Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pareidolia

I was out about town today doing some field recordings.  I was focusing on public transportation, conversing passers-by, skateboarding, and water, especially public fountains.  (There are vague plans to make a piece incorporating such bits of acoustical realia.)  One of the most fascinating things about many continuous or repetitious sounds is that when listening, even idly, we all start grouping events into rhythmic, indeed metric, patterns, finding stress accents in stimulus that is essentially undifferentiated, vague, or random.  This phenomenon, usefully, has a name, pareidolia, and is familiar with visual as with auditory sensations, whether finding poodles in cloud formations or rhythmic grooves in streetcar clatter.  Pareidolia definitely has a downside, in that it can provide the stuff to feed some serious misapprehensions about the world (it may well be the root of half the conspiracy theories floating around), but the upside, as a composer, is obvious, as we're actually in the business of turning misapprehensions about the sounding world into musical surprises.

3 comments:

jodru said...

I frequently take composers outside with a pad and a pencil and ask them to simply write down everything they hear for the next 10 minutes.

Then we talk about what they heard and how they might organize the sounds in a piece. The discussion is really beside the point. It's the exercise of listening which really opens up their eyes.

Paul Beaudoin said...

What a great idea Jodru!

Charles Shere said...

One semester I was teaching composition to college students. At the first class meeting I asked them to listen closely for ten minutes and write down everything they heard. An astonishing number of them said they heard nothing.