Archive for the ‘Soundscapes’ Category

Takemitsu Tôru


The composer Tôru Takemitsu (1930 – 1996) took composing for film as seriously as composing for the concert hall – and he was very successful in both fields. Takemitsu created more than 100 film scores, e.g. for directors Akira Kurosawa, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Nagisa Ôshima or Mitsuo Yanagimachi.

The pianist and academic Noriko Ohtake succinctly sums up Takemitsu’s approach to film music:

Composing for film scores satisfies Takemitsu’s goal to become anonymous and let music speak for itself. While the composer’s name is not always visible to the cinema-goer, his music plays its role in supporting the totality of a film. Takemitsu feels that music in film has social meaning for two basic reasons. First, films obviously reach a wider audience than classical music concerts. Also in working with collaborators, Takemitsu avoids limiting his own means of expression, since perceptive directors tend to bring out hidden aspects of his talent.

My favourite is Hiroshi Teshigahara’s film The Woman in the Dunes (1964 D; H. Teshigahara), where music and sound design seamlessly blend into each other.

This links to my own approach to composing for documentary film: I feel my way into the world of the film; I try to understand the director’s intention; I listen carefully to the location sounds and sonic atmospheres and generally treat music as just another sound in the soundtrack. Takemitsu’s music leaves much space for other filmic elements to be and to expand.

In 2002 the Journal Contemporary Music Review dedicated a special issue to Takemitsu.


  • Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 21, issue 4 (London, 2002).
  • Ohtake, Noriko. Creative Sources for the Music of Toru Takemitsu. Ashgate, Aldershot, 1993.
  • Richie, Donald, “Notes on the Film Music of Takemitsu Tōru”, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 21, iss. 4, 5–16 (London, 2002).
  • Takemitsu, Tôru, Yoshiko Kakudo, and Glenn Glasow. Confronting Silence : Selected Writings. Fallen Leaf, Berkeley, Calif., 1995. (specifically on film music: “Conversation on Seeing” p. 36 – 45)

Breaking Bad


Television series have arguably become more sophisticated in terms of character portrayal and complex story telling than many Hollywood “blockbuster” feature films.

Does the use of music and sound design in TV series demonstrate an equally innovative approach? The title music in particular is crucial to create a strong audio-visual identity for a TV series. The title and end sequence have become spaces for experimentation.

Breaking Bad (2008-13) is one of the most watched and highest rated TV series ever. It demonstrates a contemporary use of music, i.e. a strong integration of music into the film drama. Instead of using clichéd and prescriptive musical pastiche of 19th Century orchestral music – a common practice in Hollywood still today – the composer Dave Porter and the producer of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan use music very sparingly and in differentiated ways. Dave Porter title music, just 16 seconds long, re-interprets a famous film tune, or more precisely, the sound of Ry Cooder’s slide guitar music for Wim Wender’s Paris Texas (1984). Cooder himself referred back to the Blues musician Blind Willie Johnson. This film music tradition treats music as organised sound in the sense that it instantly evokes a sense of place (the American South) and identity (Black exploitation, social outcast) thus highly integrating it into the location sound of the drama. The sound of the title music is part of the drama’s sonic world, even though the main protagonists are white. This is further re-enforced in the endtitle, where the slide guitar motif is combined with different soundscapes integrating a crucial sound, Murray Schafer would call it a sound mark, from an episode.

A strong title tune creates an identity for the whole series in terms of place and social milieu. Detailed emotional commenting is relegated to underscoring sound design, in particular when it comes to the dark and morally questionable Walter White, the main character of the series.

The fact that the title tune appears only 3-4 min into the drama suggests that

  1. the realism of the drama is more important than the suspension of disbelief. Before any title credits appear a whole scene has been played out.
  2. music is only one of many elements in the film. Music is fully integrated into the fabric of the film and doesn’t announce in a fanfare the start of the film
  3. when music is used it is a powerful shortcut to provide a sense of place and social milieu
  4. musical underscoring is replaced by sound design

Existing popular music is used by characters in situations of the film drama as diegetic music.

Other famous TV series and their title music

  • The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008): contemp electronic music with action weaved in
  • The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007): song
  • Mad Men (2007 – ): Electronic music with a falling motif corresponding with the stylised animated film (downward spiral).
  • Borgen (Danish, 2010 – ): traditional fake orchestral, with a pop beat
  • Spiral (France 2005 – ): short scenes with music sounds (not proper music); each new scene introduced by a woosh effect


“But the title sequence has more to achieve. After all, it is a matter of the movie’s beginning. The title sequence has to lead into what follows, has to set the course in this respect, capture the genre, and the specific “mood” of what is to come, so that one is initiated into the cinematic narrative, the diegesis.” (Stanitzek 2009: 49)

“…even the most conventional of Hollywood movies entails, in this space [title sequence], a miniature experimental film” (Stanitzek 2009: 50).


Davison, Annette. ‘The End Is Nigh. Music Postfaces and End-Credit Sequences in Contemporary Television Serials.’ Music & the Moving Image 8.2 (2014).

Davison, Annette. ‘The Show Starts Here: Viewers’ Interactions with Recent Television Serials’ Main Title Sequences.’ SoundEffects 3.1-2 (2013).

Stanitzek, Georg ‘Reading the Title Sequence (Vorspann, Générique).’ Cinema Journal 48.4 (2009).

Essay on the documentary film Leviathan (2012)


Christopher Sciacca wrote an interesting essay

Toward a New Truth in Sound: Expanding the boundaries of Direct Cinema (2015)

available at

Since the emergence of Direct Cinema in the late 1950’s, documentary films have  presupposed a more accurate “claim of truth” over their subject matter.  Advancements in portable recording technology after World War II allowed documentarians to dissolve the line between subject and object using un-obtrusive camera and sound recording techniques, often regarded as the “fly on the wall”  style. From the Arriflex 35 and Nagra III audio recorder to the advent of the GoPro, direct cinema has evolved in concordance with the capabilities of new technology. Direct cinema’s attempt to display “reality” through a strict code of aesthetics not only relies on the visual “outside observer” model, but must also take into account an accurate representation of sound and soundscape. What role then does sound play in constructing reality where verbal narration and non-diegetic music is absent? The latest ethnographic film of Harvard’s Sensory  Ethnography Lab, Leviathan (2012) will be examined as the forefront of the new direct cinema style. This immersive film provides a heightened sense of reality remarkably without the aid of traditional sound design. Since the idea of film-truth is debatable, can artistic integrity outweigh the actuality of events, or is the concept of truth supplanted by a more visceral, experiential understanding through stimulating new camera techniques and rich soundscapes?

Barry Truax – on soundscape composition


Truax[1] compiled a list of criteria for a soundscape composition which can be applied directly to film soundtrack design (quoted from Drever 2002: 22):

(1) Listener recognisability of the source material is maintained, even if it subsequently undergoes transformation;

(2) The listener’s knowledge of the environmental and psychological context of the soundscape material is invoked and encouraged to complete the network of meanings ascribed to the music;

(3) The composer’s knowledge of the environmental and psychological context of the soundscape material is allowed to influence the shape of the composition at every level, and ultimately the composition is inseparable from some or all of those aspects of reality;

(4) The work enhances our understanding of the world, and its influence carries over into everyday perceptual habits.  

Truax summerises the implications of soundscape compostion:

The soundscape composition deals not only with listeners’abilities to identify and make sense out of acoustic environments and how they change, but also with the patterns and habits of listening and memory (Truax 2002: 11).

An awareness of contemporary listening habits and sonic memories is crucial for a film sound designer. A prospective film sound creator can learn from these artistic soundscape compositions.

In his latest article (“Sound, Listening and Place : The Aesthetic Dilemma.” Organised Sound, 17(3), 2012, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press) Truax distinguishes between Sonification, Phonography and Virtual Soundscapes. Truax uses the concept of mapping to connect these areas of sound practices.  Sonification, comparable to visualisation, maps (usually scientific) data, like weather data, onto sound. Phonography, an oldfashioned word derived from Edison’s phonograph, maps real-world soundscapes as untampered and unedited as possible onto recordings. The notion of untampered, “authentic” location sound is ideological and not sustainable in the digital era. I find John Drever’s suggestion to adopt a reflective, ethnographic approach to sound recording useful, in particular for the process of artistic soundscape compostion or film and game sound design. Virtual soundscapes are created for films, video games or purely artistic purposes, exploring ideas of sonic story telling, oral history and local geographic memory.

[1] Truax online (viewed Nov 2011)

Drever, John Levack (2002). ‘Soundscape composition: the convergence of ethnography and acousmatic music’ in: Organised Sound 7(1): 21–27, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Truax, Barry (1999). Handbook for Acoustic Ecology. (editor) No.5 The Music of the Environment Series, The World Soundscape Project (also published in 2001 on CD with Acoustic Comminication).

——— (2001). Acoustic Communication, 2nd ed. Westport, Conn. ; London: Ablex Publishing.

———(2002). “Genres and Techniques of Soundscape Composition as Developed at Simon Fraser University.” Organised Sound 7, Nr. 01: 5-14.

———(2008). “Soundscape Composition as Global Music: Electroacoustic Music as Soundscape.” Organised Sound 13, Nr. 02: S. 103-109, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

———(2012). “Sound, Listening and Place : The Aesthetic Dilemma.” Organised Sound, 17(3), 2012, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.



Listening seems a trivial activity: we do it all the time. Our ears never close down. If we think about seeing, it becomes obvious that our senses involve and encourage an active exploration of our environment.

Barry Truax (2001 p. 15) in his book Acoustic Communication writes

[Listening] is a set of sophisticated skills that appear to be deteriorating within the technologized urban environment, both because of noise exposure, which causes hearing loss and physiological stress, and because of the proliferation of low information, highly redundant and basically uninteresting sounds, which do not encourage sensitive listening.

Murray R. Schafer (1994. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, Rochester: Destiny Books.) developed the concept and practice of Soundwalks to increase listener’s awareness of their sonic environment. This technique of observation is used in everyday life as well as in science.

Michael Rüsenberg


The Soundscape artist Michael Rüsenberg creates location specific soundscapes and usually combines them with moving images (not more than 6-7 per minute, slowly overlapping and merging into abstract visual textures) by the photographer Peter Hölscher. Soundscape composers (e.g. John Wynne) seem to have a ‘need’ for images. Is the soundscape not interesting enough to keep the listener engaged?

The image track has a polished shine reminding of glossy fashion magazines. This aesthetic approach is reflected in the soundtrack: specific sound onjects are embedded in slowly moving, looped drones. This offers a pleasant listening experience. There are no sync points, i.e. no causal logical link between what you see and what you hear.

My conclusion is: environmental sounds have to be transformed into an aesthetic listening experience. Listening to frogs in nature is quite different from listening to a recording of frogs on loudspeakers (when did they start? Are they still there when the sound stops?). Designing and composing soundscapes means imposing the intention of the creator onto the materials. How does this relate to Cage’s notion of ‘letting sounds be sounds’?

Rüsenberg listens out for specific sounds, e.g. around Notre Dame de Paris or in the studio of the sculptor Tony Cragg. He isolates and manipulates them electroacoustically in order to create some unity in the listening experience.

more on Rüsenberg

soundscape links


Domestic soundscapes

Domestic soundscapes by Felicity Ford

Sound Studies blog

The Sound Studies Blog provides an outlet for ruminations on the role of sound and listening in our contemporary culture

is run by Michael Rüsenberg, Cologne. It is a platform for artistic soundscape composition

Peter Cusack

A map of sound locations in London you can listen to.

Soundwalking Interactions

is a research-creation project led by Dr. Andra McCartney, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies, Concordia University, Montreal

Sound and Music

SAM promotes challenging contemporary music and sound art. The London based organisation has a section dedicated to

film sound

Positve Soundscape Project

exploring desirable aspects of the soundscape. Various UK Universities across disciplines took part between 2006-09.

Save our Sounds

A series of programmes by the BBC World Service

Soundscape films


Some films pay particular attention to soundscapes.

Film examples

  • Once upon a Time in the West (1968, Sergio Leone)
  • Once upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
  • The Hurt Locker (2008, Kathryn Bigelow)
  • Katalin Varga (2009, Peter Strickland)

Soundscape and Film


Keywords: ambience, embodied experience, immersion, soundtrack, sound design, soundscape

We are surrounded by sound. We experience this every day as long as we are awake. Murray Schafer called these conglomerations of sounds in analogy to landscape – soundscapes.

We can experience these soundscapes also in a mediated way: as a recording, as part of an artistic piece and in soundtracks of films. How does this listening experience differ from real life perception?

Context and referentiality of sounds

Whereas electroacoustic music, or more precisely acousmatic music strives to hide or eradicate the references of sounds to the environmental world, soundscapes in films do exactly the opposite: through the careful selection and mixing of sounds the director and sound designer try to evoke in the viewer/listener a feeling of being there, whatever the location of film reality might be. Soundscapes in film want to create a sense of place and space for the viewer. A soundscape in a film never stands for itself; it refers to the narrative and the images on the screen.

This means that filmic soundscapes have to be analysed from various perspectives: a soundscape in a film

  • conveys information,
  • creates meaning for the viewer, which adds to the visual and narrative meaning
  • has aesthetic or emotional qualities, which can take on similar roles as film music

The process of mediation

Electronic media transform something natural – the sounds of the environment –  into digital recordings, which then can be further edited, manipulated and mixed.

Sound design and sound diffusion

The sound designer literally places the sounds and soundscapes in the virtual, electroacoustic space of the current film technology of 5.1 surround sound.

Research context and questions

Environmental sound is explored, analysed and used in many disciplines.

  • Acoustic ecology
  • Sound art
  • Phonography & documentation
  • Field recording
  • Sound design for film
  • Urban and architectural sound design
  • Radio and sonic art
  • Aural history
  • listening strategies: audio-visual, reduced (for the qualities of sounds), narrative, historic, selective, responsive (reactive), nostalgic


recording sounds yourself creates specific memories of situations (time) and locations (place). By contrast using databases and sound archives remove this experience. But what happens, when a listening viewer perceives a film or a soundscape art work? S/he has no direct experience of the specific location or event in time.

aesthetic experience and connotation

Film has the capability to make generalizations without using abstact concepts. When it rains in a film, it is a generalised rain which could happen in many other films, even in reality.

The sound of a church bell or a rooster (cock) might originate in a specific location, but for most listeners it will signify just a bell or

Soundscape art can create an awareness of the changes of a location over time. Technology, commerce and development constantly change our sonic environment.

Soundscape Reading list


Atkinson, Simon (2007). ‘Interpretation and musical signification in acousmatic listening’ Organised Sound: Vol. 12, No. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 113-122.

Augoyard, Henry (2005). Sonic experience: a guide to everyday sounds. Montreal : McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Böhme, Gernot (2000). “Acoustic Atmospheres. A Contribution to the Study of Ecological Aesthetics” Soundscape. The Journal of Acoustic Ecology, Vol 1, No 1, Spring 2000: 14.

Brown, A.L. (2003 ). “Acoustic Objectives for Designed or Managed Soundscapes” Soundscape. The Journal of Acoustic Ecology. Volume 4 Number 2 | Fall/Winter, p. 19.

Bull, Michael (2007). Sound Moves: iPod Culture and Urban Experience. London: Routledge.

———(2000). Sounding out the city. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Chion, Michel (1994). Audio-vision: sound on screen. (edited and translated by Claudia Gorbman ; with a foreword by Walter Murch. New York: Columbia University Press.

— (1990): L’audio-vision. Paris: Editions Nathan

— list of Chion’s writing about EA music (viewed June 2011)

Coulter, John. ‘Electroacoustic Music with Moving Images: the art of media pairing.’ Organised Sound 15(1): 26–34 & Cambridge University Press, 2010

d’Escriván, Julio (2007 a). “Electronic music and the moving image.” In: The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music. (edited by Nick Collins and Julio d’Escriván). Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press

—– (2007 b) “Imaginary Listening.” EMS: Electroacoustic Music Studies Network. Available online [viewed Feb 2011]

—– (2009). “Sound Art (?) on/in Film.” Organised Sound 14(01): S. 65-73

d’Escriván, Julio (2009). “Sound Art (?) on/in Film.” Organised Sound 14(01): S. 65-73, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Drever, John Levack (2002). ‘Soundscape composition: the convergence of ethnography and acousmatic music’ in: Organised Sound 7(1): 21–27, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Emmerson, Simon (1986). The Language of Electroacoustic Music. London: Macmillan.

Hanssen, Tina Rigby (2009). “The omnipresent soundscape of drones: refletions on Bill Viola’s sound design in Five Angels for the Millennium. In: The Soundtrack Vol 2, No 2, pp.127-141

Henry, Pierre (1994). La Ville. Die Stadt. Metropolis Paris. Wergo 286 301-2, CD.

Hilmes, Michele (2008). “Foregrounding Sound: New (And Old) Directions in Sound Studies.” Cinema Journal, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Fall, 2008), pp. 115-117.

Katz, Mark (2001). ‘Hindemith, Toch, and Grammophonmusik’, Journal of Musicological Research, 20: 2, 161 — 180

Kulezic-Wilson, Danijela (2008). “Sound Design is the New Score.”  In: Music and the Moving Image, Vol 2 / Nr. 2, online Journal. Chicago: University of Illinois.

Kulezic-Wilson, Danijela (2011). ‘Soundscapes of Trauma and the Silence of Revenge in Peter Strickland’s Katalin Varga’, The New Soundtrack, 1/1, p. 57-71.

LaBelle, Brandon (2010). Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life. London: Continuum.

Lane, Cathy, and Nye Parry (2006). “Sound, History and Memory.” (Thematic Issue). Organised Sound 11(01), Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Lopez, Francisco (1998). Environmental Sound Matter. (viewed Nov 2011).

—— (1997). Schizophonia vs l’Objet Sonore: Soundscapes and Artistic Freedom. (viewed Nov 2011).

—— (2004). “Profound Listening and Environmental Sound Matter.” Audio Culture. Readings in Modern Music. Edited by Christoph Fox and Daniel Warner, New York: Continuum, p. 82-87.

Martin, Jean (2011). “Being There. The Creative Use of Sound in Documentary Films” in: Wilma de Jong (editor): Creative Documentary: Theory and Practice. London: Pearson Longman.

McCartney, Andra (2002). “Circumscribed journeys through soundscape composition” Organised Sound (2002), Vol 7: 1, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press (Thematic issue on soundscape compostion).

Murch, Walter (1995). “Sound Design: The Dancing Shadow.“ Projections 4: Filmmakers on Film Making (edited by John Boorman… [et al.]), London: Faber & Faber. p. 237-251.

Norman, Katharine (1996). “Real-World Music as Composed Listening”, Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 15, 1, p. 2.

Redmond, Sean (2003). “All that is Male melts into Air: Bigelow on the Edge of Point Break.” in: Deborah Jermyn and Sean Redmond (eds.), (2003), The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor. London: Wallflower Press, pp. 106-124.

Schafer, R. Murray (1994). The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester: Destiny Books.

Smalley, Denis (1997). “Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes” In: Organised Sound 2(2): 107–26. Cambridge University Press.

—- (1986). “Spectro-morphology and Structuring Processes.” In: The Language of Electroacoustic Music. (edited by Simon Emmerson), London: Macmillan.

Sonnenschein, David (2001). Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice, and Sound Effects in Cinema. Studio City, Calif: Michael Wiese Productions.

Stilwell, Robynn (2003). “Breaking Sound Barriers: Bigelow’s Soundscapes from The Loveless to Blue Steel.” The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor. Eds. Deborah Jermyn and Sean Redmond. London: Wallflower Press, p. 32 – 57.

Thom, Randy. “Designing a Movie for Sound.” In: (im Dez 2010)

Thompson, Emily (2002). The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Truax, Barry (1999). Handbook for Acoustic Ecology. (editor) No.5 The Music of the Environment Series, The World Soundscape Project (also published in 2001 on CD with Acoustic Comminication).

——— (2001). Acoustic Communication, 2nd ed. Westport, Conn. ; London: Ablex Publishing.

———(2002). “Genres and Techniques of Soundscape Composition as Developed at Simon Fraser University.” Organised Sound 7, Nr. 01: 5-14.

———(2008). “Soundscape Composition as Global Music: Electroacoustic Music as Soundscape.” Organised Sound 13, Nr. 02: S. 103-109, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

———(2012). “Sound, Listening and Place : The Aesthetic Dilemma.” Organised Sound, 17(3), 2012, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Waters, Simon (2000). ‘Byond the acousmatic: hybrid tendencies in electroacoustric music’ in: Simon Emmerson (editor): Music, Electronic Media and Culture, Aldershot, Ashgate 2000, pp. 56-83.

Weis, Elisabeth and John Belton, editors (1985). Film Sound. Theory and Practice. New York: Columbia University Press.

Westerkamp, Hildegard (2002). “Linking Soundscape Composition and Acoustic Ecology.” Organised Sound 7(01): S. 51-56, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Westerkamp, Hildegard (2002 b). “The local and global ‘language’ of environmental sound.” In: Waterman, Ellen (editor). Sonic Geography Imagined and Remembered. Toronto: Penumbra Press.

Wilkins, Heidi (2010). “Surfing a political soundscape: Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break.The Soundtrack 3: 2, pp. 97-107, Bristol: Intellect.

Worrall, D. (1998). “Space in Sound: Sound in Space.” Organised Sound 3: 93–9, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.