Dr. Blake Wilson, Music

Green Music: Soundscapes and Landscapes

With the support of the Summer 2012 Valley and Ridge program, I undertook the revision of a first year seminar syllabus for a course I taught in 1994. The goal of the course was to track shifting western attitudes to the natural world (especially wilderness) through the lens of music and related disciplines (primarily poetry, painting, literature, and philosophy). The challenge and opportunity I faced was a completely changed campus culture of environmental study: the word "sustainability" was not in anyone's vocabulary in 1994; in 2012 there is an effort to engage the entire spectrum of the academic community in this issue. From my perspective, this raises questions about how the subject of sustainability is being framed, and if its interface with the humanities is as vital and viable as it is with the natural sciences and certain areas of the social sciences.

As I read new sources and re-read old ones during a summer of syllabus revision, all in the wake of our May V&R workshop, I came to two conclusions. First, no matter where the campus discussion and implementation of sustainability goes, an understanding of our historical encounter as humans (esp. westernized humans) with the natural world remains essential, and so I strengthened this aspect of the syllabus by adding new readings, and shifting some of the emphasis from medieval and early modern Europe, to 19th & 20th-century America. The most radical change to my syllabus, however, was to reserve the final 2-3 week segment for a class group project that will involve developing a bibliography of sources relating to the new field of soundscape ecology (formerly acoustic ecology), and engaging the students in writing their own position papers on the relevance of this new field to campus sustainability initiatives and priorities. In the process, they will be encouraged to re-think sustainability as an idea, a program, a set of values, a policy for action, etc. against the historical backdrop of our long and fraught relationship with the natural world. It is thanks entirely to the collegial environment of the Valley & Ridge workshop, with its free exchange of ideas among scholars of different disciplines, that I was motivated to undertake the above revisions.