Listen with your Eyes

Listen with your eyes closed, because what you see influences what you hear.

Thus exhorted Wouter Snoei, a composer from The 192 loudspeaker experience, a concert we attended in Amsterdam with our friends.

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Peter Elsea, for the University of California at Santa Cruz electronic music studios, wrote an essay on Hearing and Perception. Although he posted the essay in 1996 (so there may be more current research available), I found it an interesting accompaniment to the 192 loudspeaker concert.

Returning to Wouter’s exhortation, I wear glasses, and wearing glasses impacts my ability to hear. In loud environments particularly, I need to see the speaker’s face and lips to influence the odds of properly hearing what is being said. More on this idea is available in The University of Kent’s peer-reviewed electronic academic journal article posited by Michael A. Forrester, Auditory Perception and Sound As Event: Theorising Sound Imagery in Psychology. If you don’t feel like reading the entire article, skip ahead to section 5.

I suspect if we had kept our eyes open during the loudspeaker experience, we would surely have processed the sounds as coming from the 192 speakers. By listening with my eyes closed, I heard the sounds but conjured up images of the places or people from where the sounds may have emanated. (And yes, I did keep them closed during each of the four pieces!) This is not unlike listening to a radio, as discussed in Forrester’s article. In many instances, listening while seeing combine to enhance the ability to process the sound.

At the HyperPhysics site, hosted by the Georgia State University Department of Physics and Astronomy, you can learn more about the physics of the ear and hearing. And you can get an earful of information at Neuroscience for Kids, including experiments to test your hearing.

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