From listening to sound composition

Audible environments

Hearing is easy for humans – provided the hearing organ is intact and its function is not impaired. The ears are exposed to the constant influence of auditory stimuli (Schafer 1988). Involuntarily or voluntarily, unknowingly or knowingly, humans therefore witness everything around them that produces noise or sound (Hagen 2006). Many researchers, educators and composers, and most prominently Canadian R. Murray Schafer, developed a new form of consciously perceiving the surroundings through listening – the sound walk or listening walk, which opens the door to unrestricted and focused listening to sounds and noises in the immediate environment of a person (Westerkamp 2007).

At the end of the sixties, Canadian composer, hearing researcher and hearing pedagogue R.Murray Schafer coined the term soundscape. He describes it as an acoustic environment that surrounds every human and combines music, language and non-verbal sounds (Schafer & Breitsameter 2010).

When exploring the soundscapes, a distinction is made between sound walks and listening walks. While full attention is given to the perception of all surrounding sounds on listening walks (Schafer & Breitsameter 2010), the focus of sound walks is directed at specific acoustic phenomena in the environment. Schafer sees the world as a composition of noises and sounds, with humans in the role of co-producers, listeners and composers. Hence, humans can actively influence the sounds of the world and change them in their favour, they can orchestrate and alter them (Schafer 1988). The modifying and processing of listening experiences takes place in the sound compositions. Sound compositions come in many different forms and facets, from concrete, instrumental or vocal emulations of listening impressions to electro-acoustic remakes with live performances.

Listening and inventing music in school

Listening walks are particularly recommendable for the use in school because of both their variability and simplicity. The everyday environment becomes tangible through a small, random cut-out and permanently influences pupils’ listening behaviour. Furthermore, with their listening experiences, listening walks form an important source of inspiration for creative processes in the creation of music.

The sensuous experience is the basis for the inventive, musical approach to listening impressions and thus enables the realisation even in very heterogeneous groups of pupils. Listening as a starting point for creative and performative musical processes enables all pupils to participate, without any requirements. It allows creative production according to individual possibilities.

Preparatory listening exercises help increase pupils’ awareness for details in order to be able to analyse them correctly. This way, sounds can be perceived in a more differentiated manner. If the listening walk is carried out with closed eyes, preparatory measures also include orientation exercises. In this case, pupils must rely on their hearing because what is otherwise the strongest sense – the sense of sight – is blocked.

Listening walks may be done with the eyes closed or open. In the project, the listening walk was carried out with open eyes for organisational and liability reasons on the part of teachers.

Listening walks with closed eyes are even more intense. A pupil with closed or blindfolded eyes is led through the environment by a partner who takes on the role of a seeing person of trust. Half way through, the partners switch roles. The experience of silence, not speaking or whispering during the listening walk is crucial for the experience. This option requires the ability to recognise and interpret movement signals as well as a high degree of mutual respect, a strong sense of responsibility, and trust. Expressing their experiences verbally after the listening walk helps pupils process and understand their listening impressions better. The experienced sound landscape will then be marked on a sound map, which makes it possible to identify exactly where each sound was perceived. Pupils can use the map as a basis for their sound composition.

Alternatively, the listening impressions can be illustrated graphically, pictorially or with other symbols. The following module sections refer repeatedly to the pictorial option.

All listening impressions and musical performances may be recorded electronically for editing or further reflection at a later time.

The two module sections are designed to build upon each other, according to the phases of creative processes.


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