07 Schafer

The Music of the Environment
R Murray Scafer

R. Murray Schafer is a composer and theorist known for his articles on noise pollution and environmental sounds, best described in his 1977 book The Tuning of the World. In the 1960s he founded the World Soundscape Project with the aim of exploring the “acoustic ecology” of modern times and to find a solution to the problem of rampant noise pollution.

In his article “The Music of the Environment”, Schafer discusses how the omnipresence of sound today has had the effect of making our minds tune out most noise, becoming, in a way, deaf. He goes on to cite historical examples dealing with the subject, contrasting “lo-fi” with hi-fi” environments; in colonial days, when the silence of the forest or rural area made even the softest natural sound apparent, to the beginnings of the industrial revolution when the machinery was considered quite loud and intrusive. Gradually, that industrial sound became commonplace and unnoticed. In modern times radios and recorded sound have the effect of “multiplying men” to further clutter the atmosphere with sound. Schafer speaks of the necessity of having “silent time” in which to meditate and unwind, mentioning ancient monasterial practices, the music of the spheres, and Thoreau’s thoughts on the matter.

While I appreciate the subject matter here (and would be interested in an updated version of the article, such as Shafer’s thoughts on compression in modern recorded music) I feel that Schafer does not make much of the topic; he links environmental sound to music only through a Greek legend and John Cage’s ideas on the subject, and does not offer any solutions to the problem. Indeed, he really never specifically addresses what the problem is; the article seems mostly to be a documentation of the gradual increase of noise throughout history.

World Soundscape Project
World Forum for Acoustic Ecology

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