[EN] The acoustic ecology in Poland: history – current trends – perspectives

Probably the most silently celebrated anniversary of the year 2012 in Poland is the thirtieth anniversary of acoustic ecology in our country. In 1982 the essay The Music of the Environment by R. Murray Schafer was translated and published in Poland. Since that time numerous Polish scholars and artists were active in the field of soundscape studies and acoustic ecology. This paper will be the first step on the way to recapitulate and evaluate the achievements of those 30 years. I will also try to describe in details the last 5 years of dynamic development in the field of Polish acoustic ecology. In order to give a possibly comprehensive view of the Polish soundscape movement I will also present my view of its perspectives in the second decade of the 21st century.

One of the first Poles who regularly acted against noise pollution was Witold Lutosławski. In many interviews the composer expressed his general irritation with the lack of respect for silence in our society. In his opinion, the cause of the problem was the development of sound reproduction techniques. He was annoyed with the omnipresent radio and stereo sets. He also made efforts in order to mute his place of work. It was probably on his initiative that in 1969 The General Assembly of the International Music Council of UNESCO passed the resolution about the individual freedom and everyone’s right to silence. The information about Lutosławski’s role in the process of carrying the resolution, can be found in the Polish music magazine Ruch Muzyczny of that time [1]. It was the same resolution that R. Murray Schafer quoted a few years later in The Music of the Environment and The Tuning of the World. However, it is hard to call Lutosławski a modern acoustic ecologist – his ideas were limited only to music and the technology of its reproduction.

The first step of acoustic ecology in Poland was a publication of The Music of the Environment [Polish title: Muzyka środowiska] translated by Danuta Gwizdalanka in the musicological yearbook Res Facta in 1982 [2]. It was the first time that Polish readers were able to learn about: the ideas of R. Murray Schafer, definitions of soundscape, acoustic design, hi-fi/lo-fi environment etc. The translation of that essay provided by Danuta Gwizdalanka formed the foundation of the terminology of Polish soundscape studies. For the first time in the Polish language there appeared such important terms as pejzaż dźwiękowy [soundscape] or wzornictwo akustyczne [acoustic design]. Even though today we should probably revise some of the Polish terms created at that time, those established in the first translation of Schafer’s essay have determined the terminology of Polish soundscape studies for decades. It should be noted that The Music of the Environment is until today the best-known writing of R. Murray Schafer in Poland. It was reprinted several times since 1982 and quoted in hundreds of scholarly works. It also appears as obligatory reading at numerous university faculties like musicology, cultural studies, sociology or geography.

In 1987 a series of essays by Danuta Gwizdalanka called Strojenie trąb jerychońskich [The Tuning of the Jericho Trumpets] was published in the magazine Ruch Muzyczny. Those essays were the first originally Polish writings in the field of acoustic ecology. The Biblical term trąba jerychońska [Jericho trumpet] is a Polish expression to name a loud and annoying source of noise. Danuta Gwizdalanka used it to metaphorically call all noisy devices of our civilization (especially the loudspeaker). But except for the first essay of the series, which was describing the health hazard connected with noise pollution, most of the material was concentrated on various aspects of the ecology of music (background music, sound volume, music avant-garde, the problem of the function of music in every-day live, the problem of listening etc.).

After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, we can talk about the first period of vital development of Polish acoustic ecology movement. It was connected with activities of Poznań composer Lidia Zielińska. She was co-editor of the Monochord magazine, where between 1994-1999 about 220 pages of texts connected with the acoustic ecology were published (a lot, for that time in Poland). The double-issue of the magazine (VIII-IX) was fully devoted to acoustic ecology [3]. In 1995 R. Murray Schafer was a guest at the X Biennial of the Art for Children in Poznań. In 1990s Poznań was the centre of Polish acoustic ecology. Activities were undertaken, aimed to make Polish acoustic ecologists conscious of the achievements of the World Soundscape Project and the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. In Monochord, texts were published by Polish authors about the soundscape, as well as translations of writings by R. Murray Schafer and Barry Truax. As far as I know, Lidia Zielińska was also the only active Polish participant of WFAE conferences. In 1995, A Sound Education: 100 Exercises in Listening and Soundmaking [Polish title: Poznaj dźwięk. 100 ćwiczeń w słuchaniu i tworzeniu muzyki] by R. Murray Schafer, translated by the composer Rafał Augustyn, was released by Brevis Poznań publishing house [4]. There was also a Polish translation prepared of The New Soundscape, but the full text had never been issued because of the publishing house’s financial problems. Only two excerpts of The New Soundscape appeared in Monochord in 1998 and 1999.

The crowning achievement of the Polish acoustic ecology of 1990s was the master’s thesis of Maksymilian Kapelański: Koncepcja ‘pejzażu dźwiękowego’ w pismach R. Murray’a Schafera [The concept of the ‘soundscape’ in the writings of R. Murray Schafer]. It was written in 1999 under the supervision of prof. Maciej Gołąb at the Institute of Musicology of the University of Warsaw [5]. Until today, the manuscript of that work is the most comprehensive source of information about the ideas of R. Murray Schafer and WSP in Polish. Maksymilian Kapelański made a careful analysis of Schafer’s theoretical writings. He studied the language of those works, assigned various aspects of Schafer’s interdisciplinary concepts to 11 scientific categories and defined a place for soundscape studies in 20th century thought and culture. Polish soundscape studies were always close to musicology. The work of Maksymilian Kapelański confirmed that strong relation between Polish acoustic ecology and musicology. In the next years, writings of Maksymilian Kapelański were published in many scientific magazines and helped to popularise the idea of acoustic ecology in academic circles. The paper Narodziny i rozwój ekologii akustycznej pod banderą szkoły pejzażu dźwiękowego [The Birth and Development of Acoustic Ecology Under the Banner of the Soundscape School] is the most comprehensive Polish source of information about the history of international acoustic ecology [6].

We have to stress, that most of the achievements mentioned above, are not well known, and that Polish publications on acoustic ecology written in that period (with the exception of the Polish translation of The Music of the Environment) are now very difficult to obtain. For example, none of Warsaw’s university libraries has a copy of the Polish translation of A Sound Education… by R. Murray Schafer, nor the English original. The only way to get access to some of them is to directly ask the authors, translators or editors.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the number of publications concerning acoustic ecology has risen remarkably. Numerous popular scientific publications on the concept of the soundscape and acoustic ecology were published. But most of them were repeating the set of basic information about acoustic ecology, and their role was limited to education. Unfortunately the ambitious Poznań initiatives had no continuation there. However, at the same time the musicologist Robert Losiak at the University of Wrocław had initiated a series of projects related to the local soundscape. Also at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin the geographer Sebastian Bernat had initiated studies of the soundscape in the context of landscape preservation and environmental protection. In the second volume of the trendy new-music magazine Glissando, appeared the first Polish polemic against the Schaferian thought – in the essay R. Murray Schafer: pan od przyrody? [R. Murray Schafer: The natural history thatcher?] Mariusz Gradowski contested the negative opinion of the Canadian composer about the lo-fi industrial environment [8].

The main problem of Polish soundscape studies in the beginning of the 21st century was a lack of coordinated activities like those moderated by Monochord magazine. For the whole decade did not reveal any new translation of writings by R. Murray Schafer or other important foreign acoustic ecologists (sic!). For many years nobody tried to integrate the dispersed society of Polish acoustic ecologists and nobody tried to incorporate the Polish acoustic ecology into the structures of WFAE. The indirect effect of those neglects is a mess in the terminology of Polish soundscape studies. For example there are about 7 alternative translations of the word “soundscape” in the Polish language and none of them seems to be better than the primary pejzaż dźwiękowy (which is parallel to the French paysage sonore). Up to now, the cooperation among the centres of Polish soundscape studies left much to be desired. The positive aspect of this period was that many publications on acoustic ecology referred directly to the most important international texts like: The Tuning of the World and other works by R. Murray Schafer, texts by Hildegard Westerkamp, Barry Truax and the journals published on the web site of WFAE. It was a new standard in Poland because in 1990s only Maksymilian Kapelański was so well informed in the foreign publications.

Polish artistic projects connected with the ideas of acoustic ecology require description in more detail in a separate paper. Let me present artistic projects based on the idea of the soundscape on examples of activities of two Polish artists.

From the beginnings of his carer, composer Krzysztof Knittel combines instrumental music with soundscape recordings. In his quartet Dorikos (1976-77), he has added a tape with various sounds of nature and civilisation (such as sounds of grapple, soundscape of a party or animal voices and sounds of a storm) to the euphonic parts of strings. In other work Tanie imitacje [Cheap imitations] (2008) he applied the reverse process, adding a chamber ensemble accompaniment to the soundscape recordings, for example a noisy city soundscape or the sound of rowing. The album by Krzysztof Knittel Pory roku [The Four Seasons] (2008) on 4 CDs contains only soundscape recordings, which are described carefully in the booklet. He formed in this publication something like an acoustic-diary. The material of The Four Seasons was also presented as an installation. Krzysztof Knittel is also active in the field of music theory; his writings treat among other things music recycling, the soundscape, the theory of a sound recording, the relation between art and nature, composer and environment [7].

The second artist that I would like to present is Katarzyna Krakowiak from Gdańsk. She practices an acoustic design in a street art style. In her multipart project All.Fm, with a short-range radio transmitter she sends a simple ecological, artistic or politic communiques on the frequencies of popular radio stations. In her other project Słuchawy [Metaphones], she constructs big tubes for improving audibility to interest people in listening to the soundscape. The description of that project accompanied by theoretical texts about listening and audio-culture was published in a bilingual brochure Słuchawy. Projektowanie dla ucha / Metaphones. Design for the Ear [9].

Current trends
In the last few years, we can notice initiatives aimed to integrate Polish acoustic ecologists. In September 2008 at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, the first interdisciplinary national seminar “Dźwięk w krajobrazie. Stan i perspektywy badań” [Sound in Landscape. Present status and future strategy for researches.] took place. In the article Perspektywy ekologii dźwiękowej w Polsce [Perspectives of Sound Ecology in Poland] Sebastian Bernat – the organizer of that seminar – wrote about the need of active cooperation between scholars, artists, officials, journalists and inhabitants in order to improve the soundscape of Poland. The Lublin meeting was probably the first opportunity for Polish scholars interested in soundscape, from distant scientific fields (acoustics, landscape architecture, musicology, medicine, geography or ethnology) to exchange their experiences and research results [10]. Soundscape studies today are practised in numerous academic centres in Poland. Since 2009, at the University of Wrocław in the Institute of Cultural Studies, operates the Laboratory of Soundscape Studies. The research of the Wrocław soundscape conducted in the Laboratory are parallel to the pioneering program of the Vancouver soundscape studies conducted by WSP in 1970s. In 2012, a collection of texts titled Audiosfera miasta [The Audiosphere of a City] about the city soundscapes was published in the series Prace Kulturoznawcze [Works of Cultural Studies] of the Wrocław University Press [11]. Student theses on the soundscape are written not only in Wrocław but also in other centres. For example, at the University of Warsaw in the last 2 years at least 3 bachelor’s theses were written on a various aspects of the soundscape (and further are now in preparation).

Picture 1: Map of Polish acoustic ecology.

In the last few years numerous magazines published texts on acoustic ecology. In 2010, a special edition of Glissando focused on music in public spaces, there were published analyses of city soundscapes, texts about historical soundscapes as well as writings about the soundscape movement, and interviews with composers about attitudes toward the soundscape [12]. Whereas in the newest issue of Glissando devoted to Swiss music, the portrait, ideas and soundscape compositions of Pierre Mariétan were presented. An issue of the important musicological magazine Muzyka [Music] whose theme will be historical soundscapes is also in preparation.

There is a good climate now for acoustic ecology also in artistic circles in Poland. This year at the 13th Architecture Biennial in Venice our country will be represented by the project Everyone has the Right to Sound by Katarzyna Krakowiak in which the artist combines acoustic design with architecture. The Polish pavilion will be eavesdropping on the other pavilions and surroundings of the exhibition.

Even if today we can talk about a small renaissance of Polish acoustic ecology, we should remember that soundscape studies still have – after 30 years and about 1000 pages in several publications – the status of a novelty in Poland. Even in academic circles it is sometimes not treated seriously (mostly because of a lack of available literature on this subject in Polish and because literature on soundscape studies published abroad are not commonly known). However, while the topic of a “negative” acoustic ecology (a fight against noise pollution) appears on and off in Polish mass media, the “positive” program of acoustic ecology (the awakening of an aural culture) still remains the field of a group of artists, scholars and enthusiasts.

In order to improve this situation, Polish acoustic ecologists have to take some necessary steps, which will allow us to take full advantage of the potential cumulated in last 30 years. A major problem for our acoustic ecologists is a lack of unified terminology in the Polish language. In my opinion the only way to order are careful translations of canonical international writings on acoustic ecology and first of all The Tuning of the World by R. Murray Schafer. In Poland we only have the translation of its “substitute” available: the essay The Music of the Environment, which is sometimes misleadingly considered as a part (or summary) of the book. This gives rise to misunderstandings and false opinions, like that about the supposedly non-scientific character of soundscape studies. The author of this paper has already started work on the translation of that book and appropriate actions have been undertaken to fill that gap in our soundscape studies. The book should contain a table of the numerous previous Polish translations of English terms. The decisions about Polish translations of Schaferian terms, which will be used in the issue of the book, should be consulted in a wider group of experts. The translation of The Tuning of the World should constitute a new foundation for Polish soundscape studies. In the last few years the number of books on contemporary music and sound art published in Poland rose noticeably, so the publication of The Tuning of the World in our country is a realistic project. I think that the book should also be published in the form of an audiobook in order to make it available for the visually impaired.

The second great task of Polish acoustic ecologists is to create a national association, which would enable cooperation among all people interested in the subject. Such an association would enable our acoustic ecologists to exchange experiences during regular conferences and meetings. This kind of organisation could also help to effectively raise funds for more expensive projects and would be able to officially represent Polish acoustic ecology abroad. Polish acoustic ecologists should also create and maintain a complete bibliography of Polish writings on acoustic ecology (those existing are often deficient or out-dated). One of the first activities of the Polish association of acoustic ecologists should be to reprint or publish the unavailable Polish texts and translations on acoustic ecology of 1990s in electronic versions. The second urgent need would be to collect canonical books of the world’s acoustic ecology (in original languages) and make them available in academic libraries in Poland.

As far back as the year 2005 Maksymilian Kapelański postulated to create a Polish web site about the soundscape. The problem of all web pages on acoustic ecology existing today is that none of them claim to be a comprehensive source of knowledge about the idea of the soundscape. Each of them concerns one small part of the whole problem, a single project, or activities of a single artist, scientist etc. There are, unfortunately, no communication and no cooperation among the authors of those web pages. That kind of a “central” Polish acoustic ecology web site – modelled for example on the WFAE web site – could be a great source of information for Polish Internet users. It could contain publicly available texts on acoustic ecology by Polish authors as well as an archive of field recordings.

The 30 years of Polish acoustic ecology coincided with the time of dynamic general changes in Poland. The 1980s was a period of decline of the People’s Republic of Poland, which in 1989 was gradually transformed into democratic and independent Republic of Poland. 1990s was a time of a transformation toward the market economy and the quest for political stability (since 1999 Poland is a member of NATO). In 2004 Poland joined the European Union and the first decade of 21st century was in general a period of dynamic economic growth and cultural development. The 1980s and the 1990s in Polish music and music theory were dominated by new romanticism, which reflected the political and cultural ferment. Since the beginning of 21st century we can talk about a shift toward modernistic and avant-garde aesthetics. It is a crucial change for our acoustic ecology – while a few of the Polish new romanticists (artists and theorists) could have been interested in environmental sound, most of the contemporary composers and writers are open to every kind of sound. Let me refer to R. Murray Schafer’s idea contained in the introduction to The Tuning of the World, the new romanticists were Dionysian musicians while the today’s artists are much more Apollonian – soundscape studies and acoustic design is without doubt closer to that second group [13]. The perspectives for acoustic ecology in Poland seem to be optimistic. Nonetheless to achieve the aims described above, not only the individual work of Polish acoustic ecologists is necessary, but also their cooperation on an unprecedented scale.

The first step of acoustic ecology in Poland was the publication of R. Murray Schafer’s essay The Music of the Environment translated by Danuta Gwizdalanka in 1982. Until today that text remains the best-known text of acoustic ecology in Poland. However, the first originally Polish writings on soundscape were published in 1980s, the first period of dynamic development of Polish soundscape studies occurred in 1990s and were connected with activities of the Poznań composer Lidia Zielińska. In 1999 the musicologist Maksymilian Kapelański at the University of Warsaw wrote an important masters thesis about the concept of the soundscape by R. Murray Schafer. In the beginning of the 21st century the geographer Sebastian Bernat launched research into the soundscape at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin (in 2008 he organised the first interdisciplinary national seminar about the soundscape). At the same time the musicologist Sebastian Bernat launched projects related to soundscape studies at the University of Wrocław (since 2009 the Laboratory of Soundscape Studies). Although in the last 30 years in Poland, there have been numerous publications and artistic projects connected to the soundscape, we still need to translate the canonical writings of an international acoustic ecology (the author of this paper has already started work on the translation of The Tuning of the World by R. Murray Schafer) and to build a resilient national association of acoustic ecologists.

[Krzysztof Marciniak: The acoustic ecology in Poland: history – current trends – perspectives, in: Sabine Breitsameter/Claudia Söller-Eckert (Eds.): The Global Composition 2012, Conference on Sound, Media, and the Environment, Proceedings (Darmstadt 2012) pp. 191-199.]

[1] Uchwała międzynarodowej rady muzycznej [The General Assembly of the International Music Council], Ruch Muzyczny, no. 1 (1970), p. 3.
[2] R. Murray Schafer: Muzyka środowiska [The Music of the Environment], transl. D. Gwizdalanka, in Res Facta 9 (Kraków: PWM 1982) pp. 288–315.
[3] Monochord, vol. VIII-IX (Poznań: 1995).
[4] R. Murray Schafer: Poznaj dźwięk. 100 ćwiczeń w słuchaniu i tworzeniu muzyki [A Sound Education: 100 Exercises in Listening and Soundmaking], transl. R. Augustyn, (Poznań: Brevis 1995).
[5] Maksymilian Kapelański: Koncepcja ‘pejzażu dźwiękowego’ w pismach R. Murray’a Schafera [The concept of the ‘soundscape’ in the writings of R. Murray Schafer], Master’s thesis written under the advisement of Prof. dr. hab. Maciej Gołąb in the Department of Theory and Aesthetics of Music of the Institute of Musicology, University of Warsaw (manuscript, 1999).
[6] Mariusz Gradowski: R. Murray Schafer: pan od przyrody? [R. Murray Schafer: The Natural History Thatcher?], in Glissando no. 2 (Warszawa: 2004).
[7] Krzysztof Knittel: Między rzeczywistością a kreacją [Between Reality and Creation], (Warszawa, UMFC 2010).
[8] Maksymilian Kapelański: Narodziny i rozwój ekologii akustycznej pod banderą szkoły pejzażu dźwiękowego [The Birth and Development of Acoustic Ecology Under the Banner of the Soundscape School], in Muzyka no. 2 (2005).
[9] Ekspektatywa_1. Słuchawy. Projektowanie dla ucha / Metaphones. Design for the Ear, edited by K. Krakowiak (Warszawa: Fundacja Bęc Zmiana 2009). (The material of the brochure is also published online): http://www.ekspektatywa.pl/page/2 (visited 14 June 2012)
[10] Sebastian Bernat: Perspektywy ekologii dźwiękowej w Polsce [Perspectives of Sound Ecology in Poland], in Problemy Ekologii Krajobrazu vol. XXV (Lublin: PAEK 2009) pp. 175- 182.
[11] Audiosfera miasta [The Audiosphere of a City] edited by R. Losiak & R. Tańczuk (Wrocław: WUWR 2012).
[12] Glissando, no. 18 (Warszawa: Fundacja 4.99 2011).
[13] R. Murray Schafer: The Tuning of the World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1977) pp. 5-6.


Jedna uwaga do wpisu “[EN] The acoustic ecology in Poland: history – current trends – perspectives

  1. Ważne podsumowanie, i po części wytyczenie drogi naprzód. Poza przyszłością, warto aby składnikami naszej pracy było nadrabianie braków i konsolidacja tego, co już zostało osiągnięte. Jednak budujące jest to, że obecnie znajomość angielskiego w Polsce jest coraz szersza i na takim poziomie, aby się orientować w obecnej literaturze, która jest szeroko dostępna w Internecie, a więc potrzeba na powtarzanie prawd w naszych pismach maleje. Można zatem sporą część czasu koncentrować na tworzeniu oryginalnych tekstów, sztuki, i wydarzeń, które można promować na skali międzynarodowej.

    –Maksymilian Kapelański


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