The Collective Voice of the Beach

Preface

The beach is a geological formation alongside a body of water, typically an area for recreation, tourism, and admirable scenery. However, the true beauty of the beach transcends the presupposed; the beach presents a unique collective of voices that unite the natural and human worlds. The beach features distinct natural voices which are displayed through the non-traditional vocality of the waves, wind, and resident animals. Humans add their own diverse voices including conversation and chatter as well as mediated voices such as music and phone calls. However diverse the spectrum of voices, the beach is able to unite the present voices, thereby showcasing their individual and collective values. The beach achieves this by virtue of its tranquil atmosphere, which allows the relaxed music and casual talk to mesh with the equally serene waves and environment. Thus, in a sense, the beach creates a dialogue between natural and human voices. Multivocality at the beach is important because it establishes a relationship between the two worlds: humans can appreciate the beauty of nature and add to the collective of voices. The communication of these voices allows the beach to gain an aura of relaxation and happiness. The atmosphere constructed by voices combined with the physical scenery provides the beach with the significance it holds in our culture today. 

Observational Information

February 16, 2020 at Sunrise (6:30 a.m.), The cliffs overlooking Sands Beach and 

February 16, 2020 at Sunset (5:45 p.m.), The cliffs overlooking Sands Beach 

Immediately upon arriving at the cliffs overlooking the beach I was astounded by the amount of people who also wished to watch the sun set over Sands Beach. The sheer amount of people led me to experience many auditory stimuli which enhanced my overall understanding of the area. The initial voices which I heard were those of people whom my partner and I walked past. Although transient, I could recognize the conversational manner and calmness of the voices. Given that I too was walking and talking it was difficult to focus my attention on sounds not in my immediate scope. It felt as if the voices were hazy and almost evaporating into the air as soon as I fixated elsewhere; however, I concluded that it was the fault of me as a listener since I was unable to supply undivided and active attention. After sitting down on the beach I was truly able to notice and absorb all the kinds of voices being conveyed around me. The voices were communicating conversation; dinner plans and daily adventures were all topics conveyed with a general sense of happiness and tranquility. Amidst the many conversations of other groups at the beach, the muddled, more neutral voices were difficult to fully attune to. I was able to recognize the extremes: high-pitched voices, low-pitched voices, and voices with individual affectations such as a booming laugh or sickly cough. When I committed all of my focus as a listener I was able to utilize my selective attention to choose the voices I wished to discover or those I desired to block out. This also allowed me to hear non-human voices such as the barks of dogs and the chirps of birds, which came as surprises amongst the largely human voices. 

There were many more non-traditional voices I could comprehend but I experienced them differently each time I visited the beach. At sunrise, there were relatively few people around which gave me the opportunity to concentrate on the voices I somewhat neglected at sunset. Early in the morning the beach was teeming with natural voices begging to be heard. The waves crashing along the beach, the wind rustling the trees, the ground crunching beneath my feet all yielded a more holistic perspective of the collective voice of the beach. To me, these natural voices communicate a desire to be heard yet do so in a very resilient, strong way. Although I was able to detect many of these voices at sunset, they were nowhere near as prominent since they had to compete with the human voices. This phenomenon provided me with a sense of vocal privilege. Human voices, no matter how calm, were given a special status at sunset since they were more prominent and easier to attend to at sunrise. However, in the absence of humans at sunrise, nature’s many voices were able to fully thrive. That being said, even at sunset, I was still able to comprehend the natural voices, which I believe speaks to the persistence and longevity of nature. 

Due to the beach’s outdoor setting, I was only able to discover one type of mediated voice with various different forms. Music. Almost every grouping of people were playing their own music through speakers in order to set the mood for their sunset excursions. The mediated voices were thus being used to communicate the vibes which people attempted to advertise. Nonetheless, I experienced all of the music to fuse together since the calm songs paralleled the serene collective of the beach. In fact, the mediated voices helped add to the overall collection of voices by extending the relaxed atmosphere with different forms of voice. The only resemblance of live and performed voices was a student playing a didgeridoo. Although he was projecting for others around him the music was not quite analogous to a typical performance since it did not really stand out. Instead, the didgeridoo also lent itself to the collective voice of the beach, blending with the encompassing voices. 

Analysis and Conclusions

The most revelatory aspect I observed at the beach was the interplay between human and natural, non-traditional voices. At sunrise, the noise of the waves crashing along the beach and the wind rustling the trees remained unhindered. At sunset, these natural voices were available but were deprioritized to human conversation and music. Thus, the relative privilege of individual voices were contingent on the time they were experienced; however, nature’s voice was constantly displayed, a representation of the enduring presence of nature. The non-traditional voices were underprivileged with the company of humans since we as listeners are less inclined to discern the subtleties of natural voices. In our everyday lives, we become acclimated to attend to human voices; therefore, we tend to de-prioritize the non-traditional voices which remain largely unfamiliar. At sunset, the presence of human voices overwhelmed those of nature since humans are more apt at concentrating on customary voices. Despite the prioritization of anthropologic voices at sunset, the power disparity I identified was heavily in favor of nature. The voice is “described as if it existed–could be heard–apart from the sounds that it does make, apart from what we do hear (Frith).” The nontraditional voices of nature exist apart from their sound; the waves and the wind possess an underlying nonverbal power which can be experienced in the absence of noise. The raw, elemental power of these natural aspects was chronic and capable of being perceived despite the time which I visited the beach. Therefore, the non-traditional voices were emblematic of nature’s permanence: despite human intervention, the power of nature continues to persist and thrive. Although nature’s voice did not always hold auditory prominence, it never ceased to convey a sense of power and authority on the beach. 

The composite vocal identity at the beach was compelling: every voice, auditory and nonverbal, united to form a prevailing sense of tranquility. The soothing waves rolling, the calm, enveloping music, and the gentle conversations were consolidated into one, collective voice. Frith posits “the voice as something that has a relationship,” (Frith) implying the connection between different forms of vocality. The voices I observed at the beach are similar in that they all emanated a calm quality, thereby reinforcing the overall unison of the beach. No voice was too rowdy, the winds were soft, and the waves blended into the background despite the time they were experienced. The multivocality of the beach is defined as serene and relaxing as a result of the uniformity in the sounds. The beach represents Eidsheim’s postulation that voices are “a composite manifestation of our understanding of sound at a given moment in time and place” (Eidsheim). Eidsheim’s idea describes the multivocality of the beach since the beach’s collective identity is a result of the assemblage of individual voices and how we comprehend their effects. The calm, tranquil response we experience from the voices heard at the beach leads us to associate the beach with relaxation. This allows a beach culture to be formed as a result of voices, exemplifying the ability of voice to construct a common identity. Thus, utilizing voice as culture further develops the collective of voices present at the beach. 

The mediated voice of music augmented the collective vocal identity by communicating a digital story through a different vocal form. At the beach, every group of people was listening to their own music, displaying a form of mediation which juxtaposed the mostly natural voices of the beach. Mediation was defined by Couldry as the “dialectical process in which institutionalized media of communication are involved in the general circulation of symbols in social life” (Couldry). Music serving as a mediated voice thereby allows its listeners to bond over a shared experience. Social life at the beach was connected to music in that people utilized songs as a means of creating a relationship with others. The music connected the listeners at the beach through this communicative power, but also related to the collective vocal identity of the beach itself. As described by Couldry, “digital storytelling represents a novel distribution of a scarce resource — the ability to represent the world around us” (Couldry). The calm music paralleled the relaxed nature of the beach and thus further blended with the collective voice. People played this specific music to emanate a sense of being laid-back, thereby applying music as a form of digital storytelling. In putting out mellow vibes, they were able to complement the calm setting of the beach and join the collective identity using music as a mediated voice. 

During my two visits to the beach, I was able to observe the interplay between natural and human voices on a level I have never conceived of before. I was able to recognize very specific sounds, emotions, and even non-traditional voices as well as notice how these separate, distinct parts lended themselves to the collective vocal identity of the beach. I construed this collection of voices as being serene, peaceful, and almost reverent as a result of the vocal synergy between people and the environment. Observers, myself included, were awestruck by the beautiful, audiovisual scenery, and our appreciation of nature was displayed through our vocal and physical expression. 

Works Cited 

Couldry, Nick. “Mediatization or Mediation? Alternative Understandings of the Emergent 

Space of Digital Storytelling.” New Media & Society, vol. 10, no. 3, 2008, pp.

373–391., doi:10.1177/1461444808089414.

Eidsheim, Nina Sun. Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice. Duke

University Press, 2015.

Frith, Simon. Performing Rites: on the Value of Popular Music. Harvard University Press,

1998.

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