Krapp’s Last Tape Project: Asking My Students to Compare Schafer and Cage
September 8, 2011
— art music, bill fontana, cage, contemporary music, education, electronic music, installation art, instrumental music, john cage, listening, literacy, liturgical music, media, michel chion, music, music education, sound, sound art, three modes of listening
In my music appreciation classes, we have been learning about the aesthetics and construction of sound-art and soundscapes as models for their individual contributions to “Krapp’s Last Tape.” Today we watched a short and fascinating video portrait of R. Murray Schafer, the composer and environmentalist.
Schafer coined the term “soundscape”. According to him, there are three main elements of a soundscape:
From Wikipedia article on Soundscapes:
This is a musical term that identifies the key of a piece, not always audible… the key might stray from the original, but it will return. The keynote sounds may not always be heard consciously, but they “outline the character of the people living there” (Schafer). They are created by nature (geography and climate): wind, water, forests, plains, birds, insects, animals. In many urban areas, traffic has become the keynote sound.
These are foreground sounds, which are listened to consciously; examples would be warning devices, bells, whistles, horns, sirens, etc.
This is derived from the term landmark. A soundmark is a sound which is unique to an area.
It is interesting to note how Schafer speaks about sound as music and uses the word “noise” pejoratively.
In the following video, John Cage also speaks of sound as music, but without judgement.
His philosophy about listening to sound seems to be codified by Michel Chion’s Three Modes of Listening and Pierre Schaffer’s Reduced-Listening. Cage derives pleasure from the transient qualities of sounds themselves.
My students watched and discussed these videos as they prepare to fabricate their contribution to “Krapp’s Last Tape”. They will make sound-compositions about a personal memory in a way that gives the listener a window into how they uniquely experience memories. They will consider Schafer’s aesthetic and structure when composing the piece as well as reduced-listening skills when evaluating the sound-material and placement for the composition.