Clips of Applause


Davis, Miles, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, perfs. “Autumn Leaves.” Rec. 1964. N.d. YouTube. 9 Nov. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <>.

Fowlis, Julie. Rec. 2006. N.d. YouTube. 17 Oct. 2006. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <>.

Johnson, Matt. “Yea Yeah.” Perf. Kim Schifino. Rec. 30 Apr. 2008. Matt & Kim. N.d.YouTube. 5 May 2008. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <>.

Li, Yundi, perf. “Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2.” Frederick Chopin. N.d. YouTube. 31 May 2006. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <>.

Rapper, Chance The. Chance the Rapper Talks about Interpretations of Acid Rain, Fan Base outside of Chicago, SXSW. N.d. YouTube. 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <>.

Watsky, and Dumbfoundead. Rec. 18 July 2012. Watsky Freestyle Jam with Dumbfoundead and Breezy Lovejoy Band. Breezy Lovejoy Band. N.d. YouTube. 19 July 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <>.

White, Jack. “Seven Nation Army.” Perf. Meg White. By Jack White. Rec. 2007. The White Stripes. N.d. YouTube. 9 Aug. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <>.


Connecting People Through Music

My research focuses on the various ways in which people interact with and contribute to live music using sound. The primary aspect of this communication is through applause and other indications of approval (or disapproval). However, live music brings a host of various other noises from an audience. For example, many genres of music encourage singing along or clapping in time with a song. The music is often not an unchanging work to be observed, but rather an experience for musician and listener alike as they work together to create their sonic community. My research coincides with my group’s theme of belonging and identity because across cultures, music is a universal mode of creating societal bonds. Such bonds are forged through sharing a common experience; the musicians and listeners play and react and communicate on an equal plane. Researching the ways in which listeners communicate with musicians during the music is important to understanding how music is used to bring members of a society together.

Here is a video of a flamenco dancer and band in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Flamenco is a fascinating example of the kind of interactions I am researching, because the music relies on its listeners’ own rhythmic contributions. In the video, notice that the dancers all clap along to the beat. This is typical of flamenco culture, and it serves two important purposes. First, it provides a strong percussive facet. Second, it opens up a way for every person listening to the music, whether they are playing an instrument or dancing or not, to participate and feel as if they are a part of it. Even the dancer contributes the sound of her shoes. This video is a strong example of the role of music with belonging.

The Sonic Audience in Music


The significance of music to human culture is indisputable. Across recorded history, every society has produced, consumed, and valued music. Because it is so universal, an incredible amount can be learned about a group of people simply by listening to the music it makes. As Jacques Attali says, “Music, as a mirror of society, calls this truism to our attention: society is much more than economistic categories, Marxist or otherwise, would have us believe” (8). Differences in musical styles, such as the incorporation of improvisation, the musical structure, and the type of instruments used, may lend insight into the social constructions of a community. Differences in the use of music, from political tool to intellectual activity to celebratory instrument, tell about power structures and the relative interests of a society. Studying music can teach us about religious beliefs, gender roles, and even the influence of government.

However, the musician only represents a small percentage of a population. Far more important is the listener. Since music, in some form, plays a role in any and every population, it is safe to say that the audience is the best representation of a society’s state. The audience can be studied with a variety of methods; polls, record sales, and radio ratings all come to mind. More interesting, though, is the way that an audience interacts sonically with music during a live performance. In my paper, I plan to research the ways in which various musical communities find it appropriate to create sound as an audience member in a live performance of music. It is my belief that such research could teach us about the role of music in these communities, as well as draw connections across the boundaries of varying genres.

I will conduct this research in a multi-faceted fashion. With the help of various pieces of literature, I will examine structural differences between varying types of music. Such study is significant to my paper because it will lay the groundwork upon which I might then observe how these differences affect the presentation of the music in a live setting. This background will also make clear various interpretations of music: an intellectual activity, a show of personal skill, the focal point of an energetic and lively scene, an accessory to a party. These different roles of music will provide a framework with which to interpret the levels and styles of audience participation.

Next, I will research the role of the audience in the performance of this music. Such research can only be done with direct observation. As a result, I expect this work to focus on a combination of attending live shows, watching videos of performances, and listening to the audio of performances. I will then record when, why, and to what extent the audience makes sounds, as well as the nature of these sounds. I will do this work in as professional a manner as possible, with attention to details such as unintentional audience sounds, the conveyed emotion of audience sounds, the purpose of the sounds and the performer’s reactions to these sounds.

Having seen countless musical performances in my life, I have a number of expectations. For example, at a jazz performance, I know that it is acceptable and, generally, encouraged to applaud after each individual solo, while the song continues. In  freestyle rap, the audience cheers for individual lyrics, lines, and rhymes. The crowd at an electronic dance music concert constantly makes noises (though they are drowned out by the sound system). On the other hand, an audience at a classical piano recital refrains from making any sound (even coughing, if possible) until the performer has clearly finished the piece and lowers his or her hands from the keys. I expect that I will find these assumptions to remain true in my research, and that my observations will simply provide me with sound evidence upon which to base my argument.

I also hypothesize that this research will highlight a fundamental aspects of the audience’s feelings toward the performer and the composer, as well as a difference in the appreciation of artistry versus skill. During a symphony, for example, the audience remains silent because the entire symphony has been composed as a single piece, with overlapping sections and a linear path. The listener must pay close attention so as not to get lost in the composition, and applauses only at the end because any prior noise would distract from the artistry. However, during a jazz performance, the audience actively participates in the music, cheering in the middle of an improvised solo to tell the performer what it likes. This applause is not to praise a polished, artistic work, but rather to praise the skill of the performer, who composes in the moment.

I am certain that my work will bridge gaps between such diverse musical styles as classical piano and pop. By studying the activity of the audience, I will illustrate factors common to all music: the special appreciation for the composer, the praise given to artists with particular skill, and the fact that music, unlike some other art forms, places artist and audience in a simultaneous and shared experience.






Work Cited (In Proposal)


Attali, Jacques. “Noise: The Political Economy of Music.” The Sound Studies Reader. By Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. N. pag. Print.


Full Bibliography

Bailey, Derek. Musical Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982. Print.

Bailey provides a very detailed and extensive description of improvisation as understood by musicians across a wide variety of musics. His scope ranges from Indian to flamenco, baroque and organ to rock and jazz. The book is not intended as a “history” of improvisation, but rather as an examination of the style in different contexts, as understood by different people. In one particularly useful chapter, Bailey focuses directly on the importance of the audience.

Dorian, Frederick. The History of Music in Performance; the Art of Musical Interpretation from the Renaissance to Our Day. New York, NY: W.W. Norton &, 1942. Print.

Frederick, like Bailey, intentionally states that his book is not a history of music. The book explores various aspects of musical interpretation during performance. Frederick discusses the connection between composer and conductor, and the importance usually assigned to each. In particular, he is interested in changes in the way an audience praises a conductor’s interpretation of a piece over the composer, or vice versa. He also draws a fascinating correlation between this change and an increased obsession over the “rights and limits of interpretation” (24).

Jones, Mari Riess., and Susan Holleran. Cognitive Bases of Musical Communication. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1992. Print.

Jones and Holleran outline a more empirical approach to studying music and the brain. The book details various connections between pitch, tonality, and even the possibility of semantics in music, with contributions from doctors of music, psychology, and linguistics. In chapter 4, John Sloboda describes “empirical studies of emotional response to music” (33). These studies ought to provide a background for studying the sonic expression of these emotional responses.

Horowitz, Harold. The American Jazz Music Audience. Rep. no. 86-62518. Washington, DC: National Jazz Service Organization, 1986. Print.

Horowitz’s research gives a detailed breakdown of jazz’s demographics. This ranges from how many people attend live performances, the characteristics of the audience and musicians, crossovers with other genres and common geographic hubs of jazz. While attempting to understand the role of the audience, knowing about the characteristics of the audience can be immensely helpful.

Lehrer, Jonah. From Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007. 120-43.

Chapter 6 of Lehrer’s book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, talks about Igor Stravinksy’s contributions to the musical world by confronting the audience with revolutionary amounts of dissonance in Rite of Spring. The audience at the first performance of the ballet started a riot, a strong example of the audience reacting to music.


The New, the Old, and the Changing

I’ve noticed two strikingly contradictory things about life at college. First, I’ve noticed how different it is from life at home. I see my family only for short periods of time over breaks, I have a completely different sort of workload, I am perpetually meeting new people, and I am beginning to live independently. Second, I’ve noticed how ironically similar college life is to life at home. Somehow, a part of me expected that my whole life would change immediately on August 24 when I moved in. This, of course, was not true. Although I am certainly transitioning into a different stage of my life, and my setting has shifted from New Jersey to Vermont, I am not a different person and much of my daily life is the same. In my Audiography, I have separated my daily sounds into the sounds that have not changed from high school, the sounds that are new to me at college, and the sounds that have not changed but are now regular for new reasons. The list is not in chronological order, and although I have included these sounds because they are regular, not all of them are daily. Rather, it is a compilation of normal sounds organized according to how they represent the recent changes in my life.

Many of the sounds I hear daily and their meanings have not changed since I came to college. For example, I have woken up every day since sixth grade to an alarm, and this particular blaring alarm has done the job for the past two years. After the alarm comes the sound of my electric toothbrush. The rustle of papers always has and always will mean reading and studying, two very regular activities in my life. Finally, I included Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles to symbolize all the time I spend listening to and playing music, which constitutes a large portion of my life. Although I apply Chion’s “semantic listening” (Chion 50) when interpreting music, most of these sounds hardly register in my attention anymore.

The transition to college, though, brought many new sounds. Though I am now accustomed to these sounds, each initially sparked my “causal listening” because I would listen to “gather information about its cause” (Chion 48). Perhaps the most apparently different sound on my list is the sound of the University Heights staircase. I no longer notice it, but the loud echos of doors, footsteps and voices struck me early in the year. The cold, empty ring of the staircase is a sound which I rarely encountered at home, and, upon moving in, it reminded me that I now live in a dorm with hundreds of other people. The sound of my own breath and footsteps when walking to and from class is another sound which is newly regular. To me, it signifies the increased independence and solitude of college life. The sound of waiting for the campus bus is also new to me. Although I have ridden many busses in my life, I have never done so regularly. Now, I am accustomed to the sounds of passing cars while I wait at the bus stop. Finally, the sound of Brennan’s represents the change in my daily eating experience. At home, most of my meals were spent either snacking in the kitchen or sitting down at the table. Now, all of my meals are spent in crowded dining halls. I think this marks a significant shift.

Finally, I shared two sounds that are not new to me at college, but have changed in the reason for their regularity. The first is the sound of boots in snow. At home, I was accustomed to this, generally when walking to the school bus. However, my hometown has very few sidewalks, so I would rarely walk outside during the winter, opting to drive instead. Now, I hear this sound on my way to and from every class. It has become much more pervasive, and will be heard almost any time I leave my room. The other sound is the wind at the top of Mad River Glen, a ski area. I have skied every winter since I was two years old, and the top of a ski mountain is a very familiar sound to me. However, I no longer associate it with being on a ski vacation with my family or the high school ski trips. Rather, it is now a sound that I hear whenever I manage to catch the bus for a casual day on the mountain.

As Seth Horowitz would say, I “keep most sounds off [my] cognitive radar unless they might be of use as a signal” (4). It only took me a matter of months to assimilate them into “background noise.” The echo of the staircase and the crowds at Brennan’s once caught my attention. Now, I no longer notice them. An interesting point, though, is that I tend to notice often the sounds that have not changed since high school except in meaning. The wind at the top of Mad River Glen caught my ear not because it was new, but because it now lacked my family’s voices. My whole life did not change in the transition to college. Still, many of the more meaningful changes can be mapped out by their sounds.

 Works Cited

The Beatles. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Abbey Road Studios, 1967. CD.

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

Horowitz, Seth. “The Science and Art of Listening.” New York Times. 9 Nov 2012. Web.


Adam Sullivan Douglass Soundscape

While written descriptions and visual representations of antebellum America are numerous, the only auditory perspective available in the twenty-first century is secondhand, at best. Our notion of what America in the 1800s may have sounded like comes only from textual evidence and a knowledge of the types of activities which would have been present. Still, it is possible to construct what is most likely an accurate soundscape.
Were I to design a soundtrack for a film about the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I would focus on the key aspects of sound which are crucial for certain scenes. Take, for example, the scene in which a young Douglass witnesses the whipping of his Aunt Hester. Because it takes place indoors, this moment would have very little background noise, except maybe the occasional muffled and unrelated voices from outside. Rather than background sounds, this scene would revolve around four main sonic points: Aunt Hester’s voice, Colonel Lloyd’s voice, the whip, and Douglass’ silence. Colonel Lloyd says the only words in the scene. He orders Aunt Hester to cross her hands and climb onto a stool. He calls her a “d—-d b—-h,” and tells her, “I’ll learn you how to disobey my orders!” (Douglass 4). The angry, punitive tone of his voice is impossible to miss. During these lines, one would hear Aunt Hester quietly stepping onto the stool, and the clink of metal as Colonel Lloyd ties her hands to the hook. There would be a brief moment of hushed anticipation, as Lloyd rolls up his sleeves. Then, the audience would be struck with a barrage of sounds. Starting with the initial, piercing crack of the whip, the room fills with “heard-rending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him” (5). However, Douglass then hides himself in the closet. Because the scene is told from his perspective, the sounds would change. The screams, whips, and yelling would become muffled, replaced by the quick, shallow breaths of a young boy in bondage who has just been introduced to the brute cruelty of his world.
I would also juxtapose two of the ship-yard scenes from the book, one in Baltimore and one in New Bedford. Douglass had a job at both these ship-yards, and he describes the sounds of both. For the scene in Baltimore, I would focus on the voices of Douglass’ fellow workers calling him from all sides to help. The scene would be filled with shouts of, “Come here! — Go there! — Hold on where you are! Damn you, if you move, I’ll knock your brains out!” (56). The frantic atmosphere would build as countless voices yell at Douglass. The culminating point of the scene would be his fight with the workers. As the air fills with voices, the occasional sound of a fist hitting Douglass would come through, followed by Douglass’ immediate retaliation. Finally, as the fight grows, the sounds would become indiscernible shouting and hitting as the workmen cry, “Kill the damned nigger!” (57). These sounds would slowly fade as Douglass escapes and runs back to the Hugh household.
The Baltimore scene would parallel the scene in which Douglass begins working as a calker on the wharves of New Bedford. The quiet, individual work in the North provides a stark contrast to the loud, forced group labor of the South. Douglass notes, “Almost every body seemed to be at work, but noiselessly so, compared with what I had been accustomed to in Baltimore. There were no loud songs heard from those engaged in loading and unloading ships. I heard no deep oaths or horrid curses from the laborer” (67). To amplify this comparison, I would fill the New Bedford scene with the sounds of the ships creaking in the tide and pedestrians talking on the land. There would be no shouts from a master, no crack of the whip, no hostile words between workers. Rather, this scene would exemplify the industrious and individualized work environment to be found in New Bedford. The distant sound of machinery and crowds would remind the audience that Douglass is no longer in the world of slavery, but that, instead, he has reached the land of progress, industrialism, and freedom.