I think all of us will admit that we sound-ish people inhabit a very small world. If it isn't small, then it's certainly insular. We make our lives and livings on an island of microphones and sample-rates and plugins. When I sit down to it, I can't think of more than a handful of people outside of my audio friends who even know what sound design is, let alone the processes, technologies, and skills involved. There are few who understand and even fewer who actually do it.
In spite of this there is an entire industry kept afloat by the monetary expression of enthusiasm by people like us. All of those cables and interfaces and field recorders and batteries and windscreens and midi-controllers and god-knows-what-else are made, if not exactly at our behest, then in the expectation that we will happily stand in line to buy them. And we do. Some things we buy because we really want them. Others we buy because they're the cheaper version of the one we really do want but can't afford. Nevertheless we buy the stuff.
Now, I'm not about to go all anti-capitalism on you. But lately I've been thinking a lot about a number of ideas that have implications almost beyond reckoning. Not least of these is the question of sustainability.
I've just finished what seems to be becoming an annual re-watch of The Corporation. As I said, I'm purposely avoiding the Capitalism debate, but one of the points that hit me strongest this time around was the need for consumers (us) to think about the products they buy in terms of their ecological impact.
A question rises to mind when I consider that everything, and I mean everything, we use to detect, aquire, preserve, reproduce, and to a large extent, produce the sounds from which we derive our means of economic, creative, and emotional survival are the result of some kind of industrial scale mass production process. Then I think about the materials that are used in those processes; copper for our cables, oil for their rubber coatings, lithium for our super-duper long-life batteries, silicon and gold and aluminium and plastics for our computers and harddrives and recorders. Teflon for our speaker cones. Petrocarbons and polymers for our room treatments. All of these things have been forcefully taken from the ground beneath somebody else's feet and will never, ever go back again.
The question I ask with a quiveringly guilty heart is what impact does this have on the world around me? How much damage is my self-indulgent obsession really doing?
Like the Capitalism thing, I don't want to get into an argument about how much impact our little group could possibly have, and how much would be going on anyway. Pointless is the only word I can think of when it comes to that.
What I do want to get into is a discussion about the possibilities and choices that I, and more importantly all of us, can make with regard to this. Are there companies that make sustainable audio products? Is there an alternative to copper cabling, for which so many ecosystems have been destroyed? Is there a non-synthetic choice of windscreen that will not require me to skin an actual cat?
Is it even possible? This is the one that scares me the most. Are the tools that we require to do what we do inherently destructive and damaging to the environment which we with so much hubris take for granted?