AbstractThe paper covers the background of soundscape composition, as initiated by the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University, and soundscape documentation as an activity that is being increasingly practiced worldwide. Today there are two striking manifestations of this work: the increasing globalization of the electroacoustic community, and the increasing sophistication of digital techniques applied to soundscape composition.
I grew up hearing the old cliché about music being ‘the universal language’. After the failure to establish a universal written or spoken language, such as Esperanto, I suppose it seemed, at least to the Western mind, to be a plausible alternative. However, as I gradually became aware of the music of other cultures and started being deeply affected by some of them, it also became clear that even though music as a social practice seems to be found everywhere in the world, musical thinking – and the concepts and social practice it leads to – is far from uniform. In fact, the more I learned about music that comes from another cultural tradition, the more aware I became of listening to it (particularly through recordings) with very different ears. At best, one can hope there is some analogy between what we may call listening from inside and listening from outside.
On the other hand, there are two terms in common usage today: world music (or world musics) and economic globalization, both of which seem linked to McLuhan’s ‘global village’ concept. First we have the diaspora of various cultures which often extends worldwide and which inevitably brings about musical cross-fertilization and evolution – one only has to think of the history of black African music and its transition to North America and popular culture to find a dramatic example. Cultural critics, however, point to a more disturbing facet of this globalization: the increasing hegemony of American popular music worldwide. As Attali (1985) reminds us, music is not only a reflection of the social order but is tightly allied to economic power and its interests. We are in danger of coming full circle to a new version of the old cliché: Muzak as the universal language!
In the late 1960s, Murray Schafer (1969, 1973) suggested a radically different concept: the soundscape as the ‘universal’ composition of which we are all composers.