Aural Comprehension Guide

David Loberg Code          Western Michigan University

Sonic Walks

You are to compose a Sonic Walk which we (as a class) will perform during class during the last two weeks of the semester. The point of this is to expand your aural comprehension beyond the confines of the classroom (both literally and figuratively) and make you aware of your sonic environment. Our industrialized society places very little value on sound and listening. Most people do not notice sounds which are interesting or beautiful. Most people are not aware of the physical and psychological damage we as a society have inflicted upon ourselves by noise polution. Most people believe that significant loss of hearing is a natural and inevitable part of the aging process. It is not. We are making ourselves deaf by creating a hostile sonic environment. Your ears are already damaged. As musicians, we need our ears, we need a space for the music that we produce, and we need an audience that is capable of listening. We must be aware of our sonic environment, so that we can make others sonically aware.

The sonic walk should start and end in the classroom, and take no more than 5 minutes (time it with a stopwatch). (Of course, if you can compose other sonic walks wherever and as long as you wish.) You may have people leave the building as long as we are back in time (so don't make them run over to the other side of campus). Everyone needs to bring coats, umbrellas, or whatever else the outdoor weather requires. The path you choose should take us by locations that have permanent sounds (hums, clicks); predictable transient sounds (birds, people doing work); or sound producing materials (tap this, step on that). In general the wlkers should be silent observers. You may ask walkers to make specific sounds to demonstrate a particular acoustic space or sound effect. Please do not be deliberately disruptive of other people: do not be loud, obnoxious, or obscene. Be repspectful of other people's sonic space.

You must produce a score that indicates where to wlk, how fast to walk, when to stop, how long to stop, what to do, and (most importantly) what to listen for. The xcore may be simply typed instructions. The score may include a map. The score may have pictures (iconic symbols) of what one is to listen for. The score must have all the information necessary for someone to take your Sonic Walk, without you having to help them. There must be no talking by the wolkers during the Sonic Walk (even if someone says hello to you).

Enjoy yourselves.


David Loberg Code, School of Music, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, 49008. E-mail: 
Revised: 28.Feb.99       (c) 1999