Sounds are so common all around us. Sounds of daily life, sounds of nature, even the sound of one’s own thoughts! No matter the location, or the time of day, we are constantly surrounded by an amazingly detailed tapestry of sound. One which reveals the special qualities that define the world that surrounds us.
Some sounds are so common we may take them for granted and don’t notice them at all, perhaps something small like crickets, while other sounds are unexpected and stand out; like the boom of thunder. Some sounds are even delicate and fleeting, like the rustle of birds in a brush.
Cultural sounds also define our listening experiences, from the honk and hum of traffic to children at play.
By paying attention to these layers of sounds, we come to know and appreciate another aspect of our environment.
July 18th is World Listening Day. It is an annual global event devoted to understanding the world and its natural environment, societies and cultures through practices of listening and field recording. It is also It is also a day to bring awareness to acoustic ecology—a discipline that studies the relationship between humans and the natural world in regards to sound.
On most World Listening Days thousands of people across the globe participate by taking soundwalks, listening to field recordings, going to listening events and attending talks on listening.
The day chosen for World Listening Day isn’t just randomly chosen either as it takes place on the birthday of Raymond Murray Schafer, a Canadian composer and environmentalist who founded the study of acoustic ecology, in the late 1960s, at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
Much like when we discussed 5 senses day a couple of weeks ago, sound, when independent from the accompaniment of other senses, is often taken for granted. Sound enhances our perceptions in ways totally unique from sight. The fact is – our visual world just wouldn’t be the same without sound.
This upcoming weekend is the perfect time to reflect on what we hear in the world around us, how does it make us feel? What is it revealing around us?
If you want to get started we have a few suggestions to help you celebrate world listening day.
Activate Your Listening
First, we need to activate our listening. Stop, and make a point to listen to what’s going on around you. Then, if you are in a safe place, you can definitely hear more with your eyes closed – so close them.
Next, focus on a common sound in the environment around you. Maybe it’s something that you’ve noticed before while going about your day. If you focus on that sound alone, with your eyes closed, then you can proceed with a deeper state of listening and follow some of our suggestions to enhance your soundcape.
Ways to Enhance Your Soundscape
These exercises might help you to get started enhancing your soundscape experience by assisting you in becoming more aware of the sounds unfolding around you.
Sounds in the home or Office
What sounds can you identify when sitting with your eyes closed at your home or office? Do you hear the ticking of a clock? The whir of a functioning A/C unit, fan or heater? Do you hear footsteps? How about people talking? Do you hear a pet dog, or cat – breathing, or purring. Try and find sounds that are familiar throughout your normal day-to-day and appreciate them in a way you’ve maybe never have before.
Sounds of the City
Now try sitting outside or by an open window. What do you hear?
- Machine Sounds: Do you hear cars driving by, or distant trains? What about the sounds of any machinery?
- Human Sounds: Do you hear any children playing, or people talking or communicating? What about any people doing maintenance tasks, like mowing, sawing or hammering.
There are usually more than enough sounds in urban outdoor areas. Many of which you probably have never consciously noticed while going about your business.
Sounds While Walking in the Wild
Make your way to an open outdoor wilderness area. A large park could do, but ideally somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of human interactivity would be more appropriate. Take a walk and find what you can hear.
Do you hear your own footsteps? Try and walk so that you can’t. Do you hear the wind? Trees or bushes rustling? How about birds chirping?
- Sound Landscape: Does the shape of the land affect the way sound travels to your ear? Are there any echoes?
- Animal Sounds: Listen for an animal. What sound does the animal make? Try walking as though you were a predator. Approach some of these animals slowly, hear how they react audibly.
- Sound Size: Listen around you. Do you hear the movement on an animal in a bush or tree? Can you guess the size of an animal from the sound alone?
When doing these sound exercises, what was the most beautiful sound you heard at any of the locations? What sound was the least appealing?
Count Sounds or Keep A Tally
Lift up a finger for each sound you hear. Use your left hand for natural sounds and your right hand for human-made sounds. Or try keeping a tally of every kind of sound you hear. What sound do you hear the most?
Sound Design or Sound Language
Find a sound you like. If that sound was an unfamiliar language, how would it be written? Or if the sound was a shape or a drawing, what would it look like? Jot that sound down on paper.
Think on Seasonal Sounds You Love
Consider Your favorite sounds of the seasons. What are your favorite sounds of summer? The pulsing sound of crickets, the creaking chorus of frogs, or maybe the distant rumble of a thunderstorm?
How about in winter? Do you like the sound of crisp, crunching snow under your feet as you walk, or the crackling of a fireplace? What about the howling of brisk winds?
What are your favorite sounds in spring? Is it a gentle rain falling, or wind chimes blowing gently in the breeze? Or do you prefer the returning songbirds joyfully singing to welcome a season of renewed growth.
Experience Unfamiliar Sounds
Maybe you’d like to experience a different soundscape than your local area. There are many locations on the internet to find live streaming or recorded soundscapes that would be unfamiliar territory of a world away.
Check out live soundscapes from across the world at this link: http://locusonus.org/soundmap/051/ or search the internet for more.
Whether you live in a neighborhood in a city or town, or are tucked away from the sounds of city streets in a wide open space. We hope that you can take just a little extra time on World Listening Day to be inspired by sound and to reflect on the range of sounds around you!