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A soundscape is the acoustic environment as perceived by humans, in context. The term was originally coined by Michael Southworth, [1] and popularised by R. Murray Schafer. [2] There is a varied history of the use of soundscape depending on discipline, ranging from urban design to wildlife ecology to computer science. [3] An important distinction is to separate soundscape from the broader acoustic environment. The acoustic environment is the combination of all the acoustic resources, natural and artificial, within a given area as modified by the environment. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standardized these definitions in 2014. (ISO 12913-1:2014)


A soundscape is a sound or combination of sounds that forms or arises from an immersive environment. The study of soundscape is the subject of acoustic ecology or soundscape ecology. The idea of soundscape refers to both the natural acoustic environment, consisting of natural sounds, including animal vocalizations, the collective habitat expression of which is now referred to as the biophony, and, for instance, the sounds of weather and other natural elements, now referred to as the geophony; and environmental sounds created by humans, the anthropophony through a sub-set called controlled sound, such as musical composition, sound design, and language, work, and sounds of mechanical origin resulting from use of industrial technology. Crucially, the term soundscape also includes the listener's perception of sounds heard as an environment: "how that environment is understood by those living within it" [4] and therefore mediates their relations. The disruption of these acoustic environments results in noise pollution. [5]

The term "soundscape" can also refer to an audio recording or performance of sounds that create the sensation of experiencing a particular acoustic environment, or compositions created using the found sounds of an acoustic environment, either exclusively or in conjunction with musical performances. [6] [7]

Pauline Oliveros, composer of post-World War II electronic art music, defined the term "soundscape" as "All of the waveforms faithfully transmitted to our audio cortex by the ear and its mechanisms". [8]

Historical context

The origin of the term soundscape is somewhat ambiguous. It is often miscredited as having been coined by Canadian composer and naturalist, R. Murray Schafer, who indeed led much of the groundbreaking work on the subject from the 1960s and onwards. According to an interview with Schafer published in 2013 [9] Schafer himself attributes the term to city planner Michael Southworth. Southworth, a former student of Kevin Lynch, led a project in Boston in the 1960s, and reported the findings in a paper entitled "The Sonic Environment of Cities", in 1969, [1] where the term is used. To complicate matters, however, a search in Google NGram reveals that soundscape had been used in other publications prior to this. More research is needed to establish the historical background in detail.

Around the same time as Southworth's project in Boston, Schafer initiated the World Soundscape Project together with colleagues like Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp. Schafer subsequently collected the findings from the world soundscape project and fleshed out the soundscape concept in more detail in his seminal work about the sound environment, "Tuning of the World". [10] Schafer has also used the concept in music education. [11]

In music

In music, soundscape compositions are often a form of electronic music, or electroacoustic music. Composers who use soundscapes include real-time granular synthesis pioneer Barry Truax, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Luc Ferrari, whose Presque rien, numéro 1 (1970) is an early soundscape composition. [7] [12] Soundscape composer Petri Kuljuntausta has created soundscape compositions from the sounds of sky dome and Aurora Borealis and deep sea underwater recordings, and a work entitled "Charm of Sound" to be performed at the extreme environment of Saturn's moon Titan. The work landed on the ground of Titan in 2005 after traveling inside the spacecraft Huygens over seven years and four billion kilometres through space.

Irv Teibel's Environments series (1969–79) consisted of 30-minute, uninterrupted environmental soundscapes and synthesized or processed versions of natural sound. [13]

Music soundscapes can also be generated by automated software methods, such as the experimental TAPESTREA application, a framework for sound design and soundscape composition, and others. [14] [15]

The soundscape is often the subject of mimicry in timbre-centered music such as Tuvan throat singing. The process of Timbral Listening is used to interpret the timbre of the soundscape. This timbre is mimicked and reproduced using the voice or rich harmonic producing instruments. [16]

The environment

In Schafer's analysis, there are two distinct soundscapes, "hi-fi" and "lo-fi", created by the environment. A hi-fi system possesses a positive signal-to-noise ratio. [17] These settings make it possible for discrete sounds to be heard clearly since there is no background noise to obstruct even the smallest disturbance. A rural landscape offers more hi-fi frequencies than a city because the natural landscape creates an opportunity to hear incidences[ spelling? ] from nearby and afar. In a lo-fi soundscape, signals are obscured by too many sounds, and perspective is lost within the broad-band of noises. [17] In lo-fi soundscapes everything is very close and compact. A person can only listen to immediate encounters; in most cases even ordinary sounds have to be exuberantly amplified in order to be heard.

All sounds are unique in nature. They occur at one time in one place and cannot be replicated. In fact, it is physically impossible for nature to reproduce any phoneme twice in exactly the same manner. [17]

According to Schafer there are three main elements of the soundscape:

This is a musical term that identifies the key of a piece, not always audible ... the key might stray from the original, but it will return. The keynote sounds may not always be heard consciously, but they "outline the character of the people living there" (Schafer). They are created by nature (geography and climate): wind, water, forests, plains, birds, insects, animals. In many urban areas, traffic has become the keynote sound.
These are foreground sounds, which are listened to consciously; examples would be warning devices, bells, whistles, horns, sirens, etc.
This is derived from the term landmark . A soundmark is a sound which is unique to an area. In his 1977 book, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, Schafer wrote, "Once a Soundmark has been identified, it deserves to be protected, for soundmarks make the acoustic life of a community unique." [18]

The elements have been further defined as to essential sources:

Bernie Krause, naturalist and soundscape ecologist, redefined the sources of sound in terms of their three main components: geophony, biophony, and anthropophony. [19] [20] [21]

Consisting of the prefix, geo (gr. earth), and phon (gr. sound), this refers to the soundscape sources that are generated by non-biological natural sources such as wind in the trees, water in a stream or waves at the ocean, and earth movement, the first sounds heard on earth by any sound-sentient organism.
Consisting of the prefix, bio (gr. life) and the suffix for sound, this term refers to all of the non-human, non-domestic biological soundscape sources of sound.
Consisting of the prefix, anthro (gr. human), this term refers to all of the sound signatures generated by humans.

In health care

Research has traditionally focused mostly on the negative effects of sound on human beings, as in exposure to environmental noise. Noise has been shown to correlate with health-related problems like stress, reduced sleep and cardiovascular disease. [22] More recently however, it has also been shown that some sounds, like sounds of nature and music, can have positive effects on health. [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] While the negative effects of sound has been widely acknowledged by organizations like EU (END 2002/49) and WHO (Burden of noise disease), the positive effects have as yet received less attention. The positive effects of nature sounds can be acknowledged in everyday planning of urban and rural environments, as well as in specific health treatment situations, like nature-based sound therapy [25] and nature-based rehabilitation. [27]

Soundscapes from a computerized acoustic device with a camera may also offer synthetic vision to the blind, utilizing human echolocation, as is the goal of the seeing with sound project. [28]

Soundscapes and noise pollution

Papers on noise pollution are increasingly taking a holistic, soundscape approach to noise control. Whereas acoustics tends to rely on lab measurements and individual acoustic characteristics of cars and so on, soundscape takes a top-down approach. Drawing on John Cage's ideas of the whole world as composition,[ citation needed ] soundscape researchers investigate people's attitudes to soundscapes as a whole rather than individual aspects – and look at how the entire environment can be changed to be more pleasing to the ear. This body of knowledge approaches the sonic environment subjectively as well, as in how some sounds are tolerated while others disdained, with still others preferred, as seen in Fong's 2016 research comparing the soundscapes of Bangkok, Thailand and Los Angeles, California. [29] To respond to unwanted sounds, however, a typical application of this is the use of masking strategies, as in the use of water features to cover unwanted white noise from traffic. It has been shown that masking can work in some cases, but that the successful outcome is dependent on several factors, like sound pressure levels, orientation of the sources, and character of the water sound. [30] [31]

Research has shown that variation is an important factor to consider, as a varied soundscape give people the possibility to seek out their favorite environment depending on preference, mood and other factors. [30] One way to ensure variation is to work with "quiet areas" in urban situations. It has been suggested that people's opportunity to access quiet, natural places in urban areas can be enhanced by improving the ecological quality of urban green spaces through targeted planning and design and that in turn has psychological benefits. [32]

Soundscaping as a method to reducing noise pollution incorporates natural elements rather than just man made elements. [33] Soundscapes can be designed by urban planners and landscape architects. By incorporating knowledge of soundscapes in their work, certain sounds can be enhanced, while others can be reduced or controlled. [34] It has been argued that there are three main ways in which soundscapes can be designed: localization of functions, reduction of unwanted sounds and introduction of wanted sounds, [30] each of which should be considered to ensure a comprehensive approach to soundscape design.

In United States National Parks

The National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division [35] actively protects the soundscapes and acoustic environments in national parks across the country. It is important[ according to whom? ] to distinguish and define certain key terms as used by the National Park Service. Acoustic resources are physical sound sources, including both natural sounds (wind, water, wildlife, vegetation) and cultural and historic sounds (battle reenactments, tribal ceremonies, quiet reverence). The acoustic environment is the combination of all the acoustic resources within a given area – natural sounds and human-caused sounds – as modified by the environment. The acoustic environment includes sound vibrations made by geological processes, biological activity, and even sounds that are inaudible to most humans, such as bat echolocation calls. Soundscape is the component of the acoustic environment that can be perceived and comprehended by the humans. The character and quality of the soundscape influence human perceptions of an area, providing a sense of place that differentiates it from other regions. Noise refers to sound which is unwanted, either because of its effects on humans and wildlife, or its interference with the perception or detection of other sounds. Cultural soundscapes include opportunities for appropriate transmission of cultural and historic sounds that are fundamental components of the purposes and values for which the parks were established.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Acoustics</span> Branch of physics involving mechanical waves

Acoustics is a branch of physics that deals with the study of mechanical waves in gases, liquids, and solids including topics such as vibration, sound, ultrasound and infrasound. A scientist who works in the field of acoustics is an acoustician while someone working in the field of acoustics technology may be called an acoustical engineer. The application of acoustics is present in almost all aspects of modern society with the most obvious being the audio and noise control industries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Noise pollution</span> Excessive, displeasing human, animal, or machine-created environmental noise

Noise pollution, or sound pollution, is the propagation of noise or sound with ranging impacts on the activity of human or animal life, most of which are harmful to a degree. The source of outdoor noise worldwide is mainly caused by machines, transport, and propagation systems. Poor urban planning may give rise to noise disintegration or pollution, side-by-side industrial and residential buildings can result in noise pollution in the residential areas. Some of the main sources of noise in residential areas include loud music, transportation, lawn care maintenance, construction, electrical generators, wind turbines, explosions, and people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Acoustical engineering</span> Branch of engineering dealing with sound and vibration

Acoustical engineering is the branch of engineering dealing with sound and vibration. It includes the application of acoustics, the science of sound and vibration, in technology. Acoustical engineers are typically concerned with the design, analysis and control of sound.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">R. Murray Schafer</span> Canadian composer (1933–2021)

Raymond Murray Schafer was a Canadian composer, writer, music educator, and environmentalist perhaps best known for his World Soundscape Project, concern for acoustic ecology, and his book The Tuning of the World (1977). He was the first recipient of the Jules Léger Prize in 1978.

Natural sounds are any sounds produced by non-human organisms as well as those generated by natural, non-biological sources within their normal soundscapes. It is a category whose definition is open for discussion. Natural sounds create an acoustic space.

Sound art is an artistic activity in which sound is utilized as a primary medium or material. Like many genres of contemporary art, sound art may be interdisciplinary in nature, or be used in hybrid forms. According to Brandon LaBelle, sound art as a practice "harnesses, describes, analyzes, performs, and interrogates the condition of sound and the process by which it operates."

Acoustic ecology, sometimes called ecoacoustics or soundscape studies, is a discipline studying the relationship, mediated through sound, between human beings and their environment. Acoustic ecology studies started in the late 1960s with R. Murray Schafer a musician, composer and former professor of communication studies at Simon Fraser University and had the help of his team at Simon Fraser University as part of the World Soundscape Project. The original WSP team included Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp, Bruce Davies and Peter Huse, among others. The first study produced by the WSP was titled The Vancouver Soundscape. The interest in this area grew enormously after this pioneer and innovative study and the area of acoustic ecology raised the interest of researchers and artists all over the world. In 1993, the members of the by now large and active international acoustic ecology community formed the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology.

Sound studies is an interdisciplinary field that to date has focused largely on the emergence of the concept of "sound" in Western modernity, with an emphasis on the development of sound reproduction technologies. The field first emerged in venues like the journal Social Studies of Science by scholars working in science and technology studies and communication studies; it has however greatly expanded and now includes a broad array of scholars working in music, anthropology, sound art, deaf studies, architecture, and many other fields besides. Important studies have focused on the idea of a "soundscape", architectural acoustics, nature sounds, the history of aurality in Western philosophy and nineteenth-century Colombia, Islamic approaches to listening, the voice, studies of deafness, loudness, and related topics. A foundational text is Jonathan Sterne's 2003 book "The Audible Past", though the field has retroactively taken as foundational two texts, Jacques Attali's Noise: The Political Economy of Music (1985) and R. Murray Schafer's The Tuning of the World (1977).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bernie Krause</span> American musician, author, soundscape recordist and bio-acoustician (*1938)

Bernard L. Krause is an American musician and soundscape ecologist. In 1968, he founded Wild Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to the recording and archiving of natural soundscapes. Krause is an author, a bio-acoustician, a speaker, and natural sound artist who coined the terms geophony, biophony, and anthropophony.

Hildegard Westerkamp is a Canadian composer, radio artist, teacher and sound ecologist of German origin. She studied flute and piano at the Conservatory of Music in Freiburg, West Germany from 1966 to 1968 and moved to Canada in 1975. She received a Bachelor of Music from the University of British Columbia in 1972 and a Master of Arts from Simon Fraser University in 1988. She taught acoustic communication at Simon Fraser University from 1982 to 1991.

British Library Sounds is a British Library service providing free online access to a diverse range of spoken word, music and environmental sounds from the British Library Sound Archive. Anyone with web access can use the service to search, browse and listen to 50,000 digitised recordings. Playback and download of an additional 22,000 recordings is available to Athens or Shibboleth users in UK higher and further education. The service was originally launched with funding by the Jisc.

Biomusic is a form of experimental music which deals with sounds created or performed by non-humans. The definition is also sometimes extended to include sounds made by humans in a directly biological way. For instance, music that is created by the brain waves of the composer can also be called biomusic as can music created by the human body without the use of tools or instruments that are not part of the body.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to acoustics:

Schizophonia is a term coined by R. Murray Schafer to describe the splitting of an original sound and its electroacoustic reproduction. This concept comes from the invention of electroacoustic equipment for the transmission of sound, which meant that any sound could be recorded and sent anywhere around the world. Originally, that was not possible, as every sound was an original and could only be heard once. Schizophonia is the separation of this native sound and the recording of it; and the term focusses on the detrimental effects of this for individuals and societies at large.

The World Soundscape Project (WSP) was an international research project founded by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer in the late 1960s at Simon Fraser University. The project initiated the modern study of acoustic ecology. Its ultimate goal is "to find solutions for an ecologically balanced soundscape where the relationship between the human community and its sonic environment is in harmony." The practical manifestations of this goal include education about the soundscape and noise pollution, in addition to the recording and cataloguing of international soundscapes with a focus on preservation of soundmarks and dying sounds and sound environments. Publications which emerged from the project include The Book of Noise (1968) and The Tuning of the World (1977), both by Schafer, as well as the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology (1978) by Barry Truax. The project has thus far resulted in two major tours, in Canada and Europe, the results of which comprise the World Soundscape Library. Notable members included John Oswald, Howard Broomfield, Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Soundscape ecology</span>

Soundscape ecology is the study of the acoustic relationships between living organisms, human and other, and their environment, whether the organisms are marine or terrestrial. First appearing in the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology edited by Barry Truax, in 1978, the term has occasionally been used, sometimes interchangeably, with the term acoustic ecology. Soundscape ecologists also study the relationships between the three basic sources of sound that comprise the soundscape: those generated by organisms are referred to as the biophony; those from non-biological natural categories are classified as the geophony, and those produced by humans, the anthropophony.

Ecomusicology is an area of study that explores the relationships between music or sound, and the natural environment. It is a study which encompasses a variety of academic disciplines including musicology, biology, ecology and anthropology. Ecomusicology combines these disciplines to explore how sound is produced by natural environments and, more broadly how cultural values and concerns about nature are expressed through sonic mediums. Ecomusicology explores the ways that music is composed to replicate natural imagery, as well as how sounds produced within the natural environment are used within musical composition. Ecological studies of sounds produced by animals within their habitat are also considered to be part of the field of ecomusicology. In the 21st century, studies within the field the ecomusicology have also become increasingly interested in the sustainability of music production and performance.

Sound maps are digital geographical maps that put emphasis on the sonic representation of a specific location. Sound maps are created by associating landmarks and soundscapes.

A soundwalk is a walk with a focus on listening to the environment. The term was first used by members of the World Soundscape Project under the leadership of composer R. Murray Schafer in Vancouver in the 1970s. Hildegard Westerkamp, from the same group of artists and founder of the World Forum of Acoustic Ecology, defines soundwalking as "... any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are."

David Monacchi is an Italian sound artist, researcher and eco-acoustic composer, best known for his multidisciplinary project Fragments of Extinction, patented periphonic device, the Eco-Acoustic Theatre, and award-winning music and sound-art installations.


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  35. National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division
  36. Sounds recorded in national parks
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Further reading