What Are Soundscapes?
A bird chirping by your window in the morning, water heating up in the kettle, the air conditioner running, doors opening and closing as people at home get ready for their day—these are just a few sounds that make up your environment. The ability to hear is tied to many things, including how people understand the world around them.
The different environmental sounds that you hear are what create a soundscape. Soundscapes are inescapable. As long as you have the ability to hear, you will always be in a soundscape. But what exactly are soundscapes? Can they be created? Are there any factors that can keep you from hearing things in a soundscape? Keep reading to get a better understanding.
What Is a Soundscape?
A soundscape is all the audible sound within a specific area. Soundscapes can change based on your location. The soundscape that you’re in at home is different from your work soundscape. This is because there are different environmental factors and natural sounds that are combined to create that specific soundscape and what you can audibly hear.
Soundscapes refer to the natural acoustic environment in addition to sounds that are created by humans. An acoustic environment is a combination of artificial and natural sounds within one area. Some examples of sounds in an acoustic environment can include birds chirping, a busy street, traffic, wind, and any other sounds that you are used to hearing throughout the day.
Types of Soundscapes
Acoustic ecology, also known as ecoacoustics, is the study of soundscapes. This study has focused on the relationship between humans and the different things they may hear in a certain sound environment. This study itself is important because it helps create an understanding of different changes that may be occurring in your surroundings.
The reason you can hear the sound of a car honking and know that it’s a car honking is because of acoustic ecology. After your brain has become familiar with specific sounds in an environment, you start to easily label them. This is the same way you can hear birds chirping, cars, and changes in weather, like heavy rain.
There are different classifications of soundscapes.
Hi-fi is an abbreviation for high-fidelity soundscape. This type of soundscape is heard loud and clear because the noise level is much lower than other sounds, creating an ambient sound. Hi-fi soundscapes can often be described as smooth and buttery because of the clarity it gives. It is also easy to hear things that are even farther in distance.
When creating audio, this sound can be placed in the forefront or background of the audio. The most important aspect of using hi-fi soundscapes is making sure that the soundscape has appropriate placement. This helps avoid it from becoming lo-fi.
Just like hi-fi, lo-fi is short for low-fidelity. This sound is the total opposite of hi-fi sounds, as they tend to sound damaged or distorted. This sound also does not blend well with other noise frequencies. Because of this, it can usually be placed anywhere on audio, unlike hi-fi soundscapes that must be incorporated into something with caution.
Soundscapes in Music
A soundscape can also refer to audio recordings or musical performances. The compositions created can give you the same sensation you would receive in a particular acoustic environment. This is because musical compositions are made using the natural elements that are found in an acoustic environment.
This sound design can often be heard in storytelling audio. In musical soundscapes, there are multiple layers, recordings, and noises that are added together to create your desired sound design.
Why are soundscapes added to music?
The type of music that is being created will determine the kind of soundscapes that will be added to the audio. For example, relaxing and soothing music carry a specific sound that helps promote relaxation in the body in different ways. When these vibrations are received, the brain labels them as triggering or relaxing. Some common soundscapes that are used in this type of music include nature and wildlife. Soundscapes in this genre will be at the forefront of the audio.
If the audio is more focused on vocals and/or instruments, soundscapes will be used in a different role. Instead of being the focus, like in music for relaxation, soundscapes will play in the background.
Factors That Influence Soundscape Composition
Not only does soundscape composition change depending on location, but it can vary depending on the individual. Everyone has different preferences because of different factors.
As humans age, the ability to hear certain sounds will change as time goes on. Most people over the age of 65 will encounter some form of hearing impairment. Impaired people may not be sensitive to certain sounds and frequencies. Some people may not be able to hear them at all.
Over time, damage may be done to the ear by different sounds. The cochlea is a hollow tube in the inner ear. This area plays an important role in how you can hear. Many times, the tiny hair cells in this part of the ear are damaged, causing hearing loss. Unfortunately, these cells do not regenerate and once they become damaged or die, your hearing can be affected.
One thing that may be the cause of this damage is continuously exposing the ears to sounds that are 80 decibels or higher:
- Heavy traffic
- Heavy power tools
- Large crowds
Sensitivity to noise
Another thing that can influence your perception of soundscapes is ear sensitivity. Some individuals are very sensitive to certain noise frequencies. What sounds normal to someone without ear sensitivity may be triggering and unpleasant for people with it.
There are different causes of ear sensitivity. Some people have it due to traumatic life occurrences. For example, many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, after returning home from their service. Sounds like fireworks, balloons popping, and alarms may trigger them because they are similar to the sounds they heard while at war.
For some veterans and other people with noise sensitivities, therapy may help resolve the problem.
Three bones in the ear are necessary for hearing; the malleus, incus, and stapes. If any of these bones are changed or altered, an individual may hear things differently. Every sound is a vibration that gets sent into the ear canal. Changes in the density or shape of these bones can cause sound vibrations to enter the ear differently. This changes the way that you hear sounds.
As mentioned earlier, soundscapes are everywhere you go. The sounds you normally hear at home help increase your senses and help your body become aware of your location. While you encounter soundscapes on a daily basis, there are some more practices that may introduce you to soundscapes on a musical level.
The BetterSleep app has hundreds of sounds to choose from that include the use of soundscapes in the audio composition. These sounds are great for relaxation and sleep and for decreasing mental health problems like stress and anxiety. Try the free app today and see what soundscapes you can identify when listening to any of the sounds.
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