The Polluted Soundscape as Music

Caroline Boë

PRISM Laboratory (Aix-Marseille University, CNRS), France


This contribution proposes to report on personal research in musical creation, targeted towards sound ecology, and carried out on the occasion of a thesis in “Practice and Theory of Artistic Creation”.

Often we enjoy the sounds of nature, and we dream of listening clearly (Schafer, 2010). However, it is almost impossible today to listen to a bird sing or a drop of water fall, without the sound being parasitized by a multitude of other surrounding sounds (Hempton, 2016). Deep ecology (Naess & Rothenberg, 2009) questions the notion of silence, which sound artists of the 1950s and 70s like Cage, Ono and Neuhaus seized upon. From this genealogy, the artistic and theoretical work is oriented towards sound pollution, its listening, and its composition in imaginary landscape.

C omposers of mixed, concrete or electroacoustic music as well as sound artists struggle to eliminate as much acoustic pollution as possible from field recordings (Mâche, 2007), this research-creation in music consists, on the contrary, in recognizing certain noise nuisances – low intensity and mainly stationary sounds – that our urban ears filter. It is a question of isolating them in order to archive and map them on a participative website – –, by focusing on their singular substance, in a materialistic way – inspired by the noise music (Russolo, 2001). This gives these waste sounds an ontological status, and places creation in the lineage of an aesthetic of rejection (Bourriaud, 2017; Dagognet, 1997). This collaborative website has a double function: the elaboration of a collective geolocalized sound palette in order to compose spatialized soundscapes, and the preparation of soundwalks oriented on the music of noises.

The commitment joins a certain activism that seeks to “strengthen environmental and social awareness” to “promote changes in social and cultural practices” (Polli, 2012). This activism is inspired by Joseph Beuys who, with the term “social sculpture”, defines art as a process of thought, speech, discussion and political and environmental action. A social and environmental activism that is revealed in the human relationships fostered by remote interactions on the web (Ascott, 1986). But the most intense moment of socio-aurality (Malatray, 2019) occurs during soundwalks that engage participants with their environment. A local consciousness then develops and creates empathy and communion with the inhabitants of the sound sphere (Polli, 2012). Finally, in the spatialized sound installations, the audience is immersed together and free to move around. In this common space-time, this “microterritory embedded in the thickness of the contemporary socius” (Bourriaud, 1998), relational art seeks to respond to a lack of social ties.

These three acts of creation – website, soundwalk and installation – participate in a heterogeneous way in the constitution of an acoustic community (Truax, 2017) that becomes aware of environmental pollution from noise pollution. The members of this community refine, through the exercise of listening, the awareness of their auditory habituation (Solomos et al., 2016), and realize that the urban soundscape as music offers the possibility of “opening wide the ears” (Pardo Salgado, 2018).

Keywords: Soundscape, Polluted field recording, Noise music



Caroline Boë is a French sound artist and a composer. Born in 1963 in Vaucluse, she lives and works in Marseille (France). Since 2013, she has dedicated herself to sound art research-creation. Currently a doctoral artistresearcher in the PRISM laboratory (Aix-Marseille-University / CNRS), her research area concerns noise pollution, relational art and web-art. Its ecological commitment directs its work towards environmental art, sound ecology, and the polluted soundscape. She is recognized for her sound installations (at GMEM / CNCM, at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris) and for her performances for graphic scores (at the Musée des Beaux-arts in Marseille, at the Cité Radieuse Le Corbusier). Her collaboration with Tunisian artists Selma and Sofiane Ouissi for the choreographic show Laaroussa (Marseille European Capital of Culture 2013) and then meetings with musicologist Christine Esclapez and sound artist Peter Sinclair upset her vision of musical composition. This is how she oriented her research towards the soundscape. A SACEM prize for the promotion of symphonic music was awarded to her in 2016. From 1995 to 2013, she composed several contemporary live performance music (theater, choreographies, poetry-opera with Fany Tirel, Didier Berjonneau, Bruno Mallet, Christophe Boulanger and Jean-Pierre Lemesle, Régine Géraud) and has produced numerous musical installations for collective exhibitions of contemporary art. It was also the time of his musical research with birdsong and sensory journeys in the dark with Didier Berjonneau. From 1987 to 1995, within the framework of the sound post-production company Paris Dièse of which she was the manager, she composed commissioned music for radio (France Musique, France Culture) and for television (CNN International, Rai Uno , Arte, la 5, Canal +, France 3, France 2, TF1).