about sonic footprints
It's a Sunday morning, and a cold fog hangs over the waves of the South China Sea. The landscape looks endless, with just the deep blue water and a gray sky blending into the horizon. In this misty scene, that’s enveloped with silence, there are no visual cues that would allow for any kind of orientation.
Under the water's surface however, it is anything but silent. Every ten seconds, a deafening noise penetrates the depths of the sea. These sounds come from airguns used in seismic surveys by a prospecting ship searching for oil on the seabed.
The oil found here will later be used in the production of plastic toy dolphins and vinyl records, both made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Not only does this oil fuel the production of these products, it also powers the supply chain that allows these products to reach Europe after being made in Dongguan, China. It’s the burning of fossil fuels that emits large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Not since the invention of PCF (Product Carbon Footprint) has the link between carbon emissions and the production of consumer goods been so clearly demonstrated. Despite the difficulty to precisely relate emissions of the invisible gas CO2 to a specific product, the PCF is a tool that opens up a product-oriented way of thinking ecologically.
Speaking of invisible emissions, the sounds that are caused by the life cycle of a toy dolphin are not just invisible, they are also temporary. Yet they do have a lasting effect on real dolphins as they use sound to orient themselves. Noise for them must be like fog for humans, making it impossible to find their way through the endless depths of the sea.
Endless standings of cetaceans after activities that cause underwater noise like the prospection for oil show, that the phenomenon of sound can even be lethal for animals – not to think about the consequences that have remained invisible still.
It is quite an oxymoron that products like toy dolphins generate environmental emissions that are a deadly threat to actual dolphins – just through sound.
Sonic Footprints" is an investigative project that seeks to explore the impact of industrial sound emissions on the environment, viewing them as an ecological footprint. The investigation centers on the question of how mass-produced objects may interfere with ecosystems through the sounds that are generated during their manufacturing.
To examine this issue, the project focuses on the production of a PVC-toy-dolphin as a case study. Through field recordings obtained both in air and underwater, the complete sonic landscape of the toy's supply chain is captured, uncovering sound emissions that interfere with the habitat of real dolphins.
The project takes into account the ultrasonic hearing range of dolphins, recognizing that sounds that are inaudible to humans may still impact them. As technology exists to bridge this perceptual gap, a debate on the agency of such technology opens up, since the information that such technology produces remains subjective to its design.
The culmination of the project is the creation of a vinyl record that hold engraved the toy-dolphin's sonic footprint. This record, made from the same material as the toy-dolphin, reproduce the sounds of its production both above and below water. The records serve as a tangible and enduring artifact of the project's exploration into the interconnectedness between mass-produced objects and ecosystems.