Anthropology in listening

Submitted by Grace F. Donahue on Friday, 2/4/2011, at 1:28 AM

Aurality is a huge concept, so in this blog post I want to just attack a single strand of what we discussed in class this week and read about in Erlmann's book. First, I think it is important to throw in a bit of description of some ways aurality could be defined. Aurality is – in a general sense – a noun reserved for what the ears and the mind create together, e.g. awareness of sound, connection with sound, hearing and listening in both physical  and mental processes, and the meta-processes of this mental experience. Aurality encapsulates “the mind” and “the body” in ways that when applied to human participation in the acts of listening often disregard Descartes' clear distinctions between the two entities, something that Erlmann addresses at the beginning and end of his book. Although these Cartesian distinctions are extremely interesting and act as a parallel thread to Erlmann's notion of the incompatibility yet absolute inherence of reason and resonance within aurality, these paradoxes within human interactions with sound are not what most interest me in Erlmann's book. Instead, I am compelled less by the philosophy and theory behind a general aurality, than by conceptions of how music acts within, upon and through individuals and groups of people.
    To best sum up this strand of aurality – the connection between what is brought by individuals and groups to the process of listening – is a passage straight from Erlmann (2010: 23): “...we cannot divorce what people hear from the thick layer of speech genres and conventions of communication in and through which listeners report on their illusive inner experience.” Despite the fact that this was a side comment by Erlmann, it seems to make all the difference in terms of realized aurality. For example, perhaps Beethoven's fifth symphony is a “quintessential autonomous work” which can bring the listener who listens “correctly” towards a realization of Kantian Truth, but the questions that come to my mind all revolve around the expressions of culture that go along with this process. In other words: who was the piece written for? What group of people is predisposed by education, class, race, physical capability, and accessibility of the piece to experience this Truth? Why is this Truth potentially privileged above a truth that could be revealed by “Peg and Awl” by the Carolina Tar Heels? The ways in which music is approached, classified and affects human lives if perhaps more than just a compromise between “the mind” and “the body,” but also a compromise between internal appreciation and external factors that then become internalized through the process of listening.
    I would propose listening again to both the Beethoven example and the Carolina Tar Heels example, while thinking through not only the musical factors within the songs, but also the cultural factors that potentially inspired them and then inspired their trajectories of appreciation.

 

Taking Notes