1.2 What is sound?
In the previous section I posed a question: what is sound? Take a few minutes to think about this. This may seem a straightforward question, but in fact sound is a rather more complicated thing to pin down than you might think on a first analysis. In this section I would like to explore and map out this complexity, and we shall do this together, based on your own experience with sound. To start, I'd like to propose some listening activities.
Activity 1 (Listening, Exploratory)
Listen to the eight audio tracks associated with this activity. The purpose of this activity is to put your understanding of sound into perspective, to provide a basis for the exploration of sound undertaken in this unit. Jot down a few words to describe what you hear. Use whatever terms seem appropriate to the sound you hear.
Click 'Play' to listen to Audio Clip 1
Click 'Play' to listen to Audio Clip 2
Click 'Play' to listen to Audio Clip 3
Click 'Play' to listen to Audio Clip 4
Click 'Play' to listen to Audio Clip 5
Click 'Play' to listen to Audio Clip 6
Click 'Play' to listen to Audio Clip 7
Click 'Play' to listen to Audio Clip 8
Here are my descriptions.
Track 1: A major and a minor scale played on the piano.
Track 2: A low-pitched note followed by a high-pitched note played on the recorder.
Track 3: A drum solo.
Track 4: Humming of machinery.
Track 5: Sound of an ambulance siren.
Track 6: Sounds of sea waves.
Track 7: A tune sung by a male voice.
Track 8: Sounds of three female voices speaking in different languages.
Your descriptions will almost certainly be different from mine because people have different musical backgrounds and experiences. This is to be expected and is not at all a problem, as you should be able to relate your descriptions to the main points I shall be making shortly. However, I do hope you recognised the first track as containing a major scale followed by a minor scale (a melodic minor in this case, as the ascending and descending versions are different).
Activity 2 (Listening)
Listen to the audio tracks associated with Activity 1 again, this time looking at my descriptions to familiarise yourself with them, as the next activity will build on this previous work.
Activity 3 (Listening, Exploratory)
Listen to the audio tracks associated with Activity 1 again, as many times as you like, and then consider the descriptions I produced in Activity 1. Examining the words used in my descriptions, can you think of any similarities between them, perhaps more general threads that may bring two or more descriptions together as one broader class?
I can group my descriptions of the sounds in Activity 1 into three categories, based on the types of things I have said:
(a) descriptions that refer to the objects or phenomena used to create the sounds: for example, musical instruments (piano, recorder), environmental sounds (siren, waves) and human voice (speech, song, male, female);
(b) descriptions that refer to musical elements: major, minor, scale, note, pitch;
(c) descriptions that use metaphors: high/low, humming.
Activity 4 (Exploratory)
Look at the descriptions you produced for the audio tracks in Activity 1. Do they seem to belong to these categories of description?
Naturally I do not know what your descriptions were like, but I would be very surprised if most of them could not be put into one of these categories.