Don Ihde

March Discussion Recap: Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound, by Don Ihde

listening and voice

In our third meeting, we discussed Don Ihde’s difficult but classic Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound. Below are some highlights from the conversation and Ihde’s ideas:

Ihde reminds his readers that to listen phenomenologically is to hear sounds as they are — to hear their essence — and not to perceive them as attached to some objects, i.e. the sounds of the jackhammer. Sounds are not “sounds of things,” Ihde writes (61). By studying the phenomena of sound, Ihde breaks from the “traditions of dominant visualism,” where sounds serve as “anticipatory clues for ultimate visual fulfillments” (54). He also points out that the limit of sight is not darkness but invisibility, and that even a strong invisible wind has a distinct and tangible spatial presence that we perceive by the sound it creates even if we cannot see it directly.

In response to this dominant visualism, one of Ihde’s biggest interventions is his interest in reclaiming sound as spatial. Ihde writes that the auditory is often associated with temporality; it seems to arise and disappear, not occupying a spatial presence. However, Ihde contends that all sounds, even muteness, have their own auditory space. Matt elucidated Ihde’s claim by noting that muteness is always visually noticeable on a spectrograph.  The absence of sound, then, also occupies space and has a demonstrable spatial presence.

Step by step Ihde illuminates how in listening we hear shapes and surfaces. We can hear if an object rolling in a box is round or some other shape. Simultaneously we hear the surface of the box, just as we can hear the surface of a sidewalk as luggage rolls along it. This association of the sonic with the spatial departs from or, perhaps more accurately, expands on the typical sonic-temporal pairing.