The Sounds I Miss

So far, I do not like UVM very much. This is partially due to external circumstances, such as the cultural differences between Vermont and New York City, and partially due to internal circumstances, such as my stubbornly nostalgic mindset that refuses to embrace change and constantly misses my old life. I face these issues on an everyday basis, and they are reflected in the sounds of my daily life.

If there is one thing I can say is better about college than high school, it is that my classes are not as early. Despite this, I still need two alarms to have any chance of waking up, and procrastination in the form of repeatedly hitting the snooze button is my first act of every weekday.

Since I am still tired, I prefer to make myself breakfast as opposed to going outside to a dining hall. This semester I usually wake up before my roommate and try to be quiet, but when I recorded the sounds of pouring and eating cereal, I realized it was not quite as quiet as I thought. I also like cereal because it represents the usual, seeing as I ate cereal almost every morning for both elementary and high school.

When I finally have to walk outside, to go to my classes for example, it is usually colder than I’d like it to be. I can only speculate that this is the reason for this next sound becoming a much more prominent part of my life, but it could also be the change in my natural environment or something else all together. Whatever the reason, I feel like I’ve had the longest cold of my life.

When I get back to my dorm, I am usually tired. One of my main sources of happiness here is listening to lively, danceable music that makes me feel good. Aside from the fact that I love this song, another likely reason it uplifts my mood is because I saw the group at a very fun on-the-beach concert with my cousins and sister in France this summer, so it brings me to a happier, more comfortable, and better time.

If I am honest with myself, I realize that listening to music is one of my main forms of avoiding overwhelming feelings brought on by the thought of homework and other daily responsibilities. In an effort to deal with this better, I have started to make To-Do lists more and more regularly to organize my thoughts work more efficiently.

Unfortunately, writing the list is often the most successful part of my day in regards to getting my work done.  Part of the reason for this is the clutter in my room. A few times per week, I make some half-hearted attempts to organize my desk before starting my work.

When I inevitably give up on this idea and once again come to the realization that my room is not conducive to working well, I often go to the library. By the time I get there it is already pretty late into the evening (9:20pm in this recording), which I don’t mind, because it is less crowded, which means less people for me to listen to and get distracted by (I don’t like the silent floors because I feel like every sound I make is way too loud).

When I don’t have homework to do, I go to the UVM Men’s Basketball games. I am a big basketball fan, and it is fun. With the lone exception of the raucous crowd showing for their nationally televised game, the games would benefit from a larger (and much younger) crowd.

As a funny symbol of my inability to embrace this university as my new home, many nights when the UVM team plays have coincided with when my beloved New York Knicks NBA team plays, and I often rush back to my dorm after the UVM game to catch the end of the Knicks game on my computer.

Due to the fact that I often work late into the night in the library or watch basketball games, and I always ate dinner late back home, I take full advantage of the late night dining services provided at Harris-Millis. I usually go alone, but the fact that its so late and pretty empty makes me mind less.

When describing the three listening modes, composer Michel Chion writes about causal, semantic, and reduced listening. I did not focus on semantic listening—interpreting messages through communication—for this paper because I have conversations far less often than I used to (Chion 50). While recording these sounds, and while listening back to the recordings, I was forced to focus much more on the “traits of the sound” themselves, which is reduced listening (50). However, it is causal listening, or “listening to a sound in order to gather information,” that Chion says is the most common, and this holds true for me in not so obvious ways (48). While sounds like the alarms tell me it is time to savor my last few moments of sleep, and sounds from the UVM crowd signify how lively (or not) the atmosphere is, (and are obviously examples of causal listening) much of my causal listening comes from the lack of sounds I pay attention to, which signify to me that I spend too much time alone.  When it comes down to it, I think of my time here at UVM as being characterized mostly by silence: the unhealthy amount of time spent doing nothing in my dorm room, the meals eaten alone, the work I do at the library. Seth Horowitz would argue that the reason I feel this way is because I don’t pay attention, therefore I hear without listening. After recording the sounds of these seemingly silent activities, I would have to agree with him. As I write this in my otherwise silent room, it occurs to me that I could have recorded the sound of my typing, because it is in fact quite loud. Despite the fact that I don’t live in silence, what I really miss from my past is what R. Murray Schafer would call keynote sounds and soundmarks, the sounds that made up my environment. As Schafer writes, “Noises are the sounds we have learned to ignore,” and coming to college has resulted in noise having a much larger and unwanted role in the sound of my life.

Works Cited

Chion, Michel. The Three Listening Modes.

Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape.

Horowitz, Seth S. The Science and Art of Listening.



New study: Love of musical harmony is not nature but nurture

I feel like this article is relevant to this class:

‘Our love of music and appreciation of musical harmony is learnt and not based on natural ability – a new study by University of Melbourne researchers has found.

Associate Professor Neil McLachlan from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences said previous theories about how we appreciate music were based on the physical properties of sound, the ear itself and an innate ability to hear harmony.

“Our study shows that musical harmony can be learnt and it is a matter of training the brain to hear the sounds,” Associate Professor McLachlan said.
 “So if you thought that the music of some exotic culture (or Jazz) sounded like the wailing of cats, it’s simply because you haven’t learnt to listen by their rules.”

In and Out of Listening

In completing this assignment, I tried to think of what aural elements of a typical day I wanted to portray. I was thus forced to open my ears, and try to objectively hear my surroundings in a way that I don’t always do. I won’t claim to have listened critically for the whole time that I was making recordings, but I did stop and consciously listen more carefully on many occasions. One thing that I became more conscious of, was how often I chose to put on my headphones in my commute between classes. When and where I would take my headphones off and switch from an isolated, immersive, musical experience, to the ambient sounds around me, became a focus of my interest on this assignment. In the past month or so, I’ve been using a new pair of headphones, and in many ways there ability to isolate sound so effectively has changed my soundscape significantly on the days I choose to bring them with me. I tried to portray the jarring nature of going between a few songs that I might listen to throughout the day, and the sounds I hear when I don’t have them on.

Having the frequent juxtaposition between absence of ambient noise, and then the sounds I hear upon removing my headphones—at times a bombardment of external, ‘random,’ sounds—can be bit jarring at times, but it also provides insight towards the different nature of the two sound types. It often takes a fraction of a second to readjust to the wider soundscape provided in the real world around me, one that headphones fail to simulate effectively. I think the move from a single recorded sound source—played in an enclosed circumaural acoustic environment—to the array of different sound sources going on in most areas of campus during the day, takes a brief adjusting to. I am reminded of both the Chion and Horowitz articles; on the one hand because of the kind of listening I am practicing, and on the other because of the potential impact my choice to listen to electronic music through much of the day may have on my overall ability to discern and pick apart different elements of the ‘natural’ sounds around me.

Depending on when, where, or why I choose to take off my headphones, I am most likely moving from reduced listening of the recording to causal, and/or semantic listening of my surroundings. As the muffs come off, I begin to consider the location of whatever it is that I’m hearing first. If there’s talking, I simultaneously process what is being said, whether it relates to me or not, and discern meaning from the words. When I’m listening to music, it is typically in the realm of reduced listening, though at times it is a combination of reduced and semantic if there are lyrics that I’m focusing on. Interestingly, Chion says that “reduced listening is an enterprise that is new, fruitful, and hardly natural. It disrupts established lazy habits and opens up a world of previously unimagined questions for those who try it” (Chion, pg. 51). This contradicts, to some extent, Horowitz’s assertion that “Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload” (Horowitz, pg. 2), because I am, in affect, able to more closely listen to certain sounds because of the technology I own. Let me explain this further in the context of the recordings.

The first sound that plays in my playlist is that of me brushing my teeth, next you’ll hear the sound of the toilet flushing, and then the sound of the shower running. These sounds have become so routine, that it wasn’t until I listened to the recordings and could replay the sounds, that I could start to hear them more objectively. It is the recording capability itself that allows me to focus “…on the sound itself, independent of its cause and of its meaning. Reduced listening takes the sound—verbal, played on an instrument, noises, or whatever—as itself the object to be observed instead of as a vehicle for something else” (Chion, pg. 50). The tin sound of the water hitting the drain grate of the sink, the almost metallic nature of the toilet flush, and the subtle change in sound as I closed the shower curtain all became apparent to me after my initial listening. After showering I get dressed (which I didn’t record), and head outside with my headphones (I simply uploaded a portion of a track I might listen to on any given day to re-create the affect). The next sound after that is of my first Tuesday class convening—before the teacher has begun the lecture. After sitting down, the instant I take my headphones off I actually feel that I am more in tune with what I’m hearing. After having been so focused on the music, and so isolated from the sounds of my surrounding, the sudden confrontation with those sounds forces me to consider more of their elements than I might have if I weren’t fluctuating between ambient and electronically sourced listening. After my class, I went to the library, and the first sound I heard upon taking my headphones off briefly while on the third floor was that of someone highlighting a paper on a desk near me. I could almost feel the felt tip grazing against the tooth of the paper. This took almost no time for my brain to locate, identify, and then imagine. I looked over the edge of the desk, and sure enough—a highlighter on paper. This is another example of the causal listening Chion was talking about, however it wasn’t until I listened to the recording again that I could analyze why my mind knew it was the highlighter on paper. This was very interesting to me, because though I knew what it was, I couldn’t articulate the reason(s) why, until I had given the sound a reduced listen.


Works Cited

Horowitz, Seth. “The Science and Art of Listening.” The New York Times, 11 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

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

Songs used in the order they appear (artist, then song title):

Barika. Good Morning

Lupe Fiasco. Daydreamin’ (feat. Jill Scoot).

Black Keys. I’m not the one.

Gramatik. Don’t Let Me Down

Relaxation and Sound

The college years are the most enjoyable years for many people. However, with the academic pressures that come with college, they can also be the most stressful. Hearing about taxing college classes from my friends, I decided going coming into UVM that I would emphasize relaxation in my life. I have discovered that sound has a profound impact on how I am able to relax in any given situation.

One way I am able to relax is by engaging in activities that directly involve creating sound. For example, my boyfriend and I were in the musical “Pippin” together in high school. Sometimes we just break out into a song from the show. I find that relaxing because singing is a way for us to let loose. When I sing with my boyfriend, I am engaging in semantic listening. “I call semantic listening that which refers to a code or language to interpret a message” (Chion 50). This is necessary in order for us to stay together in the song.  Another time I make noise to have fun is at UPlayers, the UVM theater club. Sometimes we do improvisation exercises that emphasize the role of sound. This requires causal listening because I have to know who is making the noise, but there’s no specific word meaning involved. Causal listening is listening with the purpose of identifying the source of a sound (Chion 48). My dance class is another time when listening is important. I am able to relax in dance class because it gives me the opportunity to achieve expressive freedom. Sometimes we listen to music without words when we are coming up with a composition. When this happens, I am engaging in reduced listening. This refers to listening just for the purpose of analyzing the sound, not the cause or the specific meaning (Chion 50). This is the best type of listening in this situation because it allows me to connect with the music on a deeper level.

Sometimes, when I am a contributor to a group noise being created, I can hear the sound, but I don’t really listen. An example of this is when I’m at the Marché. There are a lot of people talking, including myself and my friends, as well as the sound of eating, walking, and usually some music in the background. However, until I recorded this event, I didn’t realize that all these sounds were being made. I noticed that I associate these sounds with relaxation. This is useful information because now I can actively seek out that crowd noise to calm down. “Luckily, we can train our listening just as with any other skill” (Horowitz 2). My goal is to train my ears to recognize crowd noise on a more conscious level. Spending time with my friends over the summer is another time I get to wind down. When we go downtown, we always talk at the same time. I want to train my listening to appreciate what everyone is saying.

I also use sounds for relaxation when I am less involved in making the sound, and more of an observer. This often happens when my boyfriend tells me about a video game he likes. I listen semantically, not really having much to add. This gives me a nice break from having to think of things to say. Paying attention in these situations is important to my relationship. “Listen to your significant other’s voice…the emotions carried in the harmonics. You may save yourself a couple of fights” (Horowitz 2). I am also able to relax when I’m listening to music, like my favorite song “Be OK” by Ingrid Michaelson, or to the opening music of my favorite TV show, “Numbers”.  In these situations I engage in reduced listening to relax, so that I can sit back and appreciate what I hear. I also observed that when I’m brushing my teeth and showering, I engage in causal listening to relax. The familiarity of the water running on my hair and the brush scrubbing my teeth is very comforting. Overall, making sure I listen is a helpful tool in relaxation. Using semantic, causal, or reduced listening can be most effective depending on the situation.

Sounds Referenced:

Works Cited

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

Chisholm, Kenneth. “Counterfeit Reality.” Numbers. CBS. 11 Mar. 2005. Television.

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

Michaelson, Ingrid. “Be OK” YouTube. YouTube, 04 Sept. 2008. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.