthetic outcomes that were previously unavailable to filmmakers working with tight budgetary constraints. Yet while their adoption is widespread, there is a noticeable lack of academic inquiry into the usage and effects of DSLR especially
In the context of what I phrase a new ‘DSLR aesthetic’, this thesis explores the manifold links between aesthetics and science, between aesthetics and communication in film and thus between aesthetics and communicating science. The goal of these explorations is to examine and evaluate the propensity of the DSLR aesthetic to more effectively entertain, engage and educate viewers in natural history and science documentaries.
This thesis first sets out to examine notions of general aesthetics and documentary aesthetics, with reference to general film aesthetics, which are the most significant forebear to the DSLR aesthetic. Then, following a detailed explanation of DSLRs’ technical specifications and resultant aesthetic outcomes, this thesis evaluates the communicative efficacy of the DSLR aesthetic with specific reference to natural history and science documentaries. As well as a range of case studies and critical commentary I also draw extensively from my personal experiences shooting the environmental film ‘A Delicate Canvas’, exclusively using DSLRs.
I conclude that the DSLR aesthetic offers many new avenues for aesthetic expression that are effective in entertaining, engaging and educating audiences. Such avenues include the use of shallow depth of field, High Definition resolutions, low-light filming, increased compactness and increased affordability. I also note a number of drawbacks to the use of DSLRs, which in some ways detract from the advantages the afford.