Modes of Listening

Learn to listen in different ways. Either to the properties of the sound itself (musical listening), or to the source of the sound (contextual listening).

Listening in Different Ways

The way in which we listen to sounds can change. Often when we listen, we try to hear the source that is creating the sound.

But, we can also listen to the sounds on their own, free of their source. When we listen to sounds on their own, we hear them musically.

Musical Listening Contextual Listening
Listening to sounds themselves, for their musical properties of texture, pitch, rhythm and dynamics. Listening out for the source of the sound, and what it might mean in a specific situation.

Listening Challenge

Play the following sounds, and try to listen to them contextually and musically.

Sound One

What are the properties of the sound? / What does it sound like?

Guidance:

Musical Listening Contextual Listening
Rhythm is a key part of this sound. It repeats a rhythmic pattern, while gradually getting louder and dropping in pitch, It is a recording of riding on a steam train. Is that what you thought it was?

 


 

Sound Two

What are the properties of the sound? / What does it sound like?

Guidance:

Musical Listening Contextual Listening
This sound gradually increases in volume and decreases in pitch. It also zooms from right to left when it reaches the halfway point. This is the sound of an aeroplane taking off. But what else might it be?

 


 

Sound Three

What are the properties of the sound? / What does it sound like?

Guidance:

Musical Listening Contextual Listening
This sound is more of a texture, made up of many small, sharp sounds. The small sounds have different pitches, but form a cloud. By the end of the soundfile, only the higher sounds are left. This is actually the sound of scrunching tin foil, but it could also be the sound of creaking trees, or the growth of ice crystals. Try to use your imagination to think of what else it could be.

 


 

Sound Four

What are the properties of the sound? / What does it sound like?

Guidance:

Musical Listening Contextual Listening
The sound also has a rhythm, being made up of lots of small sounds that are evenly spaced. These small sounds make up an arc of pitchj, going: low > high > low. This is the sound of someone giggling. What else might it be? (Try to imagine this sound in different situations).

 


Discuss what you hear with a partner. What do you hear when you try to listen musically? What do you hear when you listen contextually?

Contextual or Musical?

Sometimes we want listeners to make a connection between the sound and its source. Other times, we want the sound to be listened to on its own.

When Pierre Schaeffer recognised that people listen in different ways, he identified that the most important difference was whether sounds were recognisably linked to things from the world or not. He described these as either concrete or abstract (contextual or musical) ways of listening.

The extent to which a sound is recognisable can be either a useful tool, or an annoying hinderance to music made of sounds. Some sounds, even if they are generated, will be recognisable to listeners as sounds linked to something in the world.

The Magical Power of Transformations

Through his experiments with sound, Pierre Schaeffer also recognised that you can change the way in which people think about sounds by looping them.

Looped Sound

The sound begins and we hear the source, but soon the rhythms and qualities of the sound emerge and take over.

In this way, the sounds have moved from being concrete to abstract. From having a contextual link (a place and real world link), to being heard musically (as rhythms).

 

Composition Task

Experiment with looping and duplicating sounds in the Compose with Sounds software.

Loop

Can you hear the way in which you listen to these sounds change?

Extra

Other transformations are also able to change the way in which we listen to sounds:

Back to: Manipulated Sounds > Manipulated Sounds (Intermediate)
Lesson Details