Tuning of the Nations: Soundscape, Place and Memory

An exciting new module taught by Nick Green (Green, 2019) was offered to us students at UHI. Its title derives from Schafer’s book “Tuning of the world” (Schafer, 1977). Music is not separate from the world, but it is embedded in the environment. It has substance, relating to places (Zemtsovsky, 2018).  

The word ‘soundscape’ was actually composed by Schafer in the late 1960s, when -for the first time ever- a group of Canadian researchers examined the sonic environment and the ecology of sound. Archaeoacoustics are part of this concept: the question how a place sounded like historically can be researched through impulse responses of certain places. Reverberation, resonance and architecture are closely linked.

Thought is connected to space through sound.

The mind is in space as music.

In my opinion, the structure of sound in resonance with sympathetic vibrations is what gives structure to (spatial) navigation of the mind. Movement of the mind, ‘comparing the past to the present’ (Bergson), defining future movement and duration, has a certain structure in musical space-time (Korner, 2020). Sound is equally resonating in space and in ears. After Hans Jenny explored the cymatics of sound (Jenny, 1960), Shea Trahan, architect and musician, fabricated 3-D prints of the two dimensional structures that Jenny had created through sound on plates with collophonium-dust (Trahan, 2015). Musical harmony is showing up as similarity between the structures, where complexity increases with frequency. While this proves the validity of these experiments, little is known about the affinity of the structures to the musical idea, which is embedded in a fractally structured harmony, resonating with the surrounding environment. The Russian ethnomusicologist Izaly Zemtsovsky gives an insight into the relationship between musical idea and places:

“Do we need a concept of ‘musical substance’?” (Zemtsovsky, 2018)


The soundscape-environment could also be abstract, digital, independent of time and space, imaginary, or existing in memory. It can transport metaphor and meaning, reflecting in 'musical substance'.

My compositions are based on field recordings. Lacking the substance of local tradition because I am an immigrant, I decided to find familiarity in the soundscapes of Kintyre and Paisley. Relating the sounds of natural and technical space, I tried to identify signals, drones and key-signatures. Due to the lockdown, technical space was much quieter than usual....