Willfully Deaf

We are enveloped in a world of sound; a fact that I take for granted. Sound seems so natural to the daily course of life that I find myself ignoring many of the rich sounds throughout my day. This audiography assignment has given me a chance to closely consider and examine the sounds that make up my day and how I perceive them. Dr. Seth Horowitz writes, “Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload” (Horowitz). I fear that I have succumb to the “digital distraction” that I choose to surround myself with. I divided my ten sound clips into three themes: “Around UHeights,” “Meal Time,” and “Out and About.” By looking how I perceive this collection of sounds, I hope to gain an understanding of how I listen or fail to listen.

The “Around UHeights” set is composed of the sounds that I encounter throughout my day in the dorm. From the hiss of the shower, to the clanging of hangars, to the tones of my computer waking up, to click-clacking of my keyboard, and my lively reaction to a sports game; my dorm life is filled with many sounds most of which I hear, but fail to truly listen to. The second set, “Meal Time,” chronicles the sounds from my lunch time at Cook. From the crinkling wrapper of a Rice Krispy Treat, to the hissing of the soda fountain, to the clanging of plates; again, these sounds are very rich, but I take them for granted. The last set, “Out and About,” is a collection of the sounds of my movement throughout campus and downtown. From the stomping of my boots up the stairs, to the zipping of my jacket, to the whip of the wind, and the hissing of the lowering bus; only when I have sat down to inspect these sounds do I appreciate their qualities.

“Willfully Deaf” is an apt title because I am engulfed in this rich, varied soundscape, but do not truly listen nor appreciate the distinct qualities of the sound. I find that throughout my day, I mostly utilize causal listening which “consists of listening to a sound in order to gather information about its cause (or source),” or semantic listening which is the listening that which “refers to a code or a language to interpret a message” (Chion 48,50). I utilize causal listening when it comes to my electronics or clothing. It allows me to multitask as I can gain an understanding of my progress of a certain task, be it the operation of my TV or the zippering of my coat, without needing to give it my full attention. Semantic listening comes into play with my interactions with others whether it is in class or at lunch or in the dorm.

The one mode of listening that I find nearly non-existent in my life is reduced listening, “the listening mode that focuses on the traits of the sound itself, independent of its cause and of its meaning” (Chion 50). After recording and examining the sounds of my audiography, I was shocked by how many interesting sounds I never recognize. One that stood out was the hissing of the bus from the clip, “New Comic Book Wednesdays.” Every Wednesday I go downtown on the 5:07 bus, stop by the comic book store for the new releases, and get right back on the next bus to University Heights. I am so focused on the mission at hand and distracted by my phone that I never stop to appreciate the sounds along the way. When I captured this selection of the bus, I was stunned by the clip. I was aware of the hydraulic action of the bus, but only through careful replaying of the clip did I truly experience the unique character of the sound.

Dr. Horowitz’s fear for our loss of listening is one that is very real, and as a society we need to examine how we listen and do not listen. What are the sounds that we choose to listen to and what are the sounds we ignore? There is a true richness in life that is lost when we fail to listen, one that I hope to learn to embrace in the future.

Works Cited

Chion, Michael. “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader. Ed. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 48-53. Print.

Horowitz, Seth S. “The Science and Art of Listening.” The New York Times 9 Nov. 2012: n. pag. Print.

Schafer, Murray. “Open Ears.” Thinking About Sound. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 25-39. Print.

Super Bowl XLVII. CBS. CBS, New York, New York, 2 Feb. 2013. Television.

What I Hear: An Interpretation of the Heard Worlds of the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”

When prompted to recreate the heard worlds from Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I am excited by the opportunity.  To best convey my ideal soundtrack for a historical epic drama interpretation of Douglass’ work, I will describe by plan in three parts.  First, I will describe a scene involving Mr. Severe and his whipping.  Next, I will address the fight between Douglass and Mr. Covey.  And lastly, I will discuss the sounds that will be purposely omitted from my work.

Part I – The Ruthless Whip

Douglass describes a scene where he observes Mr. Severe, an overseer, relentlessly whip a woman in front of her children.  “I have seen him whip a woman, causing the blood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too, in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother’s release” (Douglass 7).  When deciding what sounds should be prominently featured, I first imagine the scene.  By visualizing how I would like it to be portrayed in my film I can decide which sounds are necessary to highlight.  There will be the whip with its crack like some hellish creature.  I am also drawn to highlight the raw sounds of the moment.  For instance, the dragging of Mr. Severe’s shoes along the dirt.  Maybe he will drag the woman away from her children as well.  Mr. Severe will wipe the sweat of his brow, emphasizing the dragging of his hand along his face through his glistening sweat.  There will be a little cackling.  Mr. Severe is described as “profane swearer” whose words were “…enough to chill the blood and stiffen the hair of an ordinary man” (Douglass 7).  His voice will be coarse; his words spat out in guttural tones.  I want to convey a harsh feeling through this work.

Part II – The Showdown

Douglass describes his confrontation with Mr. Covey as “the turning-point in my career as a slave,” instilling within him “a sense of my own manhood” (Douglass 43).  To highlight the significance of this encounter, I would set the fight to the backdrop of the only song of the film.  I am inclined to use a portion from the song, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” as performed by Santa Esmeralda.  I have attached the portion below for your listening pleasure.  The scene would start with Mr. Covey knocking Douglass to the stable floor.  There will be the crunching of hay and the dull thud of flesh against earth.  Douglass rebels by seizing “Covey hard by the throat” (Douglass 42).  Again, I want to focus on the raw sounds.  Covey will grasp for breath a bit, and when he escapes from Douglass’ grasp he will retreat with quick, dull stomps.  After he calls for help and is refused the music will begin.  It starts off with a quick-ordered clapping and continues with a guitar melody.  This is a watershed moment in Douglass’ life, and the music is a testament to the internal struggle that he has had to deal with up to this point.  At his lowest low, Douglass is acting instinctually.  His will to survive and to be free is what drives him to fight back.

Dont Let Me Be Misunderstood (Selection) – Santa Esmeralda

Part III – Omissions

This southern antebellum period is one marked by the darkness of slavery.  As such, the film should reflect the prevailing feeling of the time period.  There was little to no happiness for the slaves during this time.  In order to best reflect this, there will be no laughter in the film.  Cackling is okay, but no joyous laughter.  In fact, no joyous tones at all.  Other than the one song that I have included in the soundtrack, there will be no music and the dancing and clapping associated with it.

Mark Smith, in his essay, “Listening to the Hear Worlds of Antebellum America,” describes a concept of keynote sounds.  He says that they are “sounds that imprint ‘themselves so deeply on the people hearing them that life without them would be sensed as a distinct impoverishment” (Smith 159).  The keynote sounds I would focus on would be those associated to work in the fields and punishment.  These include: the cracking of the whip, the dragging of feet on dirt, the shuffling through the fields, the pleading for mercy by the slaves, the yelling of the overseers, and the quiet, helpless crying of the slaves.  Each of these sounds were heard daily becoming ingrained in the psyche of the slaves.  These tones of servitude were their prison.


Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.

Smith, Mark M. “Listening to the Heard Worlds of Antebellum America.” The Auditory Culture Reader. Ed. Michael Bull and Les Back. Oxford: Berg, 2003. 137-63. Print.