The Soundscape

The term soundscape, coined by Canadian musicologist and composer R. Murray Schafer, refers to the ›the sonic environment‹ (Schafer 2006 [1977], 274ff), i.e. the entirety of sounds being audible in a certain region.

Prominent sounds heard between 11.00 a.m., March 6, 1975, from a hillside about 500 meters beyond the village of Bissingen (Schafer 1977)

As founder of the World Soundscape Project Schafer conducted several field studies in Canada as well as in Europe throughout the late 1960s and 1970s. He also provided several terminological and analytical tools to describe and analyze the prominent features of different soundscapes in relation to their social and cultural context. Opening up a lively discussion about an ›acoustic ecology‹ and noise pollution in the 1970s, the concept of ›the soundscape‹ also helped to establish a new field for cultural-anthropological research (cf. the works of Atkinson 2007, Bijsterveld 2008, Bull/Back 2006, Feld 1994, Feld/Brenneis 2004, Götz 2006, Howes 1991, Ingold 2000, Järviluoma/Schafer et al. 2010, Lindner 2002, Makagon/Neumann 2009, Pink 2009, Saldanha 2009, Samuels and Meintjes et al. 2010, Schlüter 2012, Spray 2011, Vikman 2002, Wildner and Röhm 2009, and many more).

In recent years, more and more scholars have ventured to criticize or even refuse Schafer’s term (cf. Arkette 2004, Bonz 2012, Kelman 2010). In his seminal book ›The Tuning of the World‹ (1977), Schafer does not only envisage soundscape studies as a new, interdisciplinary field of research, providing methods and terminological tools for scholars as well as practictioners. He also delineates a cultural history of sound and listening, while at the same time denunciating it as a creeping descent from a quiet, ›natural‹ sonic environment to a noisy, urban ›lo-fi-soundscape‹, polemicizing further against noise, media, and pop music.

However, Schafer helped to establish a greater awareness for sound and listening in everyday life, and his approach still provides a vibrant point of departure for contemporary sound studies or sound culture studies (cf. Drever 2002, Hilmes 2005, LaBelle 2010, Sterne 2005, Thompson 2002, Truax 2001 [1984], Winkler 1999, and many more).

The WSP group at SFU, 1973; left to right: R. M. Schafer, Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, Barry Truax, Howard BroomfieldThe WSP group at SFU, 1973; left to right: R. Murray Schafer, Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, Barry Truax, Howard Broomfield

References

Arkette, Sophie (2004): Sounds like City. In: Theory, Culture & Society 21, pp. 159–68.
 
Atkinson, Rowland (2007): Ecology of sound. The sonic order of urban space. In: Urban Studies 44 (10), pp. 1905–1917.
 
Bijsterveld, Karin (2008): Mechanical Sound. Technology, Culture, and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press.
 
Bonz, Jochen (2012): Vom Verlust der Natur zur Umwandlung des Selbst. Soundscape-Forschung im und nach dem Paradigma der Akustischen Ökologie. In: Zeitschrift für Semiotik 34 (1-2), pp. 159-181
 
Bull, Michael; Back, Les (ed.) (2006): The Auditory Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg (Sensory formations series).
 
Drever, John Levack (2002): Soundscape composition. The convergence of ethnography and acousmatic music. In: Organised Sound 7 (1), pp. 21–27.
 
Feld, Steven (1994): From ethnomusicology to echo-muse-ecology. Reading R. Murray Schafer in the Papua New Guinea rainforest. In: The Soundscape Newsletter (8). See http://www.acousticecology.org/writings/echomuseecology.html, visited 2011-07-10.
 
Feld, Steven; Brenneis, Donald (2004): Doing anthropology in sound. Interview. In: American Ethnologist 31 (4), pp. 461–474.
 
Götz, Thomas (2006): Stadt und Sound. Das Beispiel Bristol. Zugleich Humboldt-Univ., Magisterarbeit, Berlin, 2005. Berlin, Münster: Lit-Verl.
 
Hilmes, Michelle (2005): Is there a field called sound culture studies? And does it matter? In: American Quarterly 57 (1), pp. 249–259.
 
Howes, David (1991): Sensorial anthropology. In: David Howes (ed.): The Varieties of Sensory Experience. A Sourcebook in the Anthropology of the Senses. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press (Anthropological horizons, 1), pp. 168–191.
 
Ingold, Tim (2000): Stop, look and listen! Vision, hearing and human movement. In: Tim Ingold (ed.): The Perception of the Environment. Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge, pp. 243-287.
 
Järviluoma, Helmi; Schafer, R. Murray; Kytö, Meri; Truax, Barry; Uimonen, Heikki; Vikman, Noora (Hg.) (2010): Acoustic Environments in Change & Five Village Soundscapes. TAMK University of Applied Sciences; University of Joensuu. Tampere: Tampereen ammattikorkeakoulu.
 
Kelman, Ari Y. (2010): Rethinking the soundscape. A critical genealogy of a key term in sound studies. In: Senses & Society 5 (2), pp. 212–234.
 
LaBelle, Brandon (2010): Acoustic Territories. Sound Culture and Everyday Life. New York: Continuum.
 
Lindner, Rolf (2002): Klänge der Stadt. In: Christian Kaden und Volker Kalisch (eds.): Musik und Urbanität.  Arbeitstagung der Fachgruppe Soziologie und Sozialgeschichte der Musik, in Schmöckwitz Berlin, vom 26. bis 28. November 1999. Essen: Verl. Die Blaue Eule, pp. 171–176.
 
Makagon, Daniel; Neumann, Mark (2009): Recording Culture. Audio Documentary and the Ethnographic Experience. Los Angeles: Sage.
 
Pink, Sarah (2009): Doing Sensory Ethnography. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage.Saldanha, Arun  (2009): Soundscapes. In: Rob Kitchin und Nigel J. Thrift (eds.): International Encyclopedia of Human Geography.  Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 236–240.
 
Samuels, David W.; Meintjes, Louise; Ochoa, Ana Maria; Porcello, Thomas (2010): Soundscapes. Toward a sounded anthropology. In: Annual Review of Anthropology 39, pp. 329–345.
 
Schafer, R. Murray (1973): The Vancouver Soundscape. AUDIO CD. Vancouver: Simon Fraser Univ.
 
Schafer, R. Murray (ed.) (1977): European Sound Diary. Vancouver: A. R. C. Publications (The Music of the Environment, 3).
 
Schafer, R. Murray (ed.) (1977): Five Village Soundscapes. Vancouver: A. R. C. Publications (The Music of the  Environment, 4).
 
Schafer, R. Murray (2006 [1977]): The Soundscape. Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books.
 
Schlüter, Fritz: Composed by Culture? Investigating the ‘Sonic Order’ of Everyday Life. In: Sabine Breitsameter, Claudia Söller-Eckert (eds.) (2012): The Global Composition. Conference on Sound, Media and the Environment. Proceedings. Hochschule Darmstadt, pp. 358-360
 
Spray, Stephanie (2011): Aesthetic experience and applied acoustemology. ‘Blue Sky, White River’ liner notes. In: Anthropology News 52 (1), p. 14.
 
Sterne, Jonathan (2005): The Audible Past. Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham: Duke Univ. Press.
 
Thompson, Emily (2002): The Soundscape of Modernity. Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press.
 
Truax, Barry (2001 [1984]): Acoustic Communication. Westport: Ablex.
 
Vikman, Noora (2002): Looking for a ‘right method’. Approaching beyond. In: Helmi Järviluoma und Gregg  Wagstaff (eds.): Soundscape Studies and Methods. Helsinki: Finnish Society for Ethnomusicology (Department of art, literature and music Series A, 51), pp. 143–170.
 
Wildner, Kathrin; Röhm, Jens (2009): Drei Plätze. Eine ethnografische Bestandsaufnahme Kölner Orte. Öffentliche Veranstaltung des Kunstbeirats der Stadt Köln. Kunsthochschule für Medien. Köln, 09.07.2009. See http://www.stadt-koeln.de/mediaasset/content/pdf-rat-gremien/kunstbeirat/drei-plaetze.pdf,
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Winkler, Justin (1999): Soundscape studies. Outlines of a growing research field. In: iasa Journal 13, pp. 7–13.
 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soundscape

2 Responses to The Soundscape

  1. Pingback: ›Background Noise‹. Field Recordings and Ethnography | Sonic Agents

  2. Pingback: Acoustic art and industrial architecture make music | The Today Online

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