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September 30, 2010


A Good Read

by soundlandscapes

I’ve just finished reading an excellent book – The SoundscapeOur Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World by R. Murray Schafer.

The Soundscape – a term coined by the author – is our sonic environment, the ever-present array of noises with which we all live. Beginning with the primordial sounds of nature, we have experienced an ever-increasing complexity of our sonic surroundings. As civilisaton develops, new noises rise up around us: from the creaking wheel, the clang of the blacksmith’s hammer, and the distant chugging of steam trains to the “sound imperialism” of airports, city streets and factories. The author contends that we now suffer from an over-abundance of acoustic information and a proportionate diminishing of our ability to hear the nuances and subtleties of sound. Our task, he maintains, is to listen, analyse, and make distinctions.

As a society we have become aware of the toxic wastes that can enter our bodies through the air we breath and the water we drink. In fact, the pollution of our sonic environment is no less real. Schafer emphasises the importance of discerning the sounds that enrich and feed us and using them to create healthier environments. To this end, he explains how to classify sounds, appreciating their beauty or ugliness, and provides exercises and “soundwalks” to help us become more discriminating and sensitive to the sounds around us.

The book is challenging but to anyone interested in our sonic environment it is well worth a read.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oct 2 2010

    I agree, this is a seminal work though it can be a bit introspective and hard work at times. I’m always grateful to RMS for giving us the concept of a hi-fi soundscape and lo-fi one – most street recordig is lo-fi, hence the challenge of getting a clear focus. I found it worth rereading after a while, I probably didn’t get all of it in the first pass.

    • Oct 2 2010

      Thank you for your comment. You are quite right about the concept of hi-fi versus lo-fi. I agree that street recording tends towards the lo-fi side but as you say, the challenge is to get that clear focus. Sadly, microphones are much less forgiving and much less discerning than the human brain at selecting what sound is necessary and what is not.

      I’ve been to a huge manifestation in Paris this afternoon with several hundred thousand people protesting about French pension reform. The only way to record that and to capture the emotion was to get right into the action. Lo-fi it may have been but it was also a thrilling challenge! It’s what keeps me so passionate about street recording. I shall put a post up and include some of the sounds once I have them all organised.


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