My Listening Protocol III

Late in 2019 and early in 2020, Salomé Voegelin and Mark Wright, directing the impressive project Listening Across Disciplines visited us here at the Sound Studies Lab. They discussed with us our research approaches, our ways of developing research focuses, applying methods, and publishing research results.

However, they focused primarily on how we employ listening as a research method. Towards the end of our conversations, they asked each of us to outline our individual listening protocol: they »organise and articulate listening in a way that is useful and adaptable to various disciplines, enabling and legitimising sonic processes and materialities as part of research and knowledge production.«

In one of our Colloquia Sound & Senses this spring, the composer and performer Lars Graugaard contributed the following listening protocol:

For listening pleasure and professional listening I apply different modes.

Listening pleasure is non-expert and an immediate appreciation of the sound waves, as they envelop and transport the listening body.

In contrast, professional listening is an expert endeavour, and in my case it involves a number of steps where some are inescapable, and many more are significantly discretional. (This suggests the general opportunity in the professional realm for vastly different listening objectives outside of those I may happen to have.)

First I do a spot listening as a short-term appreciation of 0.5 – 2 seconds snippets at random locations, to get an impression of the sound’s presence independently of the composition’s form (and the composer’s purpose). I listen for sound features such as transcients, spectral balance, density, depth, roughness, transparency etc. and small contours. It gives me an impression of the relative weight and balance of the music’s immediate sonic attributes, as well as its immediate presence in local, physical space. It can be likened to a quick personality check that will decide how – and if – I continue to listen.

I may then listen for slightly longer segments, to grasp phrase contours on the time scale of, say, a spoken phrase. This gives me a more nuanced understanding of the musical ideas, as the underlying personality of the author (and thus any aims and intentions implied) will become clearer.

My listening may stop at any step given the attentiveness my listening so far has induced, but if I am sufficiently intrigued professionally, I will listen to larger parts of the composition, to see how ideas combine and contrast, how resolution and tension is managed and so forth. This could be determined as the narrative, and it is mostly where I begin to take real, personal benefit of the listening, sifting for (counter)ideas and inspirations.

What I am listening for is the sonic, or spectral features, as I separate mid-level units into performative and compositional. At this point I also begin to fold back my listening into that of the non-expert, as I establish a relationship between the factual ongoings and the – naïve – musical appreciation. This way I let what I hear impregnate me so that it ideally can take a future shape within my me, albeit in such a way that it integrates completely.