The word soundscape was first coined by Canadian composer and writer R. Murray Schafer, who is known for his work on the World Soundscape Project and his concerns for acoustic ecology. He referred to the soundscape as an acoustic environment consisting of events heard, rather than objects seen. (The Tuning of the World, pg 7)
Schafer describes the soundscape in terms of Hi-Fi:
The Hi-Fi soundscape is one in which discrete sounds can be heard clearly because of the low ambience noise level. The country is generally more hi-fi than the city; night more than day; ancient times more than modern. In the hi-fi soundscape, sounds overlap less frequently; there is perspective—foreground and background. (Tuning of the World, pg 43)
In a lo-fi soundscape individual acoustic signals are obscured in an overdense population of sounds. The pellucid sound—a footstep in the snow, a chuch bell across the valley or an animal scurrying in the brush—is masked by broad-band noise. Perspective is lost. On a downtown street corner of the modern city there is no distance; there is only presence. (Tuning of the World, pg 43)
If you are interested in reading more on this topic, R. Murray Schafer has written many books about acoustic ecology and the soundscape, all of which are still available through his publisher’s web-site Arcana Editions which can be found here.
It was the increasing sound floor of the city that was the initial impetus for us to move to the country. One of the qualities we like best about the property we moved to – now called Warbler’s Roost – is the soundscape. There is no hum of traffic noise. Bird calls are clear and provide a sense of space.
There are seasonal overtures from frogs and crickets and rhythmic drumming from a ruffed grouse. When there is noise from neighbours it is usually at a distance and also helps to open an unseen dimension of local life in the near north.
One of the activities we like to do most at Warbler’s Roost is to go on a SOUNDwalk as often as time will allow.
What is a SOUNDwalk? In a SOUNDwalk, we listen to the environment around us. We (re)focus our ears so that we can listen without relying on visual input. There are some easy listening exercises to prepare your ears for a SOUNDwalk. One such exercise is to simply plug your ears for 15 or more seconds or so by placing your hands over them. Once you remove your hands you will notice the sounds around you.
During a SOUNDwalk, you can focus on many aspects of the acoustic environment around you, such as the sounds of the waterfront. You can listen to it as if it were a musical composition, in which all of the parts are creating a piece for you and to which you are contributing (hopefully) as little as possible by walking/participating as quietly as you can. Or you can listen to it as if it were a society, in which the sounds effect and interact with each other, as in call and response, or talking to each other. You can keep an ear out for resonances spaces where a footstep might echo, or the sound of a clapped hand might bounce off of structures in an interesting way.
Warbler’s Roost now offers week-long and weekend Soundscape Retreats
Darren Copeland, a soundscape composer and sound artist himself, has created a series of workshops as part of week-long and weekend Soundscape Retreats here at Warbler’s Roost. Participants will discover the complexities of the natural soundscape through SOUNDwalking and listening exercises and how to record the sound environment effectively, as well as how to analyze those recordings, edit and use them to create soundscape works and/or sound art. All levels of experience are welcome.
Nature enthusiasts and artists alike will have the chance to explore the local soundscape of Warbler’s Roost, and the unique acoustic environment that the Almaguin Highlands has to offer.
Go to our Soundscape Retreat page for more information and upcoming dates.
Schafer, R. Murray, The Tuning of the World. Toronto, ON: McClelleand and Stewart Ltd, 1977.