19 Jul 2016

The Non-Preservation of Soundscape (and Visualscape)…

Foto por V. Leblet

Photo V. Leblet

I thought about adding “Goes Unpunished” to the last part of the title because that is exactly what is happening. However, the phrase was too long… 

In the past Full Moon we were talking about soundscape conservation and the efforts of some societies for preserving and cherishing it. We were also wondering if we could ever do something similar in Panama.  The purpose of this newsletter is to serve as a proposal for the improvement of soundscape (and visualscape) for our people.

I will start by saying that, a few years ago, we were planning a family road trip to Boquete from Panama City. Our daughter, who was 13 then, proposed riding a bus, instead of driving the family car, an environmentally friendly suggestion. She was very convincing and we packed our bags and headed to the bus station for catching the next Panama-David bus. 

You may be wondering how that bus ride was…Well, there was enough time for three movies (yes, three!!!) to be shown on the displays in the bus. Each one of the movies was more toxic than the other. These movies ranged from plain war and extreme violence to the war on drugs (with a clear bias towards the saviors from the North), pure drama, and so on. Each of those unrequested movies was played so loudly that it made you want to jump off the bus. 

It was a mixture of aggressive imagery and deafening noise. Those six hours became a real torture. A torture we had just paid for, by the way.

Twice I went to talk to the driver and both him and his “assistant” looked at me as if they were staring at a creature from outer space. Since I knew it would be impossible to get them to turn the volume down AND changing to a different movie at the same time, I decided to aim to just the volume part. Our ears needed to be protected from all the screaming, gunshots and blasts from all the heavy weaponry display. This was an unfortunate contrast to the peaceful, quiet landscapes of Panama’s countryside. Each time I went to the driver’s cabin, the volume was turned down, just a little bit, but only for a few minutes. They would get back to “normal” shortly after that.

Photo Zach Welty, 

An exception? Is this something that happens exclusively in Panama or only en route to David? No, not really. I have been noticing that, in the past few decades, this happens in Panama and abroad as well. Unfortunately, this is getting worse and worse every time, in my opinion. Wherever we go, we find those TV/DVD displays, and/or any other kind of “musical” uproar.

Definitely, I have had to step down from buses because of the noise... only to find a similar situation on the next available bus. Just because this happens so frequently is not an excuse or any consolation. Don’t get me wrong, I am no hermit monk: music is one of my favorite possessions, and I love watching good movies. 

However, this is a very different thing. I actually don’t know how some people can stand this, and some actually enjoy it. The problem is that we, humans, have the ability to adapt to many kinds of situations, including those that do not come natural to us.  Situations that do not present a minimum of aesthetic value or any health benefits. I will keep riding buses because I still believe this can contribute to helping the environment, and because it allows for a better view of the lives of other people, everywhere. When I experience situations like these, I wonder if the producers and distributors of these films really think that we are savages or intend to turn us into ones. Those movies look like they have been produced by an enemy army during low-intensity conflict.

Picture this: we are waiting for a Hicaco-Soná bus (I use this route quite often). It is early in the morning, and we see middle and high school students boarding the bus. They are wearing their somewhat worn, but clean and perfectly ironed, school uniforms. Looking at them, you can’t help but think about their parents. About their effort for sending their kids, properly dressed, to a school that is far from home, and the effort for getting the money needed for covering the cost of transportation and other expenses.  They go through all that and, what is the first lesson of the day? What is the lesson they will remember because it is taught in the precise moment of the day when their minds are extremely receptive? You are right, the lesson they get is the one from the display on the bus.  The lesson taught by that singer who wears sunglasses and lots of gold chains. The singer who is always followed by a large number of fans, while he drives a shiny new sports/luxury car and just “sings”, as loudly as he can, whatever him or his manager has classified as “lyrics”.  You could even say this singer is successful. Yes, but what kind of successful? Definitely not hard-working successful. Not the kind that would make this a greater nation, not like those students and their parents.

I have been lucky enough to be a member of the organizing committee for the International Documentary Festival in the Bayano region (Festival Internacional de Cine Documental del Bayano). This festival, which lasts 5 days, is held every August in emberá and kuna indigenous communities, and in some other communities nearby, with the purpose of showcasing Panamanian and foreign documentaries as part of a project on conservation of forests and land ownership conflict resolution. Screenings are followed by a meaningful conversation, and all those wonderful ideas keep floating in the air of Alto Bayano long after the debate is over.  We are fortunate to have the support of individuals and organizations interested in developing the Panamanian film industry (and they do not charge a cent for this, they do it because they love to do it). Some of these are “Cosmovisión, cooperación, cine y desarrollo”; “Grupo Experimental de Cine Universitario” (GECU), “Mente Pública”, “Acampadoc” (from Los Santos province), “EnRedarte”, and some independent filmmakers. 

International Documentary Festival in the Bayano region (Festival de Cine Documental del Bayano), foto por Konivera films, 

The topic of public transportation and noise, as we have covered in this newsletter, was a recurrent topic in our conversations. I must say that all of them offered their support through movies and orientation if any plans were made for replacing toxic material with good movies which could be played on these buses.

Now I send a message in a bottle: could it be possible that a transportation company be interested in replacing current movies with a “healthier” but entertaining material (at a reasonable volume)?  We have the material. The only thing we need is the interest and decision of one of those transportation companies.

I refuse to believe that we actually want to waste our brains and auditory systems. If we do, then there is no hope!

Another option could be offering specific bus schedules where no films or music are played.  There is some room for creativity here, it doesn’t have to be just changing the type of movies or turning the volume down. I am sure I am not the only one that would like to enjoy the ride with just the company of a good book or the lovely view of life happening alongside the main road, deep in the countryside.

Dear reader: do you, by any chance, have a friend or a neighbor who owns a transportation company? Do you know any bus drivers who would be interested in improving the service they offer to the community?

Acoustic contamination has been studied, here in Panama, by qualified professionals who are very concerned about the subject. For example, physicist Dr. Eduardo Flores, together with his wife, María de los Ángeles Castillo (biologist, master in environmental engineering), published the book “Contaminación acústica” (suggested title: Acoustic Pollution). The book contains comprehensive information about this problem in Panama. It was presented on the most appropriate of dates, the International Noise Awareness Day (April 25). Does the name Eduardo Flores sound familiar to you?  Of course! He is the newly elected rector of Universidad de Panamá. 

We do have the right people and the required knowledge. We just have to make the decision. Sometimes a little contribution, like that of transportation companies, goes a long way.