The Soundscape by R. Murray Schafer is a book that argues forcefully and poetically for us to open our ears and listen to the sonic environment, because the quiet spaces and natural tempos that we require for a healthy and enjoyable life are in danger of being lost. We can become more mindful of the impact of human activity on the natural environment and on our lives by listening to the soundscape. This kind of listening allows the sound of the environment to be heard as music. As with music, we may form an aesthetic judgement on the quality of what we hear, and we might also act upon this judgement – consciously or not, sympathetically or antagonistically. Listening to the soundscape also shapes our appraisal and enjoyment of music by incorporating these environmental ‘artworks’ into our personal canon of musical experience. Schafer’s argument is appealing because of the connection it develops between the environment (natural and artificial), its sound, music, our aesthetic judgement, and – ultimately – our action.
This action can include making music. Schafer discusses the ‘inner space’ accessible via music – especially when listening via headphones, which internalises the apparent source of the music and intensifies the womb-like immersion in a wall of sound:
Headphone listening directs the listener toward a new integrity with himself. But only when he releases the experience by pronouncing the sacred Om or singning the Hallelujah Chorus or even the “Star Spangled Banner” does he take his place again with humanity. (Schafer, 1994, p.119)
With Schafer’s words in mind, I opened my ears to the local soundscape, and one of the first notable experiences was listening to raindrops hit the brim of my hat. Using various methods of sound synthesis, I tried to recreate that sonic experience.
P.S. When you’re on this track’s page on SoundCloud, the cloud logo is hovering above the track’s image, looking like it’s raining on my hat :¬)
Schafer, R.M. (1994). The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester, Vermont, USA: Destiny Books.