Three Listeners, Three Unexpected Stories: A Two-Way Street

June 27, 2014    listening

This is the third post in a three-part series sharing surprising and illuminating stories that have so far arisen from the Listening Point project. Read part one: The Fallen Sign. Read part two: The Lion’s Roar.

"Construction For-ev-or," by Kyle May (Flickr) - CC-BY

A Look at Listener Responses

Most of the voice messages that listeners have left at listening points have been roughly 20-30 seconds long. They generally are straightforward listings of the most salient sounds in a particular place with little or no evidence of reflection on the listening experience itself.

To be honest, I’ve been somewhat disappointed by these recordings; I want to encourage deeper engagement with the soundscape than this. And though it is likely true—as pointed out to me by many folks I have talked to about this part of the project—that I am still engaging individuals who wouldn’t have stopped and listened at all, I do want people to consider their listening experience a little more thoughtfully. As I consider future iterations of the project, much of my attention is focused on exploring ways of eliciting a more reflective response to the listening experience.

It is with this mindset that I discovered that someone had left a two-minute long response at one of the listening points I had marked along a vacant lot on a busy street near downtown Durham. Surely, I thought, this listener has something insightful to say. I downloaded the audio recording and listened.

Like so many of the other recordings, she begins by describing some of the sounds she hears in her immediate vicinity. But then she launches into a personal account of her experience living in this neighborhood for two decades and watching it change so significantly over that time.

As I listened to her speak, I quickly realized that this is a very different kind of response. For one, she was highly reflective, considering her personal relationship to this place that has changed so considerably in recent years. Perhaps more significantly, she flipped the listening point concept on its head and used the voice message system as a way to create conversation and share a story that only she could tell. Put another way, she used the system to add her voice and unique perspective to a virtual soundscape.

A Two-Way Street

In what ways can I shape the Listening Point project so that it encourages not only a deeper level of engagement with the real-world soundscape but also supports and encourages conversations about place and community?

The story of this listener, reflecting deeply on her experience in this particular corner of Durham, highlights the extent to which listening is a two-way street. It seems to me that opening up possibilities for authentic, two-way communication would make the project more personally meaningful for those who participate. Recording one’s thoughts for later retrieval by an anonymous individual is not a natural way of communicating, after all, and I wonder if that has been affecting the level of engagement that listeners feel with the project and the voice message system specifically.

It’s back to the drawing board, then. For now, I know of at least one bug that needs to be fixed: the voice message system imposes a hard limit of two minutes on recordings, which is to say, I never heard how this listener’s story ended. I hope, however, that she is only the first voice in a new conversation about sound, place, and community.

I, for one, will be listening more closely from now on.