Relational analysis in soundscape preservation



Given the musical origins of soundscape studies, soundscape preservation might suggest the need to protect specific features—such as prominent soundmarks or long-standing natural sounds—to maintain a sonic environment’s composition. However, the identification of a soundscape primarily by its discrete elements misses the importance of relational longevity. A relational lens of identification can distinguish a soundscape’s effects on visitors rather than simply the presence of specific components, placing human perception candidly at the center of consideration. For instance, an urban courtyard might no longer echo with hand-drawn carts from the street, yet visitors continue to experience a distanced connection with evolving traffic sounds – here the sonic-spatial relationship persists rather than sonic elements being frozen in time. This paper will discuss longevity in the relationships connecting use, architectural space, and sonic character. The discussion draws from architectural analysis, soundwalking, and psychoacoustic research in exploring soundscape preservation within the orbit of heritage conservation more broadly. Case studies focus on a variety of historic contexts, including a military installation, medieval church, and factory landscape, highlighting the limitations of a compositional soundscape reading, the fundamental role of transit through a soundscape for visitors, and the potentials for relational analysis in soundscape preservation efforts.