Can We Listen to the Climate?

As I read through “Soundscape- The Tuning of the World,” by R. Murray Schafer, I had one primary question in mind: how does this topic relate to the Anthropocene and the climate crisis? By the end of the chapter, I feel that I was able to logically connect previous readings and the excerpt by R. Murray Schafer.

R. Murray Schafer describes a soundscape as “any acoustic field of study.” To elaborate further on a soundscape, R. Murray Schafer provides three examples of soundscapes: a musical composition, a radio program, or an acoustic environment. A soundscape is created as a result of the climate and the features and organisms within it. R. Murray Schafer also describes the function of a soundscape and its interaction with man and society. R. Murray Schafer describes the tone of the soundscape as being indicative of the “health” of the environment or government. For example, the grace and sophistication of the works of Mozart were created during the reign of Maria Teresa. Additionally, R. Murray Schafer relates this to tribalized and detribalized areas, where tribalized areas have structured music (community controlled), while detribalized areas often have individuals signing sentimental songs. 

R. Murray Schafer briefly touches on the importance of the ears versus the eyes. Before the Renaissance Era and the creation of the printing press, the ears were the most vital sense. Before the Renaissance Era, R. Murray Schafer describes God as heard, not seen. In most African communities, the ears are still the most dominant feature, yet this has changed for the developed world. In Western Europe and the United States, sight has become the most vital sense, where “seeing is believing.” Noises are often filtered out, with only warning signals creeping through. 

These descriptors of what a soundscape is, and how the soundscape interacts with man and society brought me to the conclusion as to why this excerpt from R. Murray Schafer was relevant and how it related to the Anthropocene and the climate crisis. As described above, the soundscape reflects the “health” of the environment and government and during Maria Teresa’s reign, Mozart was the most influential musician. The dominant genre or type of music isn’t classical, it’s hip hop, R&B, and rap (some would argue country as well). These songs often aren’t soothing, and many of the popular songs are written about death and tragedy and judgement. Today, the United States government is arguably falling apart, with resignations occurring weekly. The entirety of the United Kingdom is arguing about Brexit. And the world faces the threat of Islamic Extremism and terrorism. This both indicates a social/political and ecological crisis. When our governments aren’t healthy or productive (cohesive and working together), how are they supposed to combat the climate crisis and humanitarian issues? 

R. Murray Schafer brings up the concept of noise pollution, quite literally how construction and cars and other human made sounds cover up/ block the natural soundscape. Humans have also become skilled at filtering out noise, with sight being the most dominant of the five senses. Yet, even though humans in Western countries have become so good at ignoring sounds, we recognize noise pollution. And through it we recognize the failing health of our environment and the failing health of our government. Humans recognize the ecological crisis and have a desire to put an end to it. Humans (some) are listening to the planet and working to find a solution.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *