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Music data origination and soundscape

Jun-ichi Konuma
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

I have an interest in many kinds of music, but when I listen to jazz or classical music, that reverb is off-putting and I give up. I wonder what that is.

A student asked me the question a few years ago. It didn't come to me straight away, but this student had never experienced an acoustic instrument performance before. I don't know the exact details why. During his time in compulsory education, there must have been a music room, and he should have heard a piano being played there. Without doubt, he probably didn't take much notice.

So-called pollution has been widely pointed out since the middle of the 20th century, and starting with air pollution and water quality, noise pollution has spread. In the 1960s, Canadian composer Raymond Murray Schafer presented a concept called soundscape. Every piece of land and every place possesses an inherent sound. As a result of modernization and urbanization, this inherent nature had become lost and standardized. Not only concerning the sound environment, Schafer urged that new attention be paid in regard to people's ears and the way they listen. Of his quotes, "the ear has no eyelid" is striking.

Compared with changes "able to be seen with the eyes" immediately and things able to be grasped visually, things concerned with sound tend to pass by and are soon forgotten. They don't remain as a form. Therefore, the sounds are inadvertently ignored. Even so, they may undermine our mind and body where they are literally "invisible."

On the other hand, with electronic devices being equipped with both audio and visual functions, sounds and music have become portable and more familiar. At the same time, demand for sound quality has become low and there has been a rapid decline in interest for amplifiers and speakers, and budgets in the audio sections of manufacturers have inevitably been cut. When mentioning the idol groups who headline the hit charts, that sound source has been made under the assumption that it will be listened through portable earphones.

Recording equipment has also become simple and user-friendly. There is also a lot of DTM (desktop music), recording music on computers where the music is processed as data, and instances are commonly occurring where the recording technician wants to record live music but doesn't know how to set up the microphone, and furthermore, the names of the instruments themselves and the forms are inconsistent. This is a far cry from the story of a shrewd New York engineer about 50 years ago, who, when recording a performance on a single piano, was familiar with over 50 microphone settings.

When dwelling upon this situation, I try to recall the question from my student mentioned in the beginning. I doubt that this was a special student. He shouldn't be.

Soundscape, as mentioned above, includes a nuance of so-called location and space. However, I would like to expand on that concept, even if this term isn't used, in addition to envisioning a location for the individual to be in physically, I believe it would be better for us to think of the sound environment. Rather we should. On top of reconsidering the specific and various sound environments, we should be able to consider the connection between music made up of sounds, or those sounds themselves, and people, no, living organisms. Of course individual artists and works are important. But that can also be taken to include the places they are composed in. That is what I have been thinking about for some time now.

Jun-ichi Konuma
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Born in Tokyo in 1959. Graduated from French Literature Department, Faculty of Letters, Gakushuin University. Music critic and specialist in music culture theory.
Was awarded the 8th Idemitsu Music Award (Academic and Research division).
His main publications include, Toru Takemitsu: Sound, Words and Images [Takemitsu Toru Oto Kotoba Imeji], Spellbound Body: The Journeying Musician Colin McPhee and His Times [Miserareta Shintai Tabi Suru Ongakuka Korin Makufui To Sono Jidai], Minimal Music [Minimaru Myujiku], (Seidosha); Bach's 'Goldberg Variations': World, Music and Media [Baha Gorutoberuku Hensokyoku Sekai Ongaku Medeia], (Misuzu Shobo).
New publication, Orchestra Again [Ookesutora Sainyuumon](Heibonsha Shinsho).