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A soundscape is a sound or combination of sounds that forms or arises from an immersive environment. The study of soundscape is the subject of acoustic ecology. The idea of soundscape refers to both the natural acoustic environment, consisting of natural sounds, including animal vocalizations and, for instance, the sounds of weather and other natural elements; and environmental sounds created by humans, through musical composition, sound design, and other ordinary human activities including conversation, work, and sounds of mechanical origin resulting from use of industrial technology. The disruption of these acoustic environments results in noise pollution.
By taking a phenomenological approach to the study of landscape, a person's experience of a place occurs through the medium of the sensing body. This embodiment of space can occur through different sensory perceptions such as taste, touch, smell, and sound. Soundscapes offer a lens through which we may gain knowledge of a place that can incorporate additional cultural significances which may be silenced in an exclusively visual study of the land. An example of a soundscape of a given place could be the sounds of a turpentine camp in Antebellum Florida; the scrape of the saw pushing back and forth against the bark of a pine, the resounding hammer of spikes, and the presence of the workday song sung by enslaved laborers. These are just a few of the sounds which compose the terrain and attribute to how we make meaning of place. Workday songs in particular are regional and aspects of the songs, such as lyrics, are informed by the particular location. A common occasion for singing a workaday song was wherever groups of men or women performed a common or monotonous task in order to lighten the toil and express emotion.
"Oh ho in the morning,
Oh ho in the evening,
Oh ho hallelujah
Ain't gwine be here all my days,"
These songs or chants were a way to invoke a sense of community for the laborers. It was a discrete yet important form of resistance to succumbing to the conditions of industrial slavery.
The term "soundscape" can also refer to an audio recording or performance of sounds that create the sensation of experiencing a particular acoustic environment, or compositions created using the found sounds of an acoustic environment, either exclusively or in conjunction with musical performances.
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The term soundscape was coined by Canadian composer and environmentalist, R. Murray Schafer. According to this author there are three main elements of the soundscape:
... and the elements have been further defined as to essential sources:
In his 1977 book, The Tuning of the World, Schafer wrote, "Once a Soundmark has been identified, it deserves to be protected, for soundmarks make the acoustic life of a community unique".
Pauline Oliveros, composer of post-World War II electronic art music, defined the term "soundscape" as "All of the waveforms faithfully transmitted to our audio cortex by the ear and its mechanisms".
In music, soundscape compositions are often a form of electronic music, or electroacoustic music. Composers who use soundscapes include real-time granular synthesis pioneer Barry Truax and Luc Ferrari, whose Presque rien, numéro 1 (1970) is an early soundscape composition.
The soundscape is often the subject of mimicry in Timbre-centered music such as Tuvan throat singing. The process of Timbral Listening is used to interpret the timbre of the soundscape. This timbre is mimicked and reproduced using the voice or rich harmonic producing instruments.
The soundscape consists of three major sources or components. They are the biophony (the non-human, non-domestic animal sound signatures that occur in any given biome), the geophony (non-biological natural sounds that occur in any given biome and that include the effects of wind, water, earth movement, etc.), and anthrophony (human-generated sounds that include entropic electro-mechanical noise, and structured sound such as music and theatre).
There are two distinct soundscapes, either hi-fi or lo-fi, created by the environment. A hi-fi system possesses a positive signal-to-noise ratio. These settings make it possible for discrete sounds to be heard clearly since there is no background noise to obstruct even the smallest disturbance. A rural landscape offers more hi-fi frequencies than a city because the natural landscape creates an opportunity to hear incidences from nearby and afar. In a lo-fi soundscape, signals are obscured by too many sounds, and perspective is lost within the broad- band of noises. In lo-fi soundscapes everything is very close and compact. A person can only listen to immediate encounters; in most cases even ordinary sounds have to be exuberantly amplified in order to be heard.
All sounds are unique in nature. They occur at one time in one place and can't be replicated. In fact, it is physically impossible for nature to reproduce any phoneme twice in exactly the same manner. Today, there is a split between original sounds and unnatural acoustics brought on by the transmission and storage of sound. In other words, recordings have made it possible to simulate any sound environment anywhere. The portability of acoustics has transformed the idea of soundscape because it made hi-fi gadgetry mainstream in a lo-fi setting. Producers have displaced sounds found in the countryside, wildlife, and water and injected them into the homes of people everywhere, further enhancing the lo-fi problem found in urban spaces today.
Papers on noise pollution are increasingly taking a holistic, soundscape approach to noise control. Whereas acoustics tends to rely on lab measurements and individual acoustic characteristics of cars and so on, soundscape takes a top-down approach. Drawing on John Cage's ideas of the whole world as composition, soundscape researchers investigate people's attitudes to soundscapes as a whole rather than individual aspects - and look at how the entire environment can be changed to be more pleasing to the ear.
It has been suggested that people's opportunity to access quiet, natural places in urban areas can be enhanced by improving the ecological quality of urban green spaces through targeted planning and design and that in turn has psychological benefits.