Masafumi Komatsu / Musician, Soundscape Researcher, Doctor of Engineer


I was born in Miyazu City the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture in 1971. The city is surrounded by the inland sea and the mountains and boasts Amanohashidate or “Heavenly Bridge” which is a long sandbar lined with pine trees and regarded as one of the most famous scenic locations in Japan. The area also used to be one of the centers of the weaving industry in Japan. I was grown there hearing the tranquil and simple sounds such as the sounds of the waves, the winds from the mountains, and the weaving machines. That experience may have a great influence on my academic and artistic activities. The following is my brief educational and career backgrounds:

1994 – Meiji University (Tokyo): B.A. in Agriculture
1996 – Meiji University (Tokyo): M.S. in Agriculture
1998 – Kyoto City University of Arts (Kyoto): M.A. in Music
2001 – Osaka University (Osaka): Doctor of Engineer
2001 – Kyoto Seika University, Faculty of Humanities (Kyoto): Instructor
2007 – Kyoto Seika University, Faculty of Humanities (Kyoto): Assistant Professor up to the present
2013 – Kyoto Seika University, Faculty of Humanities (Kyoto): Professor up to Assistant Professor

Profile & Message

I am doing sound activities listening to the daily interesting sounds and search for an environment with simple and comfortable sounds for human beings. My sound activities consist of “piano performance” and “education, research, and designing” from soundscape (landscapes with sounds) perspective. They are conducted mainly in Kyoto Prefecture.

My piano music centers around ambient music and I try to play the piano music that could harmonize with the live spaces and the environmental sounds at the sites. I have also produced film music works and ambient music works that could match the specific spaces.

I hope that you will see soundscape ideas and everyday sounds around you more interesting and fun through my sound activities.
・Piano Album (* The score collections of the albums are partially published.)
2002 – The Scene
2004 – Mahina
2005 – Koyomiuta (The seasons of Japan)
2007 – Kyoto Ambience – For Kyoto Tower & Kyoto International Manga Museum –
2008 – Watering – Piano Live Best Album –
2009 – Life
2013 – Innocene
2014 – Kyoto Ambience 2 -Piano & Water Soundscapes of Kyoto-
2015 – Star Ambience -Piano Music for Planetariums-
2015 – In The Green -Piano music for Museum-
2016 – Kyoto Ambience 3 -Piano &  Soundscapes of Tango Area, Northern Kyoto-
2016 – School Memories -Piano Music for Kyoto International Manga Museum-
2016 – Park Ambience -Piano Ensemble for Tango Eco-Future Park-

Images of Live Performances

I would like to show you some of the images of my live performances. My music is intended to be harmonious with the live spaces and features “popular melody,” “ambient music,” and “improvisation.” I have played at such sites as traditional wooden townhouses, temples and shrines, observatories, and various outdoor sites.

2009 – “Candle” at Kyoto Art Center
A wind-bell with long, thin metal spikes was passed around the audience and I improvised to the sound.

2008 – “Kyoto Ambience” at Kyoto Tower
In the observation deck of Kyoto Tower 100 meters aboveground I played the ambient music “Kyoto Ambience” composed for the place to the night view.

Film Music

2008 – The trailer of “Nanayo-Machi”
Film Director: Naomi Kawase
The preview (Color, 2 minutes)
Distributor: Phantom Film (The film was screened at major movie theaters in Japan.)
Track used for the film: “Yayoi” in the album of “Koyomiuta”
*Naomi Kawase won the Grand prix for “The mourning Forest” (Japanese: Mogari no mori) at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

2011 – “Rain Town”
Film Director: Hiroyasu Ishida
Graduation work of Kyoto Seika University, Department of Arts (Animation, 10 minutes)
Tracks used for the film: “Old Capital” and “Candle” in the album of “Kyoto Ambience”
* The work won the Grand prixes and other prizes at many film festivals such as the 2011 TOHO Cinemas Student Film Festival.

Soundscape Activities

・Definition of Soundscape
I consider “soundscape” as substantial and imagined landscapes with sounds. The former include scenes, outdoor and indoor spaces, and art works with sounds. The latter include various images (colors, figures, textures, scents, and tastes) and memories evoked by sounds. The original concept was proposed by Raymond Murray Schafer, a Canadian composer in the 1960s. The idea is thought to be congruous with the Japanese way of enjoying various everyday sounds. There has been a custom to become interested in environmental sounds in Japan. For example, the chirping of insects and the singing of birds have been often written in haiku or Japanese poems and the sound of the flowing of streams has been appreciated in Japanese gardens.

The significance of soundscape idea is to encourage us to actively listen to various daily sounds once in a while. Then through such sound education we could realize that the world we see is greatly influenced by the surrounding sounds. And we may want to research (record and organize) the interesting sounds around us and may be able to design the sounds at specific sites to create a better (more comfortable, attractive, or useful) environment not only visually but aurally. These three steps are major fields of soundscape activities: sound education, sound research, and sound design. The brief introduction of the three fields is as follows:

(1) Sound Education: It is to listen to the sounds in our daily lives. I have developed a unique sound education program based on my teaching experience of sound workshops at Kyoto Seika University. I am also involved in the sound workshops for the public and the development of the sound tourism program in Kyoto City.

(2) Sound Research / Acoustic Ecology: It is to record the characteristics of daily sounds in various ways, for example, by describing and drawing the imaged landscapes with sounds, conducting psychological tests on environmental sounds, and using recorders and other instruments to measure the volume and quality of sounds. I have conducted fieldworks in various parts of Japan and investigated the local sound environments.

(3) Soundscape Design: It is to design our daily living spaces and public spaces from sound perspective. It tries to reduce unnecessary sounds, adjust resonance in buildings, and add effective sounds and informational sounds. I have contributed valuable suggestions to the soundscape design in public spaces such as Kyoto Tower observation deck and Kyoto International Manga Museum.

Soundscapes: a new perspective (synopsis)

In this book, the author sets out to rethink and redefine the concept of soundscape, originally proposed by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. In particular, practical examples will shed light on the reception and development of soundscape theory in Japan and, centered on experience that the author has had with sound creation, the issues of soundscape theory will be clarified, and new possibilities will be explored.
While soundscape theory originated in concepts from musicology, in the course of audibly capturing ideas and actions from our surroundings, its reach has extended, and concepts from various fields have been employed. In Japan, government initiatives to promote awareness of sound have encouraged developments such as the creation of designed aural environments for public spaces. As the country with the greatest number of extant soundscapes, Japan is the ideal place to study this evolution.
Culturally, Japanese people are taught to be keenly aware of environmental sounds that exist in their immediate living environment. Even so, during the 30 or so years since soundscape theory was imported to Japan, it has not been localized. That is, it has not been interpreted and redefined to accord with Japanese notions of atmosphere and environment. Hoping to more widely introduce Japanese aural culture, and to make a major contribution to research on Japan, I wrote this book.
Specifically, I consider soundscape activities that have occurred in Japan and overseas. With historical perspective, I discuss distinctive Japanese ways of dealing with soundscapes in realms such as education, music, government policy, and space design. Then, after reviewing my own research and practical activities, I propose a different way of conceptualizing soundscape. I advocate using the term ‘soundscape’ for the phenomenon of perceiving sound and surroundings as an interrelated whole, and the new term ‘soundscaping’ for acts involving the use of sound and surroundings. This distinction sets this book apart from existing Japanese and worldwide literature on soundscapes.
Schafer’s soundscape activities can be grouped in three categories: sound education; acoustic ecology — investigation, research, and analysis of sound; and soundscape design. In this book, treating these activities as forms of soundscaping, I describe the features of each and discuss the issues arising. Japan has some particularly interesting practical examples of the development of sound education and soundscape design. Below is a summary of the contents of the book.
Chapter 1, ‘What is a soundscape?’ presents a rethinking of soundscape concepts. I define soundscape as ‘perception of sound and surroundings as an interrelated whole’: it is taken to be a human perceptual phenomenon arising from stimuli from the external world. While soundscape refers to the phenomenon of perceiving sound and surroundings, attention is paid to distinguishing this from soundscaping, ‘acts involving the use of sound and surroundings’. Activities involving soundscapes are categorized as: listening to sound — sound education; investigation, research, and analysis of sound — acoustic ecology; and making sound — soundscape design.
Chapter 2 deals with sound education, with sections on cultivating the sense of hearing and describing sounds with words or expressing sound as images. Sound education in Japan is discussed in the two contexts of high school education and sensory cultivation (workshops). The text systematically covers two types of content typically present in Japanese sound education: apprehending meaning and hearing sound as sound. This systematic approach reveals effects that are not apparent when these topics are studied piecemeal.
Chapter 3, on acoustic ecology, discusses how investigation, research, and analysis are carried out to understand how sound is perceived in specific real-world situations. A comprehensive account of field surveys of sound in local Japanese communities is also presented and discussed. This section shows that most studies, typically concerned with issues such as noise regulations or the preservation of good sounds, tend to be undertaken from a certain value position. This section takes account of the use of cognitive research methods in current research and shows how useful soundscape survey methods have been in the worldwide development of ‘sound business’, including sound branding.
Chapter 4, Soundscape Design, covers the challenge of creating sound that builds on existing acoustic environments. Piped music, frequent announcements, and signal sounds are normal in public spaces in Japan, and this section describes the flourishing production of ‘positive sound design’. Major problems such as increased discomfort when sound is newly added, and the difficulty of hearing essential sounds are discussed. As a step towards resolving these issues, this section presents good examples of how climate, scenery, and Japanese gardens have influenced Japanese aural culture. Some specific ideas are proposed for soundscape design: conception, directionality, objects, and procedures. I propose that, in effective soundscape design, sounds are not added, rather, the important thing is the origination of sound as sound. Finally, soundscape design ideas for particular spaces are discussed by focusing on three types of urban public space — hospital, railway station, and pedestrian walkway — which generally require improvement.
Discussing practical examples of performed music, Chapter 5 covers background music (BGM) created to replace natural environmental sounds. One section deals with how BGM, ambient music, and similar enhancements have been accepted in Japan and the issues that have arisen. There are a remarkable number of examples of the misuse of recorded music, especially of designed BGM and ambient music in Japanese public spaces, a level of abuse that shows no sign of declining. I argue that this is because, in our present-day built environment, architectural spaces are no longer capable of supporting acoustically rich sounds, and that commercial music, ambient music, and BGM is used to replace natural sounds that are no longer present in our surroundings. Critiquing Brian Eno’s proposals for ambient music, these issues are reinterpreted and further issues arising are discussed.
The final chapter discusses whether there is a way for soundscapes to be used. I conclude that the realm in which the real value of soundscaping has been apprehended has been sound education. In investigation, research, and analysis of sound, and soundscape design, I argue that there is room for improvement. For the future, I envisage the combining of sound education with soundscape design, which would have a positive effect on the practical use of sound in design, especially in reducing risk as electronic vehicles come into widespread use.
The most important message of this book is that the determination not simply to add sounds in soundscape design is a deeply rooted and commonly held attitude in acoustic sensibilities born and nurtured in Japan. Even today, this principle remains an effective starting point. This Japanese perspective is useful for anyone, anywhere in the world, interested in soundscaping.