World Soundscape Project

The WSP group at SFU, 1973; left to right: R. M. Schafer, Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, Barry Truax, and Howard Broomfield.

The World Soundscape Project (WSP) was established as an educational and research group by R. Murray Schafer at Simon Fraser University during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It grew out of Schafer's initial attempt to draw attention to the sonic environment through a course in noise pollution, as well as from his personal distaste for the more raucous aspects of Vancouver's rapidly changing soundscape. This work resulted in two small educational booklets, The New Soundscape and The Book of Noise, plus a compendium of Canadian noise bylaws. However, the negative approach that noise pollution inevitably fosters suggested that a more positive approach had to be found, the first attempt being an extended essay by Schafer (in 1973) called 'The Music of the Environment,' in which he describes examples of acoustic design, good and bad, drawing largely on examples from literature.

Schafer's call for the establishment of the WSP was answered by a group of highly motivated young composers and students, and, supported by The Donner Canadian Foundation, the group embarked first on a detailed study of the immediate locale, published as The Vancouver Soundscape, and in 1973, on a cross-Canada recording tour by Bruce Davis and Peter Huse, the recordings from which formed the basis of the CBC Ideas radio series Soundscapes of Canada. In 1975, Schafer led a larger group on a European tour that included lectures and workshops in several major cities, and a research project that made detailed investigations of the soundscape of five villages, one in each of Sweden, Germany, Italy, France and Scotland. The tour completed the WSP's analogue tape library which includes more than 300 tapes recorded in Canada and Europe with a stereo Nagra. The work also produced two publications, a narrative account of the trip called European Sound Diary and a detailed soundscape analysis called Five Village Soundscapes. Schafer's definitive soundscape text, The Tuning of the World published in 1977, and Barry Truax's reference work for acoustic and soundscape terminology, the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology published in 1978, completed the publication phase of the original project.

In 2009 the Five Village Soundscapes was reprinted (with 2 CDs) along with the results of the Finnish study (Acoustic Environments in Change) that re-visited those sites. The publication is available through Granum. In addition, the HTML Soundscape Composition Documentation DVD-ROM also published in 2009 contains sound excerpts and graphics from all of the WSP documents.

The foundation laid by the WSP has been continued through the teaching and research program in acoustic communication at SFU, as well as through Truax's 1984 publication Acoustic Communication (second edition, 2001), which deals with all aspects of sound and the impact of technology, and the compositions of individual composers. One such composer, Hildegard Westerkamp, edited the Soundscape Newsletter (1991-95) and Soundscape – The Journal of Acoustic Ecology (2000-2012), and was instrumental in helping found the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) in 1993 that connects groups and individuals around the world who are concerned with the soundscape.

In 1997, the World Soundscape Project and Cambridge Street Records [CRS] re-issued the original Vancouver Soundscape recordings from 1973, along with the 1996 soundscape compositions and documentary Soundscape Vancouver 1996, on a double CD [see also CRS Vancouver Soundscape tracks]. The same year, Truax served on the City of Vancouver's Urban Noise Taskforce and contributed to the educational recommendations of its final report, Urban Noise. In 1999, Cambridge Street Publishing issued the original Handbook as a CD-ROM.

The catalogue of the WSP Tape Library (including photos from many of the recording sites) and the Sound References in Literature database is available on the Sonic Research Studio website, along with historical and recent photos of the studio. 

The World Soundscape Project (original work; used with permission).

Visit the Sonic Research Studio & Word Soundscape Project's website to listen to recordings of historical faculty lectures from CMNS 100, a course offered by the Centre for Communication and the Arts in 1967.

Listen to R. Murray Schafer's lecture "Human Communication, Networks and Culture" (Jan. 11, 1967), as well as a variety of other fascinating lectures from the 1967 course. 

More about the World Soundscape Project and R. Murray Schafer

  • In 1970 or 1971, my habitual patterns of listening were shaken up profoundly when I heard a guest lecture by Schafer at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where I was studying music. It was an AHA moment whose significance was revealed gradually over years to come.

  • In addition to his achievements as a composer, musician and educator, R. Murray Schafer brought attention to noise pollution through his pioneering research. To get a taste of his research, read an excerpt from "The Book of Noise," Schafer's examination of what he called "sonic sewage."

  • How can you beat sound pollution? Take a "Soundwalk" to engage with the "concert of sound that occurs continually around you." This excerpt from "The Vancouver Soundscape" provides a suggested route, as well as a walk down memory lane.