arriving at Donghwa University to begin this week’s work, i took a walk through campus to get a sense of what we might hear–a preliminary soundwalk to let me know how to plan. what surprised me was how loud much of the campus was. besides a road nearby with vehicular traffic, the buildings all hummed with hvac, one with a roar and whine audible a couple hundred meters away. not what one expects of a campus in Hualien County

為了準備這禮拜在東華大學的聲音藝術工作坊,我行李沒放下幾分鐘就出去散步,尋找校園聲音景觀的音響指標,很驚訝的是,想像中充滿大自然聲的校園,除了秋風吹過芒草颯颯音、鳥啼蟲鳴之外,還有很多噪音,特別是建築物空調系統的音,非常大聲。很意外的,這應該是校園的基礎聲音 (keynote)。這說不定不只是東華聲音景觀特色,而是台灣校園的共同基礎聲音

走在校園我不免想到murray schafer給噪音的定義:我們習慣不注意到的聲音,the sounds we have learned to ignore。走在校園中,我也納悶:難道我在其他校園一直沒有注意到空調系統的聲音?這聲音應該無所不在,但是,我也記得25-30年前並不如此,這基礎聲音是台灣近年來學校比設備的結果,也是建築設計失敗的產物




The noise of the HVAC made it impossible for me not to wonder whether the soundscape shares its key elements with those of any Taiwanese academic campus. And although i have many reservations about Murray Schafer’s conception of noise, his argument that noise is the set of sounds that we have learned to ignore came to mind. I wonder how many of us delight in the natural setting of campuses like Donghwa (but here I’d include Taitung University’s Jhihben Campus or DaYeh University in Yuanlin) but push away from awareness the constant whine and rush of the HVAC and electrical appliances. These sounds are constant today, but of course they are relatively new. 25 or 30 years ago, the soundscapes of Taiwanese universities were much different in composition. If there is a common keynote sound in Taiwanese campuses today, dominated by HVAC, this is both the product of the massive expansion of university facilities during the 1990s and 2000s and the failures of architecture to create more efficient and sonically pleasing environments

I remember living in Tunghai University, located on the outskirts of Taichung City, back in 1987. At the time there were few noises in the campus soundscape that could drown out the sound of water and wind. These sounds formed the background against which one heard the sounds of students talking, laughing, and walking. The road to Taichung Harbor was outside of the front gate and did introduce a constant hum toward that side of the university, and common sounds included the daily garbage trucks and some deliveries. But even bicycles were exiled from campus, let alone motorcycles, meaning that the campus was relatively free of vehicular traffic. Built in the 1950s and 1960s when Taiwan was a poor country, resources couldn’t be expended on heating and cooling the buildings. As a result, the one and two story courtyard buildings were all constructed with good ventilation in mind. Open to the sounds of the campus, they also added the voices of lectures, discussion, and practice. In the late 1980s this soundscape still dominated the campus at Tunghai and was even similar, with the addition of the hum of motor vehicles surrounding the campus, at National Taiwan University

From the mid-1990s, Taiwanese universities began to expand and compete, building ever larger buildings. Obviously, some subjects require sealed environments, and the addition of air conditioning is pleasant for work and for living in the dorms. I will not doubt that these were all improvements. If I am nostalgic for the historical soundscape of Tunghai University in the 1980s, it is a kind of critical nostalgia in which I wish to explore the reasons why we wished to build campuses in places like Zhixue, in a large open area relatively far from the city. If it is because we think that we will learn best in a place in which we can connect to nature and each other, away from the density of cities, their constant clamour and overstimulation, then why have we imported the whine and whirl, howl and hum of mechanical sounds? If we were truly to hear these sounds of motorcycles, automobiles, HVAC, and alternating current, wouldn’t we also be horrified that while we advocate for resource conservation and carbon reduction we use so much energy keeping these stuffy confines breathable?

While I am not saying that we should go back to the facilities of Tunghai in the 1980s, I wonder whether attention to campus soundscapes might point out the gap between our slogans and our actions. I also wonder whether such attention might help us think of better ways to build, live, and learn