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There is a varied history of the use of soundscape depending on discipline - ranging from urban design to wildlife ecology. An important distinction is to separate soundscape from the broader term acoustic environment. 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. Whereas, the soundscape is the component of the acoustic environment that can be perceived by humans. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standardized these definitions in 2014.(ISO 12913-1:2014)
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The term soundscape was coined by Canadian composer and environmentalist, R. Murray Schafer. According to this author there are three main elements of the soundscape:
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. The idea of soundscape refers to both the natural acoustic environment, consisting of natural sounds, including animal vocalizations and, for instance, the sounds of weather and other natural elements; and environmental sounds created by humans, through musical composition, sound design, and other ordinary human activities including conversation, 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”  and therefore mediates their relations. The disruption of these acoustic environments results in noise pollution.
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.
- Keynote sounds
- 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.
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".
- Sound signals
- 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 1993 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."
... and the elements have been further defined as to essential sources:
- 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.
Soundscapes 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. 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 Titan (moon). The work landed on the ground of Titan in 2005 after traveling inside the Huygens (spacecraft) over seven years and four billion kilometres through Space.
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.
The soundscape consists of three major sources or components. They are the biophony (the non-human, non-domestic animal sound signatures that occur in any given biome), the geophony (non-biological natural sounds that occur in any given biome and that include the effects of wind, water, earth movement, etc.), and anthrophony (human-generated sounds that include entropic electro-mechanical noise, and structured sound such as music and theatre).
Soundscapes in U.S. National Parks
The National Park Service actively protects the soundscapes and acoustic environments in national parks across the country. It is important 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.
Soundscapes and the Environment
There are two distinct soundscapes, either hi-fi or lo-fi, created by the environment. A hi-fi system possesses a positive signal-to-noise ratio. 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 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. 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 can't be replicated. In fact, it is physically impossible for nature to reproduce any phoneme twice in exactly the same manner. Today, there is a split between original sounds and unnatural acoustics brought on by the transmission and storage of sound. In other words, recordings have made it possible to simulate any sound environment anywhere. The portability of acoustics has transformed the idea of soundscape because it made hi-fi gadgetry mainstream in a lo-fi setting. Producers have displaced sounds found in the countryside, wildlife, and water and injected them into the homes of people everywhere, further enhancing the lo-fi problem found in urban spaces today.
Soundscapes in health care
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, 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.
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.
- Truax, Barry (2001). Acoustic Communication. Ablex Publishing Corporation. p. 11. ISBN 9781567505375.
- LaBelle, Brandon (2006). Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 198, 214. ISBN 0-8264-1845-7.
- Truax, Barry (1992). "Electroacoustic Music and the Soundscape: The inner and the Outer World". In Paynter, John. Companion to Contemporary Musical Thought. Routledge. pp. 374–398. ISBN 0-415-07225-5.
- Oliveros, Pauline (2005). Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice. iUniverse. p. 18. ISBN 0-595-34365-1.
- Schafer, R. Murray (1993). The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co. p. 10. ISBN 978-089281455-8.
- Krause, Bernie (2012). The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places. Little Brown. p. 278. ISBN 978-0-316-08687-5.
- Roads, Curtis (2001). Microsound. Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 312. ISBN 0-262-18215-7.
- Boodler ambient soundscape generator written in Python
- fLOW ambient soundscape generator (Apple Macintosh)
- Levin, Theodore (2006). Where Rivers and Mountains Sing, Sound, Music and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Krause, B (January–February 2008). "The Anatomy of a Soundscape". Journal of the Audio Engineering Society 56 (1/2).
- Krause, B (2012). The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places. New York: Little Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-08687-5.
- Pijanowski, Bryan C.; Villanueva-Rivera, Luis J.; Dumyahn, Sarah L.; Farina, Almo; Krause, Bernie; Napoletano, Brian M.; Gage, Stuart H.; Pieretti, Nadia (March 2011). "Soundscape Ecology: The Science of Sound in the Landscape". BioScience 61 (3): 203–216. doi:10.1525/bio.2011.61.3.6.
- Schafer, Murray (2004). Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 29–38.
- Seeing with Sound
- needs citation
- Irvine, K. N.; Devine-Wright, P.; Payne, S. R.; Fuller, R. A.; Painter, B.; Gaston, K. J. (2009). "Green space, soundscape and urban sustainability: An interdisciplinary, empirical study". Local Environment 14 (2): 155. doi:10.1080/13549830802522061.
- 1969 The New Soundscape - R. Murray Schafer
- 1977 The Tuning of the World - R. Murray Schafer (ISBN 0-394-40966-3)
- These 2 works were adapted to become part of the 1993 book, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World - R. Murray Schafer (ISBN 0-89281-455-1)
- 1977 Five village soundscapes (Music of the environment series) - A.R.C. Publications (ISBN 0-88985-005-4)
- 1978 Handbook for Acoustic Ecology - Barry Truax (ISBN 0-88985-011-9)
- 1985 Acoustic Communication : Second Edition - Barry Truax & World Soundscape Project (ISBN 1-56750-537-6
- 1994 Soundscapes: Essays on Vroom and Moo, Eds: Jarviluoma, Helmi - Department of Folk Tradition
- 2002 Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World - Bernard L. Krause (ISBN 0-89997-296-9) - book & CD
- 2002 Linking Soundscape Composition and Acoustic Ecology - Hildegard Westerkamp:
- 2003 Site Soundscapes: Landscape architecture in the light of sound - Sonotope Design Strategies, Per Hedfors (Diss.: ISSN 1401-6249 ISBN 91-576-6425-0  Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Diss. summary: ISBN 978-3-639-09413-8
- 2004 The Auditory Culture Reader (Sensory Formations) - Michael Bull (ISBN 1-85973-618-1)
- 2005 "Acoustic Ecology Considered as a Connotation: Semiotic, Post-Colonial and Educational Views of Soundscape" in Soundscape: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology Vol.6 No.2 - Tadahiko Imada 13-17 (ISSN 1607-3304)
- 2006 Qualitative Judgements of Urban Soundscapes: Questionning Questionnaires and Semantic Scales - Raimbault, Manon, Acta Acustica united with Acustica 92(6), 929–937
- "Soundscapes / Paesaggi sonori". lo Squaderno (10). December 2008. ISSN 1973-9141. Retrieved 2009-03-14.
- 2006, "Gebiete, Schichten und Klanglandschaften in den Alpen. Zum Gebrauch einiger historischer Begriffe aus der Musikethnologie", Marcello Sorce Keller, in T. Nussbaumer (ed.), Volksmusik in den Alpen: Interkulturelle Horizonte und Crossovers, Salzburg, Verlag Mueller-Speiser, 2006, pp. 9–18.
- 2006 The West Meets the East in Acoustic Ecology (Tadahiko Imada Kozo Hiramatsu et al. Eds), Japanese Association for Sound Ecology & Hirosaki University International Music Centre ISBN 4-9903332-1-7
- 2008 "Soundscape, postcolonial and music education: Experiencing the earliest grain of the body and music" - Tadahiko Imada in Music Education Policy and Implementation: International Perspectives (Chi Cheung Leung, Lai Chi Rita Yip and Tadahiko Imada Eds, Hirosaki University Press) ISBN 978-4-902774-39-9
- 2009 A Little Sound Education - R. Murray Schafer & Tadahiko Imada (Shunjusha, Tokyo) ISBN 978-4-393-93539-2
- 2012 The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places, Bernie Krause, Little Brown New York, ISBN 978-0-316-08687-5
- World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE)
- Soundscape: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology, published by WFAE
- How Sound Affects Us (8:18)—TED talk by Julian Treasure
- Mailman, Joshua B. "Seven Metaphors for (Music) Listening: DRAMaTIC" in Journal of Sonic Studies v.2.