The Unheard Sounds


It fascinates me that we can go through an entire day with our ears picking up thousands of small noises that our brain never even acknowledges hearing. Seth Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist talks extensively about background sounds our brain is trained to ignore in his article The Science and Art of Listening. My ten recorded sounds focus on noises in my soundscape that I usually wouldn’t notice but exist in my everyday life. Whether layered under dialogue or recorded on their own, these small, seemingly insignificant noises are what make our auditory world interesting and full.

My audiography starts with breakfast at the University Marche with my friends. There is audible conversation, but what struck me when I listened to the recording was how loud and predominant the background babble was. It didn’t bother me when I was there because my brain chose not to register all the distracting noise around me.  Horowitz notes that, “your auditory system has evolved a complex and automatic ‘volume control,’ fine tuned by development and experience to keep most sounds off of your cognitive radar” (Horowitz, 1). After getting home from breakfast, I ask my roommate if she’d mind if I recorded her shower sounds. She agrees, and I go on my computer as I wait for her to hop in the shower. I get wrapped up in recording myself typing a Facebook chat, thinking about how they sound of typing is yet another noise I wouldn’t usually register. Ten minutes pass, and I look up startled, realizing that she’s been in the shower for a while and I had just involuntarily tuned out the noise I was waiting to hear to start recording. Horowitz mentions that our brain works like  “noise suppressing headphones” (Horowitz, 2), and I realized that was exactly what my brain had done.

Since food is easily one of the most enjoyable parts of my life, I included a few more food-related recordings including cooking a burrito and a failed attempt to fry an egg on my roommate’s Panini maker. Hearing the beeper of the microwave, my suitemate curiously asked what I was heating up. This reminded me of what Erlmann talked about in his article about resonation of sound. He wrote about how sound infers connection between a subject and an object. When my suitemate heard the sound of the microwave, which was the subject, she inferred an object related to it, which was food. Our egg fiasco was included in my audiography because again, it backs my idea that there are always underlying sounds that we don’t even think about listening for. Although the conversation is loud above it, if you listen carefully you can hear the griddle sizzling steadily beneath all our yelling and screeching.

After our failed cooking adventure, my roommate and I decided it was a good time to clean up our room a bit. Part of that was taking out the recycling, which my roommate carried while I took the trash. I was exiting the trash room when she dumped the recycling full of glass bottles, which unexpectedly made me jump. Horowitz mentions, after talking about our brain acting as noise suppressing headphones that you brain also, “…acts like a switch to interrupt it something urgent happens” (Horowitz, 3). In this case, the urgent event was just a loud noise, but it’s interesting how our brain works that way. A similar thing happened when I was replacing the trash bag; people were in the other room chatting, which I didn’t really notice, but when loud music was turned on, my attention immediately diverted to that.

Similar to the beginning and middle of my day, my evening concludes with food. On our last outing for the night, I lock the door, and sound I had never really listened to closely before. On the walk over, there is some conversation but I lag behind to record the satisfying crunch of my boots on the deep snow, which is a fairly new and exciting noise for me; the snow here is much deeper than I ever saw at home. Finally, my audiography ends with a friend chomping on an apple, a sound I wouldn’t usually notice or listen to, but whose crisp crunch seemed like a good way to end a day of listening. I’ve found through my day of recording that our soundscape is much deeper than we think: we just need to listen.


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

Erlman, Veit. “Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality.” Zone Books, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.


5 thoughts on “The Unheard Sounds

  1. I definitely related to you when you talked about the noises of food, especially your roommate eating an apple. I often find that I hear the sound of other people eating, but rarely hear the sounds I make eating. It’s another one of those background noises we produce but don’t necessarily hear.

  2. I definitely know what you mean about the noise cancelation our minds naturally perform. I have experienced the same thing when I’m focusing intently on a particular sound, and then I shift my focus, or a sound interrupts my focus, and I am suddenly made aware of a “new” sound that I was completely ignoring (subconsciously) before. I also noticed how loud the marche was during peak dinner time while making my recording there, and it wasn’t until I decided to record there that I really noticed how much noise one must compete with while having a conversation there, yet it happens so automatically!

  3. My favorite part about your constructed soundscape was how inescapably real it was. Your sounds, as well as your explanation of the sounds, were down to Earth, honest and accurate. The recordings you took were real, not staged, and that is evident through the feelings transmitted by the sounds; all of your sounds were believable. The relationships you built between the actual sounds and the readings from class were impressive, demonstrating that you clearly understand the material being presented.

  4. I think it’s really interesting how you bring up background noise at the Marche. Although I didn’t focus on background noise at Redstone, I still got it while I was recording the beepers. It is definitely true that we are able to selectively listen, especially in loud areas such as the dining halls. I also enjoyed the sound clip of the egg being made. The fact that the reaction to the egg sliding off the panini maker/griddle was unplanned made it all the more effective and humorous.

  5. I loved how this focused on the prevalence of background noise. In particular, I enjoyed how the background babble at the Marche was actually much louder in the recording than you remembered, and the fact that you actually missed the sounds of the shower while you were waiting for them is hilarious. This was a great outline of how pervasive background noise is, and how little we listen to it.

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