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2.2.1 The soundscape

Murray Schafer (1977, see also Truax 1999 (Soundscape); Wrightson 2000) defines soundscape as an opposition to acoustic space. An acoustic space is the profile of a sound over a landscape, the area over which it may be heard before it drops below ambient level. This edge of audibility is called the acoustic horizon. The soundscape is a sonic environment, with emphasis on the way it is perceived and understood by the listener.

According to Murray Schafer (1977, 9-10), not all sounds in an acoustic space are equally important to the listener. Sounds that comprise the soundscape can therefore be classified on the basis of their informativeness and differentiation into three main layers:

Murray Schafer defines these categories as analytical tools for the aesthetic and quality analysis of present-day soundscapes. He uses these concepts to range soundscapes along a 'low-' and 'high-fidelity' continuum, defined by the ratio of 'informative' (foreground sounds) and 'pleasing' (soundmarks) sounds in a soundscape. However, seemingly the meaningfulness of a sound cannot be taken for granted. It depends on the interaction between agents and their environment. A person trying to get to sleep and someone biking in the street will describe their experiences differently. The person trying to get to sleep might indicate 'the traffic noise' as meaningful, describing undifferentiated and disturbing keynote sounds, while the cyclist might instead deem 'the sound of the car' as more important, describing the informative and differentiated foreground sound (Redström 1999, 3)

Here I will slightly redefine Murray Schaffer's concepts and link them to Gibson's understanding of direct perception. Acoustic space, as it will be used throughout the text, is the abstract space of sound levels. Its topology is that of a 'globe' (Ingold 2000, 209-11), which can be measured, modelled, mapped and analysed from an external perspective. It can be understood also as an ambient acoustic array from a Gibsonian point of view.

The soundscape, however, is relative to the listener; it surrounds him/her as a 'sphere' (Ingold 2000, 209-11) and moves with him/her as he/she moves. A soundscape is experienced; it is in a constant process of construction and stratification by the listener him/herself as he/she moves across the landscape. Taking a Gibsonian view, a soundscape is a set of affordances that surround the listener.

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