exercise in hearing

I just read an excellent article on acoustic ecology, which focused on the work of composer and educator R. Murray Schafer.  It focuses on the growing lack of sonic culture, the loss of unique sounds due to continued industrialization of our surroundings, and the difference between hi-fi (sounds evident in a pre-industrial setting, where sound overlap less frequents) and lo-fi sound environments (where sounds are “masked” and there is a predominance of anonymous sound).  The article describes a neat little exercise that Schafer frequently used at the beginning of lectures and workshops:

Schafer’s starting point was to note the incredible dominance of the visual modality in society–”eye culture”  [ . . . ] –and to reveal that children’s ability to listen was, in his experience, deteriorating. [ . . . ] Schafer both demonstrated and addressed the issue–which he termed “sonological competence” –through the practical exercises he developed in working with music students, such as: list any five environmental sounds (not music) that you remember hearing today; and list five sounds (not music) you like and five you do not. [ . . . ] many students do not recall “consciously” having heard any sounds during the day, and many do not complete the sound list even after fifteen minutes.

I gave his exercise a try, and it really didn’t take me very long (except for the sounds I don’t like).  This is what I came up with:

Sounds I heard today:

  • turtle dove
  • wind in trees
  • trip-trap of dog nails on pavement
  • baby fussing and cooing
  • quiet crackle of oil-lamp burning

Favorite sounds:

  • espresso grinder and machine
  • birds singing in the early morning
  • creaking of trees in the wind
  • the bells at St. Spiridon’s church in Seattle
  • rain falling on just about anything

Least favorite sounds:

  • squeak of the glove compartment door while driving
  • people eating
  • highway traffic (city and country traffic can sometimes be interesting)
  • guns
  • the breaking of glass

What are yours?

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