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The English term soundscape ( German mutatis mutandis soundscape ) refers to the acoustic characteristics and design of specific locations such. B. the individual acoustic spaces or soundscapes of biotopes or cities.

The term was coined in 1977 by the composer and sound researcher Murray Schafer .

Soundscape is used in connection with music, radio and sound art, as well as the newer research discipline Soundscape Ecology , which refers to the ecology of Bernie Krause's soundscapes . In field recording and musique concrète in particular , sounds from nature, technology and the environment are recorded with the microphone and used either unprocessed or slightly processed and also electronically alienated. Musicians who use soundscapes in their compositions include Robert Fripp , Brian Eno , Barry Truax , Hildegard Westerkamp , Luc Ferrari , Francisco López , Klaus Hinrich Stahmer , Leon Milo and Steve Reich .


The soundscape is the core concept of a young interdisciplinary science, sound studies , which deals with sound research, acoustic communication and sound design. The focus of soundscape research is the relationship between humans and the constantly changing environmental sounds.

A soundscape is the interplay of all acoustic phenomena that are produced in and through a room. The soundscape of a place is made up of natural sounds, language, work and machine noise as well as music. Soundscapes range from sound art , music or sound design in shopping centers, airports or offices to soundscapes of cities, villages or landscapes. It can be the smallest nuances that give a sound image a specific characteristic and thus make it unique.

Concept history

The term "soundscape" appears for the first time in 1969 in the dissertation of the American architect Michael Southworth. But it was shaped by the Canadian composer and sound researcher R. Murray Schafer and his colleagues Hildegard Westerkamp and Barry Truax . Murray Schafer founded the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby near Vancouver in 1971 . The WSP is supported by UNESCO and the Donnar Canadian Foundation. The main aim was to record and catalog the sound phenomena in order to analyze the changes over the years. Using these analyzes, the WSP researches the sociological and aesthetic aspects of the acoustic environment.

The term became internationally known with Schafer's main work The Tuning of the World (1977). Attempts to translate German like “Lautphere” and “Klanglandschaft” could not prevail.

Soundscape theory

Lo-Fi and Hi-Fi

The industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in electromechanics , made machine noise and loudspeaker sounds much more prominent. As a result, soundscapes in which a person can make out individual acoustic events (e.g. the chirping of birds) are overloaded with sounds and so indifferent that only very loud sounds can be perceived that overwhelm people.

Murray Schafer, the forefather of the soundscape movement, describes the acoustically overloaded soundscapes (e.g. that of a main train station) as Lo-Fi - and the acoustically differentiable soundscapes (e.g. that of an alpine pasture) as Hi-Fi.

Tones overlap to a lesser extent within a hi-fi landscape . Schafer names the acoustic arrangement as perspective with a foreground and a background. Because of the quiet surroundings, the listener can hear further into the distance than in a city. The city is thus leading to a stunting of long-distance hearing (and far-sighting). This is the most significant change in the history of perception. In a lo-fi landscape (sphere), the individual acoustic signals are overshadowed by a covered accumulation of sounds. A clear sound, such as the cracking of a breaking branch, would be masked by broadband noise. The perspective is lost - in the city there is only the present, no distance.

The hi-fi or lo-fi properties of a place have a significant impact on the subjective perception and assessment of a place.

The description of sound spheres

Schafer classifies sound spheres into three main characteristics: basic tones, signal sounds and orientation sounds.

The term root comes from music theory ; there he determines the key or tonality of a composition. The keynote of a sound sphere, on the other hand, is composed of geography, climate, flora and fauna. Signal sounds are clearly contoured sounds. Usually there are warning signs: bells, whistles, horns and sirens. They can be organized into extensive codes (such as horn signals in India), but the recipient can decipher and understand them.

Orientation sounds are given special attention in a society. They characterize the acoustic life of a community.

Pre-industrial sound sphere / post-industrial sound sphere

Schafer differentiates between the pre-industrial sound sphere and the post-industrial sound sphere. While the pre-industrial sound sphere is mainly determined by nature noises, the post-industrial sound sphere is saturated with machine noises. The result is a rapid increase in acoustic information, so that only a few of it can be clearly perceived and classified. Schafer is researching the acoustic upheaval towards the industrial age using written records, among other things. Renée Mauperin describes the upheaval in 1865 as follows: "... The noise of the foundries and the whistling of the steam engines tore the silence over the river every moment".

The historian Oswald Spengler cites a possible function of volume or noise . If the power of a sound is enough to create a large acoustic profile, it can be called imperialistic. As an example, compare a man with a jackhammer and a man with a shovel.

There one acoustic room is dominated and other acoustic activities are interrupted. This mastery of acoustic activities and the resulting attentiveness is used by industry worldwide, regardless of other cultures. Industry must grow and with it its background noise. This has been an ongoing process over the past two hundred years.

The flat sound wave (traveling wave)

Another characteristic of the industrial revolution is the flat sound wave. It arises from speed and resistance. Rhythmic impulses get different pitches due to different speeds. From a frequency of 20 Hertz, the impulses for the human ear merge into a continuous tone. Not all sound waves are flat. Every sound has a characteristic curve that consists of different sections: transient flank, body, transitional oscillations and decay process. When visualizing (sound level recorder) a sound body , which consists of a constant tone, one sees a long horizontal line - a traveling wave. Machines generate noises with little informational value and high redundancy. Machines can hum, like generators, for example, or they can be interrupted by cascade rhythms, like sewing or threshing machines - but in any case they continuously generate sound. This sound phenomenon was created by the industrial revolution and expanded by electrical engineering. The result is permanent fundamental tones and broadband noise waves.

Flat sound waves can only change by increasing or decreasing the speed. This then happens through a stepless change and works like a glissando . Another phenomenon that is the result of the industrial revolution and thus the traveling wave is the " Doppler effect ". This effect was already present before, for example, when a horse galloped or a bee hummed, but it was only discovered in the course of the increased speeds of the 19th century.

The schizophony

In connection with the developments in recording, playback and transmission technologies, Murray Schafer sees the separation of the original sound from its originator as an essential problem. In this context he speaks of schizophonia, with the Greek prefix “schizo-” meaning separation and the syllable “-phonia” meaning voice. The word schizophonia, based on the term schizophrenia, expresses the nervousness that is generated when a sound is separated from its source. Murray Schafer takes the point of view that every sound is unique and inseparable from the mechanism that produces it. Recording and transmission technology make it possible, however, to separate the sound from the source and reproduce it in other places and in other contexts. Nowadays you can record every tiny natural sound, level it up and send it around the world. The independent existence of sounds in time and space can spread nervousness and fear, according to Murray Schafer. Murray Schafer's recordings of a lake pelting rain have a documentary character, as he wants to keep the connection to the sound source.

Landscape ecology

Traditional landscape ecology deals with landscape structure and its functions, including the underlying ecological and anthropogenic processes. Since the mid-2000s, science has concentrated on the “sound environment” in addition to the previous visual aspects. She is increasingly investigating the qualitative relationships between the structure of the landscape, its functions and daily sound patterns. The spatial and temporal variability in the perception of sound and the identification of dominant sound categories (sounds of human, biological or geophysical origin) in relation to landscape characteristics are examined. In the meantime, landscape ecology assumes that every landscape has its own specific sound. For this purpose, among other things, comparative, intercultural studies are carried out.

R. Murray Schafer and Barry Truax

R. Murray Schafer speaks of a stunting of human listening habits. This is primarily a consequence of technical developments in the audio sector, since the hi-fi quality makes the real world of sound appear as lo-fi. His vision is an aurally balanced society in whose soundscape all tones up to complete silence can be found. The specialized listening space in culture and media , on the other hand, works almost like a vacuum that has to be filled through performance and ritual. Barry Truax , who is seen by some as Schafer's successor, sees music , language , noises , synthetic sound and silence as continuums, as a cognitive network with flowing transitions. From this, Truax develops sound systems that are closely related as "organized sound". This should not only have a meaningful effect on communication , but above all have a positive effect on the electroacoustic design of the current and future world. While Schafer's perspective is more qualitatively historically oriented in order to understand today's soundscape in an evolutionary way, Truax tries to set up an analysis model in which acoustic communication can be concretized using different situations. At the center of this analysis model is the mesh of sound and hearing within all human interactions.

See also


  • R. Murray Schafer : The order of the sounds. A cultural history of hearing . Newly translated, revised and supplemented German edition hrg. by Sabine Breitsameter. Schott Music, Mainz 2010, ISBN 978-3-7957-0716-3 .
  • Barry Truax: Acoustic Communication. 2nd edition. Ablex Publishing, Westport CT et al. 2001, ISBN 1-56750-536-8 .
  • Hans-Ulrich Werner and Ralf Lankau : Media Soundscapes. Volume 1: Klanguage. Landscapes made of sound and methods of hearing (= MuK 160/161, ISSN  0721-3271 ). MUK, Siegen 2006.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Langer: The wild biophonic world of the artist-scientist Bernie Krause. Deutschlandfunk , Das Feature, April 11, 2014, manuscript for the broadcast (PDF).
  2. cf. Sebastian Stoll: The sound of a landscape. Frankfurter Rundschau , August 8, 2014.
  3. Sabine Breitsameter: Aural figure and figure of thought. Introductory essay in: R. Murray Schafer: The order of sounds . Schott, 2010, p. 15.
  4. Breitsameter, p. 14f.
  5. See Schafer, R. Murray. Sound and noise. A cultural history of hearing . Frankfurt am Main: Athenaeum: 1988: p. 14.
  6. See Schafer, R. Murray. Sound and noise. A cultural history of hearing . Frankfurt am Main: Athenaeum: 1988: p. 17.
  7. Mauperin, Renée quoted from R. Murray Schafer in: Klang und Krach. A cultural history of hearing . Frankfurt am Main: Athenaeum: 1988: p. 101.
  8. See Schafer, R. Murray. Sound and noise. A cultural history of hearing . Frankfurt am Main: Athenaeum: 1988: p. 105.
  9. See Schafer, R. Murray. Sound and noise. A cultural history of hearing . Frankfurt am Main: Athenaeum: 1988: p. 106.
  10. See Schafer, R. Murray. Sound and noise. A cultural history of hearing . Frankfurt am Main: Athenaeum: 1988: p. 106.
  11. See Schafer, R. Murray. Sound and noise. A cultural history of hearing . Frankfurt am Main: Athenaeum: 1988: p. 121.
  12. ^ Felix Urban: Acoustic Competence. Investigating sonic empowerment in urban cultures. Berlin / Johannesburg. 1st edition. Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-8288-3683-9 , pp. 135 .
  13. See Truax, Barry. Acoustic communication . London: Ablex Publishing: 2001: p. 50.
  14. Cf. Werner, Hans-Ulrich and Ralf Lanka with co-authors. in Media Soundscapes I: Media Soundscapes: Klanguage. Landscapes of sound and methods of hearing . MUK: Siegen: 2006: p. 29.