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Ways of Listening and Hearing (Jean Luc Nancy)

On December 31, 2012 by danscott With 0 Comments - Uncategorized

Ways of Listening and Ways of Hearing In Listening, Jean-Luc Nancy asks: What does to be listening, to be all ears, as one would say to be in the world mean? What does it mean to exist according to listening, for it and through it, what part of experience and truth is put into play? Nancys essay Listening highlights the different modes apparent in the vocabulary describing our sensory register, illuminating the contradictions of the Artistotlean bee. In the French, the verb hear means both entendre and comprendre; the former referring to the passive, physiological sensation of sound (its simple nature), the latter to an understanding, or a recognition of meaning. Between the two we find listening: its (the sonorous registers ) tense, attentive, or anxious state To listen is to stretch the earit is an intensification, and a concern, a curiousity or an anxiety. Taking Nancys starting point, I suggest that listening is approached via many techniques of listening, and that we should speak of ways of listening, rather than reducing listening down to one or two modes. Futhermore these formulations of listening are discrete, and occupy a different realm to that of a way of hearing (a way of understanding). Lets explore the following propositions: 1. To speak of ways of hearing demands an analysis of behaviour: the uncovering of our aural habitus .

1. To speak of ways of listening demands a scoping of discourse and theory: of cultural representations of aural encounters. We can begin with the formulation of listening offered by Nancy. He differentiates: 1. Hearing as sense passive/physiological 2. Listening as action straining towards 3. Hearing as understanding (HEARING BEHIND THE WORDS) In French the distinction between one and three is apparent in language, hear is entendre, and hear is also comprendre. In English we could use hear for both, as in

1 I hear you (I am aware of your voice) 3 I hear you (I completely understand what youre saying) HOW COMMON IS THIS Hearing may begin as instinct and end in Le Sacred u Printemps. (Toop) The movement between the two forms of hearing is guided by the way of listening, and the way of listening will determine what understanding you reach. In the above example (I hear you) your way of listening could be described as linguistic, it would be dealing in syntax and semantics, and only through this active engagement with language would the final hearing be possible. However, you could have chosen another way of listening. You could have listened to the beautiful tone of your friends voice; the rich baritone depth of his vowels and the soft, wisp-like wash of his sibilants. Your understanding would become one of sonic quality, verging on music, or texture. So engaged with this way of listening, you would have absolutely no idea what he was speaking about. Our way of listening is always active. How we chose each particular way is perhaps not in the above example you may have been seduced into an enjoyment of texture and musicality in the voice. You might even be in love. The slippage in your listening was not conscious. But once you start enjoying that voice, you engage actively. You employ techniques of listening. Hearing, as in Nancys first formulation, is a sense, whereas listening is attending to that sense; it is attention, it is consciousness. We can talk of a cultured ear that hears particularly, that understands sound in a different way to another ear, but the nature of this hearing is unconscious to the one hearing. It becomes an embodied norm. In musical terms, an ear cultured in Western art music will find joy in Bach, an ear cultured in indie-rock will find joy in Morrissey, the former will hear only noise in Morrissey (as my 9 year-old self did). These various satisfactions are different ways of hearing. To the Western ear, the intervals-within-intervals of Chinese Opera can sound wholly unmusical, even out of tune. But to the aficionado such intervals are absolutely the norm, and capable of sublime beauty. In the production of music a certain record producer will have the ability to draw out different qualities in the sounds she is using. She may become known for a certain sound, born out a certain way of hearing. The vocal sound may be recognizable, the mix idiosyncratic to that producer. A phonographers recordings may be recognizably their work, due to a cohesion between the subject of their recordings, or the particular sonority of what they choose to record. When listened to en-masse we might start to speak of that phonographers way of hearing, with her catalogue becoming an earpiece onto her hearing of the world. A way of hearing is unconscious of itself, we cannot listen to ourselves hearing, but it leads itself to that unconscious and particular way of hearing through a straining and conscious way of listening. This may be tacitly learnt, unconsciously acquired as a habit or a mechanistic approach, but, once engaged, it is active, it is a space entered into by will.

These ways of hearing are not, on the whole, understood by those people who benefit from the understanding of sound that such hearings offer, it is the job of the outsider to determine what these ways of hearing are. In the same way John Berger uncovers the male gaze in Ways of Seeing, so we may uncover a male way of hearing, but one cannot, unconsciously and immediately, force oneself to that same plateau of understanding. The only way we can move ourselves there is to act consciously, and actively, and seek the way of listening that can lead us there. If we wish to see women as objects, as Berger argues much of the Western art does, we need to look at the world in a certain way. We need to engage with a specific discourse about beauty, about politics, about identity. So, women become sublimated and men believe they can possess those women, and so on. If, in our real life, we hold a contrary view to this we can only, using the words of anthropologist Clifford Geertz, look over the shoulder of our subject, and slowly learn their technique of looking. In contrast to ways of hearing, ways of listening are dogmatic offering strategies and raison detres . They give us passports of entry to new zones of understanding, to new awakenings, to new ways of hearing that are otherwise faraway lands. Ways of listening lend themselves to discourse, to manifestos and calls to action. In the movement through listening that leads toentendre, it is in the way of listening that we find concrete strategies. Morrissey did not tell me how to listen to his voice. My formulation of the way of listening I employed to find meaning in his voice is still vague for me, but this meaning did not emerge from the voice unbidden. I had to engage, I had to act, I had to move. I had to employ techniques of listening; a phrase developed by Jonathan Sterne in the Audible Past and taken from Marcel Mauss work on techniques of the body. Ways of listening invariably encompass physical actions, and as Sterne notes: Technique connotes practice, virtuosti, the possibilities of failure and accidentIt is a learned skill, a set of repeatable activities within a limited number of framed contexts Physical techniques are apparent at concerts; in the upright, face-forward mode of the concert hall, in the slouched, eyes-closed grimace of the experimental music gig, in the hands in the air abandon of the music club, in the far-away look of the afternoon radio listener. The sensation I felt when listening to 90s rave tapes is an example of a failure to adopt the correct technique. Within sound art, and some strands of music, the way of listening necessary to understand the work has, occasionally, been explicitly laid out by the practitioner. Techniques are made manifest as instruction. These strategies are often contradictory, as they are aiming for contrary ways of hearing, or seeking the same objective, but approaching it in different ways. Examples include: Reduced listening Deep listening Gestalt listening Environmental listening

Or particular ways of listening have been developed to deal with particular sounds: Listening to silence Listening to noise Listening to voice Listening to the imagination Listening to music These ways of listening are conscious calls to lead the ear to new ways of hearing. It is these ways of listening that teach us how to walk around the garden. Furthermore, they are employed by artists to push their audiences towards these new realms. If the artist wants the audience to hear what they hear, then they need to teach that audience to listen how they listen.