The Walden Soundscape
The Walden Soundscape project is my effort to share the sounds at Walden Pond in Concord, MA with any interested reader of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in the form of an immersive website experience. I’m recording sounds at the pond in all four seasons, and creating companion stop-motion animation videos of a walk around the pond in each season. This project calls attention to the musicality of Thoreau’s philosophy and writing, and serves to immerse readers of Walden in the visual and sonic landscape of the pond. The project is part of my dissertation on the impact of sound and sonic vibrations on the American Transcendentalists, who were interested in maintaining harmony with nature (in a musical sense of active, reciprocal participation) and who understood music to be an experience not limited to the hearing world.
The Walden Soundscape project is funded by a Provost’s Digital Innovation Start-Up Grant from the Graduate Center, CUNY. With gratitude for this grant, I have been able to purchase sound recording equipment, receive training in sound recording and podcasting, make my first visit to Walden Pond in winter, and read some of Thoreau’s unpublished writings at Harvard University’s Houghton Library in Cambridge, MA.
The “sonic boom” of sound studies in the humanities, particularly in literary studies, calls for a new approach to “listening” to a text, especially when the text was written prior to recorded sound. This “boom” comes at a critical moment when wild soundscapes are rapidly disappearing. Sound is a vehicle for Thoreau’s environmentalist politics. For instance, he writes at the end of “The Ponds” chapter in Walden: “My Muse may be excused if she is silent henceforth. How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down?” (132). His lamentation is not only for the birds amid deforestation, but also for the music of the American soundscape that was disappearing then and is disappearing still. The opportunity to listen for a distinctly American Muse was at stake for him and is still at stake today.