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Category: sound and listening

  1. sound, mindfulness and wellbeing

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    I love sound and listening, and I need no encouragement to appreciate sound - I just find it endlessly fascinating. I have, however, been thinking about the connection between sound, listening and mindfulness lately. I decided to do some research on it and write a bit about how sound and listening can be closely connected to mindfulness and mental wellbeing.


    sound therapy

    Sound has an ancient relationship with meditation and healing. Tools and practises such as Australian digeridoos and Tibetan singing bowls have been used for centuries both to heal, in celebrations and ceremonies and to promote wellness- both spiritual and physical. These days, it has become very popular to use ‘sound baths’ for relaxation and meditation. A ‘sound bath’ is where the participants completely immerse themselves in sounds – of gongs, Tibetan singing bowls and bells, for example. There are scientific studies to suggest that these kind of sound therapies do have a measurable effect, and that sound can help to reduce tension, anxiety, even relieve pain.

    "Sound has an ancient relationship with meditation and healing."

    A review of several hundred scientific articles revealed that there is strong evidence that music has both mental and physical benefits. Rhythm, in particular, can provide pain relief. Other effects are improved cognitive abilities, better memory and feeling less stressed.



    Photo by Reynier Carl on Unsplash


    be in the moment

    Sometimes I just go about life, rushing from one place to the next, thinking about the future or what I am going to have for dinner - I am sure you have been there too. If I stop, look around, listen to the world around me, I usually discover something nice, beautiful, or unexpected. A conscious listening practice, or even just the one-off listening exercise, can help to do just that. 

    "Stopping to listen, even just for a moment, can re-connect you to the here and now, and in doing so let you take a break, ground yourself and re-connect to the here and now."

    In her article “Soundwalking: The joys of combining strolling and listening” April Clare Welsh describes how the practice of soundwalking – a walk with a focus on listening – comes with mental as well as physical benefits.

    “Listening walks like this can help us feel more grounded and connected to our environment, as well as providing the obvious benefits to our physical health. With its meditative dimension, the practice of soundwalking shares similarities with mindfulness – both lending their focus to participating in the present moment – and can offer a soothing balm in rough times.”

     “Soundwalking: The joys of combining strolling and listening” April Clare Welsh

    Stopping to listen, even just for a moment, can re-connect you to the here and now, and in doing so let you take a break, ground yourself and re-connect to the here and now.



    Photo by Alberto Frías on Unsplash


    self soothing

    Self-soothing is a technique that can be used to manage emotions like anxiety or distress, ground ourselves and calm our minds. Often this is done by finding something to distract or to re-focus on the here and now. Babies are usually good at this - sucking their thumbs is a great example. As grown-ups, we might need to think about other methods to self sooth. Sound and listening can be a great way to do this. Forcing yourself to stop, breath and listen to the sounds around you is a great way to stop your mind racing and bring your focus back to the here and now. For many people, listening to music is a great way to self sooth, as is listening to nature sounds, like rain or the ocean waves. Intentionally focusing on listening or regular listening practices can help you to self-sooth, by refocusing your mind, and also by helping you realise which sounds are helpful and calming for you, and which ones are not. 



    Last, but absolutely not least, sound and listening can bring so much joy! And that is important for our wellbeing too! I have so many memories of sounds that are enjoyable – the sound of the waves by the sea in summertime. The sound of birds, when I step out in my garden or outside my front door in spring. The kids playing a couple of houses down from where I am now. If I stop and listen, especially for an extended period of time, I find I more often than not discover sounds I really enjoy listening to, or a sound which bring back a nice memory. What could be more important than that, after all? 

  2. bread and roses (and sound)

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    I am often told that sound art is just to ‘niche’ and specialised. No one understands it – not other artists, not the general public. The only people who would be interested in sound art are other sound artists.

    And yes, it is true, sometimes when I tell people what my PhD is about or what I do as an artist, I get a confused look. But fundamentally, I do not think this is really true. Sound, sound art and listening are not something that is only accessible to those ‘in the know’. You do not need to be able to read music, or understand the ins and outs of a speaker, or have a degree to be able to enjoy and appreciate sound art or listening practices.  

    "Art – especially modern art – is often thought of as exclusive, difficult, and inaccessible."

    This idea of exclusivity is not just common for sound art - it also extends to the rest of the art world. Art – especially modern art – is often thought of as exclusive, difficult, and inaccessible. In the article What the Art World Can Do to Make Art Accessible to More People” Stefan Heidenreich and Magnus Resch remarks that:

    “The art world is at a dead end. Consumers and artists alike have remained passively in the service of the market, leaving a small circle of collectors, gallerists, and museum directors to set the agenda. Everyone else—most gallerists, curators, and artists themselves—play supporting roles, forming the lower part of a pyramid whose peak is largely inaccessible. Artists hoping for success are doomed if they don’t conform to the rules of the game, and those who do succeed are rare. Most art is still bound up in ideas of exclusivity, both in the individual nature of each work and the elitism associated with its ownership—a concept that side-lines the essential communicative purpose of art, sacrificing it to private ownership and economic value.”

    It is certainly true that there are people who benefit from the idea of art as something that can only be enjoyed by the knowledgeable and privileged few, as this quote highlights. But I fundamentally believe that art should, and can, be accessible to everyone who wants to enjoy it.

    The title of this blog post- ‘bread and roses’ – was originally coined by American suffrage activist Helen Todd in 1910. It then became a slogan for several Women Union movements and strikes in the USA in the early 1900. The full quote from Helen Todd:

    “Not at once; but woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life's Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.”

    — Helen Todd, 1910

    It became popular with striking workers soon after, as it highlights the right of everyone to have both their basic rights of food, housing, a living wage fulfilled, but also the right to a life that includes music, nature education and books – all the things that makes life worth living. I agree with these striking women - art and creativity is something we all need and deserve to be able to access and enjoy. It is not just for experts, critics, or collectors – it can, and should be for everyone.


     Chicago Garment Workers Strike, 1910

    "Art and creativity is something we all need and deserve to be able to access and enjoy."

    So, back to sound art.

    Sure, not everyone might be interested in sitting through John Cage’s 4’33 (4 minutes and 33 seconds of ‘silence’ performed in a concert hall) or listen to the sound generated by the human inner ear. BUT – most people listen, every day. Most people have sounds they like, and sounds they hate. Most people have a favourite music.  And, as brilliant sound artist Christine Sun Kim demonstrates in her work, even if you are deaf, sound affects you in your daily life, all the time.  It seems pretty clear to me, following on from this, that sound art and listening practises is something which has relevance in all of our lives, and  that sound art is smething that anyone can appreciate and enjoy.

    And if sound art is thought of as inaccessible and difficult, maybe its time us sound artist have a think about how to change that.