Acoustic environments include all the sounds (human, mechanical, environmental) within a particular area (built or natural) as they are modified by the environment. A soundscape is all the overlapping sounds that might be heard in a particular acoustic environment. Soundwalks promote listening to a soundscape by walking to sound sources. >Sound maps plot sound sources at specific locations and promote listening to targeted sounds within a soundscape. Information and listening opportunities are provided. Transects sample particular or characteristic sounds along a path through a space or place, which, when combined, provide a mix or collage of the soundscape.
R. Murray Schafer, Canadian composer and naturalist, popularized the term soundscape as part of founding the World Soundscape Project, with Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, Barry Truax, Howard Broomfield, Hildegard Westerkamp, and others at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1970. The project's intention, according to Schafer, "was to study all aspects of the changing soundscape to determine how these changes might affect people's thinking and social activities" (Schafer 2007, 83-84). Schafer attributes the term to Michael Southworth, a Boston city planner, who described soundscape in a 1969 paper, "The Sonic Environment of Cities" (Southworth 1969), as a perceptual form of the sonic environment, considered both in relation to the quality and type of sounds and their arrangement in space and time as well as in relation to the activities and physical settings of the city.
Schafer considered a soundscape as the multiple, overlapping, potentially immersive aural events heard rather than objects seen, in specific acoustic environments, (his emphasis, Schafer 1977, 8). The concept of acoustic environment was borrowed from Canadian media theorists Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan. Beginning with publication of The Mechanical Bride in 1951 and continuing to his death in 1984, McLuhan developed an intricate taxonomy of media and their effects, reaching back to humankind's origins for comparisons between pre-literate and electric communications, always calling attention to the fact that the medium matters to our experience of the message.
With Carpenter, McLuhan proposed, in 1960, the concepts "acoustic space" and "visual space" to describe the perceptual structures governing, "the mentality of the pre-literate" and the Western imagination (McLuhan 1960, 207). As McLuhan described them, visual space was definite and linear, while acoustic space was "boundless, directionless, horizonless, the dark of the mind, the world of emotion, primordial intuition, terror" (McLuhan 1960, 207). LEARN more
Within acoustic environments and/or soundscapes, sounds may originate from non-human sources—animal vocalizations, bird calls, insect sounds, etc.—natural, non-living sources—wind, water, weather, earthquakes, avalances, etc.—or human activities—music, sound design, speech, or human work activities, machinery, etc. Soundscapes are sometimes called sonic geographies, and may be experienced in situ via sound walks. As recordings, soundscapes can be experienced through sound maps, or by listening to the sounds of the soundscape alone, or in conjunction with musical and/or other performance. Transects sample particular or characteristic sounds along a path through a space or place, which, when combined, provide a mix or collage of the soundscape.
Soundscapes > three major elements
For any soundscape, Schafer argued, three main elements can be identified: keynote sounds, sound signals, and soundmarks. Keynote sounds outline the character of a place. Keynote sounds may have sources in the biophony (sounds from living organisms, bird calls, animal vocalizations, insect sounds, etc.), the geophony (sounds from non-living sources, like earthquakes, avalanches, glacier/ice cap movements, wind, water, etc.), and anthrophony (sounds produced by humans like language, music, and sounds from mechanical and/or electromagnetic devices) (Schafer 1977, 9-10).
Sound signals are those sounds heard in the foreground, that should be listened to consciously, carefully, like sirens, bells, whistles, and other warning sounds. See, and hear, for example, John Wynne's Response Time, a 2002 sound installation in Toronto's Metro Hall Square that dared the public to hear auditory warnings (Schafer 1977, 10)
Soundmarks are sounds regarded by the people of a particular community as possessing unique qualities. "Once a soundmark has been identified, it deserves to be protected, for soundmarks make the acoustic life of a community unique" (Schafer 1977, 10).
Soundscapes > hi-fi or lo-fi
Describing soundscapes, Schafer used the term "hi-fi" to denote an acoustic environment, like forests, rural areas, empty beaches, where one can listen to sounds clearly without masking or crowding. In this example "hi-fi" soundscape, the sound mark is the sound of the woodpecker repeated throughout.
John F. Barber
Conversely, "lo-fi" describes a dense and noisy acoustic environment, like a city, where individual, distinct sounds may be difficult to differentiate. This "lo-fi" soundscape example combines environmental, human, and mechanical sounds heard at a pedestrian crossing on Bay Street, Savannah, Georgia.
Bay Street Crossing
John F. Barber
Soundscapes > mechanical sounds
Rather than nature or environmental sounds, soundscapes might focus on mechanical sounds. This example uses field recordings of antique, gas-powered tractors and farm machinery at a county fair.
Symphony for Antique Tractors
John F. Barber
Soundscapes might combine environmental and human sounds as in this example, also composed from field recordings at a county fair.
Voice of the Fair
John F. Barber
Soundscapes > other planets, space
Sounds collected by landers and probes can provide useful scientific information about other planets. For example, NASA's InSight lander uses a vibration detector placed on the surface of Mars to detect earthquakes in the planet's interior. The InSight lander can also hear wind blowing across the surface of Mars. A drill and the lander's robotic arm also produce sounds that can help us learn more about Mars. Sounds detected by the InSight lander were sped up and processed by NASA engineers to make them audible to humans. These sounds were combined in a mixtape: NASA's InSight at Work on Mars. Use headphones for the best listening experience of this soundscape from Mars.
HEAR more at the NASA Soundcloud webpage.
Soundscapes > imaginary
Places never visited, imaginary places, or events not normally associated with sound(s) might promote soundscapes. For example, what does a Martian sunrise sound like? Who knows, really. But researchers have sonified (turned into sound) a photograph taken by the Mars rover Opportunity of the 5,000th sunrise it has witnessed while exploring the Martian planet. The result is an interesting musical composition.
LEARN more at the Astronomy website.
I am always intrigued by reports of alien abductions that include examinations. What might such an experience sound like? I created Alien Operating Room to imagine sounds that might be heard during an examination aboard an alien spacecraft.
Another imaginary place is inside the Internet. This soundscape, Internet Soundscape, imagines the sounds of electronic commerce. Learn more and listen.
I created this soundscape for Dene Grigar's work of participatory electronic literature, Curlew, a story about a man's struggles with the ocean, the elements, and the gods.
John F. Barber
We might also imagine soundscapes as improbable combinations of sounds in order to provide an aural narrative.
Soundscape 1: Remix
John F. Barber
Michael Vincent says we can hear literary, musical events in soundscapes. For example, restaurant soundscapes can be heard as "spoken word choral performances." The hushed tones of conversation prior to the start of a movie are "akin to the tuning of an orchestra before an evening performance" (Vincent 2008, 59).
Finally, Garbriele Proy says the effect of listening to a soundscape should be immersion in its sounds, as well as one's memories of similar aural environments (Proy 2013). In this regard, soundscapes might help us understand information not normally presented as sound. The Listen to Wikipedia website is a sonification of recent changes to Wikipedia. Bells indicate additions. String plucks subtractions. Pitch changes according to the size of the edit. The larger the edit, the deeper the note. The result is a soundscape of the constant editing of Wikipedia content.
Soundscapes > recorded
Given the complexity and aural nature of soundscapes, recordings may provide a realistic way of sampling sounds that might be heard in acoustic environments over time. In this regard, the term soundscape is frequently used to signify a recording of the sonic components of an acoustic environment, their modifications by that environment, and their perception by humans. Recorded soundscapes by be listened to either exclusively or in combination with musical composition and/or performance.
Recording, as a way of curating sound, is explored in another inquiry, Curating Sound. But, with regard to recording soundscapes, there are many thoughts, questions, and opportunities for further consideration. LEARN more.
Soundscapes > creating/augmenting/(re)animating
Soundscapes provide an opportunity to recreate and explore specific historical sound environments no longer available. Here are some examples.
Virtual St. Paul's Cathedral Project
A digital re-creation of worship and preaching at St. Paul's Cathedral in early modern London. This project provides a digital and auditory recreation of John Donne's 1622 Gunpowder Day Plot sermon. The project won a 2014 DH award for best data visualization. Follow the "Acoustics" menu link and explore sounds in and around the Cathedral.
Soundscapes > locative/personal/autonomous
If soundscapes are all the sounds that might be heard in a particular acoustic environment, which we might also call "sonic space," what are the opportunities for creating personal, autonomous sonic spaces while we move within a soundscape? The potential is certainly a reality if you stop to notice the number of people walking about with white AirBuds in their ears. This trend of personal, portable, sound began in the 1980s with the introduction of the Sony Walkman. Before the Walkman arrived, people carried boomboxes with them. Before that, it was portable radios, which first appeared in the 1950s. Michael Bull argues that in using an iPod, with AirBuds, or ear buds, one seeks to create a personal audio space and/or soundtrack that works in conjunction with the soundscape around them (Bull Sound moves: ipod culture and urban experience. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007).
Beyond iPods, mobile telephones and media players offered by many manufacturers allow users to carry a library of personal sounds wherever they go, and in listening to those sounds, create a highly mediated sonic space of their choice. Inside this sonic space, users experience a Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) in which their sonic experience is curated by personal choice and free of outside influence. This is a personal tactic, undertaken by individuals or groups order to develop a greater sense of personal creativity and autonomy that is free from hierarchical social relationships and concentrated on cultivating the present moment as a space for these practices to take place (Bey, H. TAZ:the temporary autonomous zone, ontological anarchy, poetic terrorism. New York, NY:Autonomedia, 1991). See Radio Eyes by San Francisco sound artist John Morin that seeks to explore the potentiality of personal sonic space and offer new ways of hearing and understanding the world. Morin provides soundscapes, sonic dérive, and podcasts that are both interesting listening and thought provoking. As his website tagline says, "Tune in. Turn on. Get weirded out."
Soundscapes > resources
Droumeva, Milena. Curating Everyday Life: Approaches to Documenting Everyday Soundscapes. M/C Journal 18(4) 2015.
Live Stream from a Deep-Ocean Soundscape
A live ocean soundscape from 900 meters undersea just outside Monterey Bay, California.
Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Destiny Books, 1993)
Schafer, R. Murray. The Tuning of the World: A Pioneering Exploration Into the Past History and Present State of the Most Neglected Aspect of Our Environment: The Soundscape (McClelland and Stewart, 1977).
Europe's Sounds at Your Fingertips
More than a million audio recordings and thousands of audio-related content, all focused on Europe's sound and music heritage.
World Update: Soundscapes
Provided by BBC World Service
Acoustic Ecology and Soundscape Bibliography
Published material pertaining to the interdisciplinary fields of acoustic ecology, soundscape research, soundscape composition, soundscape education ("ear cleaning"), and acoustic design. The bibliography takes into special account the writings of R. Murray Schafer, the "father of acoustic ecology", and his research team, the World Soundscape Project, by providing information on all editions of their writings, including revisions, collections and some translations. The bibliography is organized into three sections: Primary Literature, Interview and Secondary Literature.
The view from the Shard
From the observation deck of The Shard, sixty-eight stories above the street, you have a pretty incredible 360-degree panorama of London, England. This website allows you to interact with that view, bringing up points of historical and cultural interest, as well as listening to a continuous soundscape. Note, for example, how the sound(s) change as you zoom in or out of distant views or sounds.
Soundscape Recordings from Vienna
Audio recordings of Vienna's urban soundscape (dating from 1981—1983) were made accessible online by the Phonogrammarchiv. The integration of their geo-coordinates enables direct selection of the recordings from the online catalogue via the project's European Soundscape Map.
Thompson, Emily. The Roaring Twenties
An interactive exploration of the historical soundscape of New York City
Western Soundscape Archive
Features ambient and specific recordings of animals and environments throughout the Western United States. A large collection of the holdings are available through Creative Commons licensing
Rhythm Science Sound Sculpture
An interesting exercise from the 2013 Digital Humanities Winter Institute which builds toward a soundscape, from a simple exercise of acousmatic listening.
Mapping the soundscape of Renaissance Florence
From the University of Chicago. Introduces Digital Humanities and what it can do. Reviews two digital humanities projects, one of which utilizes soundscapes to realize understanding of geospatial data.
Toward a sound-based scholarship
Speaks to soundscapes as sound-specific fieldwork within ethnographic scholarship. Interesting references and resource links.
New York Society for Acoustic Ecology
This project describes itself as a container in which to hold many different processes and projects focusing on the city's shifting sonic environment and temporal, physical, and cultural contexts. Among these projects are "Sound Seeker," a Google map-based interface for listening to the sounds of New York. Clicking icons on a map plays the recorded sound, and shows the address, date, time of day, author, and other information regarding the recording; and "City in a Sidewalk," where participants are invited to navigate a provided soundwalk, or create one of their own. Using an online forum, participants can exchange personal narratives, photographs, drawings, sound recordings, environmental data, historical details, maps, and other information about their walks.
WFAE: World Forum for Acoustic Ecology
An international organization engaged in multi-disciplinary study of the social, cultural and ecological aspects of the sonic environment. Part of their mission is "protecting and preserving existing natural soundscapes and time and places of quiet."
Kapelanski, Maksymilian. Acoustic Ecology and the Soundscape Bibliography. Leonardo, 2003. https://www.leonardo.info/isast/spec.projects/acousticecologybib.html
Soundwalks are excursions in acoustic environments for the purpose of listening to the sounds of that environment's soundscape. Generally, one walks within a defined area experiencing the sounds to be heard there. The term and practice of soundwalks evolved from the World Soundscape Project, founded by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer in the late 1960s-early 1970s at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada. Notable practitioners include Claudia Westerkamp (Westerkamp 2014), Andra McCartney (McCartney 2014), and Viv Corringham (Corringham 2016).
Soundwalks can be designed for individual or group listening. They can cover a wide or small area, even targeted portions of a soundscape. Soundwalks that address portions or targeted portions of a soundscape are often called "location-based" or "locative." See examples by Jeremy Hight and others.
No matter the approach, the objective of soundwalks is to provide active participation with a soundscape by reactivating one's sense of hearing and encouraging active listening. Soundwalks encourage one to listen carefully and critically to sounds and consider their contribution to the acoustic environment.
Soundwalks > examples
34 North 118 West
Jeremy Hight, Jeff Knowlton, Naomi Spellman
2003, Los Angeles, California
Combining audio narrative, digital media, and GPS technology, "34 North 118 West" delivers an interactive story centered around the railroad freight depot situated at 34 North latitude and 118 West longitude in downtown Los Angeles, California, early in the 20th century. Participants walked throughout the area with a tablet computer equipped with a GPS card and headphones. Physical maps are also available. GPS tracks one's position in the neighborhood and triggers audio-visual narratives when entering hot spots created by Hight, Knowlton, and Spellman. The streets, the buildings, the ghosts of former residents, all provide fragments that, taken together, provide a deep and rich narrative of this place. By evoking these multiple narratives, many lost or forgotten, participants uncovered the hidden history of this once thriving part of downtown Los Angeles. "34 North 118 West," with its combination of urban infrastructure and storytelling is a pioneering locative narrative. Learn more.
2003 - present, various locations
Subtitled "Electromagnetic Investigations in the City," this ongoing project, begun in 2003 by Berlin-based sound artist Christina Kubisch, uses specially-built headphones to receive electromagnetic signals from the city environment and convert them into sound. Kubisch maps a given territory, noting hot spots (ATM machines, security systems, electronic cash registers, subway systems, etc.) where the signals are particularly strong or interesting. Participants, wearing headphones, undertake an auditory walk through the invisible network of electromagnetic information. Electrical walks have been offered in Germany, England, France, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States. I created this example from samples of Kubisch's electrical walks including a light advertisement in Sendai, Japan; a magnetic field in the Science Museum, London, England; a subway in Taipei, Taiwan; a decorative electrical flame, at an unknown location; and Gare de l'Est, Paris, France.
Audio stories set in San Francisco are the basis for this contemporary locative narrative. The samples sound promising. The app sounds tempting.
Electrical Walks at Kubich's website
Samples of raw sounds from Kubisch's electrical walks
A Guide to Getting Lost
This sound walk, created by international sound artist Jennie Savage, uses audio recorded over five continents, including in Moroccan souks, Indian streets, tropical beaches, a London Market, bustling European towns, and a snowy Canadian city. Use her soundwalk in your acoustic environment as a guide, turning right and left at points narrated by Savage. Or follow your own route as a Wanderer, Idler, or Drifter. Either way, walkers are challenged to see familiar geography afresh, to give themselves up to walking without purpose and to experience serendipitous moments when sound from the recording appears to sync up with "real life" and real time events.
"A collaborative research and educational platform for traveling back in time to explore the historical layers of city spaces in an interactive, hypermedia environment."
LA Flood Project
Christy Dena, Jeremy Douglass, Juan B. Gutierrez, Jeremy Hight, Marc C. Marino, and Lisa Ann Tao
Positions the audience/user/narrator as the ellipses (. . .) the points between the narrative action: "Voices are being heard on cell phones."
A Large Slow River
Canadian sound artist Janet Cardiff is noted for her sound walks. This one features a mystery inside her narrated walking tour of a lake in Ontario, Canada. Recorded in binaural sound, this CD-based walk is part fiction, part picture book, part soundscape, and very immersive. Headphones provide the best listening experience.
Santa Fe Soundwalk
John F. Barber
Walking in the hills above Santa Fe, New Mexico one morning. The wind in the microphone does not drown out someone practicing the trumpet, some birds, and the bells of The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in downtown.
John Luther Adams
Commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A two-part composition ("Uptown" and "Downtown") meant to turn the 8-block walk between The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Breuer into a polyphonic, antiphonic, and personal music adventure. Learn more at The Met website.
See also Cooper, Michael. "Birdsongs, Sirens, and Saxophones for a Stroll Between Museums." The New York Times 4 July 2016. Cooper recounts the overlay of street sounds as he walks between museum buildings while listening to Adams's compositions. Listen to Soundwalk 9:09 Downtown.
Listen to Soundwalk 9:09 Uptown.
GPS artist Jeremy Wood
Uses satellite navigation technology to compile a personal cartography of his relation to space and time while mowing his lawn.
The Missing Voice
1999, Whitechapel Library, London
Subtitled "(Case Study B): An Audio Walk," this CD-based audio walk by Canadian sound artist Janet Cardiff, begins in the crime section of the Whitechapel Library. Cardiff's breathy voice, coming from the CD, listened to with a portable player and headphones, leads one on a physical and psychological tour of Spitalfields and the City of London. The tour ends at the Liverpool Street Station. One has to find their way back to the library. Part urban guide, part historical account, part detective fiction, part film noir, recorded in binaural stereo, the piece provides an uncanny surround sound context. This, along with the merging of sound effects and real street noises and Cardiff's stream-of-consciousness descriptions of simultaneous scenarios reinforce the isolation, the anonymity, the invisibility, of the individual in a large city. Searching for connection, for relationships, the solitary person often creates drama, imagines her life the soundtrack for a movie experienced by a walk through the set rather than a theatre viewing. The listener's hears hear one thing. Her brain thinks another. Cardiff: "Sound allows people to use their imagination more than film or video." The thinking voice mixes with other voices, removing one from the story. The listener/viewer, with a delicious lack of control or authority over the outcome, becomes a participant in the experience. Schizophrenia? Or, audio drama? Headphones provide the best listening experience.
The Whitechapel Library closed in 2005 and was absorbed by Whitechapel Gallery. One can still download Cardiff's The Missing Voice in three parts and begin the walk just outside the gallery. Information about "The Missing Voice" at the Janet Cardiff and George Bures website.
Soundwalks > resources
Corringham, Viv. "Shadow Walks." http://vivcorringham.org/ shadow-walks
McCartney, Andra. 2014. "Soundwalking: Creating Moving Environmental Sound Narratives". The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, Vol. 2. Edited by Sumanth Gopinath and Jason Stanyek. 212-237.
Westerkamp, Hildegard. 1974. Soundwalking. Sound Heritage, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 18-27.
Republished in Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practice, Angus Carlyle, ed. Paris: Entendre, 2007, pp. 49-54.
Brief information about Hildegard Westerkamp, George Bures Miller, R. Murray Schafer, Viv Corringham, Oliver Schroer, Soundwalk at IPMC Conference, Christina Kubisch, The Aural Experience of Physical Space—An Interactive Installation, and Adrian Piper.
Sound maps plot sound sources at specific locations within a soundscape, often on a digital map. By providing routes for soundwalks and information about what might be heard at specific locations along them, sound maps promote active participation with the soundscape and encourage participants to listen carefully in order to make critical judgements about the contributions the mapped sounds make to the complete soundscape.
Using computer-based mapping and audio file encoding technologies, sound maps provide access to the sound elements of particular locations within a soundscape. Thus, sound maps can make soundscapes publicly available in a comprehensive fashion as digital databases. Sound maps can also be created collaboratively by users recording site specific soundscapes and uploading them into the sound map.
Sound Maps > resources
Aporee Radio Sound Maps Thousands of recordings from urban, rural and natural environments connect sound and space; create a cartography focused on sound. Follow the navigation link to "Maps," or "Stream" where you can listen to continuous selections from the Aporee collection.
Cities and Memory A global field recording and sound art work that presents both the present reality of a place, and its imagined, alternative counterpart. The result is a constantly evolving sound map of real and imagined sounds from around the world.
The Montreal Sound Map Users can upload their own field recordings to a Google map of Montreal, Canada. With attentive listening, users can experience and appreciate the soundscape firsthand
Stanley Park Soundmap A web-based document of the sonic attributes of this urban park located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Feld, Steve. 2003. "A Rainforest Acoustemology." The Auditory Culture Reader. Michael Bull and Les Back, eds. Oxford, UK: Berg.
Hendy, David. Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening. HarperCollins, 2013.
Levinson, Paul. Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium. Routledge, 1999.
MacFarlane, Thomas. The Beatles and McLuhan: Understanding the Electric Age. The Scarecrow Press, 2013.
McLuhan, Marshall. "The Laws of Media." et cetera, vol. 34, no. 2, 1977, pp. 173-179.
McLuhan, Marshall, "Five Sovereign Fingers Taxed the Breath." Explorations in Communication: An Anthology, edited by Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan, Beacon Press, 1960, pp. 207-208.
Rubin, E. "Figure and Ground." Readings in Perception, edited by D. C. Beardslee and M. Wertheimer, D. Van Nostrand, 1958, pp. 194-203. [English translation of key sections from Rubin's dissertation]
Rubin, E. Experimenta Psychologica: Collected Scientific Papers in German, English & French. Ejnar Munksgaard, 1949.
Rubin, Edgar. Synsoplevede Figurer: Studier i Psykologisk Analyse. Første Del [Visually Experienced Figures: Studies in Psychological Analysis. Part one]. Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1915.
Southworth, Michael. "The Sonic Environment of Cities." Environment and Behavior, vol. 1, no. 1, 1969, pp. 49-70. doi:10.1177/001391656900100104. hdl:1721.1/102214
Schafer, R. Murray. 1977. The Tuning of the World: A Pioneering Exploration Into the Past History and Present State of the Most Neglected Aspect of Our Environment: The Soundscape. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
Reprinted as The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and The Tuning of the World. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 1994.
Vincent, Michael. 2008. "The Music in Words." Playing with Words: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice, Cathy. Lane, ed. CRISAP, London. 57-61.
Waller, Stephen J. "Virtual Sound Images and Virtual Sound Absorbers Misinterpreted as Supernatural Objects." Acoustical Society of America, Tuesday Conference, 28 October 2014.
[See "Sound Phenomena Influenced Ancient Art and Architecture, Say Researchers." Popular Archaeology, 28 Oct. 2014.
Proy, Garbriele. 2013. "Waldviertel: A Soundscape Composition." Art of Immersive Soundscapes. Pauline Minevich and Ellen Waterman, eds. Regina, Canada: University of Regina Press, 2013. 88-97.