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Month: February 2022

Remembering R. Murray Schafer

Remembering R. Murray Schafer

Kirk L. MacKenzie and Robin Elliott, editors


We invite you to enjoy these reflections and personal insights concerning an artist who, over the course of a long, productive and compelling career, became one most important figures in the arts and letters in Canada in the late 20th/early 21st century. Murray Schafer the man who walked amongst us will be deeply and sorely missed, but the incredibly rich and multifaceted legacy he has left behind vibrantly lives on, and will continue to delight, nurture, surprise, challenge, and inspire us … and many future generations to come. The Editors

We are pleased to present the first of a projected two dozen or so tributes to R. Murray Schafer which will appear in this collection. Many thanks to Kirk L. MacKenzie, an independent scholar specializing in the work of Murray Schafer, for this inspired idea, and for his sustained efforts in commissioning and editing these tributes for this collection. Robin Elliott

I would like to thank Stephen J. Adams, Professor Emeritus at Western University, not only for his seminal R. Murray Schafer (U. of Toronto Press, 1983)—which laid a very firm foundation for what has become a fairly significant field of Schafer studies—but for being the inspiration behind this tribute project as well. A few days after Murray’s death on 14 August 2021, Stephen sent me his personal remembrance of Murray entitled “I Danced with Anubis,” a short essay he had posted to his personal Facebook account (see below). Adams’ heartfelt and eloquent words were exactly the tonic I needed at a time while I was struggling to come to grips with my own profound sense of loss with Murray’s passing (proving that grief is best dealt with communally).  It also occurred to me after reading Stephen’s piece that this loving and elegant ode to Murray deserved the widest circulation possible.

I then asked Robin Elliott if “I Danced with Anubis,” and additional tributes by others who knew Murray could be published on the Institute for Music in Canada’s webpage to accompany Robin’s recently composed and insightful retrospective on Schafer’s life and work. He immediately agreed, has been very enthusiastic about this project from the start, and has been both a wise and generous collaborator and very valuable second set of eyes as co-editor. My sincerest thanks also to Eleanor James, Murray’s wife, and D. Paul Schafer, Murray’s brother, for their gracious support and encouragement of this project, and to our many contributors who have agreed to share their thoughts on and personal interactions with this uniquely gifted artist and thinker—or as composer Hildegard Westerkamp so aptly expressed it—this “complex, unstoppably creative man.” Kirk L. MacKenzie

I Danced with Anubis” by Stephen J. Adams
True To His Conviction” by Rae Crossman
Who I Am Today” by Emily Doolittle
The Editor and The Theatre of Confluence” by Karen Mulhallen
Remembering R. Murray Schafer” by Anne Renouf
Remembering R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project” by Barry Truax



I Danced with Anubis

Stephen J. Adams

To begin, I don’t dance. My body has always been awkward, even when I was younger and thin. But the occasion was the performance of Ra that I attended at the Ontario Science Centre in May 1983. The work is a dramatization of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, beginning at sundown, with instruction in the religious beliefs and rehearsal of the audience participation needed to conduct the living soul safely to the other side. It continues through the night, following the sun’s journey through the underworld to its re-appearance many hours later. Because of its length, Murray had provided an appropriate meal, served at midnight with belly-dancing and music, and allowed one hour for a nap on the cold, rock-hard museum floor. We were awakened by the sound of Maureen Forrester’s voice. She was there, I understand, in the dead middle of the night, though we never saw her. After passing a number of tests, including a lone walk through catacombs lined with skeletal corpses (one of them had open eyes), the destination was reached and all joined—actors, musicians, audience—in a general dance as the sun rose. My exhausted brain was reeling, ready to pass out, so I fixed my eyes on the jackal-headed figure of Anubis to steady me. I fell in love with him, and I actually danced.

A few days later, Murray pointed out to me the actor who had played Anubis. He was an ordinary looking guy I would not otherwise have noticed. Murray told me, laughing, that one performance had been bought out entirely by a local coven of witches. At another, a woman suffered hysterics in the catacomb walk and needed medical attention. Oddly, having written a book that analyzes Murray’s music at a time when only Patrias I and II had been completed, I now think of him first as a man of the theatre.[1] His masterwork is certainly the largest unified dramatic cycle written in Canada, and in the history of the arts, one of the largest ever conceived. Its theatricality is more innovative than any other I can think of, and the works have been acclaimed internationally. Yet—such are the rigid categories that rule our minds—he is almost never included in discussions of “Canadian Drama.” I wonder how many courses devoted to the subject even mention Patria?

One of the many innovations of Patria involve the site-specific locations for each work. Princess of the Stars must be performed on a lake in the remote wilderness, in canoes (with the musicians on the shoreline), beginning precisely one hour before sunrise. It has left me memories of riding in a rusty bus over a bumpy logging road in the Canadian north at 4:00 a.m. and sitting on a log in darkness. The Greatest Show takes the form of a county fair. The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos specifies a deserted mine or abandoned factory at midnight (though Schafer, being adaptable, found an adequate substitute in Toronto’s Union Station). And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, the cycle’s finale, engages participants in a week-long camping trip in the Canadian wilderness. All of this grows out of Murray’s life-long concern for the environment, which first emerged in his pioneering studies of the acoustic environment—the soundscape—and evolved into a comprehensive lived experience of Canadian ecology.

I do not mean to slight Murray’s catalogue of non-theatrical music. He was prolific as well as endlessly inventive, and his work includes a large body of vocal and instrumental music, including an extraordinary cycle of string quartets, orchestral and chamber works, an opera for television, even a remarkable Symphony in C Minor which I take to be his reconciliation with the institution of the symphony orchestra that he once condemned as obsolete.

I’ve often told how I, as a timid grad student looking for a dissertation topic, wrote a letter to the one person in the world at that time who knew about Ezra Pound and music. Murray had mounted a performance of Pound’s first opera Villon for the BBC and was editing Pound’s extensive music criticism for what later became Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism (much of Pound’s music criticism published in fugitive little magazines not held by any library, in particular the weekly newspaper of Rapallo, Italy, through the 1930s.)[2] Instead of the expected rebuff, I received an open invitation from Murray to visit him at Simon Fraser University, where he bestowed all the primary sources I needed to my safekeeping. Our relationship grew from there as I wrote my dissertation and aided with the final stages of his very valuable contribution to Pound studies. Murray’s gift made my career possible.[3]

But aside from that career business, I owe Murray a broadening of my understanding, of my felt life, of my perception of the world that cannot be measured. And I treasure the kindness, the laughter, the confidence . . . . and the opportunity to dance with Anubis.

[1] Editor’s note: Adams also discusses The Princess of the Stars (1981) in his excellent monograph R. Murray Schafer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983); however, at the time, Schafer had not yet (consciously) envisioned Princess of the Stars as part of his Patria universe. (KLM)
[2] Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism; edited with commentary by R. Murray Schafer (New York: New Directions, 1977; London: Faber and Faber, 1978), 430 pp.
[3] Editor’s note: Schafer was very appreciative of Adams’s contribution to Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism and his very genuine and perhaps less well known capacities for graciousness and self-effacement are on full display in the preface (p. xii): “Two graduate students contributed numerous insights and hours of work to this volume: Brian Fawcett of Simon Fraser University and Stephen Adams of the University of Toronto both have repeated revealed that they knew more than the editor [Schafer] about much of the subject matter, and many of their ideas and suggestions have been incorporated in the text. Stephens Adams, now a distinguished scholar in his own right, followed the text in the final stages approaching publication and helped in many more ways than can be adequately expressed here.” (KLM)



True To His Conviction

Rae Crossman

“What is the purpose of art? First, exaltation. Let us speak of that… To effect change in our existential condition. This is the first purpose. To change us. It is a noble aim, a divine aim.”
R. Murray Schafer

Step with me gently into the canoe along the keel line. Bend low. Grasp the gunwales. Make your way to the bow. But instead of sitting or kneeling, recline. Yes, lie down in the bottom of the canoe. Lie on the spruce boughs placed to make a soft bed covering the cedar ribs. Breathe in the fragrance. You are looking up into sky. Cerulean blue. Cumulus cloud. The canoe departs almost silently. One slight scrape on a submerged log. The canoe rocks. Lapping at the bow. Faint paddle swish at the stern. Cradled in spruce, moving across the lake, delighted by sky. You hear a thread of song. A single soprano voice. Ethereal at first … then filling the firmament. Could it be the Princess?

Senses alive. Wonder alive. You have made a journey, participated in an Encounter, and entered into Schafer’s theatre of confluence. What lies ahead?

In his three essays on the theatre of confluence Schafer explains his thinking behind a new vision of theatre, one which calls for a synergistic flowing together of all the arts with the aim of creating a transformational experience aligned with a reverence for nature. Schafer’s conviction is sincere, his writing is inspirational, and his realization is actual—the Patria music dramas are life altering for those that give themselves over to the experience. I can attest to this as an audience member, performer, and collaborator in several of his projects. In fact these distinctions fall away as one becomes an active participant in the theatre of confluence and the sacred celebration of the cosmos.

In the final work of the twelve-part Patria cycle, Epilogue: And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, a musical pageant that unfolds in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Preserve in central Ontario, the archetypal characters of Wolf and the Princess of the Stars are united after mythic ages of anguished separation and searching. Schafer provides the outline and grand arc of the narrative and invites participants to co-create dramatic scenarios or “Encounters” and other artistic expressions that flesh out the story.

We canoe into the isolated site, camp, and enact the hierophany, or sacred drama, over eight days. But participants do not just contribute in the area of their expertise. Musicians make costumes, visual artists tell stories, dancers sing, and everyone has a stint at the campfire kitchen. The creation of an artistic community that encourages growth and stretches individual limits is part of the aim. I used to consider myself a non-singer, non-dancer, and not very adept at visual art either. So in the past, I didn’t engage in those activities. Murray changed that perspective for me and for so many others, opening us to possibilities. The point is to make art—of all formsto enhance your life. Art engenders art. The arts flow together.


For R. Murray Schafer

rivers flow into rivers

reflection scatters into spindrift
wind wails into psalm

so music flows
into the bloodstream

dance into the bones

words breathe

a brush stroke quivers a pulse

stars jewel a crown
a hunter antlers a stag
an old woman withers into a girl
a carcass births a young man
and wolf rhythms the moon

rivers flow into rivers

I am a tributary of you
you are a branch of me

our waters swirl into clouds

we river
we rain

The quest motif in Wolf is not just the redemptive search of Wolf and the Princess but also the parallel journey of the participants to create a meaningful life experience.

Take the trail your footsteps make
Take the end for your beginning
Light the stars you journey by
Wolf and the Princess will dance in the sky.

It begins with a canoe trip pilgrimage. Leaving behind the familiar, and crossing the portage threshold into both the wild and the mythic realm, our senses are sharpened. We attend to cloud formations, birdsong, wind direction. The colourful array of mosses and lichens on the trail. We help each other set up tents, share food, and collaborate on musical compositions and dramatic presentations in the dappled light beneath maple and pine. Attentive living. Intentional living. A journey undertaken to enact a mythic story and also to encourage our creativity. The forest animates our spirit. And we have a spirit guide.

Schafer deplores the desacralization of nature: the forest clear-cutting attitude and urban sprawl acceptance. By shifting the context of his music, taking it out of the concert hall and into the forest or across a lake, he compels us to listen differently, see differently. He advocates for the recovery of the sacred through art. As participants, we too, celebrate a reverence for nature. And Wolf provides an opportunity for the expression of that revelatory experience through the creation of music, dance, drama, storytelling and poetry. Life lived with intensity.

One Ruby-throated Moment

if only for one
ruby-throated moment
your life could hover


you would never let the quiver
out of your bloodstream

seek always the nectar
you sensed was there

if only for one
ruby-throated moment
your heart could beat

a hundred thrilling times

a hundred exclamations
a hundred revelations
a hundred prayers

if only for one
ruby-throated moment
you could drink
from the chalice of the sun

Transformation. Reverence. Exaltation. I am not the only one to experience heightened states of awareness through Murray’s work. Over and over I hear similar exuberant declarations:

“He changed my life … I joined a choir.”
“Thought I couldn’t dance, but look at this …”
“I’m learning to identify birdsongs … types of trees.”
“I never made a mask before, or acted a role.”
“Let’s organize a soundwalk.”
“Now I share my writing. Aloud. Here’s a poem …”

R. Murray Schafertrue to his conviction.

And yes, that was the Princess singing while you were cradled in the hull of the canoe. Beautiful affirmations of sound, but suffering and melancholy too. Listen again. She is calling for help to save the forest. She is calling you. Break out your own songs and dances. Declaim your poems to the sun; share the mythic stories written in the stars. Tell the ancient tales. Embrace the trees. Rediscover and re-tune to the sacred mysteries.

To keep the forest safekeep the forest enchanted.



Who I Am Today

Emily Doolittle

I absolutely would not be who I am today without R. Murray Schafer. My first memory of Murray’s music is hearing an incredible performance of his Third String Quartet (by Andrew Dawes, Malcolm Lowe, Steven Dann and Michael Kannen) at the Scotia Festival of Music in 1990, when I was seventeen. I knew immediately that I needed to be a musician, and I’ve since spoken with other musicians who were at that concert for whom it was a similarly transformative experience. At around the same time, I had an opportunity to sing Epitaph for Moonlight with the Halifax High Schools Choir, conducted by Kaye Pottie.[4] As young musicians, we were entranced by the musical and visual beauty of Schafer’s graphic scores; but even more by realizing that here was a composer who valued music made by children just as much as music made by professionals. This empowered us to take our own music making more seriously. I wrote to Murray when I was twenty and received a warm, welcoming, and encouraging response, which helped me to believe that I could really one day be a composer, and emboldened me to pursue my musical interests, whatever they were.

I met Murray in person for the first time when he was the composer-in-residence at Scotia Festival in 1993. I attended the overnightWilderness Lake” concert event at Camp Kidston featuring the performance of five of Schafer’s natural environment compositions, and experienced, along with hundreds of other intrepid Nova Scotians, the magic of music created in collaboration with the dusk and dawn, the lakes and skies, the wild animals and humans. In particular I remember the enchantment of two Canada geese flying across the sky and calling near the end of the “Princess’s Aria” from The Princess of the Stars, sung by Judith Forst.[5]  I was thrilled to be able to put my outdoorsy skills to use by canoeing Murray out to a raft the middle of Long Lake (see photo above), the position where he used flags to conduct the twelve trombonists situated on and around the lake for Music for Wilderness Lake.

But for me my profoundest connection with Schafer was participating in his collaborative wilderness project And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon from 1993 through 2003 (or thereabouts) for all the reasons mentioned above, but even more for the sense of community: for learning about the amazing art we can create if we value equally the contributions of everyone (whether trained artist or not), and for experiencing the incredible power of making art for and with each other instead of for an abstract audience.[6] The “Wolf Project” was not perfect: in particular, there were issues of problematic cultural appropriation which came to trouble many, though in recent years Schafer and the participants worked hard to put these right.

Indeed, perhaps the most powerful lesson I learned through interacting with Murray and his music over many years, and in many contexts, is that art doesn’t have to be perfect to be incredible. What matters is listening to the sounds around us and to each other, caring for the community, working through the difficult bits, and always staying open to new possibilities. That is where we find real strength and unexpected beauty.

7 January 2022

Schafer, Emily Doolittle, son Milo, and Eleanor James at the 2014 Sound in the Land Festival / Conference in Waterloo, Ontario
[4] Editor’s note: Kaye Pottie is an educator, choral conductor, and soprano who wrote an early thesis on Schafer’s work, “Requiems for the Party-Girl: An Analysis of a Musical Drama,” M MUS thesis, University of Western Ontario, 1980.  See also (KLM)
[5] Editor’s note: home movie footage of this 1993 concert was recently discovered and highlights were shared as part of the virtual 2020 Scotia Festival of Music: (KLM)
[6] I wrote an unpublished paper in 2001 entitled “Thoughts on R. Murray Schafer’s Wolf Project.” Please note that this paper now seems quite dated to me: I would reflect very differently on my experiences with the Wolf Project if I were writing this now. However, I’m leaving this up on my personal website for those interested in the history of Schafer’s work.  [Full text]



The Editor and The Theatre of Confluence

Karen Mulhallen

I met Murray Schafer in the late spring of 1987. One of his former students from Simon Fraser University (whom I will refer to as “the Writer”) was in town for the Annual General Meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada. The Writer arranged that the three of us would go out to dinner. I managed to get a reservation at what was then a hip and busy Queen Street West bistro called Stella, and I drove us up to Forest Hill to pick up Schafer from the coach house in which he was staying.

The crowd at Stella was mainly in black, and Schafer was wearing some approximation of lederhosen. I can still see him as he was that evening, slight, tall with grey hair and a bright focused gaze, and with something almost child-like in his enthusiasm, and his passion. I didn’t know then that one of Schafer’s eyes was glass. Not surprising that I didn’t notice, as Murray’s intensity and focus blur all the edges. My friend, the Writer, was mesmerized, adulatory, and I had never seen him like that before.

Schafer was in overdrive, working on the coming production of Patria 3: The Greatest Show and our conversation rushed through topics of myth and music and magic and community involvement and nature and, of course, sound—the glorious sounds of the embattled and beautiful physical world. He was unstoppable and neither of us wanted him to stop.

Suddenly there was a pause and I told him about my own father’s magic show, which toured North America and Europe. In the afternoons I would sit in the darkened theatre watching rehearsals. A woman was sawed up on stage, but she would appear in the evening at our family dinner table. Murray was always in search of collaborators and immediately asked me if I would be a part of The Greatest Show, as he needed a snake charmer. This was not to be, but I too was taken up in the Schafer charisma. Starstruck at Stella. Murray was the magician of magicians.

Years later I did get to work with Murray, not as that snake charmer, but as a collaborator on an issue of the literary magazine Descant for which I served as editor. We devoted our entire issue of Descant 73 (Summer 1991), complete with graphics and foldouts, to thirteen of Schafer essays on the Patria cycle and his method for combing the arts as the theatre of confluence. (Murray subsequently reprinted our entire issue of Descant 73 as a book, Patria and The Theatre of Confluence, through his Arcana Editions.)[7]

The Banff Centre for the Arts offered me a Maclean-Hunter Arts Journalism Fellowship for Summer 1994, a time when my knowledge of Schafer’s work was growing and with it my own desire to write about it. Murray gave that project his blessing as well, and I spent the summer of 1994 in the mountains, where the elk were birthing. I witnessed a ballet to Schafer’s String Quartet No. 5 that was choreographed by Brian MacDonald and was performed at the Banff Centre, and I wrote in a cabin in the woods on Tunnel Mountain. From time to time Murray would respond to excerpts I sent him, sometimes to say he hadn’t said something, so I would have to xerox some passage from one of his letters and send it back as proof of my honesty. (While editing his essays for the special Descant issue, I noted that Murray hated being questioned about his diction and disliked the editorial process. He could be difficult.)

In the end, I wrote two very different essays in the summer of 1994 honoring the work of this passionate, brilliant and extraordinary man. The first, “Schaferscapes/Wolfbound: Twelve Notes toward a New View of Camping” appeared in Descant 88 (Spring 1995); the second, an unpublished essay, “Schaferscapes/ Wolfbound: The Massing of the Elk,” appears in abbreviated form in the literary magazine Border Crossings (Winter 1996) as “Schaferscapes.”[8] A third brief essay “Circumnavigating and Creating: Descant in The Theatre of Confluence” is my editorial introduction to Descant 73 (Summer 1991), Patria and the Theater of Confluence.

Our relationship continued after that glorious summer, and for the next few years Murray and I talked of doing other projects together. By then I also had my own imprint as an acquiring editor at Somerville House Books and one wintry weekend in 1996 Murray drove out to Jane Somerville’s farm, Stonehouse, north of Peterborough to discuss the possibility of doing a book with that press. Although this book project never materialized, we continued as friends—he came to dinner at my home with Jean, and later with Eleanor, and I went to his 80th birthday celebration.

My final sense of Murray was not only the way he brought out so much in so many people—and that was itself profound—but it was in the vision he had for something better, embodied in the monumental performance, in June 2015, of a remount of an earlier work, Apocalypsis, at the Sony Centre in Toronto. A thousand voices are raised to describe the destruction of the world and the rebirth of a new universe. Two hours without intermission was a transformational experience for the audience, bringing each of us into the centre of Murray Schafer’s vision for a new heaven and a new earth.

27 September 2021


[7] Editor’s note: Schafer’s second edition of this book was released in 2002 (Toronto: Coach House Books) with a new title Patria: The Complete Cycle ( This revised and expanded edition contains four new essays on Patria works which were still in progress at the time of the first edition; a revised essay on Patria 7: Asterion; a new essay on the theatre of confluence (“The Theatre of Confluence III”); and other materials including two appendices. For those interested in the Patria cycle, the first edition of his book on Patria, which is no longer in print, is still very useful as it contains a number of items which do not appear in the revised edition, such as Mulhallen’s introductory essay noted above; an essay by Mary Neil and another by Tom Sokoloski in the section entitled “Afterwords: Performing Patria” (pp. 216–228); and the original essay on Patria 7: Asterion which is quite different from the later version of this essay.  (KLM)
[8] Karen Mulhallen, “Schaferscapes/Wolfbound: Twelve Notes Toward a New View of Camping,” Descant 88 (Spring 1995): 133–76 and “Schaferscapes,” Border Crossings 15.1 (Winter 1996): 25–31.



Editor’s note: the following tribute was published in The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition), 17 September 2021, p. B17. A slightly expanded version appears on the author’s website, and with her permission, is reproduced below. 

Remembering R. Murray Schafer

Anne Renouf

 I can easily think of my life in these terms: the time before I knew Murray, and after. I think that there are many who feel this way; who remember the precise moment that they first met him. He was that sort of person.

For me, it was the late 1980s and I was visiting friends near Peterborough. Murray dropped by. He fixed me with his piercing eye and told me that he had AN IDEA. Murray had a way of making you feel that his idea, an idea of great musical genius, was somehow about you. Or perhaps, you, and the small part that he wanted you to play.

In my case, it was my years spent wilderness camping, cooking over an open fire, and being able to handle a canoe that sparked his interest. That, and the convenience of my being in the right place at the right time. A third person was needed to stern a canoe and help cook for fifteen, for a three-day musical performance planning session in the wilds of Haliburton County.[9] It was the very beginning of what was to become known as “The Wolf Project.”

My role in all of this was so minor. But even so, I felt a deep sense of belonging. Murray believed that everyone played a part, and so even the “kitchen staff” and “sternswomen” were part of the brainstorming, the composition, the music, and most importantly the ritual of it all, from the very beginning.

For five summers, I spent a week as a member of The Wolf Project, helped create masks, costumes, performances, and most especially “Firebird,” constructed of tree limbs and twigs, then floated out over the water at dusk and set on fire, accompanied by echoing, haunting music in the most beautiful place on earth.

Life’s demands led me, by necessity, in other directions. But that involvement would touch every aspect of my life, influencing my work as a visual artist, teacher and writer. I am forever a follower of the creative vision of R. Murray Schafer. I am forever a Wolf.

As fate would have it, my partner and I have lived for twenty-plus years three kilometers south of Murray and his wife Eleanor James.[10] We became close friends, sharing meals, countless bottles of wine, ideas, music, art. Happily, we were able to spend hours listening to the consummate storyteller relate our favourites from his past, again and again and again. In recent years, as his stories slipped away, the bond of friendship turned to caring, and a deep abiding love.

We have listened to a great deal of the music of R. Murray Schafer in the last week or so, music filled with Murray, the sounds of his world, and as fresh and clear as the first light of dawn on that little lake in Haliburton, Ontario, where, for me, it all began.

It is his voice for the world to hear.


[9] Editor’s note: “The Wolf Project” is the widely-used shorthand name used for the final work in Schafer’s Patria cycle—Epilogue: And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon. The three-day “musical performance planning session” referred to by the author above was also the first testing of Wolf Project material in a wilderness environment and occurred in the summer of 1990 at Gunn Lake east of Dorset, Ontario. The first week-long realization of And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon (as called for in the script or outline), took place during the following summer (1991) in what became the permanent home of the Wolf Project, the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve in Haliburton County, Ontario. (KLM)
[10] Editor’s note: Anne Renouf’s partner, Doug Brown, is a long-time Wolf Project member, whom Schafer lists in the acknowledgments section of his book Patria: The Complete Cycle (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2002; see “In Appreciation,” p. 272). Doug was much valued by the other members of the project for the outdoor expertise and skills he brought to this venture for many years. (KLM)


Remembering R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project

Barry Truax

 It could be said that Murray Schafer changed the ears of the world. 

Aside from his work as a composer and music educator, Murray Schafer is best known around the world for his creation a half century ago of the World Soundscape Project (WSP) at Simon Fraser University (SFU). In fact, in the soundscape community he is often referred to as the “father of acoustic ecology,” with his seminal book The Tuning of the World as its bible. His concern for the sonic environment in which we all live has, if anything, become more urgent over the years, and today new generations of students and others continue to find inspiration for their own work in his, whether in research, sound design or soundscape composition. Schafer put the emphasis not just on being anti-noise, but on listening and what is positive and worth preserving in the soundscape, as experienced, for instance, in a soundwalk. Indeed, given the influence of his approach to our sonic environment, it could be said that Murray Schafer changed the ears of the world.

I had the good fortune to be invited by Murray to join the WSP as a research assistant during his SFU period (1965–75) in the newly established Department of Communication Studies and the Sonic Research Studio. I arrived at SFU in the summer of 1973, following my postgraduate work in the Netherlands at the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht. Murray assured me, with characteristic understatement, that they were “probably doing the world’s most important work,” and so the allure was irresistible.

Once at SFU, I joined the enthusiastic group of research assistants who were putting the final touches on the first major publication project The Vancouver Soundscape (a booklet and two LPs),[11] soon to be followed up by a cross-Canada recording tour, which lead to ten one-hour radio programs called Soundscapes of Canada, broadcast in stereo on the CBC program “Ideas” in October 1974. In 1975 Schafer embarked on a European combination lecture and research tour with his second wife, Jean, and three research assistants, which involved studying five villages in different countries which could be regarded as acoustic communities, all of which were documented in the booklets European Sound Diary and Five Village Soundscapes, now included in the online WSP Database. Since I was the only WSP member who had any scientific as well as musical training, I was put in charge of the multi-disciplinary terminology project initially called the “Dictionary of Acoustic Ecology,” later re-named the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology, a project that has accompanied my entire career as it evolved from print to online versions, and been a foundational resource for both our teaching program at SFU and the larger soundscape community.

I and my new colleagues were also impressed by the intellectual milieu that this new Communication Department offered, with scholars coming from a myriad of social science and humanities backgrounds and establishing a new interdisciplinary model of human and social communication. They in turn recognized that those disciplines had traditionally ignored the acoustic aspects of communication, and hence a fruitful exchange of ideas and practices began to emerge within a critical interdisciplinary framework called soundscape studies and acoustic communication.

I have many fond memories of this period where the entire WSP group and many students and assistants worked together collectively on these projects, including Hildegard Westerkamp, who grew into a leading role in the acoustic ecology movement and an internationally acclaimed composer in her own right. A young and already radical student named John Oswald also worked in the studio for some time and laid the groundwork for his own creative approach to sounding art, as well as numerous others whose names can be found in the credits to each WSP document.

One such memory is of an all-night recording session in June 1974 on the grounds of a rural abbey near Mission, British Columbia, as we took hourly samples of the natural soundscape. The nocturnal chorus of frogs was in full voice with their characteristic echolalia[12] textures lasting several minutes, anchored by individual low-croaking bullfrogs. After listening to several rounds of this impressive bioacoustic soundmaking, Murray remarked, “That is the best piece of contemporary music I’ve ever heard!”

Inevitably we started listening to the soundscape as if it were music.

In true collective fashion, the group shared their contributions to each project and discussed them endlessly in the studio. Murray distributed drafts of what would become The Tuning of the World for discussion, and some of us attempted to modulate some of his more outrageous characterizations, but with little effect as Murray was fearless when encountering bureaucrats, and little inclined to academic niceties. We marveled that he demanded and received full editorial control of the ten-part Soundscapes of Canada program from the CBC, so when WSP member Howard Broomfield wanted to reverse the position of the CBC’s formal intro and extro for the ninth episode in the series, his experimental collage entitled A Radio Program about Radio, it went unchallenged. As a result, the broadcast program ended with the CBC announcer suggesting that what followed—regular programming—should be listened to as part of Broomfield’s composition.

Little did I imagine then that after two years of working and teaching together, I would become Murray’s successor when he abruptly left SFU in 1975, and that my entire academic career would be focused on what I call acoustic communication and soundscape composition. Nor would I have imagined that a few decades later the field of sound studies would emerge and regard SFU’s early work as pioneering and inspirational, and the initial seeds planted by the WSP would grow into a worldwide organization called the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology ( With today’s concerns over environmental sustainability, these groundbreaking efforts and what they have led to seem more urgent and relevant than ever.

When we combine Murray’s prodigious and innovative musical output with what he accomplished in his ten years at SFU with the World Soundscape Project, it is clear that he leaves an important legacy for both the country and the world. It is also clear, however, that it is up to us to ensure that this legacy is preserved and put into practice.

September 2021


[11] Editor’s note: The important The Vancouver Soundscape LP recording received a digital format update and expansion in 1996 with a double CD issued through Truax’s audio self-publishing venture Cambridge Street Records. Arising out of Soundscape Vancouver 1996, a four-week composition workshop with accompanying symposium and concert, the two CDs—entitled “Vancouver Soundscape 1973” and “Soundscape Vancouver 1996” respectively—can be accessed online via the World Soundscape Project (WSP) Database.  For more details on Soundscape Vancouver 1996 see and (KLM)
[12] Echolalia: a chorusing effect where a leading voice starts and ends the soundmaking to which all other individuals contribute, thereby producing a complex texture