Darren Copeland is a sound artist and past president of CASE, the Canadian Association of Sound Ecologists. His widely exhibited works include live performance, sound installations, and fixed media compositions. He also curates a wide array of sound events in his role as Artistic Director of New Adventures in Sound Art, a presentation platform for experimental sound artists.
I spoke to him about his work and about the field of sound ecology at his home outside South River, Ontario.
I’m a sound artist. What I try to think of it is, is making art with sounds, rather than art with pictures. You could say it’s music, but I think that by calling it sound art rather than music puts to rest some expectations, that there’s no melody and that in my case that the focus is on the sounds of the environment and engaging with that as creative material. I like to think of it more as a practice of maybe, um maybe sculpting or something where you’re taking something that exists and you’re chiseling away a form out of it.
Sound ecology and acoustic ecology—are sort of the same term—they arose out of the research of the World Soundscape Project in the 70s. And although many of them had a background as musicians, their approach to the soundscape was, I guess from an ecological point of view, where they were studying the relationship of sounds between different organisms or how different organisms functioned from an acoustic point of view.
The field of sound ecology and acoustic ecology is an interdisciplinary fields, in fact. It’s comprised of not just composers, but also geographers, engineers, anybody who’s work involves sound, and who are interested in looking at the impact of sound, or the role of sound.
I think there’s the thing about, a kind of touristic view of listening, is that you encounter something new. All your defences and expectations of what’s supposed to happen go away, and you hear things new again.
The thing with environmental sounds in the soundscape is people hear them all the time, so they’re familiar with them. So it’s not like writing music with some complex harmony or something, where you’re creating sounds that people might be unaccustomed to. When I make a piece all with environmental sounds, then there is a recognition already there. People have memories, it might trigger memories, certain sounds. There is an immediate connection there. It’s just kind of awakening it, just bringing it to the surface, is all that I’m doing. And I think that by doing that, then you open the discussion or the awareness that there is more to the acoustic dimension in people’s experience than they give credit to.
It’s kind of about an openness to things, and a readiness. Readiness that sound will happen, always happen. And it’s not a question of whether you’re ready with your recorder to listen, it’s that you’re ready to listen. And that happens first.