What’s a soundscape? It’s a creation, or re-creation of an environment or a series of environments, in sound.

Soundscapes are created in different ways; recording the actual environment is a natural soundscape, and in some situations the actual environment is enough for a listener to be able to say what’s happening – think of a busy street filled with traffic, for example. But musicians can enhance the actual environment, making it seem more real or dramatic, by recording and sampling elements of an environment and editing them together to make more of a story. This might concentrate on different sounds which are emphasised at certain points. So in our busy street, the sound of a bicycle, or footsteps would need to be enhanced, as a straight recording of the sound would be dominated by traffic. And then the story could develop as our footsteps went through a door, and into a house, when the traffic sounds would quieten. All the sounds might be ‘natural’ – the actual sound of a car, or a footstep, but the musicians are organising them to create a scene, or a story.

We use soundscapes in our work with some of participants of our projects, to make music that tells stories and connects to the real world. So if the participants choose "Bonfire Night", or a trip to the seaside, our music leaders work with them to identify the sounds they need, collect samples where they’re needed, and use the sounds that can be made in the room (footsteps, closing a door). Then the group works to tell the story, or re-create the environment, building their own soundscape. And every time it’s done, it will be slightly different, as someone thinks of something new to contribute. This doesn't have to be complicated either: it is becoming ever easier to utilise free / relatively cheap software to record and share sounds, and then use music editing software to weave these sounds together.

The sounds in a soundscape also don’t have to be real. They can be entirely creative, with musicians making sounds that can sound as real – or more real – than the real environment. In a workshop, creating some of these sounds is easy – there are plenty of ways of making the sound of rain, using body percussion, shakers, or beaters on different surfaces, where the speed and volume of play makes the sound come and go. Some are more difficult to re-create than others...

Here's an example where brilliant musicians create a soundscape of a harbour that sounds more real than the real thing would. As far as we can tell, all the sounds are re-created; the sea by blowing through a saxophone, the herring gull by a guitar, and there’s a sound of sails flapping in the breeze too, for the first minute and a half of ‘Tideway’ by The Printmakers:

Here’s a group of musicians using body percussion to create a rainstorm soundscape before they sing one of their repertoire of songs:

Here’s an entirely natural rainforest soundscape of waterfalls and birds: