Heikki Uimonen Researches Cell Phone Ringers in Finland’s Public Spaces

Heikki Uimonen is a researcher for the Interdisciplinary Soundscape Project (ISP) in the University of Tampere, Finland. The institute is a division of the Department of Music Anthropology. According to the web site for ISP, Murray Schaeffer coined the term “soundscape.” Soundscape researchers attempt to collect circumambient sounds like technology, noise, speech, and nature to study as an aspect of music and life. These researchers try to prove that all sounds produced by mankind must be a form of music. Soundscapes are ramifications of social behavior, processes and culture. Heikki Uimonen’s academic background as a researcher for ISP supports his interest in cell phone ringers.

Uimonen’s work shows that cell phone users extensively search for meaningful ringers even if they have to pay for them. Uimonen discovered that Finland has more mobile phones per capita than any other country in the world. There is a ratio of 60 cell phones per 100 people in Finland. Heikki Uimonen’s study of cell phone ringers outlines distinct, market trends from 1975 to 2004. The sample he selects from this large sector of consumers indicates that they select ring tones using criteria similar for “any music used as means of distinction and identity.” Some examples are religious ring tones and the groups that sometimes encourage people to “evangelize by sending spiritual ring tones to friends.” The selectivity in terms of ringer tones transforms the utilitarian aspect of the ringer into a collective experience.

The researcher perceives a blending of public and private space in which a noisier environment increases the individual need to be heard. Cellular phone ring tones could be fulfilling this need to an extent by blasting what is a private sonic environment into the “mix” of the public environment. Uimonen also found that 13.5 Million Euros worth of cell phone content was downloaded during the last year. Top Ten Lists for ring tones are created by the commercial music industry. Just as hit melodies go “out of fashion”, so do ring tones. This demonstrates the marked similarities of cell phone ringers to contemporary, popular music experiences and the affinity for the ring tones to become an artery of the commercial music industry.

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