When pondering over the preface, introduction, and parts one and two of R. Murray Schafer’s book, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, there is no doubt that the book is simply revolutionary and vastly complex. The way the book is written allows the reader to listen to his unique viewpoints, ideas, stories and definitions of key words or phrases. For instance, having coined the very term soundscape, the author has become the first to take the study of sound to a new level of depth. The book comes up with a brilliant explanation of what soundscape is and provides a fruitful theoretical explanation to the author’s theory of the sonic environment, in which, Schafer makes it clear that soundscape exists separately from the general acoustic environment. In addition to reflecting on parts one and two of the novel, this essay examines a brief recording I made of thirty seconds spent in a relatively pristine woodland environment. The recording is an example of what a natural soundscape sounds like and it is within this soundscape where I can hear some of the sounds that Schafer spoke of.
First of all, it is of the utmost importance to the readers of the book that the author does not postpone the explanation of what soundscape actually is. Schafer’s notion of the “soundscape” refers to the ubiquitous sonic environment that surrounds and suffuses us (Schafer, 1994, p. 7-10). As a matter of fact, soundscape is the very sonic environment a person hears on a daily basis that can begin with the primordial sounds of Mother Nature and can end with the noise(s) of heavy machinery working at a construction site or at a factory. However, it is not in natural soundscapes where man’s ears become congested, but rather the noises of the modern age is what clogs up man’s ears. As our ever more technologically advanced world resulted in the growth of huge conurbations, the establishment of factories belching smoke, and the construction of impossibly noisy airports and freeways, the soundscape has begun to overload us with acoustic information (Schafer, 1994, pp. 74-75, 85-87). Indeed, the sounds of industry and progress now serve to alienate us from the subtle nuances of the natural soundscape that was originally so critically important to the orchestration of our lives. Moreover, postulating that rhythm and beat somehow gave rise to language, we are, Schafer believes, surrendering our most fundamental selves to the new demands and distractions of the twenty-first-century soundscape.
Secondly, the author makes it easier on his readers by explaining to them that soundscape develops along with civilization and that it is quite normal to fail to keep up with the pace of its development. He therefore encourages us to carefully study sounds from any time and/or space so as to appreciate their intrinsic beauty or lack thereof and the manner in which they serve either to coordinate with or to disrupt our lives. That is, there are sounds that are being embedded into the human memory from the very first day of life and there are sounds that are still to be experienced by an individual.
Thirdly, it seems that one is listening to a story or a song when reading this book, as the author has infused it with an entire host of vivid imaginary and symbols that sound in the readers’ brains and ears at the same time. For example, when Schafer starts talking about the sound of time that was introduced into the global sonic environment in the 14th century when the church has started ringing its bells, the reader automatically starts hearing the sound of the bell in his or her head (Schafer, 1994, p. 55). Through this example, the author makes it clear that humanity is the pivotal contributor to the distortion of the global sonic environment, as people cannot live without the sounds which have become, at least in the 21st century, an integral component of one’s informational stream.
Lastly, in my recording, I was able to listen to and bask in the ambience of a simple woodland environment which made some of Schafer’s arguments come to life. Closing my eyes I attempt to imagine the rhythmic croaking of frogs, the soft murmur of a brook, the clicking of insects, and the musical chirping of songbirds all of which Schafer mentions in part one of his book. My thirty second recording gave me a glimpse of the natural soundscape(s) Schafer has described in his book. In my recording, I experienced an aha moment when I heard water dripping off of trees in a rhythmic manner and both my ears and my body became fully engaged within the natural sonic environment which was quite refreshing. This recording along with certain aspects of Schafer’s book has raised my awareness about the nature of individual sounds and about the ensemble they create otherwise known as the sonic environment. All in all, the rapid development in science, technology, and all the other scopes of human activities has violated or deformed the natural state of the planet’s sonic environment – the soundscape – but people keep on inventing new sounds hence the industrial soundscape(s) and introducing them into their daily lives.