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.

 

 

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.

Elevator music: The forgotten noises of ambient sound

In considering the sonic content that makes up my life, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of passive noise, sounds that I don’t even notice because they’re so commonplace. In this Audiography, my “Elevator Music,” the passive, background sounds that facilitate a day to day existence are documented in context of the role they play in everyday rituals and habits and what implications they hold.

BLINDS: After you wake up, you can usually hear the sound your roommate makes when opening up the blinds to let the sunlight in. There’s been much less of it, now that it’s really winter. The blinds sound almost crudely mechanical, a utilitarian noise byproduct of another action.

PILL: The shrink wrapping around your morning medication is really way too complicated for reason to explain but you crack it open anyways – the sharp, popping noise is a ritual of sorts that you just as easily forget as soon as you swallow with some water

HANGERS: The soft “snick, snick” of a plastic hanger gliding over the aluminum bar in your closet makes an appearance whenever you consult your wardrobe: However, this noise is muffled by your mental chatter before it can even be considered as a noise worth giving attention to.

DOOR: The sound of a door – a smooth swish, the gentle “click” of validation, and the louder sound of locks slipping past each other as you tug the door open is so commonplace that it transcends association with any one emotion or state of mind. You hear in the morning and late at night; when you’re tired, anxious, excited, or resigned; alone or with a huge gaggle of people. You here it when you want to go home to the dorm, and when you want to really go home go home because you’re sick of the day to day noise that crowds your thinking spaces.

BREAKFAST: When you’re having breakfast outside of New World Tortilla before it opens in the few spare minutes before your math class starts you focus on reading the paper online, or checking your e-mail or finishing an assignment. The concurrent burble of the morning time around flows you – the clatter of dishes, beeps and creaks and the radio fading in and out, maybe making a brief cameo in your steam of consciousness but never really elevating itself to “the object to be observed”(Chion, 1994). These sounds remain “a vehicle for something else,” (Chion, 1994), just a small blip on your radar reminding you that life continues outside your own bubble of consciousness.

SNIFFLES: The byproduct of the pervasive cold weather, the integral soundbit of a snuffling stuffed nose doesn’t even get a head turn of recognition anymore.

SALAD: The noises of eating are often dubbed over by conversation or forgotten, if your mind is busy. They’re frequently gross and never enjoyable, so no one complains when they settle to the bottom of our consciousness.

LINESUPS: As you try to desperately finish your programming assignment for computer science class before it’s due, the chatter your friends make fills the space around you like it often does, a sort of soft, ambient padding against the admittedly silent and jarring sound of being alone. It does however tend to decrease productivity.

FUEGO: Another sound of utility, you barely even notice the flick of a lighter anymore as you light candles or watch your friends have a cigarette.

HOMEWORK: Music fills your room as you whittle away at this week’s assignments. You’re so attached to that dear machine, it would seem as if you’d be attuned to the clicking keys, but this noise is covered up by all the other traffic running through your mind.

If the resonance of sounds “entails adjacency, sympathy and the collapse of the boundary between the perceiver and the perceived” (Erlman, 2010) then even the most seemingly insignificant noises contribute to the stage life is acted out on. Considering these resultant noises through a new, more critical lens let me “take control of the sensory experience” (Horowitz, 2012) I have everyday and see the soundtrack of my life in a new light.

 

Works Cited

Seth Horowitz, The Science and Art of Listening (New York: The New York Times, 2012)

Veit Erlmann, Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality (New York: Zone Books, 2010)

Michel Chion, “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader. Comp. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012

 

 

 

An Academic Audiography

I sat down last Sunday to brainstorm ideas for this assignment and found myself distracted by the chatter in the hallway, the endless opening and closing of doors, a bass thumping somewhere beneath me and the remarkably loud busses periodically passing by. Frustrated by my lack of focus on things that required my attention, I plugged in my iPod and proceeded to play my favorite playlist, a queer collection of country, hip hop, rock and show tunes. This worked for a few minutes, until the words flowing from the speakers became more important than the words trickling onto the page. I switched to my most played Pandora Radio station, Classical Piano Radio. As I sat and stared at a half filled page of useless notes and quotes, I noticed the soft, rhythmic click-clack click-clack of the pen in my hand and realized I was involuntarily creating the noise. This was a sound that punctuated every part of my academic life. Anytime there was a pen in my hand, be it in a lecture hall, study room or at my desk, I was clicking it. I wondered what other noises must characterize collegiate education for me; and so began the auditory analysis of Alex’s academic adventures.

In order to find what sounds define my learning experience, I recoded ten separate noises that I hear or produce at least a few times every week, starting with my main motivator, the sweet symphonic sound of my coffee machine, and proceeding with the sounds of classes, coursework and concentration. In order to ensure that my recordings were organic, I captured clips of ten or fifteen minutes and extracted short demos to summarize the entire sound. The demos are in roughly chronological order between two days and the distinguished pen click can be heard in almost all of them.

 

While only captured in a few of my clips*, I often use music or radio to hone in my concentration, especially when working on math homework, or taking my first set of notes on a reading (I copy them in silence later). I decided to further investigate specifically why having background noise helps me focus in certain situations. That practice contrasts Dr. Seth Horowitz analysis of the effect of technology on our ability to listen. Rather than “losing [the skill of listening] in a world of digital distraction,” I’m gaining the ability to stifle unimportant ambient noise through the use of music [1]. In fact, I view my employment of audio technology as a form of concentration and direction of attention rather than a distraction. Michel Chion sheds some light on why I need a distraction like classical music in his differentiation of three modes of listening. The most common is causal listening which “consists of listening to a sound in order to gather information about its cause” [2]. Therefore, the laughter in the hall, for example, lets me know something amusing has happened, and makes me want to find out what it was. If I chose to block out those noises with lyrical music I begin to employ semantic listening “which refers to a code or a language to interpret a message” [3]. My brain automatically recognizes the lyrics as something I should listen to, especially since I know the songs well, and I can no longer devote my attention to the task in front of me. Classical music is the best way to solve all of the previously mentioned issues since I am not a student of music and can therefore listen without involuntarily thinking about the noise. It almost allows me to “turn-off” my sense of hearing.

Moving beyond my use of music while doing homework, these two modes are very applicable to the other sounds of my academic life. In a lecture it is important interpret the information being translated by language through semantic listening (especially if your professors have accents), whereas at my work study job, causal listening lets me know if they machines are working properly or if something is at a risk of breaking. Now that I know what aurally characterizes my academic life, I can use it to my benefit.

 

*I had situational constraints when trying to record some of my sounds as I commonly have to use headphones in my room and in the study rooms so I am not bothering others.

Works Cited

[1] Seth Horowitz, The Science and Art of Listening. (New York: The New York Times, 2012), 2.

[2] Chion, Michael, “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader. (New York: Routledge, 2012), 48.

[3] Ibid. 50.

 

 

 

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.

 

Finding a Way

          The process of becoming a college student is more than just a straightforward transition; it necessitates an entirely new definition of time management, while concurrently introducing a novel realm of extraordinary freedom. Finding a way—an obligation with an end resolve that is neither simplistic nor readily apparent—is critical in determining the quality of one’s college experience. Moreover, the development of a routine is undeniably effective in establishing a sense of order from the chaos of university life; it gives students the opportunity to make the best out of the undesirable, and to further improve upon the already favorable. Routines help to string together each individual day, providing a sense of holistic purpose to the seemingly menial busywork and tedious notetaking associated with many classes. Such convergence allows students to view their experiences at school from a broader, more comprehensive standpoint, bringing into consideration the real purpose of attending. I have found that my driving motive is the underlying fulfillment that comes from intellectual enlightenment, and an understanding that said satisfaction is well worth the everyday input of time and focus. My audiography lends, to the ear of the listener, an acoustic representation of my daily routine—my found way. In developing “a terrain in which ‘understanding’ and resonance, hearing and the ‘meaning of being,’ physics and philosophy, enter into complex and intimate relationships with each other,”[1] the compilation demonstrates the concept of intrinsic interrelatedness amongst the seemingly divergent tones, and the similarities shared amongst their implied themes.
          I chose to organize my sound bites in chronological order, creating the sensation of having small windows of auditory insight into the progression of an average day. The list begins with a familiar morning sound to many: the sip of a tall, hot coffee, followed by the unavoidable “ah” of contentment. The sound of coughing could be heard afterward, as my throat was apparently not so contented. The next clip features the zipping of a winter jacket and the rustling of adjustment. This is succeeded by a bite that begins with the sounds of shuffling feet, quickly interrupted by a primal noise of sorts let out by my roommate. Together, these recordings represent the thematic significance of mornings: the juxtaposition of push and pull. Caffeine facilitates the rise out of bed, while a nasty cough tempts one back toward the comfort of a soft blanket; a warm coat promotes that first step outside, while the biting cold makes one immediately reconsider the decision; the morning banter and general absurdities drag one away from a dull, slumberous state, while the frigid walk works to evoke the contrary.
          The sounds of midday begin with a recording from my macroeconomics lecture, with the din of incessant coughing overpowering the professor’s words. The noises of pills being taken are included in the next clip, occurring during the afternoon due to my lack of remembrance in the morning. The final midday clip is a short guitar sample, centered around a minor key and played in an aggressive style. Together, these recordings foster a somewhat darker theme than that of the morning selections: the decline of hope in accordance with exposure to unfortunate circumstances. The disappointment felt in not being able to interpret an instructor over a cacophony of sickness, the complications of forgetting medication and the implied negative impact of illness, and the process of channeling frustration through music all contribute to an unenthusiastic and downcast tone.

          The night portion of my audiography starts off with the sounds of an order being placed at Boloco, ensued by the running of a shower with music playing in the background. Next featured is a recording of an upbeat, slinky guitar riff, and after, the soft bubbling of a hookah with a bass-heavy musical number providing backdrop. Here, the theme of decompression after a long day is contrasted with the stress and exertion of the morning and midday. Anxiety and tension fade away with the sunlight, and the dusky cover of evening masks the imperfections of the day.

          From an auditory perspective, daily life has the tendency to meld together. Creating an audiography breaks down the miscellany into individual audial components, enabling the analysis of separate events as well as the thematic significance of groupings of sound. “The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention;”[2] the effort of compiling recordings elicits such attention and focus, and listening temporarily assumes a dominant position over subconscious aural absorption. One can hear the keynote sounds of murmuring voices, the ever-running window fan, and dull murmur of music throughout many of the recordings if listening is truly employed; these noises create a backdrop that becomes the overall hum and whir—the bustle and movement—of the perpetual cycle that is modern human existence. Through the back and forth of the morning, the melancholy of midday, and the repose of night, the sounds of college life are unified in the collaborative construction of a routine developed to assist the acquisition of academic insight. Throughout the observable ups and downs portrayed within the audiography, having an attemptedly holistic and inclusive view of the purpose of the college experience is key to maintaining my motivation.

[1] Veit Erlmann, Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality (New York: Zone Books, 2010), 12.
[2] Seth Horowitz, The Science and Art of Listening (New York: The New York Times, 2012), 1.
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