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


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