Writers from an array of disciplines — musicology, filmmaking, anthropology and more — have united to analyze human cultural practices’ role in the ecology, and the book Cultural Sustainabilities stands as the product of their reflections and discussions. UCSB professor of music and global studies, Timothy J. Cooley, edited and contributed to the collection of more than 20 essays.
For Dr. Cooley, sound permeates the barriers of everyday life like no other.
“There are no blinds to shut out sound as you may have experienced when you’re trying to go to sleep at night,” said Dr. Cooley. Without soundproof rooms and earplugs, “you share (sound) whether you want to or not…We can’t escape it. We can’t turn the other way.”
This sound ecology, with wavelengths and vibrations, indicate for Dr. Cooley how interwoven living beings are on this planet.
“We are vibrating bodies,” Dr. Cooley said, referring to vocal cords and the drum of hearts that beat on throughout life. “Organisms share this kind of vibrating experience, and it’s pretty profound.”
Music is an example of when the vibrating experience becomes a cultural practice, resulting in multiple types of music around the world.
Nancy Guy, an author in the book, points out how music can be utilized for the benefit of the environment. Ms. Guy writes of Taiwan’s garbage trucks, which blasts tunes of well-known songs like “Maiden’s Prayer” and “Fur Elise.” The tunes notify a residence’s inhabitants that the garbage and recycling trucks have arrived to their neighborhood. The inhabitants will then scuttle towards the trucks, where they will dispose themselves the trash and recycling that their households had produced.
“Missing the evening garbage pickup means risking the intrusion of cockroaches or rats into one’s living space,” writes Ms. Guy, who also adds that Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, “is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Due to the tight quarters, Taipei residents generally cannot store their garbage outside their living area, unlike most Americans, who place their waste in large bins located outside in a garage, patio, or alley, where it awaits weekly pickup.”
For Ms. Guy, this musical system of garbage collection has been a success, and she writes that the system “has brought the recycling rate in the capital city of Taipei to 67 percent in 2015 and 55 percent island wide,” placing the country “on par with international leaders in sustainability such as Austria, Germany and South Korea.”
While Ms. Guy addresses the role waves of sound play in Taiwan’s system of waste collection, Dr. Cooley in his chapter talks about another kind of waves: the ocean waves. He highlights the Polynesian Voyaging Society, an organization formed by former UCSB professor Ben Finney and two of his colleagues. In the mid 1970s, Dr. Cooley writes, PVS built “a sustainably built vessel, powered by wind, and navigated with traditional Polynesian techniques using the sun, stars, and ocean swell and wind patterns (no sextant, no GPS).”
Dr. Cooley told the News-Press about the vessel’s most recent journey, the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage, an around the world journey that spanned three years.
“They were using traditional navigational science…but they were always on the internet. They’re not doing that to be luddites,” Dr. Cooley told the News-Press. “They’re doing that to show that long before the Hawaiians encountered Captain James Cook in the 1700s, they knew how to navigate around the world long distances using very sophisticated technology.”
In Dr. Cooley’s eyes, this showing that Hawaiians’ ocean voyaging knowledge predates European encounter plays an important role in the process of decolonization.
“Decolonizing Hawaii does not mean retelling the myth of an isolated archipelago but rather calls for renewing the tradition of exchange of food, stories, songs, and dances between Indigenous peoples worldwide,” writes Dr. Cooley. This exchange, according to Dr. Cooley, enhances the ecology in which organisms connect with one another. There are factors, however, that could be harmful for the world’s ecology. Colonization harms this ecology in the eyes of Dr. Cooley.
“Colonization exploits the environmental resources of places as well people and cultural practices associated with that place,” writes Dr. Cooley. Though decolonization is possible, Dr. Cooley writes, “decolonization does not mean detachment, separation, segregation. An ecological approach reminds us that organisms live in relation to other organisms and to their environment.”
In the case of Hawaii, building a web of connections seems important.
“Decolonizing Hawaii is about broad connections on a global ecological scale, because isolation, separation of peoples, is a historical myth. Segregations and apartheids are not sustainable.”More of Dr. Cooley’s essay and the work of more authors can be read in Cultural Sustainabilities.