Soundscape, Part 1

I am going to move to a weekly posting as of today. That will give me enough time to delve into a range of interesting topics and to write reasonably good postings. The “Noise per Day List” will be added to in a haphazard way, as the noises hit me.

Soundscape, Part 1

Today, I want to sketch in some general ideas about how we notice/pay attention (or don’t) to noise/sound in our world. I turn to R. Murray Schafer and his colleagues who started working on the idea of “soundscape” in the early 1970s, in Vancouver, B.C..  They were the “World Soundscape Project”. (Two books arose from this work – “The Tuning of the World” and “The Soundscape”. Here you can listen to Schafer talking about these early days. Also, there is a wonderful short NFB film, “Listen”, about Schafer, listed in the “Recommended Video Links” part of this blog. You can also get to it from here.)

By soundscape, they meant “the sonic environment around us”. And this included everything: talking, music, sounds of nature, sounds of technology, noise, streetscapes – ALL the sounds of our lives.

This work spawned a whole new take on sound – people started making sound recordings of the soundscapes of all sorts of places –  nature, their homes, cities, buildings, walks through cities (sound tours), etc.

Another key person in the world of soundscape is Hildegarde Westerkamp, who is also based in Vancouver. (Here is a link to her website, where you will find more information about her work.) One part of her site is this link to one of her installations. You will see that it starts with text that sets the stage for the ‘soundwalk’ experience that appears later in the installation.

Another person doing interesting work in the field of soundscape is Concordia University professor Andra McCartney.  Here is one example of a piece she was involved in, a “Vancouver English Bay Soundwalk”. And here is a link to her YouTube channel.

Another Canadian doing work in this field is Lisa Griffin.  Here is a link to her site and her soundscape work.

Also based in Vancouver is Urban Sound Ecology, a group that is collecting soundscapes of Canadian cities.

Also check out the blog, for today’s posting of 5 soundscapes.

[You may want to veer off at this point and go searching for “soundscapes” and/or “soundwalks”. You will find all kinds of links and sites. Enjoy the journey into YouTube and other places.]

The intent of recording (or sometimes creating) soundscapes was an intentional paying attention to the sounds around us. Most of us go through a day without really paying attention to the sounds/noises around us. We are very good at blocking out sound – many of us pay little attention to our aural experience, unless shocked into it by an emergency or change in our daily patterns. Soundscape artists want to get us to start paying attention. (I do an exercise with my students where I get them to go to 3 different environments: a downtown street corner, a place of ‘nature’ and their own bedroom. Their assignment is to LISTEN: to the sounds that are there. Most of them are very amazed at what they hear, and what they have not heard before. You might want to try this assignment and ‘see’ what you hear.)

There are a few soundscape sites that are geared to children. They get to build soundscapes, and experience sound/noise around them. Fun for adults too! (Here is another link where you and/or your kids can also find out about the hearing abilities of various species. )

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2 Responses to Soundscape, Part 1

  1. andramccartney says:

    Nice set of resources!

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