Michel Chion identifies three distinct listening modes that we use.
He calls them: causal listening, semantic listening, and reduced listening.
Causal listening consists of listening to a sound in order to gather information about its cause (or source). In some cases we recognize the precise cause: a specific person´s voice, the sound of a unique particular object, like the sound of our coffee grinder. We sometimes cannot recognize a particular sound, but can place it in a category, like: That sounds like something mechanical. Or: That sounds like a bird. We identify indicies. For example: a scraping sound. Even without knowing the cause, we can sense changes in pressure, speed and amplitude, without knowing what is scraping against what.
Semantic listening refers to a code or language to interpret a message. We learn phonetic codes; A phoneme is listened to not specifically for its acoustical properties, but as part of an entire system of language sounds. Danish is very difficult to learn because there are so many particular vowel sounds that influence interpretation. Obviously, we can use causal and semantic listening at the same time. We hear at once what is said and who is saying it.
Reduced listening is a mode of listening that focuses on the traits of the sound itself, pitch, clang, tempo, rhythm, etc., independent of its cause or meaning. Reduced listening takes the sound itself, as itself the object to be observed, instead of as a vehicle for something else.
We invited English classes in to schools to explore listening modes, asking them to tune into the sounds of their daily living, their environments, and their language – and then compose their soundstory, here presented without narration.
Denmark: I started in the mid sixties working with sound stories for the Feature Department in national public broadcasting and recording Danish audio culture. We have a good tradition of making sound stories with narration as a public service. Unfortunately over the last 10 years, due to cutbacks. the production of this kind of audio has declined markedly here. My intention is to spark an audio revival in a visual dominated society. Listening to the sounds around us is new to our pupils here in Denmark. They have no experience in working with audio expression, recording, editing and mixing. There are two schools in the project here in Denmark, one private: The Elsinore Little School – and one public: Hellebaek School. The time allotted was 9 lessons of 45 minutes. There were all the imaginable technical problems, but with high spirits in the two classes, we actually got something done, though many did not finish their sonic postcard. Now there is fall vacation. They will finish their work at home and we will continue in week 43, so there is more to come.
Making preparations for the cityscape: scenario + recording technique. Check!
Now the students get a week time to record the sounds they need to “tell” their personal story.
Next week they’ll make their own composition. Exciting!