My first plan of attack is to approach R. Murray Schafer’s “Ear-Cleaning Exercises” as printed in A Sound Education (Arcana Editions, 1992). I will post an exercise or a selection of exercises each Monday and post a thread for discussion each Thursday. See “How do I participate in the listening project?” for more information.
Although I will be posting excerpts from the book online, I do recommend accessing the complete version for your own perusal. It is available directly from Arcana (which publishes only Schafer’s works). However, as the price is somewhat steep after tax, the fee for wiring funds, and shipping, I would remind the reader that there is absolutely nothing wrong with consulting one’s library to see if this book is available. As for methods of more dubious legality, I would also remind the reader that these exist, although I do not necessarily endorse them nor do I take responsibility for legal or ethical quandaries which may arise as a result of obtaining the book in this manner.
Here’s a bit of Schafer’s introduction to the book to get you in the right mindset:
…We listen in different ways to different things, and there is much evidence to suggest that not only individuals but societies listen differently. For instance, there is a difference between what we might call focused listening and peripheral listening. Why do we focus on certain sounds and merely overhear others? Are some sounds discriminated against culturally so that they are not heard at all?…Are some sounds filtered out or rendered inconspicuous by others? And how does the changing acoustic environment affect the kind of sounds we choose to listen to or ignore?
I call the acoustic environment the soundscape, by which I mean the total field of sounds wherever we are. It is a word derived from landscape, though, unlike it, not strictly limited to the outdoors…The soundscapes of the world are incredibly variable, differing with the time of day and season, with place and which culture.
Everywhere in the world today the soundscape is changing. Sounds are multiplying even faster than people as we surround ourselves with more and more mechanical gadgetry. This has produced a noisier environment…How is our hearing psychologically affected by these changes? Is there a way of filtering out unwanted sound and still allowing the desired messages through? Or does sensory overload finally beat us into a state of dopey submission or frazzled despair?
…I believe that the way to improve the world’s soundscape is quite simple. We must learn how to listen. It seems to be a habit we have forgotten. We must sensitize the ear to the miraculous world of sound around us. After we have developed some critical acumen, we may go on to larger projects with social implications so that others may be influenced by our experiences. The ultimate aim would be to begin to make conscious design decisions affecting the soundscape around this.
How could I put all this in the most cogent manner for teachers and individuals who might be interested in such a program? I decided the simplest form would be the best: a collection of exercises—I would call them Ear Cleaning Exercises…
…I have gathered them loosely so that those at the beginning are concerned with aural perception and imagination, while those in the middle deal with the making of sounds, and those at the end deal with sound in society. Take them; they’re yours. Adapt them as necessary to your own situation and add others as they occur to you. There is no end to this project, just the continuous struggle to beautify the world in whatever ways people with good ears can imagine.