Michel Chion’s contributions to the study of sound and listening extend the groundbreaking work of Pierre Schaeffer, providing a comprehensive framework for understanding auditory experiences. Chion’s theories delve into the nature of sound objects, the multifaceted nature of listening, and the innovative field of acoulogy. This essay examines Chion’s key concepts, presents a glossary of terms, and explores his critiques and expansions on traditional sound theories. The discussion includes detailed explanations of auditum, acoulogy, and different listening modes as described by Chion.

Acoulogy, a term revived and redefined by Chion, extends Schaeffer’s initial idea. It encompasses the study of listening mechanisms and sound properties from a broad perspective, aiming to become a science of auditory experiences. This field seeks to understand sound objects beyond their musical applications, focusing on knowledge and interdisciplinary research (Chion 15).

Critique of Traditional Theories #

Chion critiques traditional sound theories for their limitations in describing and classifying sounds. Classical music theory’s parameters fail to account for the complexities of nonmusical sounds and the richness of contemporary auditory experiences. Schaeffer’s innovative concepts of “site” and “caliber” for evaluating complex sounds challenge these traditional notions, advocating for a more nuanced understanding of auditory perception (Chion 16, 55).

Listening as a Multifaceted Task #

Listening, according to Chion, is a dynamic and multifaceted task involving various modes of engagement with sound. Schaeffer’s distinctions between causal, semantic, and reduced listening highlight different aspects of how we perceive and interpret auditory stimuli. Chion’s expanded concept of acoulogy includes these modes and proposes that listening experiments and collaborative research can further our understanding of sound objects and their perception (Chion 45, 121).

Different Listening Modes #

Chion, building on Schaeffer’s work, describes three primary listening modes:

  • Causal Listening: Identifying the source and cause of a sound, understanding its origin and implications.
  • Semantic Listening: Interpreting sound based on its symbolic meaning, often used in language and communication.
  • Reduced Listening: Focusing solely on the sound itself, analyzing its properties without considering its source or meaning:

“Listening is always subject to a multitude of influences and biases, often leading us to confuse the sound with its source or meaning” (Chion 192).

Auditum: Definition and Innovations #

The term “auditum” refers to the act of hearing, emphasizing the active engagement of the listener with sound. Its etymology traces back to Latin, signifying the depth of auditory perception. Chion argues that traditional definitions of sound are inadequate, proposing a more comprehensive view that includes the listener’s subjective experience and the context of the auditory event. This perspective challenges conventional notions and advocates for a radical rethinking of sound’s role and significance in our lives:

“The auditum is sound as perceived and cannot possibly be confused either with the real source (or the causal complex that constitutes its source) or with the vibratory phenomena studied by the discipline called ‘acoustics.’ Unlike Schaeffer’s sound object, the auditum is subject to all modes of listening—reduced, causal, figurative, semantic, which make up different, at once linked and independent, levels of apprehension” (Chion 193).

Implications of the Auditum #

Auditum, being the result of multiple modes of listening, implies a complex, multi-dimensional engagement with sound. It encompasses reduced listening, where the focus is on the sound itself; causal listening, which seeks to identify the source; and figurative listening, which interprets what the sound represents. This multi-dimensional aspect allows auditum to be a versatile and inclusive concept, accommodating various listening contexts and interpretations. Chion states:

“Auditum is a word willfully and consciously indeterminate with respect to the length of time that a phenomenon takes up. Furthermore, it can be the subject of reduced listening or of causal and/or figurative listening” (Chion 192).

What’s Next: The Future of Acoulogy #

Acoulogy, as defined by Chion, aims to explore sound from every conceivable angle, emphasizing the importance of reduced listening while also considering causal and figurative aspects. The discipline seeks to establish a systematic approach to studying sound objects, integrating insights from phenomenology and interdisciplinary research. The future of acoulogy lies in its potential to expand our understanding of auditory perception, influencing fields such as music, cinema, and technology (Chion 169).

While Chion’s theories provide a robust framework for understanding sound and listening, they also highlight areas that require further exploration. One potential limitation of current acoulogical theory is its emphasis on the subjective experience of sound, which, while comprehensive, might benefit from integrating more objective, empirical methods. The interplay between subjective auditory experiences and measurable acoustic properties could lead to a more holistic understanding of sound.

Future endeavors in acoulogy could focus on the integration of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze and interpret soundscapes. These technologies could assist in mapping out complex auditory environments, providing new insights into how we perceive and interact with sound. Additionally, interdisciplinary research involving psychology, neuroscience, and sound engineering could further elucidate the cognitive and emotional aspects of auditory perception.

Chion’s work also opens the door to exploring the cultural and social dimensions of sound. How different cultures perceive and interpret sounds could reveal significant variations in auditory experiences and lead to a more inclusive acoulogical framework. This cultural perspective could be essential in understanding global soundscapes and their impact on human behavior and interaction.

References #

  • Chion, Michel. Sound: An Acoulogical Treatise. Translated by James A. Steintrager. Duke University Press, 2016.
  • Schaeffer, Pierre. Traité des objets musicaux. Paris: Seuil, 1966.