A Pedagogy of Listening

Composing with/in Media Texts

Milena Droumeva & David Murphy

5. Aural Literacy Assignments

Earplugs Listening

Get a pair of earplugs and put them in your ears. Allow them to expand fully and make mental notes of how your soundscape changes as they do. Then take note of how it has changed once they are fully expanded. Continue doing what you were doing but take continual notice of how the sounds are different. How do you listen? What do you pay attention to? What do the sounds sound like? Keep the earplugs in for a duration of 15 minutes and note the stages that your perceptions go through as you become accustomed to this state. After this period, take them out and reflect on how your soundscape sounds now. Write down your entire experience while it's fresh in your mind.

Blindfolded walk

Find a partner and a blindfold. Have your partner put the blindfold on you and then take you to an (interesting) acoustic space—it could be open space outdoors or a built environment. Have your partner hold your arm and lead you slowly through different paths. Your job is to listen for cues from the environment and try and determine what kind of space you are in based on echolocation and attentive listening. Also reflect on how it feels being deprived of your sight—is it comfortable, pleasant or uncomfortable, scary—why? How does space make sound, and how does sound make a space?

Soundscape Monitoring

Choose a specific natural environment outdoors and spend 45 minutes to an hour listening attentively. For the first 15 minutes, log every sound that you hear in a table or list according to category: human, natural, mechanical, electronic. Observe what the ratios of those sound categories are. In the next 15 minutes, create a timeline and log every sound event that you hear according to its temporal nature (continuous or intermittent), timbre (soft, dark, bright, etc.), and perceived loudness. Observe whether you can find a pattern or rhythm. In the last 15-minute period, draw a bird's-eye view of your immediate soundscape by positioning yourself in the middle and representing sounds around you as far as you can hear. Try and represent the acoustic profiles (how far each sound may be heard) of each sound source, particularly where sounds overlap and mask each other.

Soundwalking Script

In the next hour we'll be walking together and listening through space. We won't speak and will keep the pace set by the leader, staying near each other. We may stop and listen in particular locations, and the leader may read something or tell a short story. There may be embedded sonic elements along our route. Feel free to explore a bit and allow your attention to follow sounds that you are drawn to. Think of both your "inner" soundscape (the murmurs and noises in your mind) as well as the "outer" soundscape (the environment around us) and note how your attention slips in between these two states. One way to think of sound and space is that space makes sound, and sound makes space—see what you notice about that as we walk. Don't worry about whether you're doing "the right thing"—follow your own ears and listen in your own unique way.