Wed, Jul 17, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Listening to the sound of silence

For soundscape advocates, quietude is a way of connecting to nature as well as each other

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Taiwan Soundscape Association president Laila Fan, right, last year watches as a woman listens to the soundscape of Menghuan Lake in Taipei.

Photo courtesy of Taiwan Soundscape Association

Lin Kun-hai (林昆海) says that for many karaoke in the mountains is a popular way to finish a hike.

“Taiwanese are not big on tranquility,” says Lin, the director-general of the Kaohsiung Wild Bird Society.

But on Taiwan’s only nationally-recognized “quiet mountain trail” (寂靜山徑) — 1,840m above sea level by the banks of Cueifong Lake (翠峰湖) in Yilan — silence reigns. A menagerie of birdcalls pierces the air with startling clarity.

To soundscape advocates, listening to nature and cultivating quietude can ironically be the best way to learn how to live with other people.

“Before we open our mouths to find fault with or chide someone, can we take pause?” asks Hsieh Wen-chi (謝文綺), a coordinator of Taiwan Listening Day, which for the past two years has been designated on July 17.

From today until August 24, the Taiwan Soundscape Association is turning up the volume on the nation’s aural heritage through a series of listening tours in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. Led by soundscape, wildlife and urban rejuvenation specialists, this is the first time that activities are taking place outside the capital.

The program starts today with a sunrise listening tour along the Alishan Forest Railway (阿里山林業鐵路) in Chiayi. Blending urban and rural settings, different tour sites reflect the varied tones of Taiwan’s development and co-existence of human and natural habitats.

In Taipei and Taichung, for example, participants learn to approach the familiar scene of each city’s Zhongshan Road with new ears. Other locations include Yangmingshan (陽明山) and Yuanshan (圓山) in Taipei as well as Taichung’s Dakeng trail (大坑) and Taichung Park (臺中公園). In Kaohsiung, highlights include a former navy ship-making facility and the endangered Cieding Wetlands (茄萣濕地), home to the black-faced spoonbill.

Soundscape advocates want to equip participants not just with a deeper capacity for listening, but also a deeper respect for their fellow creatures.

“Sound demonstrates the power struggle between humans and nature,” Lin says.

For Laila Fan (范欽慧), founder and chairperson of the Taiwan Soundscape Association who first led the push for a “quiet mountain trail” in 2013, listening deeply to natural as well as human-made sounds is a way of forging equality and environmental conservation

“Sounds of nature tend to be interpreted as the background music to human activity,” Fan says. “Through Taiwan Listening Day, we are elevating them to the same position as human-made sounds.”

As Taiwan continues to develop, those sounds are also changing. Hsieh says that local parks are increasingly transforming into gathering places for migrant workers. Rather than keeping migrant communities at a distance, a sound tour of Taichung Park seeks to reacquaint locals with their changing city.

“[Migrant workers] will continue to interact closely with us,” Hsieh says. “There’s no question about it. So we have to pursue more cultural exchange and demonstrate Taiwan’s diversity.”

The young are a natural audience for the activities, given the interactive nature of learning about heritage and history through sound. But soundscape advocates say that encouraging adults to listen more keenly to the voices of the younger generation is an objective in itself.

“Most young people are always being informed or told of others’ thoughts and opinions,” says Tu Chun-ching (凃峻清), National Taiwan University history undergraduate and editor-in-chief of Rail Youths (鐵道青年) magazine. “As youths, we hope for the possibility of hearing other types of sounds.”

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