“Reading Sounds or an Essay on Sounds, Music, Knowledge, Rock & Society” By Philip Tagg


Non-verbal sounds are incredibly important. Human brains begin monitoring them from about five months before birth until deafness or death occur. People use their hearing to learn, to communicate, to relax, and more. It’s an integral part of the human experience that cannot be ignored. Tagg points out that “we have no earlids,” meaning we hear what’s around us whether we like it or not, and it influences our behavior whether we’re aware of it or not. These sounds exist on a soundscape, which I think of as a topographical map. Some sounds are like mountains, they jut from the masses and grab our attention. Others are soft, rolling hills that blend together in our subconscious. Other others are lines imposed on the soundscape to help us control what we’re hearing.

My reaction

For example, the lines I’m imposing on my topographical soundscape is the music I’m playing to drown out all other sounds. The mountains are the two 20ish-year-old basic girls sitting near me who are talking louder than my music can completely cover. The rolling hills are the other 40 some-odd people in the vicinity chatting and eating. I can’t shut off my soundscape, but I do have some power to control it. For the majority of us, this is the case. If you’re in class, at work, driving, walking. Whether you are truly listening, you’re hearing and being influenced by your soundscape. That’s what this article is trying to get at. It doesn’t try to reinvent the idea of sound, but rather focus on how we control and are controlled by sound. As a break from the articles this blog has discussed, it makes no connections to multimodal teachings, but it does support the claims of those authors who vouch for the importance of the aural mode among media.

Why does this matter?

Another claim Tagg makes is that, “life is loud…to be heard, you have to be louder yourself.” As a younger sibling, I can vouch for this one. I get it. Have you ever had to shout to be heard? You may, like me, think it’s everyone else’s fault for not being able to just shut up and listen. But, it isn’t their fault. You need to shout. And then, others will shout, so you shout louder. And again and again. People take advantage of others’ inability to shut off their ears. So, we’ve become experts in filtering our soundscapes for things we value, important things. This brings up a key issue. How can you be heard when people have trained themselves not to listen? This is where multimodality steps in to attack different senses in an attempt to overwhelm your filters and make you pay attention. This is why multimodality is so important. It’s a tool that allows you to be better heard when shouting louder doesn’t cut it.


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