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the world of music 39, 1997-2

Cultural Concepts of Hearing and Listening





Preface: Hearing and Listening in Cultural Context

Josep Martí
When Music Becomes Noise: Sound and Music That People in Barcelona Hear but Don't Want to Listen to 

John Chernoff
"Hearing” in West African Idioms

James D. Chopyak
Hearing and Seeing in the Electronic Age: Preliminary Comparisons Between Malaysia and California 

Wim van Zanten
Inner and Outer Voices: Listening and Hearing in West-Java 

John Baily
Afghan Perceptions of Birdsongs 

Keith Howard
Different Spheres: Perceptions of Traditional Music and Western Music in Korea 

Amy Catlin
Puzzling the Text: Thought-Songs, Secret Languages, and Arachaic Tones in Hmong Music

Alois Mauerhofer
Listening to Music: Attitudes of Contemporary Austrian Youth 

Ursula Hemetek
Šunen, Šunen, Romalen (Listen, Listen, Roma): Reception of Lovari Songs - A Cultural Misunderstanding? 

Jürgen Elsner
Listening to Arabic Music 

Jean During
Hearing and Understanding in the Islamic Gnosis 

Book Reviews

Max Peter Baumann
Bartók, Béla: Studies in Ethnomusicology. Selected and edited by Benjamin Suchoff 

Gutsche, Karsten: Urheberrecht und Volksmusik. Die volksmusikalische Bedeutung und ihre Rechtswahrnehmung durch die GEMA 

Books Received

CD Reviews

Rafael José de Menezes Bastos
Music in Lowland South America: A Review Essay 


Peter Wicke
Research Center for Popular Music (Forschungszentrum für Populäre Musik), Humboldt University, Berlin

About the Authors



The diversity of reality constructs manifests itself in multivarious ways in the cultural differences in the concept and conception of hearing, of the sense of hearing and of the art of hearing.

The articles gathered in this volume have as their theme "Cultural Concepts of Hearing and Listening." The continuum ranges between extreme cultural opposites. The first article by Josep Martí (Barcelona) approaches that acoustical environmental problem that in large cities is ever-present on all street corners, evoking lively sounds. These are the many "imposed musical events" which often make people victims of involuntary hearing. And still, from the time one "comes into the world" (Peter Sloterdijk) one is accompanied by noise. Noise and sounds mean being here on earth, life, enjoyment of life, hearing the fiesta of life, forgetting oneself and exuberance. On the other hand, involuntary subjection to musical events in the private and public spheres also creates inner tensions and conflicts of large proportions, as witnessed in correspondence to a Barcelona newspaper.

"The path of hearing" knows many ways. In the mystic traditions, hearing is not directed towards this life but is rather an inwards hearing in order—as in Sufism—to seek God, to remember the words by hearing. Jean During (Strasbourg) approaches at the end of this volume this spiritual hearing in the Islamic-cultural context of the mystical tradition and in doing so marks the opposite side of the spectrum of hearing: hearing as spiritualization, a spiritual awakening, the Hellhörigkeit (keen hearing) of revelation. Between the hearing of this world and the hearing as revelation, between hearing for entertainment and uplift and hearing as aesthetic or spiritual perception—between these poles is a many-sided spectrum of differently perceived listening experiences.

"Hearing in West African Idioms" refers, according to the cultural immanent research of John M. Chernoff (Pittsburgh) above all to the way in which people react to music with body movement. Movement is the key to understanding the music. Hearing implies receptive perception which, when understood, is expressed physically through active participation, movement and dance.

James D. Chopyak (Sacramento) relates "Hearing and Seeing in the Electronic Age" to the transcultural dynamic of modern times. He has determined a general change in listening behavior. These changes are historically rooted on the one hand in Western notated music and on the other in the more recent globalized recording industry and the visualization of music that has resulted from the electronic media. Still, in intercultural comparison made by interviews of Malaysian and Californian students, different attitudes of hearing and listening can be determined. Wim van Zanten (Leiden) analyses "Hearing and Listening in West Java" in the differentiation of listening to the "outer voice" (lahir) as manifestation of music. Music, dance and theater are the outer manifestations of inner life, the "inner voice" (batin) of a societal and cosmic order.

The close association between music, nature and spiritual order is reflected as well in the article "Afghan Perception of Birdsongs" by John Baily (London). Bird songs are understood as a kind of language in which the birds praise Allah. This is one of the reasons why musicians make music to the songs of birds on the rubâb or the tabla—in order to integrate the art of nature into the art of music, and vice versa. The thematization of the "Perception of Traditional Music (kugak) and Western Music (yangak) in Korea" is taken up by Keith Howard (London). If traditional music is full of perfect virtue (in) or life energy (ki), then is the basis for perceiving Western music connected to a rational-aesthetic construct. New compositions evolve out of the syncretism of kugak and yangak, compositions which raise for once new questions of perception to its listeners.

The situation of hearing and understanding music and text is highly complex in the case of tone languages, as described in "Thought Songs, Secret Languages and Archaic Tones in Hmong Music." Amy Catlin (Los Angeles) analyses here the insider and outsider perspectives in "Listening to the Text" and "Listening for the Text." Thought songs are made, among other reasons, to be heard by the deceased, just as funeral music is intended for the ears of the dead and the spirit world.

The postmodern, multicultural society confronts contemporary youth with a diversity of hearing situations. Alois Mauerhofer (Graz) analyses, using empirical data on attitudes, the listening behavior of teenagers in Austria, particularly with regard to rock and pop music. Music is heard individually and in groups. An increasingly individual selection of that which is heard marks the personal and also differentiated musical behavior of youths, also in reference to their groupings according to age, interests and ethnic self-understanding. How difficult communication between minority Roma musicians and the majority Austrian audiences is examined by Ursula Hemetek (Vienna) using Lovari Songs which, in the context of performance for Roma themselves have a totally different significance as for a German-speaking Austrian audience. In the intercultural process between understanding and misunderstanding, both musical behavior and the repertoire of the Roma as well as the listening behavior of the non-Roma modify themselves in creative ways. How difficult it is to approach the musical context of another culture in order to enculturate an adequate ability to hear is shown by Jürgen Elsner (Berlin) through his article, "Listening to Arabic Music." Western listeners must involve themselves intensively with the musical parameters of Arabic musical concepts such as melodic form, tonal norms and rhythmic structures in order to free themselves from Eurocentric listening and to acquire a culturally adequate, comprehending level of hearing.

"Hearing and listening" becomes a central motive of inner perceptual experience and in the confrontation with hearing impressions given from outside. Hearing as comprehending assumes completely different reality constructs that, through the conditioning of the "ethnic-cultural ear," go far beyond that which is commonly understood as acoustic perception. In transcultural hearing, the ears begin to open themselves to a new way: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:9). - (The Editor).



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