There exists a hidden space on the Claremont campuses, to the left of the humanities building at Scripps College, at the end of an arching row of olive trees. Walk hurriedly to your next destination and you will not see it; pass by after sunset or on the weekends and you will be denied entry. Three doors that lie in three separate corners serve as the entryways, although choose carefully since one has been mysteriously bricked off. This is the Margaret Fowler garden.
Entering through the green door located on the southeast end of the walled gardens next to the only sign indicating the existence of this space, you will encounter a small collection of orange trees. These trees dangle their fruits above a couple of tables and chairs lying next to a fountain on which is inscribed ‘incipit vita nova’ or ‘here begins new life’. The south wall is covered with murals of indigenous women, some of whom carry baskets full of lilies. A canopy of wisteria covers most of the garden, the home of small purple chandeliers and our first source of noise. It is quiet in these gardens compared to the rest of the campus. Entering them feels almost for a split second like an absence of sound, until you hear the birds singing from within the canopy above you.
The next sound to reach your ears is the babbling of the main fountain, which lies in the center of this oasis, opposite a statue of a woman holding a child. The birds and the fountain quickly become the Keynote1 of the scene. You have only been here a few minutes and yet the removal of their noise would render the scene foreign and the gardens less real. Various signals2 can be observed; planes fly overhead from the nearby airport, a golf cart from campus security hums nearby, and you hear the familiar sound of conversations passing around you from every angle.
All of these sounds are coming from outside of the walls of the garden. You can hear them, yet you cannot see their source. Perhaps this is the essence of the soundscape in these gardens; you can hear the distance that separates you from the outside world and its accompanying noises. Even when closing your eyes, you remain aware you are in an enclosed space. This is the ultimate attraction of the Margaret Fowler gardens, and to many this perceived distance from the rest of campus creates a sense of calm, one tied to the steady fountain and birdsong. Here begins new life.
1 keynote- the ‘ground’ of a soundscape, may not be consistently consciously heard but is omnipresent and crucial to the overall scene.
2 signal- the ‘figure’ of a soundscape, listened to consciously. (Schafer)