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Acoustic Ecology

Exploring the Aural World
An Acoustic Ecology Reader

We all know pretty well what a landscape is, but what is a soundscape? What are its boundaries, how is it defined and where it can be found? And how can we distinguish soundscape from ecoacoustics, or even just background noise?

Raymond Murray Schafer summarized his first definition of “soundscape” in a book called The New Soundscape: A Handbook for the Modern Music Teacher publised in Canada in 1969. The book’s fame gradually spread, and Schafer, together with a small group of his colleagues and students at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, finally established the more ambitious The World Soundscape Project (WSP).

The goal of the WSP was to document and study sounds on location and consequently came to be considered canonical in the late 1970s with the publication of Barry Truax’s glossary-like Handbook for Acoustic Ecology (1978) and R. Murray Schafer’s The Tuning of the World (1977).

Schafer’s book is therefore the first to give a full treatment of the idea of the soundscape, and it became the key reference for most practical and theoretical works that employ the term defined broadly until today. Sometimes this means that Schafer’s idea of the soundscape reworked the original term from the inside out. The notion of the soundscape contributed to a great deal of research on the acoustic environment, but it has also been widely questioned, and sometimes strongly criticised: in its entrenchment in a traditional vision of the landscape, influenced by naturalism, or in a too aesthetic approach to the aural universe (Francisco Lopez, Michel Chion, Tim Ingold, and others). That’s why it is useful to once again become acquainted with this slim volume some 50 years after it was first published.

Listening to the landscape’s pluralities and possibilities, hearing the dense multiplicity of its mobile production, allows us to challenge the singularity of actuality and articulate a different sense of place and a different sense of self that lives in those possibilities and shows us how else things could be … Sound slices through the visual frame and organisation to propose others: temporary, invisible, and ephemeral re-framings that demand our participation and re-frame the listener also.

Salomé Voegelin, Sonic Possible Worlds

The Czech translation gives us an opportunity to supplement the original with a two additions to the pdf and epub editions: Sabine Breitsameter’s text “Ordering of Sounds,” and a biographical text by Josef Cseres on R. Murray Schafer.

Further, the present online collection further supplements these ideas with a text on microphones by Marc Peter Wright, a recent interview with the sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard on his installation Testimonium, and John Grzinich, the analytical essay “Sound and Anthropocene” by Anna Kvíčalová, essay by Luděk Čertík, as well as documentation of the International Dawn Chorus project, devoted to early morning bird calls, which was broadcast on Czech Radio in May 2020. Also present is a review of the recent anthology Sound and Environment, published by the Faculty of Art and Design University of Jan Evangelista Purkyně. In addition, composer and teacher Barry Truax has given his kind permission to publish a Czech translation of his article that considers a different conception of the sound landscape as a world electroacoustic composition.

It would certainly be useful to include a few more interviews with authors who deal with or have dealt with sound art, touched by ecological themes, herein. It would be interesting to report on the Alois Piňos experiments, where field recordings of the sounds of stalactites and the underground Punkva river were used in his compositions Speleophony and Catherine Games of the mid-1970s. Field recordings were processed at Bratislava Radio studios and played for visitors in Catherine Cave in the Moravian karst region. In addition, in the composition Counterpoints of Nature (1978), Piňos used field recordings of water, wind, animals and human voices.

It often seems as if everything important in this context happened mainly in Canada, the US, France, England, and Australia. However, we recently came across the 2015 issue of Glissando magazine, edicated to the soundscape, which was published in Poland. We will therefore need to undertake a broad survey, including from the Czech and Slovak musical landscapes, to uncover eco-acoustical material of which we have so far been unaware.

Nevertheless I would like to thank all the authors who have provided texts for this collection, as well as the translators, especially Martin Lauer, and Lloyd Dunn for the editing and conforming the English texts.

For next year, there are plans to continue this series with an issue devoted to the emerging field of Sound Studies.

Miloš Vojtěchovský, November 2020

For Further Reading

Alarcón, Ximena. 2015. Telematic Embodiments: improvising via Internet in the context of migration, in Vs. Interpretation: An Anthology on Improvisation Vol.1, Edited by David Rothenberg, Agosto Foundation: Prague,

Allen, A. S. and Dawe, K. (eds.) 2016. Current Directions in Ecomusicology: Music, Culture, Nature. Abingdon: Routledge

Altman, Rick. 2004. Silent Film Sound, Film and Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

Anderson, Tim J. 2006. Making Easy Listening: Material Culture and Postwar American Recording, Commerce and Mass Culture Series. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Arkette, Sophie. 2004. “Sounds Like City.” Theory, Culture and Society

Bianchi Frederick / V. J. Manzo.2016 Environmental Sound Artists In Their Own Words, Oxford University Press, London,

Bennett, J. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Blesser, Barry and Salter, Linda-Ruth. 2004. Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? Experiencing Aural Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bull, Michael. 2000. Sounding Out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life (Materializing Culture). Oxford: Berg.

Burt, William. 2007. Liner notes. In David Dunn. Autonomous and Dynamical Systems. New York: New World Records.

Cage, John. 1973 (1961). Silence: Lectures and Writings. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Cage, John.(2010) překlad Jaroslav Sťastný, Radoslav Tejkal a Matěj Kratochvíl, Tranzit Display, Praha

Carlyle, A. (ed.) 2007. Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practice. Paris: Double Entendre.

Corbin, Alain. 1998. Village Bells : Sound and Meaning in the 19th-century French Countryside (European Perspectives). New York: Columbia University Press.

Cox, Christoph & Warner, Daniel Eds. 2017. Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. 2nd Revised Edition. Bloomsbury Publishing,

Davis, Bruce, Barry Truax, R. Murray Schafer. 2009. “Five Village Soundscapes.” in H. Järviluoma, et al. (eds), Acoustic Environments in Change. Tampere: TAMK University of Applied Sciences.

Drobnick, Jim. 2004. Aural Cultures. Toronto, Ont. and Banff, Alta.: YYZ Books; Walter Phillips Gallery Editions.

Dunn, David. 2009. Nature, Sound Art, and the Sacred. In D. Rothenberg and M. Ulvaeus (eds.) The Book of Music and Nature, 2nd edn. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Dunn, David. 1988. [Environment, Consciousness, and Magic.]( (accessed 6 June 2020).)

Dyson, Frances.2014.The Tone of Our Times: Sound, Sense, Economy, and Ecology, The MIT Press

Erlmann, Veit. 2004. Hearing Cultures: Essays on Sound, Listening, and Modernity. Oxford: Berg.

Feld, Steven. 1982. Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics, and Song in Kaluli Expression. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Feld, Steven. 1994. “From Schizophonia to Schismogenesis: On the Discourses and Commodification Practices of ‘World Music’ and ‘World Beat’.” In S. Feld and C. Keil. (eds), Chicago Music Grooves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gandy, Matthew. & Nilsen, B. (eds.) 2014. The Acoustic City. Berlin: JOVIS Verlag.

Gasior, Lisa. 2005. “The History of Soundscape: Soundscape as History.” A paper presented at the Canadian Communication, Association Conference, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Gelatt, Roland. 1977. The Fabulous Phonograph, 1877–1977, 2nd rev. edn. New York: Macmillan.

Gomery, Douglas. 2005. The Coming of Sound : A History. New York: Routledge.

Hainge, Greg. 2013. Noise Matters. Towards an Ontology of Noise. Bloomsbury Publishing,

Helmholtz, Hermann L.F. 1912 (1854). On the Perception of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music. A. Ellis (trans). New York, NY: Longmans, Green and Company.

Hilmes, Michelle. 2005. “Is There a Field Called Sound Culture Studies? And Does It Matter?” American Quarterly 57 (1): 249–59.

Hirschkind, Charles. 2006. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (Cultures of History). New York: Columbia University Press.

Ingold, Tim. 2008. “Against Soundscape.” In A. Carlyle (ed.), Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practice. Paris: Double Entendre.

Järviluoma, H., et al. (eds). 2009. Acoustic Environments in Change. Tampere: TAMK University of Applied Sciences.

Jay, Martin. 1993. Downcast Eyes: The Denigration Of Vision In Twentieth-Century French Thought. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kahn, Douglas. 1999. Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kahn, Douglas. 2020.Energies in the Arts, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Katz, Mark. 2004. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Krause, Bernie. L. 1987. The Niche Hypothesis: How Animals Taught Us to Dance and Sing (accessed 28 January 2020).

Krause, Bernie. L. Almo Farina 2015. Using ecoacoustic methods to survey the impacts of climate change on biodiversity

LaBelle, Brandon. 2006. Background Noise : Perspectives on Sound Art. New York: Continuum International.

Licht, Alan. 2007. Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories. New York: Rizzoli International Publications.

Lane, C. and Carlyle, A. 2013. In the Field: The Art of Field Recording. Axminster: Uniformbooks.

Mackey, Nathaniel. 1986. Bedouin Hornbook, 1st edn. Lexington: University of Kentucky.

Milner, Greg. 2009. Perfecting Sound Forever: The History of Recorded Music. London: Granta Books.

Monacchi, D. 2011. Recording and Representation in Eco-Acoustic Composition. In J. Rudi (ed.) Soundscape in the Arts. Oslo: NOTAM.

Morton, Timothy. 2010. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Murph, Megan Elizabeth 2018. Max Neuhaus, R. Murray Schafer, and The Challenges Of Noise, Theses and Dissertations.

Nechvatal, Joseph. 2011. Immersion Into Noise. Open Humanity Press

Ong, Walter J. 2002. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London /New York: Routledge.

Picker, John M. 2003. Victorian Soundscapes. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rath, Richard Cullen. 2003. How Early America Sounded. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Richards, Fiona. 2007. The Soundscapes of Australia: Music, Place and Spirituality. Aldershot, UK/Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Schafer, R. Murray. 1969. The New Soundscape; A Handbook for the Modern Music Teacher. Don Mills, Ont.: BMI Canada.

Schafer, R. Murray. 1970. The Book of Noise. Wellington, N.Z.: Price Milburn.

Schafer, R. Murray. 1973. The Music of the Environment. Wien: Universal Edition.

Schafer, R. Murray. 1993. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.

Schafer, R. Murray, Howard Broomfield, Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, Colin Miles, and World Soundscape Project. 1973. The Vancouver Soundscape. Burnaby, B.C.: World Soundscape Project Sonic Research Studio Dept. of Communication Simon Fraser University.

Schafer R. Murray. 1967. Ear Cleaning: Notes for an Experimental Music Course, Clark & Cruickshank, a division of Berandol Music Limited, Toronto, Canada

Schwartz, Hillel. 2004. “The Indefensible Ear: A History.” In M. Bull and L. Back (eds), The Auditory Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg.

Schwartz, Hillel. 2012. Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang & Beyond, Zone books, N.Y.

Shelemay, Kay Kaufman. 2006. Soundscapes : Exploring Music in a Changing World, 2nd edn. New York: W.W. Norton.

Smith, Mark M. 2001. Listening to Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Sterne, Jonathan. 2003. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham: Duke University Press.

Suisman, David. 2009. Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sun Ra Arkestra, Verna Gillis, and Ra Sun. 1994. Live : Soundscape. New York, N.Y.: Soundscape : Disk Union (sound recording).

Šterbáková Daniela. (2019). Ticho: John Cage, filozofia absencií a skúsenosť ticha, Karolinum, Praha

Thompson, Emily Ann. 2002. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900–1933. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Toop, David. 1995. Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds. London/New York: Serpent’s Tail.

Trojan, Jan. 2011, Akustická ekologie a soundscape v kontextu multimédií, Triga

Truax, Barry. 1984. Acoustic Communication. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex Publ. Corp.

Truax, Barry (ed.). 1978. Handbook for Acoustic Ecology. Vancouver, British Columbia: World Soundscape Project, Simon Fraser University, and ARC Publications.

Truax, Barry. 2001. Acoustic Communication, 2nd edn. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press.

Voegelin, Salome. 2014. Sonic Possible Worlds: Hearing the Continuum of Sound. London: Bloomsbury

Voegelin, Salome. 2018. Listening to Noise and Silence, Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, London: Bloomsbury.

World Soundscape Project. 1974a. The Vancouver Soundscape. R. Murray Schafer (ed.). No. 2 in “The Music of the Environment Series.” Vancouver: ARC Publications World Soundscape Project. 1974b. Soundscapes of Canada.

World Soundscape Project, Sonic Research Studio, Department of Communication Studies, Simon Fraser University. Canadian Broadcast Corporation

World Soundscape Project. 1977. Five Village Soundscapes, R. Murray Schafer (ed.). No. 4 in “The Music of the Environment Series.” Vancouver: ARC Publications.