The elephant and 'ea-ship' -- thoughts on

Subject: The elephant and 'ea-ship' -- thoughts on
From: Kevin Austin (
Date: Wed Feb 02 2005 - 11:09:49 EST

I start music classes with the story of the elephant being described
by the seven blind people, one each touching the ear, side, trunk,
tusk, tail, leg, and foot. Each individual description of melody,
harmony, rhythm, lyrics, emotion, social nature, acoustics,
psychoacoustics, history is correct, but incomplete.

One analogy I have for musicianship is drawn from the visual arts,
the area of optical illusion where one sees the 'object' and the
'interpretation'. For me 'musicianship' (or rather ea-ship) is the
(developed) ability to listen to the sound as "it is", and as "it
alludes to be", and in the 'pre-' and 'post-perceptual' sense.

On a small piano, a major triad is played. Listen to the 'whole'
sound (integration) and at the same time hear the three individual
notes (segregation). This is not a function of the 'sound' but of the
perception of the sound.

Play a chromatic cluster of B-F. Listen to / listen for the Eb.
Listen for the complex spectrum of the cluster and segregate (out) a
single element.

Entering the temporal domain, the 'ea-ship' ear is able to create
auditory hierarchies over time and group together the various levels
of this grouping such that many layers can be perceived at the same

At a very fundamental level in musicianship this is about hearing
(and repeating) rhythmic structures, but not only rhythmic structures
at the 'sound to sound' level, but the grouping into larger blocks --
a little like reading a sentence that has many phrases -- so that
even while there may have been digressions through shaping, and
repetition (yes, repetition), the mind continues to hold onto the
starting place with an expectation of a logical outcome at some later
time such that through this process of 'keeping track' of the
elements (including determining 'on the fly' as to whether an element
is structural, ornamental or at the level of commentary), this
process of creation of hierarchy produces an 'internal map' of the
entire structure.

Sometimes this has to be repeated. Proust uncovered.

The visual arts teach this to university-level students by having
instructors who may give assignments that focus on one or more of
these features, or levels of the elements of discipline. (The use of
a restricted set of elements for example.)

A parallel can exist in ea-ship (ElectroAcoustic STudies (EaSt))
where the student does specific kinds of exercises to explore and
start to refine specific kinds of skills.

Often the studies will be multi-tiered in nature such as "Record your
voice." For most people, listening (hearing) their own spoken
language is perceived at the 'post-perceptual' level. The words are
heard, and the ability to hear the phonemic structure has to be
developed, such as removing a specific letter, /s/ for example (but
not /z/).

As not every /s/ is the same, another (later) study can be added to
this simple exercise by having the /s/'s placed in sequence of
ascending central pitch. This works towards the development of
language (or rather (perceptual) vocabulary) hierarchies. The
development of digital technologies has aided in this work.

A student could be asked to write down an invented soundscape ...
"You are sitting in an armchair, in a room, not like the one you are
sitting in now. Take five minutes and describe every sound that you
hear. Categorize all of the sounds in a number of different ways."

Repeat this exercise, and rather than describe the sound, describe
the source of the sound.

Repeat this exercise relating the emotional meaning (to you) of all
of the sounds heard.

Repeat the exercise and draw a timeline of the layers of sounds.

Repeat the exercise and draw a non-time-based picture.

In a list of 10 words or less, summarize the sounds heard.

In a list of 10 words or less, summarize the meaning(s) of all the
sounds heard.

Write a paragraph such that the reader will hear these sounds as they read. (*)

(*) As they sat heavily breathed in the damp, sober living room,
through the slightly ajar window, the neighbor's childrens' sharp
scream-laughs are underpinned by an oboe playing a liquid melody over
the sound of a doorbell, while behind, church bells complemented the
distant roar of the ocean, like the ever/never dying sleeping breath
of the once and forever dead who share this room.

The ea-ship of EaSt is multi-dimensional, and sometimes there are
more dimensions than at other times.



At 14:00 +1100 2005/02/02, David Hirst wrote:
>In the visual arts, often the distinction is made between artist and
>artisan, or art and craft. Perhaps musicianship may equate with an
>artisan's skills......but I wouldn't this kind of pidgeon-holing.
>At 09:45 PM 1/02/2005 -0500, Ian Chuprun wrote:
>>What would be a term for musicianship in the visual arts? Does it
>>exist? Musicianship in music does not seem to stop with technical
>>skill either, but I cannot think of how a visual artist would
>>understand this idea.
>>Is there a term for 'musicianship' for studio-based ea? I remember
>>this topic came up here a few years ago and John Young had an
>>interesting take on it, but I dont remember if the discussion ever
>>got resolved in any way.
>David Hirst
>Senior Lecturer, Educational Design
>Information and Education Services
>University of Melbourne
>Victoria, 3010
>ph +61 3 8344 7568
>Fax +61 3 8344 4341

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