Sounds That Matter

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Though it may be hard to notice, the world is quickly getting louder, and the soundscape is turning into something it has never been before. R. Murray Schafer observes this in his book The Soundscape and implies a connection with this change in the earth’s sounds to the Anthropocene, and human activity in general. The dawn choruses of birds and the many sounds of forests are falling, while the sounds of machines and human influence are getting louder (I suppose this is somewhat contestable; Toyota Priuses are pretty quiet, for example). Schafer argues that this noisiness is detracting from are ability to truly appreciate the sounds which the world provides us with. Because the definition of music has shifted in recent decades to pretty much mean “a collection of sounds,” Schafer implores us to treat the sounds from the earth as music, because ignoring these sounds, as we have become accustomed to doing, can only make things worse. 

But these sounds nature provides us, which Schafer wants us to listen to, are gradually getting quieter. This is happening for a few notable reasons. For one thing, humanity’s implementation of machines and other such technology block out other sounds, and causing new, metallic sounds. Also, since humans are the primary cause of that is being called the “sixth extinction,” the sounds which we once enjoyed have literally disappeared, due to our elimination of entire species. Perhaps this is a reason in itself why Schafer wants us to listen for the sounds; we can try to preserve what’s still here.

Through all of the sounds, says Schafer, we are able to study and analyze the moods and events of various time periods, with political upheaval causing musicians to create emotional and angry music (not unlike what we see today), while times of peace produce calmer music. I assume there are ways to refute this claim, but I have noticed a significant change in tone and subject matter in music from the last few years. But listening to the sounds of our planet (that we produce and that exist whether or not we’re here) can give us insight into things bigger than ourselves, which we can use to hopefully create change in our behaviors and our ideas.

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