Rethinking the Soundscape: A Critical Genealogy of a Key Term in Sound Studies

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This article takes critical issue with the well-circulated but often misapplied term "soundscape." Coined by Canadian composer Murray Schafer in his book "The Soundscape," the term has become one of the keywords of sound studies, but in its wide circulation it has become disconnected from its original scholarly concept and used broadly to apply to nearly any sonic phenomenon. Scholars either misapply it or redefine it to suit their needs. This article is an attempt to trace an intellectual history or genealogy of the term, and to open a conversation about the term's use, application, and utility for scholars of sound. This article draws on Schafer's work in an attempt to ground the term in its own intellectual history, and then traces the use of the term in a variety of sound studies works. The term "soundscape" emerges as at once indispensable and elusive, provocative and limited. By calling attention to background sound, Schafer shaped the field in ways that exceeded his own contribution.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2010

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