The landscape speaks. Our ears receive constant information, and sound influences our perception of reality. Everything around us emits constant messages which accumulate and make up our acoustic memory.
When listening, we undergo a complex cognitive process which consists of what we hear and what we remember of that sound though with different levels of meanings. Sonorous perception is a dynamic construction with memories, associations and diverse sound-related meanings. For this reason, soundscapes are the expression of specific places in a given moment in time. Registering the particular sound of a place like a sonorous description of a landscape is a document which can help us to gather, analyse and preserve what differentiates that landscape from others.
Sound is ephemeral and unrepeatable. The particular sounds of a landscape, whether natural, rural, urban or peripheral, define that landscape and vary over time; industrial and commerce-related sounds, acoustic events and fiestas, speech and oral tradition all make up the sonorous identity of a place and are a part of the intangible cultural heritage as gathered in the UNESCO's Convention to preserve intangible cultural heritage. For this reason, numerous groups have emerged over the years to preserve and catalogue this sonorous material. Each group has its specific focus, and soundscapes are gathered from different points of view: artistic, biological, geographic, anthropologic, etc. In the majority of these projects, sound is linked to situational maps, with files that include a description of the sound, its exact geographic location, as well as the day, time and environmental circumstances registered.
Studies on sonorous environments were begun by Professor R. Murray-Shafer from Simon Fraser University in Canada. In 1974, he was the first to coin the soundscape concept and term. He later developed the World Soundscape Project which, along with the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology Project, studied sound as an expression of a landscape, a society and the environment, defining soundscapes as the totality of sounds found in a defined area.
Over the last few years in Spain, various soundscape studies have been carried out though with a clear precursor: the Escoitar group in Galicia. In Catalonia, various interesting individual projects have been undertaken, such as those by Antoni Muntadas, Josep Manuel Berenguer and Ricard Canals. Similarly, various universities have also led numerous collective projects: Sons de Barcelona ("Sounds of Barcelona") by the Research Group in Music Technology at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the Grup PaisatgesonorUB ("University of Barcelona Soundscape Group") by the Laboratori d'Art Sonor ("Sonorous Art Laboratory) at the University of Barcelona, which is dependent on the Research Group BR::AC / AGAUR (Barcelona, Recerca, Art i Creació - "Barcelona, Research, Art and Creation"). Lastly, other groups of reference in Catalonia include the Sonorous Anthropology Group in the Institut Catalą d'Antropologia ("Catalan Anthropology Institute") which is carrying out the project entitled Ciudad Sonora ("Sonorous City") and artists and groups such as Pau Faus i Sitesize, made up by Joan Vila Puig and Elvira Pujol.
The majority of these groups were able to describe their projects at the Paisatges Sonors de Catalunya conference ("Catalan Soundscapes") organised in December 2008 by the Catalan Landscape Observatory and the University of Barcelona Innovation Centre. The conference was held at the Barcelona Contemporary Culture Centre (CCCB) and served to exchange experiences and methodological proposals, identifying possible future fields of research. Due to the success of this conference, the Landscape Observatory decided to prepare a digital dossier on soundscapes, encompassing primary websites on this subject in Catalonia, Spain and the rest of the world.