What was it? What’s the answer??? A couple of days ago I posted a listening challenge as part of #MUS654. The task was to create a soundscape and see if you, the listeners, could guess where I was and what was happening. I did have a few people have a go and share their thoughts…
One person asked:
Is that the sound of sand being poured out from a large bucket?
Wendy Taleo tweeted a haiku:
She sits near the road
Wet bitumen a mirror
Then I had this, which was spot on:
It sounds as though you are next to a road with a damp surface as if it had been raining. I heard several cars go by and I think there also a bike.
This comment came from someone who is an accomplished musician, and very used to listening to a variety of angles within the sounds around us. It is a real skill, and not everyone is regularly so objective and analytical with their listening, but that does not mean it cannot be achieved.
The first guess was good. Sand. There are qualities that are similar – the sound is low down to the ground and it has some semblance to white noise. It is something that we, as humans, do – to relate to what we know. It turns out that first guess came from someone who lives in a place where sand is prevalent, so they were used to that sound and associated the unknown with what they knew. I did a research study with several hundred school children at the beginning of my PhD, and they were all learning new instruments. One boy said he was learning the ‘elbow’. It was the oboe, but he had never heard of an oboe, and renamed it to be something he had heard of. I do that too – if I read a complicated foreign name in a book I sometimes make up a new version that is easier for me to read rather than breaking up the flow while I work out the phonetics.
Listening is a skill that can be developed, and it takes practice.
My cello teacher in Chicago used to occasionally suggest I practice in the dark: to listen and not rely on my eyes. At first that was so hard. It was similar to asking someone to meditate and clear their mind for the first time. I am very visual and aged about 19 when I first attempted to actually have a clear mind I did things like imagine window cleaners walking into my brain and polishing the interior walls. Busy, busy, busy. Take a moment in your day, whether you are a musician or not, and shut your eyes for 10 or 20 seconds and listen. Do it every day for a week. It is amazing what you might hear over the days.
Featured image CC BY by Colin Kinner