Crossing transatlantic boundaries, this blog presents a collaborative reading and interpretation of Michel Chion’s significant text Guide Des Objects Sonores: Pierre Schaeffer et la Recherche Musicale (1983).

Perspectives have been developed with the Chicago-based sound artist and educator Monica Ryan.


1. In search of the sound object (Part 2 of 2)


Reduced listening is not a natural way of listening, you make the choice to do it or not. You have to have the intention of listening in a reduced state. Reduced listening is not listening for frequencies and amplitudes as this removes the listener.

Listening functions and Modes

There are four listening modes: perceiving, hearing, listening, and comprehending. We move freely through the listening modes in no particular order. The modes do not have a hierarchy.

Perceiving is subjective because we focus on the activity of the listener. Perceiving is passive, and concrete because the listener is unaware of the meaning of the sounds. I take a walk and a variety of sound waves enter my ear and I perceive them. However I take no note of the sounds, assign no meaning, nor do I give one sound more or less value than another.

In listening, the focus shifts from the listener to the object. I objectively listen to the sound of rushing, gurgling, crashing and spraying to discover the cause of the sounds. I passively register that these sounds are cause by the lake. The listening is concrete as the sounds are an index of a real event.

Hearing is subjective and abstract. I focus on sounds in this moment; I focus on the sonic qualities of a particular wave. Hearing is subjective as I focus on my listening, what I hear; abstract as I assign value to sounds based on what I give my focus to; individual waves or the lake as a whole.

Comprehending is where we assign meaning. Again turning back to the lake, take note of how fast the sound of the wave is as it hits the rocks and the strength of the spray. I can give meaning. I interpret the signs that the lake fierce today, a storm might be coming soon.

The Hearing Intention

So hearing intention could be objective- listening for cause, or subjective- listening for meaning. But the intention was always subjective- focused on the listener. Reduced listening is about shifting the intention from listener to object. To describe the sound object not the listener interpretation -cause or meaning- of the sound. That is how do we describe the sound itself?

The Heard Intention

Heard Intention is the listener ability to decided on the intention of the sound. Where the sound has no intention such as mechanical sounds or have intention such as to communicate. Music turns 1st category sound (sounds without intention) in to 2nd category sounds (sounds made to communicate).


A way of understanding our perception to help us able to remove the sound object from the wider sonic environment. Epoch is our perception of our choice to hone our focus on the sound object which reaches us at the ear.

How can you develop tools to help every person to listen to sounds, when he / she is validating every form of perception open to all humanity? I have to break with this and my perception, I have to ignore my Ego (what I think about the sound) to reach the sound object.


1. In search of the sound object (Part 1 of 2)

In this first chapter we see Chion providing us with a variety of concepts that firstly outline some of the characteristics of sounds before leading us towards an understanding of the state of reduced listening. We’ve discussed these concepts to hopefully provide further understanding of them and how they apply to the larger field of listening and thinking about sound. We’ve also included any questions we have that have arisen from our discussion of Chion’s text.

Acousmatica noise which is heard without the causes from which it originates being seen

Challenging because of the previous use and definition of acoustic from a musical perspective. By removing the sound from it’s source, you can listen repetitively and project your imagination onto the sound itself to form meaning. Acousmatic is about the listener and their experience, not what created the sound. Acousmatic occurs at the point at the listener and is automatically subjective. Chion is asking not how is the sound made, but rather how is it perceived.

Physical Signal…sound as an energetic phenomenon acting in the physical world…existing independently of any listener…

Sound as independent from sounds conceived by a listener. This relates to the science of sounds and how they exist without the listener. Chion suggests that the physical signal exists in space and if it is heard by a listener, it allows him / her to then hear a sound object (discussed later).

Correlations… the relationship between the physical signal and the perceived sound itself…

How do we articulate a unique experience (ear, internal ear, physical space) and this relationship?

How do we describe the sound, removed from the source? What we hear? How to create a vocabulary for sound? How do we begin to bridge the gap? Do we need to develop a new correlation that can helps listeners discuss and share their unique listening experiences?

Anamorphosis…the correlation (characterised by certain irregularities) between the physical signal and the sound object…

These characteristics are noticed when the physical signal (vibrations) are conceived as heard sounds (the qualities of the sound in question). The attack of the sound is important here – the first instance of hearing something – to help us to become aware of these irregularities which then aid us to distinguish a sound from another sound.

Sound Object…every sound phenomenon and event perceived as a whole, a coherey, and heard by means of reduced listening, which targets it for itself, independently of its origin or its meaning.

It is a conceptual object. The sound object is the point at which sound enters the ear, before our brain and minds can process it and make sense of it and apply ourselves to it. The sound object is not the physical signal, not the thing itself, nor is it the recorded representation of the sound.

How do we come up with an objective language to describe what is happening at our ear at the point hearing?

Reduced Listening…the listening attitude which consists in listening to the sound object for it’s own sake by removing its real or supposed source and the meaning it may convey.

How a listener would listen for a sound object. Link to listening modes (2. perceiving, subjective). Reduced listening occurs at the beginning of a sound experience – a vehicle to reaching the sound object.

Reduced listening cannot be practised at a stroke; to achieve it we have to go through de-conditioning exercises to become aware of our… hearing reflexes and be capable of suspending them.

Chion is suggesting that a series of listening exercises be developed that can be used by any listener to reach a reduced listened state. However this seems to be inherently challenging due to the uniqueness that any listener will approach a sound – there seems to be such infinite variations to each personal approach to listening that it may be impossible to collectively reach reduced listening in ways that can be shared.


Preface: Pierre Schaeffer

In his short preface, Pierre Schaeffer touches on a number of points and issues he hopes will inform our understanding of the Guide Des Objects Sonores. We see him pointing out the challenge of unpacking a …three-stage musical problematic… the sonorous, the musical, the meaning… (Schaeffer in Chion, 1983) and developing perspectives on how a thing is formed, the sound of a whole thing and the reflections of the listener.

In his preface to Chion’s treaty, we can feel a sense of plea to his readers – rise to the challenge that Chion is presenting to you. We can also see here he suggests there is no right or wrong interpretation to the treatise and interpretations can be personal, provocative and fundamentally question the notions of art and art-making previously articulated by leaders in the field of experimental music and sonic arts.

The future…belongs to you. Do not complain if I have left the most difficult part to you. All you will find is a way of proceeding: not one real rule of Art.

(Schaeffer in Chion, 1983)