What can we learn of dangerous places by listening to their sounds?

‘Sonic Journalism’ is the aural equivalent of photojournalism. It describes the practice where field recordings play a major role in the discussion and documentation of places, issues and events and where listening to sounds of all kinds strongly informs the approach to research and following narratives whilst on location.

Recent travels have brought me into contact with some difficult and potentially dangerous places. Most are areas of major environmental/ecological damage, but others are nuclear sites or the edges of military zones. The danger is not necessarily to a short-term visitor, but to the people of the area who have no option to leave or through the location’s role in geopolitical power structures. Dangerous places can be both sonically and visually compelling, even beautiful and atmospheric. There is, often, an extreme dichotomy between an aesthetic response and knowledge of the ‘danger’, whether it is pollution, social injustice, military or geopolitical.

Places visited:

  • Chernobyl exclusion zone, Ukraine;
  • Caspian oil fields, Azerbaijan;
  • Tigris and Euphrates rivers valleys in South Eastern Turkey threatened by massive dam building projects;
  • North Wales, UK, where Chernobyl fallout still affects sheep farming practice;
  • Nuclear, military and greenhouse gas sites in the UK, including Sellafield, Dungeness, Bradwell, Sizewell, Thetford Forest, Rainham and Uttlesford;

Field recordings, photographs, conversations, scientific and other information were collected at the sites and have been used for talks, lectures, radio programs, gallery installations, publications and CDs. The Sounds from Dangerous Places CDs present recordings, images and writing from Chernobyl, the Caspian oil fields and UK sites.

The next phase of the project—Sounds of Water Use and Abuse—explores the increasing importance of global water issues including material recorded from the dam projects in Turkey.