Transparent Listening: Soundscape Composition’s Objects of Study

Mitchell Akiyama


Led by Canadian R. Murray Schafer and the Vancouver-based World Soundscape Project, the emergence of soundscape composition in the early 1970s signaled a change in the possible uses of recorded sound. While earlier composers had used recordings as raw material for composition, they had, for the most part, gone to great trouble to disguise their sources. Soundscape composition, on the other hand, stressed the representational quality of recorded sound, and its practitioners posited that their recordings were connected in essential, indexical ways to the places they captured and appropriated. While the form is ostensibly an aesthetic practice, it is also couched in a longstanding tradition of representational techniques that order the world through juxtaposition and comparison. Soundscape composers have consistently archived the sounds of given locales, and have presented them in their works as discreet and comparable quantities. Similarly, the early photographic category of the “view” underwrote a scientifically focused regime of representation that sought to classify while simultaneously aestheticizing the world. It is precisely this simultaneous appeal to aesthetic potency and scientific rationality that has undergirded soundscape composition’s legitimacy both as a form of artistic production and a tool for education and environmental activism.


music and landscape; soundscapes; music and the environment; R. Murray Schafer; Barry Truax; Hildegard Westerkamp

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