May 13, 2020

Sonic Art and Therapeutic Soundscapes

At The British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST), we use different kinds of soundscape for a range of different therapeutic outcomes. But what is a Soundscape and what is the therapeutic benefits of performing or interacting with one?

What is a soundscape?

There are different types of soundscape. Bernie Krauss, the grandfather of soundscape recorders, began archiving natural soundscapes from around the world in the 70’s.  Bernie has since documented thousands of soundscapes which give us an amazing sonic picture (and valuable record) of our planet. Check out his masterpiece – The Great Animal Orchestra for a great example of his work.
Bernie coined the terms ‘Biophony’, ‘Geophony’ and ‘Anthrophony’ to describe different types of soundscape in the natural world.  Biophony describes the sound of the birds, animals, insects and marine life.  Geophony is the sound of the wind, waves and trees and Anthrophony is the sound that humans make (which includes anything from theatre and music to traffic and machinery).

The type of soundscapes we mostly work with at BAST is generated by humans but we also take our soundscapes into the landscape to dialogue with nature. Take a look a piece we did in 2010 at Stonehenge

A range of different instruments can be used – from gongs and crystal bowls to the smallest chime.  As long as it is safe, appropriate for the group we’re working with and accessible to anyone regardless of their musical ability, it can be included in our ‘sonic colour palette’.  Each type of instrument falls into a different group, or ‘sonic colour’.  How the instrument is played (struck, rung, beaten or strummed), how it sounds (the timbre, or sound signature) all have a bearing on how it affects mind, body and emotions. We use the properties of the different instruments to apply them in specific ways for specific conditions as well as to paint pictures.


For example, if you hear the sound of a gong rumbling most people use words like ‘dark, deep, earth-like, foreboding, mysterious and exciting’ to describe how they feel when they hear the sound.  If you hear a chime you may use sounds like ‘light, bright’ sparkly, fairy-like’.  We are used to using colour, texture, shape and feeling to describe sound, making these instruments perfect to express the human condition.
The soundscapes we usually facilitate fall into two categories.  Those with an intended therapeutic outcome or framework and those without.

Therapeutic Soundscapes

An example of how a soundscape may be applied in the BAST Method is if a group were working with grief for example, we may use this shared experience to help people to process this.  A sound-arts therapist may ask the group to select an instrument that reflects how each person feels about their loss.  The group may then be asked to think about the good memories they have about the person they’ve lost and will invite the group to put a piece together which moves from the grief to the good memories.  The group will then be encouraged to think about ways that they can take these positive feelings and thoughts through into their daily lives.  This process can help people to communicate how they feel through the instrument rather than needing to talk about it and therefore can be really useful instead of or in conjunction with talking therapies.

Cognitive Flexibility

Improvisation is a higher-level processing skill, it helps our minds stay young and flexible, to build resilience so that we are not disappointed or even floored when we are faced with the unexpected.  Improvisation also helps us to find how we ‘fit in’ and to build confidence to find our place in the soundscape.  In doing so people can also be invited to reflect on how they fit in society.  If we can create a lovely soundscape together, is there any reason why we can’t create a lovely society?  As the instruments are so accessible, anyone and everyone can play a part in creating something wonderful together.

As well as processing grief, helping with cognitive and emotional flexibility and enhancing community, soundscapes create connections, add meaning, lower anxiety, improve mood state, can help with pain and tension, enhance relaxation and can boost the immune system. Therapeutic soundscapes are the perfect ‘sonic prescription’ to treat the symptoms of lockdown.

For the heaven of it!As well as for therapeutic purposes, soundscapes and sonic art can be for the heaven of creating a wonderful piece together.
A group may select a piece of art, a poem, life experience or story and be invited to put this together in a soundscape.

Soundscapes are transformative, expressive, great for communicating when words cannot express how we feel, they are therapeutic and fun. As well as this they enhance our connection with each other and the planet we share.

What’s not to love about soundscaping?! Our advice is to get out there and express yourself in sound and music.

Get soundscaping – we’d love to hear the results! For details of how you can become a sound-arts or voice-arts therapist, or for more information on soundscapes, please contact us.


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