Schizophonia

The term Schizophonia was coined by the Canadian artist R. Murray Schafer to indicate the separation of an original sound and the recording of it. Before the invention of electroacoustic devices for the recording and the transmission of a sound, every sound was original and indissolubly attached to the source producing it; in the modern World any sound can be recorded and played in different environments. For Schafer the idea of separating a sound from its original source was something aberrational attributed to the development of the 20th century. The main philosophical debate is whether a sound is still original or not when it’s played from another source.

In terms of authenticity, the sound can’t be considered original if it’s not produced by its original source; even if we play that sound back on a hi-fi speaker system the sound will always be an artificial reproduction of an event that created vibrations, that are previously captured by a device. For example, in modern days the most common microphones are digital, meaning that the vibrations emitted by a certain event or object are translated into digital data and codes; those elements are then read by a computer that translates them back into audio signals, artificially reproducing the sonic properties of the event recorded. If we consider field recording, we could assume that none of the captured sounds are actually original, but are just the recording of a fraction of timeline; a sound exists in time, so if even if it was made two times in a row, the second time will be different from the first time and vice versa. This won’t mean that a sound played by a speaker is fake, it will be just technologically reproduced which for me it’s a very interesting concept just considering the idea that we can hear fractions of the past that would never be back, such as the speeches of Nelson Mandela (for example).

Also most of sound design works make a good use of the concept of schizophonia; just think about the fact that many raining scenes in movies are actually dubbed with the sound of frying bacon! This demonstrates that a sound can loose its originality when it’s recorded but it can become even more original if it’s used in different environments or manipulated for a different reason. For Pierre Schaeffer the idea of a sound object is the main objective of musique concrete: a recorded sound, independent from its source, that is then fixated or reproduced through a device. For R. Murray Schafer, schizophonia and the sonic object are almost antagonists.

 

‘I think it is very useful for this discussion to compare this situation with that of visual creation, in which the freedom to deal with similar separations of elements of reality is not only evident and widespread but also artistically developed far beyond than it is in music. What would be an equivalent critique to what, for example, Van Gogh did with the landscapes he saw? Schaferians: please let us Schaefferians to have the freedom of a painter.’

(Lopez, 1997)

 

 

Bibliography

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