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.