Gallery Three: Soundscapes

It was Isobel Clouter, the curator of World and Traditional Music at the British Library Sound Archive, who introduced me to the world of field recordings and the soundscape collection.

I did some research into the World Soundscape Project. This was founded by M.Schafer in Canada in 1970s and the success of Schafer’s effort to develop soundscapes studies reflected the subsequent growth of parallel movements in countries around the world.

According to Schafer, the word “soundscape” is used to identify sound that “describes a place, a sonic identity, a sonic memory, but always a sound that is pertinent to a place”.

I have listened to all kinds of sounds from mechanical to industrial, and soundscapes from both natural and urban environments. One of my greatest finds was “100 Japanese Soundscapes” which was complied by a Japanese person who studied the World Soundscape Project.

There are 100 soundscapes (with images) from all over Japan in the Sound Archive and they are the sounds which local people would like to cherish and preserve for the future.

Here are a few examples from 100 Japanese Soundscapes that can be listened to in the British Library Reading Rooms:

  • 100 Japanese Soundscapes. ICV0003369 BD2 Vol.7.
  • 100 Japanese Sounds to Remember. 1CV0003390 Vol.8: Kai (Longing)

The soundscape experience was a complete eye/ear opener for me. I have always been very interested in sound but this collection has made me realise the connection between sound and my theme, and the possibility of exploring the concept of ‘sonic memory’. Since then I have started to collect my own soundscapes from Japan and the UK.

These are some of the soundscapes that I particularly enjoyed listening to:

  • World Soundscapes Project – Soundscapes of Canada C1064/1-10
  • World Soundscape Project Tape Library Europe Collections C1064/11-48
  • There and Back Again, Chris Cutler ICD0274018
  • Ozu, Yasujiro HITOKOMAKURA (not catalogued)

Hitokomakura contains a compilation of recordings from a variety of composers, who have used field recordings to create compositions based around stills from Ozu’s films. The CDs include the film still and a text about the piece and the type of recordings each composer has used. 

Not only are they very intimate sounds but they also question the relationship between sound and image.

I feel that these quotes reflect the idea of soundscapes:

 “….Chris Maker concludes his film essay San Soleil: ‘Lost at the end of the world on my island Sal….I remember that January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed in Tokyo in January.  They have now put themselves in place of my memory; they are my memory.  I wonder how people who do not film, take photos, or record tapes remember, how human kind used to go about remembering.’”
Kittler, Friedrich A.  Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.  YC.2003.a.13420.

“Instead of remembering here a scene and there a sound, I shall fit a plug into the wall; and listen into the past”
Woolf, Virginia. Moments of Being.  YC.1989.a9813