Schizophonic (R. Murray Schafer)

related post:
Introduction, From Sound to Waves to Territories

The Canadian scholar R. Murray Schafer voiced a critique by describing radio as source for ‘defamiliarisation’ from the everyday environment. Identified as a sensual alienation by Schafer he portrayed this media experience as schizophonic’. When Schafer coined radio as schizophonic, he criticised the perceptional split of sounds. To him, when recorded, sounds are brought out of the context of their original environment and are broadcast without any further spatial reference to their origin.

“When I originally coined the term schizophonia in “The New Soundscape” I said it was intended to be a nervous word. Related to schizophrenia, I intended it to convey the sam sense of aberration and drama. … A character in one of Borges’ stories dreads mirrors because the multiply men. The same might be said of radio. As the cry broadcasts distress, the loudspeaker communicates anxiety. … Modern life has been ventriloquized.” (Schafer 1973)

This mediative process turns these schizophonic sounds for Schafer into a symbolic-only and dream-like meaning and consequently leads to a sensual alienation.

While I do not agree with all of Schafer’s arguments particular in relation to how he comes to terms with an actual moral judgement of a sensual experience from an ecological point of view. Nevertheless his term schizophonic is interesting to me, because I do consider that a split is taking place in the amplification process of mediation in general but to me this is taking place on a social, political and / or cultural level. Schafer underpinned his critique with a proposal for an alternative format for a ‘radical radio’ (Schafer, 1987). His radical radio calls for a radio that lets nature be broadcast in a field recording manner and beyond any further manipulation in terms of format or aesthetics.

“The plan was to put microphones in remote locations uninhabited by humans and to broadcast whatever might be happening out there; the sounds of wind and rain, the cries of bird and animals – all the uneventful events of the natural soundscape transmitted without editing into the hearts of the cities.” (Schafer 1987)

And although I share sympathies for Schafer’s proposal for a new and radical radio. I would shift here as well the focus away from the media aided representation of the environment to the aesthetic side of human communication and a possible ‘defamilarisation’ in communication.

R Murray Schafer (1993) ‘Radical radio’, Semiotext(e)16: Radiotext(e), no. 6
R Murray Schafer (1977) The Tuning of the World, Knopf, New York

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