Some notes on a listening workshop with Diana Lempel  (check out Practice Space, in Inman Square, Cambridge)

some terms we use in talking about sound:
rhythm, counter-rhythm
pause, rest, breath
duration, short sound vs. long sound
tension, resolution
familiarity, unfamiliarity

sound has a tactile quality — vibrations of materials, in your ears

what is comfortable or uncomfortable to hear.  Are you giving your audience an experience that is pleasant or unpleasant to hear

Sounds that are pleasing to hear:
think for your self about what is pleasing to you and why?  Could be that memories, or how you were introduced to that sound, or who you heard it with, or the importance culture gives to the form, can be reasons why you think the sound is pleasing…

how do you want your sound listened to, what kind of emotional/physical experience will your listener have?
headphones are isolating
loud sounds can be overwhelming and cause a physiological stress response

room tone–also known as presence — the silence in a space, when no dialog is spoken. the subtle, low-volume sounds present in every room. Importantly, room tones are not all the same — every room has its own unique sound.
sound engineers think about room tone as a thing that conveys emotion.  this is how sound engineers think about recording room tone…

Noise–what does this word mean?
sound that combines all the range of frequencies that are present in the range of human hearing and they are combined randomly

Workshop Format:

big questions:
where is quiet? is there quiet in your mind?
who needs quiet? what does quiet do? do you need quiet to listen?
what is the relationship between quiet and stillness? when must these give way to action? is listening action?
when is quiet a failure to speak?

learning goals:
to begin to understand the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of listening
to understand the difference between sound that is heard, sound that is recorded, and sound-works that are made


your body

EXERCISE : be still, hands over ears, and listen to the sounds of your body.


John Cage describes the anechoic chamber

same story, different form

4’33” notation

in the room

EXERCISE : room tone. in your ears, first. then, in your recorders. devices “hear” differently.

Jeff Talman, Absolute Elsewhere/Event Horizons (

“I am Sitting in a Room,” Alvin Lucier (presence in silence)






on the street

EXERCISE : walking, being still.  Use this walk to listen for where you want to go.  Where do you hear something interesting?  How does the rhythm of walking interact with the noise around you?  Can you hear your footsteps, your breath?  When you find a place you’d like to listen to, stop.  Listen with your ears and your recorder, simultaneously.  Capture 5 minutes.  Listen back to it, as you walk back to the classroom.  What is it like to be inside captured sound, as you walk, rather than inside natural sound?


Diana Lempel, “Search Image”

Walking, on Brainpickings

The Listeners. Series 3, Episode 3 (and more)

On Being, interview with Gordon Hempton, listen:

Interview with Donald Kroodsma


between each other

EXERCISE : in pairs. eyes open, eyes closed.

“Listening – Daniel and the Quakers” on State of the Human podcast

Quiet, Silence, and Power, Rebecca Solint  

Noise as violence

relaxing whale sounds” 





About Diana:  Diana Lempel is a Co-Founder and the Research Directrix of Practice Space. She oversees our in-house research agenda – crafting questions and building our seasonal reading lists, and spearheading the front end of long-term projects and business development, including client work, public programs, and publications.  Diana’s creative work investigates the interactions between narrative, the rhythms of time and sense of place.  Diana is the Doing History Curator of the Cambridge Historical Society and runs the Our Riverside program at the Cambridge Community Center, one of Practice Space’s first projects.  Currently Diana is pursuing a PhD in Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning from Harvard University, where she also received a MUP in Urban Planning and Design.  Learn more about her past work at