The Tuning of the World

Does every musical genre boast “fathers,” “grandmothers” and “kings?” Sure, pop has its legends, classical  its masters, and funk, “the hardest working man in showbusiness,” but if the esoteric wasteland of academia follows suit, then acoustic ecology has Raymond Murray Schafer.

Schafer on a soundwalk.

Born in Canada in 1933, R. Murray Schafer is a man in tune with the natural world.  His sound theories synthesize the ideas of composers like John Cage and Erik Satie with ecological concerns.  Equal parts composer and sound conservationist, Schafer coined the term “soundscape” in his classic book The Tuning of the World (1977) and pioneered the field of sound ecology at Simon Fraiser University in Vancouver, Canada in the 1960s.  His graphically notated compositions are naturalistic and strikingly beautiful on the page like those of George Crumb.

The score for “Divan / Shams / Tabriz”, for Orchestra, seven singers and electronic sounds.

What I appreciate most about Schafer is his descriptive terms like soundscape, biophony and schizophonia to describe the unexplored realms of hearing.  Instead of define these intangible terms, I’ll end with how Schafer begins his book.  The beginning is a very good place to end…

Now I will do nothing but listen…

I hear all sounds running together, combined

        fused or following,

Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city,

        of the day and the night…

                                            WALT WHITMAN, Song of Myself


Listen to Snowforms based on various Inuit words for snow, or






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