Soundscape music is made of recorded sounds from the world around us. Composers combine and manipulate different recordings of the world to create new ‘sonic environments’.
What is Soundscape Music?
Pieces of soundscape music (or ‘soundscapes’ for short) are usually edited in some way. Soundscapes will most often try to highlight the key sounds within recordings and take the listener on a journey in sound.
A field recording is made from similar materials to a soundscape piece, but is often left unedited and ‘raw’.
Key Manipulations in Soundscape Composition
Editing and manipulation processes in soundscape music are often subtle, so as to keep the listener believing in the new sonic environments.
Two of the most frequently used techniques are:
What is Filtering?
Filtering allows the composer to isolate or highlight specific sections of the sound spectrum within the soundscape.
The filter icons from Compose With Sounds
You can actually see the filtering of the sound take place in the sonogram image below.
The orange colour indicates sound, you can see the filter coming into effect from left to right as the orange colour disappears. Leaving only a narrow range of sound.
You can also hear the filter being used. It focuses in on a specific part of the soundscape recording, highlighting only the specific foreground bird calls.
One example of a soundscape piece that makes fantastic use of filtering is Kits Beach Soundwalk (by Hildegard Westerkamp).
What is Splicing?
Splicing is a process of cutting the sound, in which the composer selects the most significant parts of the recording and brings them together.
The splice tool from Compose With Sounds.
The original un-spliced recording.
Squelching down a muddy path.
The spliced sound: Squelch, Squelch.
The splice tool has been used. You can no longer hear the footsteps, only the squelchy sound of the sticky mud.
A good example of soundscape composition which uses the process of splicing is Luc Ferrari’s piece Presque rien [Almost Nothing] No.1.
Creating Soundscape Works
Soundscape compositions usually explore the interesting and unique sounds available in a particular location.
These locations don’t have to be outside, as the two examples provided have been, but might also be internal sounds (think, for example, of the sounds in the canteen and school hall at lunchtime).
Listen to this!
The sound card pack “Kitchen Sounds” provides lots of recordings of the Kitchen soundscape.
The scale of the landscape might be really large (such as the sound of activity in a whole city) or really small (such as the sounds activity in a single shrubbery).
Key Tips for Creating a Soundscape Piece
Soundscape composition relies upon detailed listening, and clever editing.
- Often, there is a play between sounds that are in the foreground and those that are in the background.
- Sounds might move, from being in the foreground to being in the background or vice versa.
- Subtle editing can transform a “normal” “everyday” soundscape into something mysterious and wonderful. Sound designers in film often do this to add to the story of the film and the world of the film in which it takes place.
Soundscape, therefore, is not about simply presenting pre-recorded soundscapes, but in telling a story through control and manipulation of these pre-recorded soundscapes.
Having a constant stream of sound to act as a backdrop will hide some of your edits by providing an unbroken background against which other sounds can emerge and disappear.
Experiment with soundscape recordings and create your very own soundscape composition in the Sonic Postcard composition exercise.