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.

Background into Focus

I have never been someone who has had great skill in listening to multiple things at once. Because of this when I am focused on an activity I tend not to notice the things around me. The whole world is happening but because I am not paying attention to it, it is not actually happening to me. Every so often something in the things that I tune out begins to capture my attention. “Hearing has evolved as our alarm system — it operates out of line of sight and works even while you are asleep” (Horowitz 1). In my case, without my hearing working as an alarm system, I wouldn’t hear my alarm go off in the morning.

Having sound that capture my attention can work to my disadvantage also. At times when I attempt to study, the constant turning of a page can pull me away from what I should be doing. I become so focused on the one sound that every time I hear it, I have to pay attention to it. This also occurs as I am trying to fall asleep. It is much more interesting to listen to the conversations that occur in the hallway at midnight then it is to just fall asleep.

In some cases sounds that I hear become much easier to ignore once I discern their cause. My room borders a stairwell. Lying in bed trying to fall asleep, I would often hear a banging, echoing sound coming from the stairwell. The source of noise in the stairwell was a mystery to me for a while. It would occur randomly throughout the day but it was especially prevalent on weekend nights.  I was force to rely on causal listening “to gather information about its cause” and came to the conclusion that it was the result of people banging on the railings as they climbed the stairs (Chion 48).

Sometimes I was unable to pick out the specific cause of my distraction. In the Harris-Millis Dining Hall the sounds were not individual. All the different sounds had combined to create a whole new sound. Because I could not pick up the individual sounds I had to focus on the sound itself. By using reduced listening I was able to pick up the “timbre and texture” of the dining hall (Chion 51).

This assignment has been particularly successful at bring my focus to the things that I traditionally ignore. Even at this moment the clack of the keys on my computer keyboard have caught my attention. As I type I normally tune out the fact that each key has a sound that varies slightly differently from the others. Something that I do so often is so easily ignored. Previously, when I filled my water bottle at the fountain I was fascinated with the way the water would land in the bottle and then fill it. This assignment made me listen to the change in the sound that the water made as the bottle went from empty to full.

When I ride the bus, initially I am able to hear all the people talking along with being able to hear the rumble of the bus engine. As I spend more time on the bus, everyone’s voices seem to gradually fade out and blend with the engine unless I specifically focus on one particular conversation. However the longer that I am on it, the less I notice the engine. In this way my ears close without me even being aware of it happening.

At times I close my ears to things I should not. If a lecture does not capture my attention I end up getting distracted. In these cases I am not “open to new ideas” because they do not hold my interest (Schafer 25). Doing this assignment has made me realize just how much I close my ears to the world around me. If I miss this much in the course of a week, how much do I loose in a lifetime?

List of Sounds

Works Cited

Chion, Michel. “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: 1-3. Print.

Schafer, Murray. “Open Ears.” Thinking About Sound. 25-39. Print.

Commonality and Repetition

After beginning ones college life, it is very easy to notice all that is perceived can be boiled down into two categories: that which is static, and that which is changing. Static perceptions can be seen as constant, but not in the sense that there is no break from their presence. These perceptions are, instead, repetitive and dull from achieving a label of ‘usual’. Even the most chaotic of environments, given time, can morph into background static. Taking from the work of Karen Bijsterveld, quoting Doron K. Antrim, “‘the ear tends to follow’ the agreeable ‘regular tonal pulsations’ of music and ‘ to forget’ the irritating and fatiguing ‘regular pulsations’ of noise” (Bijsterveld 156). The audiography I have assembled, Static, explores the constant sounds of my life and the way I listen to these sounds.

Tracks like “That Darn Alarm”, “Morning Shower” and “Genetics Homework” are examples of sounds that, while being heard and recognized, do not entirely register. The shower, the sounds of pencil on paper and the alarm, used solely by my roommate, are all sounds that I no longer pay attention to, simply because of their lack of importance and, in the case of the alarm, because I rarely get up when my roommate does. In the words of Set Horowitz, “[I] keep most sounds off [my] cognitive radar unless they might be of use as a signal” (Horowitz, 4). Static sounds that hold no importance to me often go unnoticed, even if they are heard.

There are two examples of ambiance included in my audiography, displaying two different settings that are experienced in similar ways. While the background noise in my room tends to be quiet at times, the Marche is loud and full of voices and music. As different as these environments are, I ‘hear’ similarly in both. The sounds of the radiator and wind outside are dimmed out just as the conversations and music are in the Marche. Both of the sounds experienced in these areas, heard on an everyday basis, have little significance and are diminished to give way to other sounds that I may cognitively find important.

The track “Suitemate Playing Guitar” is an example of a sound that is heard often in my suite. My suitemate likes serenades us with songs he has written (or like this case, songs we have requested) and often I have found myself semiconsciously using the character of his songs as an indicator for his mood. This act of using semantic listening, something Chion describes as listening for “a code or language to interpret a message” (Chion, 50), is one way the common sounds of my life and translated into something meaningful.

Practice” is a track capturing the work I do at the music center on a daily basis. The amount of time spent playing the instrument have left me familiar with it and the music, but unlike the other examples, the familiarity with the sounds has not left me unaware to what is being played. On the contrary, I often listen harder to understand what I am playing and what must be done to improve my interpretation of the piece. Another example of semantic listening, I often pull meaning from the emotions the composer is trying to convey through the music to try and better perform the pieces. Using causal listening, which Chion describes as“listening to a sound in order to gather information about its cause or source” (Chion, 48), I often have to identify what is being played wrong in order to fix it. The variety of listening methods used while practicing make practicing it something common but not off the radar.

The sounds that are heard on a common basis often go unnoticed, often existing in the background but given no thought. Some are continuous, others are repetitive, but most of these sounds are ignored to leave more room to focus on sounds that we are unaccustomed to. When we do listen to the sounds we have diminished in recognition, we employ a variety of techniques suited to analyze and process the sounds, in the hope that we may gleam meaning from the underlying patterns and repetitions.


Works Cited

Bijsterveld, Karin. “Listening to Machines.” The Sound Studies Reader. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 152-167. Print.

Chion, Michel. “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.



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.


Repeat or Replay

According to Karin Bijsterveld, quoting Doron K. Antrim, “‘the ear tends to follow’ the agreeable ‘regular tonal pulsations’ of music and ‘ to forget’ the irritating and fatiguing ‘regular pulsations’ of noise” (Bijsterveld 156).  The recordings included in my audiography, “Repetitions,” exemplify Bijsterveld’s idea that noise and chaos become musical and rhythmic when repeated in an orderly fashion.  The sounds I included in “Repetitions” are sounds that I hear repeated each day and have taken on the role of rhythmic background music to the dynamic aspects of my life.  I arranged these sounds in the order that I hear them each day.  “Repetitions” begins with the way I begin my day, with my morning shower, cycles through my routine of eating and attending class and running, and then ends back where it began in my dorm room.  Occasionally one sound is misplaced in the sequence, for example I eat at Harris/Millis later in the day or hop on my computer earlier, but usually such small shifts in the rhythm of my life do not change the way I define myself.  However, major shifts in the arrangement of these repetitive sounds alter my perceptions of myself, and often these major changes occur depending on my physical location and my age.

When initially establishing my rhythmic background, by coming to a new place or point in my life, I employ causal listening by “listening to a sound in order to gather information about its cause or source” (Chion 48).  Upon my arrival at UVM, I heard an electronic swish and thump, and I was forced to identify the cause of the sound as the hallway door being opened and closed.  Gradually, as I became more accustomed to the opening and closing noises of the door, I employed a form of semantic listening by listening for, “a code or language to interpret a message” (Chion 50).  Although, in listening to the door, I was not hearing the words that make up language, I was using semantic listening by identifying patterns in the way the door was opened to signify the meaning behind that act.  For example, if the door is opened for more than ten seconds before it shuts, there are probably multiple people entering the hallway, or if the door is opened very gruffly and quickly, it is possible that the person opening the door is in a hurry.  By identifying patterns and behavioral codes in the sounds of the door, I am using semantic listening to identify the motivations behind the person opening the door.  Throughout my college experience so far, I have first listened to all of my recorded sounds causally and then later listened semantically.

By entering the next stage of listening to my various rhythmic sounds, Schafer would claim that these sounds no longer capture my attention as they did when I was first employing causal listening because the sounds become a consistent part of my environment, and “things that can’t be generated or shut off with buttons or switches attract little attention in the modern world” (Schafer 38).  However, due to the consistent repetition of these sounds day after day, I have developed a relationship with the noises because they define me at this point in my life.  I may not listen to each of these sounds with focused attention every time I hear each noise, but because I listened intently to the sounds when I first encountered them I have “tune[d] [my] brain to the patterns of [my] environment” and will  quickly identify a change in any of my included recordings (Horowitz 2).

Like the factory workers Bijsterveld describes whose “cultural meanings of sounds largely explain the lack of [their] enthusiasm for hearing protection,” the way I identify with the sounds of my current situation at UVM explains how I feel about my surroundings and myself (Bijsterveld 163).  When I return home to Oregon this summer, I will need to redefine myself by the rhythmic noises of my everyday life in a new town and a new season.  However, right now in my life the ten tracks presented in “Repetitions” demonstrate my stability here at UVM.  “While unusual noises suggested mechanical faults” to the factory workers, and “familiar sounds were a comfort to both drivers and workers,” I find comfort in the familiar sounds I hear from the time I wake each morning, to the time my head hits the pillow (Bijsterveld 161).


Works Cited 

Bijsterveld, Karin. “Listening to Machines.” The Sound Studies Reader. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 152-167. Print.

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. .

Schafer, Murray. “Open Ears.” Thinking About Sound.