2013 Projects
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Bermuda’s Sonic History
Alyson Thompson

The world has never heard a place quite like Bermuda. In the 1500s, this tiny island had titanic sounds. Spirited animals, like the cahow, a large Atlantic seabird, made such haunting sounds that early explorers believed this Isle of Devils was cursed and steered clear of it. Hence, Bermuda’s original soundscape began to shape its culture and environment. The British, realizing the cahows were a delicacy, quickly conquered the island and drastically altered its soundscape, by depleting the wildlife and filling Bermuda with new sounds and voices. Now, Bermuda is known for its silence and serenity—a marketable tourism attraction, yet a stark contrast to its former vibrant melody. The soundscape has constantly changed as the population grew, new industries developed, and new wildlife introduced and exterminated. Mark Twain, a frequent visitor, successfully lobbied against importing motor vehicles, because he believed they would destroy the island’s peaceful soundscape. Bermudians grew to believe that in order to profit, the island’s soundscape had to be monitored and restrained and years of sonic control suppressed vital aspects of the eco-system and culture. Many sounds that were lost were never documented. However, pockets of old sounds and sonic memories that could provide direction for a new Bermuda still exist. Bermudian policy makers, environmentalists and educators need access to their audible past to ignite social awareness. If residents became conscious of its historical soundscape, long muted aspects of the culture and environment would not only be revealed and appreciated, but Bermuda’s historicity would be preserved.

Sound is a vital part of history and I intend to retrace Bermuda’s audible past with extensive research through oral history interviews that will subsequently be used for an interactive, multisensory exhibit. This will be useful to many Bermudians as it will create a greater holistic understanding of the island. I created a well-researched timeline that traces Bermuda’s sonic history, using sailor logs and artist interpretations that were the only records available until the 1900s. As the new century emerged, so did a new and valuable resource—the individual. Bermuda’s size proposes a unique advantage, leveraged to only a few other countries. Because of its small population, interviews that cross-section a large segment of the island is highly feasible. First, I propose conducting in-depth interviews with residents, starting with the oldest members of society. They will not only be used to recount the island’s soundscape, but their own vocal testimonies will chronicle Bermudian vernacular and accents, which have changed over time due to segregation, immigration and globalization. Second, I would like to turn my research into an interactive exhibit by incorporating oral histories from those interviews and recreating Bermuda’s soundscape through the annals of time, using sound recordings and foley techniques. Residents and visitors will be able to experience the effect of humanity on the social life and the environment of Bermuda. This project will help to fill the historical gap by presenting an accurate sonic history of Bermuda in an innovative, educational environment that is as hands-on as possible.

  • Ann

    Wow…i wonder how much effort, energy, time and funds will go into producing this interactive exhibit of completely useless information?

    • Malikah

      Wow…I wonder how much effort, energy, time and funds went into such a completely, useless ASSinine comment.

  • http://twitter.com/slikkere Erica Griessel

    This is such an interesting and unique perspective on tourism! I am so impressed. Can’t wait til the day I can visit Bermuda.

  • Sharifah Issaka

    Interesting! I actually just came back from a trip to Bermuda just last month. A good friend of mine is from the island and was getting married. It’s truly an amazing place.

  • Susanne Rostock

    What a beautifully conceived and unique project and a great reminder of the effect that every aspect of the environment – either by it’s presence or absence – has on shaping who we are as individuals and as a culture. Oral history is such a significant way of preserving what has come before, There are so many wonderful and important stories that need to be heard.

  • Denovaification

    The sonic history of Bermuda is important to the maintenance and restoration of earth energy and natural resources. The sounds we hear around us have a direct effect on the homeostasis of earth as well as mans well being.

  • Krys

    Hi Alyson,

    I’m Bermudian and would like to offer communication services, if you still need them. I’m also the editor of an online magazine and would like to feature your work. Feel free to contact me at kulchathezine@gmail.com .

    K.

 

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