The Sound Of My Balcony

Noah Sniderman
RTA 907
Lori Beckstead
September 12th, 2016

Part 1

1. A sound (or sounds) that is above you:

The leaves of the tree above me rustled in the wind, a plane passed by overhead, and a cicada performed it’s obnoxious mating call as I sat in my chair.

2. A sound (or sounds) that is below you:

I heard the sound of traffic from the street below, primarily in the form of accelerating TTC buses and squealing brakes. As well, a couple of leaves fell from the tree and landed quietly on the deck.

3. A sound (or sounds) that moves from left to right (and/or right to left):

The sound of accelerating vehicles on the street below moved from left to right, as did the plane overhead. The gust of wind was audible in my right ear where it was blowing, but I don’t know that I actually heard it moving across a horizontal plane to the left.

4. A sound (or sounds) that has a repetitive rhythm:

I set an alarm on my phone for two minutes for this listening exercise, and once it went off, it rang with a repetitive rhythm. I also was listening to the sound of an A/C unit and a cicada. Though I was unable to detect a repetitive rhythm, I’m sure that if I had a slowed recording of them, a rhythm would be present. 

5. The loudest sound you heard:

The noise of the cicada was fairly piercing, as it came from the tree above me. It was the only sound so loud that it consumed my whole attention. 

6. The quietest sound you heard:

The quietest sound I heard was the wind when it was at its least gust-y. I was able to detect the sound of it blowing on my ears ever so delicately. I also think that I heard the sound of a leaf falling, which was a very soft sound as well.

7. A sound (or sounds) that was present the whole time you were listening:

The A/C unit on the roof of the apartment building across from me was humming away consistently the entire time. The wind and traffic were frequent as well, however they came in and out.

8. A sound (or sounds) that happened only once:

The cicada only performed it’s mating call once, which came as no surprise to me as I’m sure every female cicada south of Steeles heard it. What a loud noise from such a small creature. And people say chihuahuas are bad!

9. A sound (or sounds) that started off loud and got quieter (and/or vice-versa):

All of the sounds that moved across a plane (left to right, etc.) had a crescendo and a diminuendo, if you will. They gradually increased in volume, and then gradually decreased. That good-for-nothing cicada started off incredibly loud, and thankfully quieted down near the end (perhaps I’ve thrown enough shade at this point).

Part 2

Through this assignment, I discovered that while I usually think of my balcony as a serene environment that is ideal for contemplation and discussion, it is in fact quite loud. I really have not paid much attention to the sound of my neighbours A/C unit before, though I still do not plan to do so going forward. Our subconscious minds are constantly sorting through audio sources, and determining what is worthy of our attention.  One takeaway is certainly the importance of sound design. I’m sure, were it not for engineering, my neighbours A/C unit might be significantly louder and more noticeable. However, because it is a consistent hum, within a certain range of frequencies, I’m able to forget about it quickly.

My second takeaway, is a deeper reflection that within the modes of listening, outlined by Michael Chion in his 1994 book, “Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen”, I employ a hierarchy of priority.Chion divides listening into three categories: causal, semantic, and reduced . Causal is the mode of listening we utilize most often, and occurs when we listen to a sound with the intent of determining it’s source (25). For example, if I am walking into Dundas station and hear the TTC jingle, I determine that it has come from the train and that it is about to depart. The second mode of listening is semantic, and this is used to communicate. The creator of the sound uses a linguistic code to transmit their message, and the listener uses semantic listening to decode and interpret the message (28). Anytime we are spoken to, if we are paying attention, we will use semantic listening (in addition to causal listening, they aren’t mutually exclusive). Finally, reduced listening occurs when we listen to a sound not for it’s cause or it’s message, but simply for it’s qualities (29). If I am tuning a guitar, I will use reduced listening to insure that the strings are producing sound of a correct pitch.

As I sat on my balcony with my eyes closed, my first instinct was to begin using causal listening. I did not have my sight to make sense of my surroundings, and in order to feel safe and settled, I naturally gravitated towards understanding what was around me. Gradually, once I’d made sense of all the noises, I began to use reduced listening, marvelling at the soft character of the wind noise and raging at the loud annoyance of the cicada. All of a sudden, an alarm sounded and my causal listening perked back up and determined that it had emerged from my cell phone. It then passed the job off to my semantic listening, to determine what the meaning of the alarm was. The intention of the alarm, my semantic listening told me, was to announce the end of the listening exercise. It turns out you can have a pretty interesting experience sitting somewhere familiar with your eyes closed. All you have to do is listen!

Work Cited

Chion, Michel, Claudia Gorbman, and Walter Murch. Audio-vision: Sound on Screen. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. Web. 8 Sept. 2016.


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