Reader's Response to ESC Sonic Adventure in The Anthropocene

The ESC project has many layers of significance. One is the revival of a historical radio show. Radio made sound an important component of the program. Sound has not lost its importance in telling stories even in this day of multiple communication sources. Sound, as Jacob Smith, David Blinkhorn, David Dunn, et al. the authors of the essay, “ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene” say, sound helps to hear parts of the story that was not always central in the days of radio. For example, in the episode “Red Forest” there is a forest fire. The sound from the episode gives the listener an idea of how devastating the fire is. Smith’s interruptions explain how the episode fits into the criticism of Anthropocene era. Also, Smith, Blinkhorn and Dunn point out that the study of sound is another aspect of ESC that makes it important for scholarship. Smith and his colleagues took a work from the past and created a program that has these layers of significance related to the environmental and other sustainability issues that people are facing today.

Smith, Blinkhorn, and Dunn say that the sound makes the argument of the importance of being environmentally conscience and involved in the world. They call ESC “an example of ‘audiographic’ criticism”  (Smith, Blinkhorn and Dunn 1). The argument is not just for environmental issues but also issues of gender equality and the way people have lived in the Anthropocene. “Escape” was on radio between 1947 and 1954, which was when the Anthropocene era was gearing up. “The years following the Second World War may have been a ‘tipping point’ in Earth’s history, but it was prefigured by the rise of capitalism, colonialism, and the emergence of the ‘fossil economy’ (Smith, Blinkhorn and Dunn 2). These activities have led to the global climate change that is now threatening the planet.

The authors of the essay explain that the current project, ESC, uses sound to show how some voices are not heard. As an example, Smith, Blinkhorn, and Dunn explain that when people talked about how important it was to the British lifestyle to have sugar, the perspectives of the people who worked the sugar plantations were not considered (Smith, Blinkhorn and Dunn 6). In “Red Forest,” Wally, the male protagonist, picks up Jan, the female protagonist, in the middle of a forest. Jan has a cheap suitcase and is hitchhiking. Her presence is never explained, but then the two of them end up fighting a fire together. This provides an example of gender equality, but still, listeners note that Smith never bothers to discuss Jan’s role in the story even though listeners wonder why the original author of the story placed her there in that situation.

Besides criticizing colonialism and other sins of the Anthropocene, ESC also is a way to study sound. Smith, Blinkhorn, and Dunn say, “By deliberately juxtaposing episodes of Escape with field recordings, ESC brings two eras of soundwork into conversation, and develops an argument on the level of sound” (Smith, Blinkhorn and Dunn 10). These authors say that by mixing the sound recordings from the radio series, Escape, with field recordings made for ESC, a “polyphonic listening” experience is created that speaks to environmental awareness as well as the issues of colonization, gender equality, and so on (Smith, Blinkhorn and Dunn 11). The authors also talk about using the archives of Escape to produce ESC and creating a place for radio online as podcasts. Smith, as he is narrating, explains that sounds of fire, for instance, were made in the studio with crinkling cellophane. This is interesting historical information because sounds are created using computers nowadays.

With Smith narrating rather than letting the story tell itself is a little off-putting. I can understand why he breaks in to the original recording, but the way he ties environmental issues to Wally’s guilt over murdering the man who framed him seems like a stretch. I got the connection to environmental issues and the forest fire without Smith explaining it. Smith seems to want to direct listeners to the conclusion that he reached. He should have let us draw our own conclusions.

Works Cited

Smith, Jacob. "Episode Five: Red Forest." ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene. Univesity of Michigan, 2019. Web. 30 April 2020. <>.

Smith, Jacob, et al. "ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene." 2019. University of Michigan Press (Fulcrum). Web. 30 April 2020. <>.