Soundscape Composition

The soundscape composition is a form of electroacoustic music, developed at Simon Fraser University and elsewhere, characterized by the presence of recognizable environmental sounds and contexts, the purpose being to invoke the listener's associations, memories, and imagination related to the soundscape. It grew naturally out of the pedagogical intent of the World Soundscape Project to foster soundscape awareness. At first, the simple exercise of 'framing' environmental sound by taking it out of context, where often it is ignored, and directing the listener's attention to it in a publication or public presentation, meant that the compositional technique involved was minimal, involving only selection, transparent editing, and unobtrusive cross-fading. This 'neutral' use of the material established one end of the continuum occupied by soundscape compositions, namely those that are the closest to the original environment, or what might be called 'found compositions.' Other works use transformations of environmental sounds and here the full range of analog and digital studio techniques comes into play, with an inevitable increase in the level of abstraction. However, the intent is always to reveal a deeper level of signification inherent within the sound and to invoke the listener's semantic associations without obliterating the sound's recognizability.

Several recent soundscape compositions may be heard on the Soundscape Vancouver double CD, including Pacific Fanfare, and the CD Islands, including Dominion, Pendlerdrøm, La Sera di Benevento, and Island . Other Truax works in this genre are Pacific, Basilica, Temple, Prospero's Voyage, Chalice Well, Aeolian Voices and Earth And Steel, plus those integrating text and soundscape material such as The Blind Man and Song of Songs. All of the works of Hildegard Westerkamp are excellent examples of this approach to composition.

The octophonic (8-channel) format with surround-sound speaker playback has proved particularly effective for soundscape compositions, given the immersive effect it creates. A list of works produced at SFU is available in our octophonic catalogue.

A more detailed account of the history and techniques of soundscape composition at SFU is available as a DVD-ROM.




found sound <--------------> abstracted

FIXED PERSPECTIVE: emphasizing the flow of time; or a discrete series of fixed perspectives

Variants: time compression ; narrative ; oral history

Techniques: - layering in stereo ; layering in octophonic
- found sound (with or without time compression)

- narrative ; poetry ; oral history

- transitions between fixed perspectives

MOVING PERSPECTIVE: smoothly connected space/time flow; a journey

Variants: simulated motion ; real <-----> imaginary / remembered

Techniques: - classical cross-fade and reverb
- parallel circuit cross-fade

- layering part and whole

- layering untransformed and transformed

VARIABLE PERSPECTIVE: discontinuous space/time flow

Variants: multiple or embedded perspectives ; abstracted / symbolic

Techniques: - multi-track editing
- "schizophonic" embedding
- abstracted perspective


B. Truax, "Soundscape, Acoustic Communication & Environmental Sound Composition", Contemporary Music Review, 15(1), 49-65, 1996. [theme issue devoted to the subject]

B. Truax, "The Aesthetics of Computer Music: A Questionable Concept Reconsidered," Organised Sound, 5(3), 119-126, 2000.

B. Truax, "Genres and Techniques of Soundscape Composition as Developed at Simon Fraser University", Organised Sound, 7(1), 5-14, 2002. [theme issue devoted to the subject]

B. Truax, "Soundscape Composition as Global Music: Electroacoustic Music as Soundscape", Organised Sound 13(2), 2008.

B. Truax, "Sound, Listening and Place: The Aesthetic Dilemma", Organised Sound 17(3), 2012.