What is anthropophony? Definition and examples
what anthropophony (sometimes alternatively ‘anthrophony’) means: the sounds generated directly by humans, or by our technology.
The term was originated by musician and soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause and his colleague Stuart Gage from Michigan State University. Anthropophony is seen by Krause as one of three categories of sound which make up the soundscapes – acoustic environments – perceived by humans. The other types are geophony and biophony.
Krause constructed the word “anthropophony” from the Greek “anthropo”, meaning human, and “phon”, meaning sound. He considers that “the introduction of new descriptive language” of this type enabled him “to flesh out in greater detail the basic sources of sound” (Krause, 2015).
Anthropophony can be further divided into ‘controlled sound’ (for example, language, music, and theater) and the more prevalent ‘uncontrolled sound’ (or simply ‘noise’ – for example, the result of construction, vehicles, or industrial processes) – though Krause has more specifically subdivided the categorization into “four basic types of human-generated sound: electromechanical sound, physiological sound, controlled sound and incidental sound” (Cities and Memory).
Anthropophony, geophony, and biophony, the three categories of sound, impact upon and interrelate with one another. In particular, unwanted anthropophony, while particularly prevalent in urban spaces, has also become problematic in less urbanized spaces due to “the expansion of motorized transportation networks” (Pijanowski et al., 2013). Due to the negative effects which anthropogenic noise can have both for humans themselves and wider habitats, many policies exist for the purpose of controlling or limiting unwanted or excessive sounds. The United States National Park Service, for example, has an avowed intention to “restore to the natural condition wherever possible those park soundscapes that have become degraded by unnatural sounds (noise), and will protect natural soundscapes from unacceptable impacts” (NPS, 2017).
To further appreciate how soundscape ecology can inform our understanding of ecological health more generally, tools are required which can help to differentiate between biophonic, geophonic, and anthropophonic sounds, and to establish whether the compositions of these different categories of sound vary. Determining whether organisms’ vocalizations can be used as a proxy for biodiversity could also mean that practices of soundscape ecology could be useful in biological conservation and the management of natural resources.
Evidence makes it clear that anthropophony has a range of detrimental effects on wildlife, due to how it alters signal composition, sound diversity, and temporal cycles, with knock-on effects on breeding rates, the relationship between predator and prey, and even organisms’ physiology. The noise of traffic, factories, sirens, bells, etc, all affect the composition of given soundscapes, and more robust policies are necessary to mitigate against these anthropophonic sounds’ damaging influence on the natural world, across natural space, parks, cities, and suburban spaces.