Sonic Arts week 1: R. Murray Schafer

R. Murray Schafer and Soundscape

Murray Schafer is a Canadian composer born in 1933 (not to be confused with Pierre Schaeffer, who influenced his ideas).  He began forming ideas on soundscape in the 1960s and 1970s through his work at Simon Fraser University

Schafer compares the world to a musical instrument or composition, and refers to the “tuning of the world”, suggesting that we are responsible for our sonic environment and achieving a kind of state of harmony.  According to Schafer, “noise equals power” (1977 chapter 5). In particular Schafer is concerned about the increase of noise with the advent of technology and industrialisation.  His work has in part led to the development of a field called acoustic ecology – study of the relationships between organisms (people, animals, etc.) and the environment through sound.  This often takes the shape of mapping and preserving sounds.

 

http://www.sfu.ca/~truax/FVS/fvs.html
http://www.sfu.ca/~truax/FVS/fvs.html
http://wfae.proscenia.net/library/newsarchive/2014/04_October_December/pages/5.2.htm
http://wfae.proscenia.net/library/newsarchive/2014/04_October_December/pages/5.2.htm

Schafer defines soundscape broadly as “any acoustic field of study”, including musical composition, radio programmes, or acoustic environments.  This latter category is generally the focus of his writing and is perhaps the easiest starting point.  He suggests that soundscapes can be analysed according to three key features or “event types” (these have been expanded over the years – see the Wikipedia links below):

  • Keynotes
  • Soundmarks
  • Signals

According to Schafer, soundscapes can generally be classified as hi-fi or lo-fi, according to the amount of detail that can be perceived.  With the constant noise of technology Schafer suggests that modern soundscapes are increasingly lo-fi.

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