Spatial Sound

Listening. The Way of Being. (2021)

Daniela Gentile 

Research Paper

March 2021

Daniela Gentile

published by:
Spatial Sound Institute

This research publication stems from reflections on the educational value of listening especially for children, and from the desire to emphasize the importance that this tool has in contributing to the construction of an ethically healthy and better socio-political and cultural landscape. This work represents the first step in promoting the Ecology of Listening as an educational program, to be integrated within the school system on a par with traditional teaching subjects.

[Fig. 1] Pauline Oliveros used this icon to symbolize the relationship between attention (the dot) and the awareness (the circle)

[Fig. 2] Plan and section of the Ħal Saflieni hypogeum

[Fig. 3] Étienne-Louis Boullée, Newton's Cenotaph, 1784. Vertical section by day and night

[Fig. 4] Richard Buckminster Fuller, Montreal Biosphere constructed for Expo 67

[Fig. 5] German Pavilion for Osaka Expo, 1970

[Fig. 6] Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sketches for Hinab-Hinauf composition, 1968

[Fig. 7] Leonardo Da Vinci, Theaters for listening to mass, detail from IdF, Cod. B (ms. 2173) fol. 55r

[Fig. 8] Leonardo da Vinci, Theaters to be preached, detail from IdF, Cod. B (ms. 2173) fol. 52r


1. Introduction

By adopting what the French philosopher Guy Debord defined in 1967, we live in a "society of the spectacle", or in a social context monopolized by the domination of images; increased especially by the persuasive power of the mass media, which currently constitute a real extension of our consciousness, the sense of sight prevails in our contemporaneity. This involves the construction of values that are based on appearing rather than being, and which lead to the fulfillment of a sensory alienation in man. In this worrying scenario, listening is relegated to a mere physiological phenomenon and enclosed in a secondary context as a support to visual power.

The first form of involution of listening is found in the birth of writing, a method for graphically recording the meaning of verbal language. Orality established a direct and immediate relationship between individuals, especially due to its high degree of emotional involvement: listening implied a present attitude, a greater form of attention of the lived moment, and triggered cognitive processes and a recall to memory that constituted the heritage to be handed down, from person to person, each of which produced an enrichment. Tribal societies were oral cultures, whose members communicated by means of speeches marked by a strong emotional character: these non-literate societies were pervaded politically and emotionally, closely intertwined and unified. They consciously led their lives in what McLuhan termed "acoustic space", which "has the basic character of a sphere whose focus or center is simultaneously everywhere and whose edge is nowhere ... acoustic space is dynamic; it has no fixed boundaries. It is the space created by the method or by the process itself ”1.

The prevailing of oculocentric culture in the Western world is then affirmed starting from the Renaissance, during which the studies conducted by Filippo Brunelleschi - subsequently codified on a theoretical level by Leon Battista Alberti - lead to the discovery and definition of perspective, a term deriving from the Latin 'perspicere', or 'to see clearly', and which indicated, according to the original etymology, the science of vision. This systemic representation of reality, dictated by mathematical-geometric laws and by the placing in the foreground of the observer's point of view, lead to the upper hand in the cultural sphere of the retinal model to the detriment of the cochlear dimension, a crowning achievement definitively sanctioned by the advent of television and subsequent digital devices.

In contemporary man there is a worrying regression of the sound experience from a conscious will to listen to a mere involuntary action of hearing. We are in the throes of a profound imprisonment of sensations and intentions and the consequence is the loss of our awareness, knowledge, sensitivity in interactions with our spatial and social reality. Our very existence, manifesting itself in time and space, is shaped by listening. A world in which the ability to listen has been lost is an aberrant world, made up of wars, destruction, racism, violence, dictatorships, ecological disasters; the example of what “an African once said: «Apartheid is a sound!»”2 is touching as it is explanatory.

If the retrograde activity of listening determines a profound painful annihilation of the individual, on the contrary, a structured and aware listening would allow him to fully realize his own humanity and, at the same time, to access another temporality, in a condition in which his alienation from the spatial and emotional reality in which he is immersed would be canceled. In this socio-cultural situation, education in active listening would cause a change of perspective: the development of a form of attention of the present moment expands our perception spaces, immerses us in the lived experience making us more aware; awareness strengthens the soul, balances it, favoring an emancipated ability to act in reality. An expanded consciousness not only leads to the fulfillment of personal growth but provides the tools for an ecological reconfiguration between man and his environment - both natural and anthropic -, thus laying the foundations for the construction of socio-political and cultural scenarios. ethically and morally sound. A better future is a more conscious future: listening is the intermediate stage that allows its realization.

How can we, in practice, make up for this state of perceptive deafness?

How, then, can we cultivate active and conscious listening?

First of all, it is necessary to understand the difference between the act of hearing, that is "perceiving the sound and [...] letting oneself be passively invaded"3 and that of listening, that is, "paying attention to what is perceived both acoustically and psychologically"4, condition that allows the expansion of our sound consciousness. The conscious development of our listening skills, or rather "increasing and expanding the awareness of sound into as many dimensions of awareness and attentional dynamics as humanly possible"5, is activated through deep listening practices. Conceived in the 1960s by Pauline Oliveros, these practices investigate the vast differences between the passive attitude of listening and the voluntary one, placing the whole vast range of sounds that surrounds us at the center of research. The American composer and performer considers introspective exploration through listening as a profound form of meditation that leads to the fulfillment of awareness of the sound environment, both external and internal, developing personal growth and thus reversing the perspective of the current social condition. This meditative and empathic approach to the sonic flow that surrounds us consists of heterogeneous exercises that include “energy work, body work, breathing exercises, vocalization, listening and dream work. These exercises aim to calm the mind and bring awareness to the body and its energetic circulation, and to promote the appropriate attitude to extend receptivity to the entire space / time continuum of sound”6.

What has been described above is the conceptual and thematic basis on which the development of this research sinks, whose goal is the development of a listening education model for children. The intention is to establish a scientific-based didactic-training module that can be adopted within the school system starting from kindergarten, as a real educational subject, on a par with traditional teaching subjects.

The research is divided into two sections that analyze and support, through numerous and heterogeneous examples, the arguments supported and the hypotheses proposed. The first section investigates the figure of the circle and its peculiarities, ranging from morphological analysis in architectural contexts, to the phenomena of signification of the circle in socio-behavioral and perception contexts, up to the value of this figure in the acoustic field. The second section, on the other hand, is dedicated to the analysis and presentation, in key points, of the pedagogical methodology of listening formulated here.

2. Hypothesis

  • We hypotize that the shape of the circle/sphere enhances the sound dimension;

  • The collective listening experience is the first introduction for a conscious development of one's own sound consciousness; learning the principles, this practice can subsequently be repeated individually;

  • In collective listening experiences, the arrangement of the participants in a circle is the most suitable;

  • We propose collective listening sessions as an educational subject in the school system, on a par with traditional teaching subjects, starting from kindergarten.

3. The Circle and its Meanings

3.1 Semiotics of the circle

During deep listening practices, the arrangement of the participants in a circle is the most suitable. But why the circle?

In fact, the connections between this geometric figure, one of the main archetypes - if not, indeed, the most important - since the dawn of humanity and collective listening experiences are multiform.

The act of listening is a bridge between attention to the moment lived in the present, or to the relationships between our energy body and the sound-spatial dimension in which we are immersed, and our awareness, that is the ability to understand what we perceive and how these assumptions modify our behavior. “The proper relationship of attention and awareness can be symbolize by a circle with a dot in the center. The dot represents attention, and the circle, awareness. In these respective positions, each is centrered in relation to the other. Awareness can expand, without losing center or its balanced relationship with attention, and simultaneously become more inclusive. Attention can be focused as fine as possible in any direction, and can probe all aspect of awareness without losing its balanced relationship to awareness”7 [Fig. 1]. 

It is in this figure, therefore, that equilibrium is spatially shaped: in the same way in which the circle, devoid of angles and edges, symbolizes fullness and harmony, so in the relational dynamics it represents a continuous evolution and growth, in which the limits of our (sound) perception expands. Since it puts subjects into relation with each other and with the world, listening has the potential to contribute significantly to the constitution of collectivity8. Collective listening in a circle establishes a shared emotional connection, an immediate intimacy built through direct eye contact in which everyone can look at everyone and can be seen by everyone; in the circle, all diversities do not become equal, but an integral part of it. For this, it becomes the main form that represents welcoming, hugging and empathy.

Like sound, the circle is the perfect form of democracy: it has no orientation. It is the form that allows everyone to be in exactly the same position as others, the same, without a podium or hierarchy. It represents a sensorial totality, which is reflected in relational phenomena and collective behavior models.

From the beginning, man saw the firmament, the infinite, reflected in the circle, and as such he attributed a divine meaning to it. Perfection and movement, a continuous flow between beginning and end, the importance that our ancestors attributed to this figure also descended from a close relationship with natural phenomena, carefully observed to build cultural and social dynamics. The circle reflects the cyclical nature, the continuous evolution, the common denominator between the seasons, the lunar phases, the tides and the alternation of the sun and the moon.

The perfection inherent in the circle is also celebrated by Plato, who mentions it in the Timaeus, a dialogue written around 360 BC, one of the writings that most influenced later philosophy and science. This perfection is also attributed in a spiritual guise: it is the icon in which the figure of God is reflected. The phrase "God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere" is attributed to the legendary character Hermes Trismegistos, master of wisdom and founder of the philosophical current known as Hermeticism.

In Zen Buddhism, however, the Ensō, symbol of the circle, contains a profound and complex meaning: it expresses enlightenment, strength, the absolute universe.

3.2 The circle in architecture

Since man has had such cognitive abilities as to be able to organize himself in civilization, Architecture has always existed. For Architecture, in fact, we mean that discipline that contributes on the one hand to organizing the physical space to perform certain social or biological functions, on the other hand to represent the way in which those functions are carried out in a cultural context, that is to represent the value of those functions and the meaning they have for the individual and the group that will have to use them. These two operations are co-present in every architecture: it is a tool and a service for society, but it is also a way of fruition, expression of knowledge, communication of an idea.

Architecture is, therefore, both function and symbol: as such, since ancient times, the dialectic between evolution and plastic peculiarities reflect the zeitgeist of a civilization. In carrying out a historical excursus of the morphological changes of architectural spaces in reference to the social structure and cultural components of an era, we note how the awareness of contemporary man is very different from that of his ancestors. This can be found by analyzing firstly the level of cognition of a civilization of sound as a spatial phenomenon even before it is perceptive and, secondly, by observing the cultural and organizational aspects of this community.

Contemporary architecture portrays the linear, efficient and well-defined world of industrial and capitalist culture: organized in rows, columns and squares, it reflects the dialectic between fragmentation and relational recomposition of the postmodern condition which, as the Spanish architect Josè Rafel Moneo observes, notes that it is not only a metaphorical but an interpretative aspect of reality, or rather "of a relationship that would link the vision of a fragmented world to a biunivocally fragmented architecture... where everything seems to be configured as heterogeneous and broken and nothing suggests unity"9. The linear and schematic models that characterize the morphological arrangement of contemporary spaces are different from those that shaped the environments in the past, which plastically expressed the totality, perfection, harmony, metaphor of the relational dynamics of the societies of that time; moreover, to date, there are few architects who cultivate an architectural sensitivity aimed at the sound dimension of a place10, neglecting the acoustic aspect during design. With a view to this research, we will analyze examples of various architectures throughout history, especially from prehistoric times, which allow us to examine the correlations between the morphology of circular / spherical spaces and the acoustic peculiarities, as well as the use of the same in relation to the concrete experience of listening and the influence it exerts on human perception.

Sound and space are a single corpus: (im)material manifestations and expressive languages for our physical and emotional body. They intertwine their double existence in an eternal two-way relationship. This awareness was inherent in ancient cultures, especially in reference to prehistoric ones, as evidenced by the numerous researches conducted by Archaeoacoustics, a new discipline born between the 80s and 90s of the twentieth century that analyzes the acoustic qualities of certain archaeological sites and ancient artifacts.

Prehistoric archaeological sites, such as caves and hypogea, have extraordinary acoustic characteristics that demonstrate how our ancestors had a strong auditory sensitivity and experienced deep and multidimensional sensory effects, deriving from a skilful manipulation of sound. Intended to accommodate social rites and religious functions, these spaces have as a common denominator a circular or spherical morphology, found in plants, domes or in environments in general. The use of such configurations is the key to describing the sound wisdom of our ancestors, also with reference to the emotional processing of auditory information.

The man of those times had a strong capacity for orientation and knowledge of spaces, as well as awareness of his own physicality in relation to it, through the use of sound as a means of orientation. Having no light sources, Paleolithic man deciphered the spatial characteristics through the emission of guttural sounds adopted as a kind of sonar which, due to the resonant characteristics of the space, gave a clear description of the surrounding environment. Through listening, an intimately aware and indispensable practice for his survival, primitive man was able to understand the environmental information acquired by the reverberation of sound in space: the points of greatest reverberation were indicated by drawing ocher-colored points11, constituting a topographic-acoustic reference.

With the development of cognitive skills, man began to build ad hoc spaces used for his reception, exploiting the cultural baggage formed by his deep-rooted listening experience: being societies based on verbal language and which paid total attention to the surrounding sound space and as this changed his perception on a spirit level, the paleolithic man began to model environments according to an engineering attention to sound and its propagation in space. Numerous investigations carried out on the acoustics of prehistoric megalithic structures have identified a resonance of space at the frequency of 95-120 Hz, particularly near 110-112 Hz, all representing pitches in the human vocal range12.

This makes it plausible, for example, that the priests used this phenomenon to amplify the spiritual performance within these acoustically designed environments. The hypogeum Ħal Saflieni, a UNESCO heritage site, is one of the most brilliant examples: this Neolithic complex excavated between 3600 BC. and 2500 BC , located on the island of Malta, is the subject of studies for its very particular sound qualities.

Developed on three levels, the architecture of the hypogeum has curved shapes: it is full of arches, vaults and domes [Fig. 2].

The Hypogeum contains a 'speaking chamber' which is a hole in the wall carved with a rounded interior surface. The result is that anything spoken into it produces an echo which reverberates throughout the hypogeum. In a room known as the “Oracle Room” set in the second level of the hypogeum, we have been able to detect the presence of a strong resonance effect: a double resonance frequency at 70 Hz and 114 Hz (frequencies have a strong effect on human brain activity)13. The Hypogeum also features red ocher wall paintings, consisting of symbols such as intricate spirals and disks which, according to Paul Devereux, "are actually visual analogues suitable for sound", and that "the increasing size of the spirals and especially of the disks could signal amplitude - i.e. the special acoustic qualities of the niche"14. The regional brain activity of some healthy volunteers exposed to different vibration frequencies was monitored by EEG. Studies show that the right hemisphere is stimulated at this frequency, in relation to creative and emotional processes, mood and socialization12.

The most incident resonant frequency recorded within the most acoustically interesting archaeological sites is 110 Hz, and as various research studies show, the processes mediated by this frequency "can be involved in the induction of altered states of consciousness or changes in the 'cognitive processing tested in association with various sacred sites"15. Furthermore, the neuronal activation triggered by 110 Hz induces the efflux of calcium16, biomolecule important for cellular homeostasis, and it has been shown that 110 Hz is a fundamental frequency of activity within the CA3 hippocampal region of the brain17-18, an important structure involved in memory, but also implicated in anomalous subjective experience. This resonant frequency characterizes, for example, the Neolithic burial chamber Newgrange, in Ireland, which features a circular plan with an internal stone passage and chambers, which may have been used as a prehistoric "echo chamber" in religious ceremonies. The large Newgrange chamber effectively resonates at 110 Hz, and the 19 m (62 ft) passage behaves like a wind instrument, with sound waves generated within the chamber filling it, with an amplitude decreasing towards the entrance. New research suggests that the ancient stone circles and burial mounds of northwestern Europe may have been designed to act as giant speakers to amplify the drums played during the rituals, thus stimulating profound experiences.

Listening to tones at 110 Hz was associated with patterns of regional brain activity that differed from those observed when listening to tones at neighboring frequencies. These difference were statistically significant in left temporal activity and in prefrontal asymmetries. (....) The left temporal region has been implicated in the cognitive processing of spoken language; lower cordance values during the 110 Hz stimuli would be consistent with reduced activity under that condition. This might be interpreted as a relative deactivation of language centers in the brain to allow other mental process to become more prominent”12. Another quality that characterizes the spaces with a circular and/or spherical shape lies in the ability to enhance the energetic-sound dimension: the stone circles found in Mpumalanga, South Africa, represent one of the oldest testimonies of circular structures made by man. with the aim of exploiting and amplifying the sound properties for the energetic well-being of the community.

Dating back to about 250,000 years ago (or more), these circular architectures demonstrate the deep engineering-sound knowledge of the ancient civilization that populated Southern Africa: studies conducted by Michael Tellinger - South African author, scientist, explorer and philanthropist - state that each circle is a cymatic pattern representing the subtle frequencies of the Earth ascending from the surface at that point. The stone circles act as amplifiers of subtle earth frequencies, which are coherent harmonic fractals of earth frequencies, all perfectly resonant with the primary resonant frequency of the Earth. Performing many electronic measurements on site have shown that stone circles are powerful energy generating devices, usable for all types of needs, including healing19.

Another example of megalithic stones erected in a circular way is Stonehenge, a Neolithic site classically considered an astronomical observatory but which, thanks to new studies carried out on Preseli Bluestones' stones, demonstrate the particular acoustic properties of the place. These stones, which were transported over 140 miles to the site from near Gors Fawr in Wales, are association with both healing and sound. Bluestone - or a relatively high proportion of them (perhaps as much as ten percent) have the usually rare property of being musical: they can ring like a bell or gong, or resound like a drum, when struck with a small hammer-stone. For this property, their circular arrangement was chosen to convey vibratory energy towards the center, thus creating a spherical sound dimension. The addition of the refections from the stones and floor is estimated to amplify the level of the speech from 24 to 34 dB (A). That would raise the number of sentences heard correctly to 100%. This shows that the stone reflections are particularly useful when the talker is not facing the listener or is partly obscured by a stone20.

The Andean ceremonial center in Chavín de Huántar, in the central highlands of Peru, also features architecture with refined capabilities for manipulating sound to produce desired sensory effects. Thanks to the combination of architectural form, positioning and sounds emitted by the clamshell horns installed in space, the "oracle" of Chavín de Huántar "spoke" to the listeners of the ancient center: an acoustic system was designed in Chavín for the selective transmission of the between the site's Lanzón monolith and the Circular Plaza, an architectural filter that favors the sound frequencies of the Chavín pututus (clamshell horns) and the human voice21. Moving forward in time, spherical or circular spaces have always had great importance and charm in the architectural field, as the sphere constitutes the perfect solid, symmetrically equal from any point of view, a symbol of ideal architectural integrity. An important moment for spherical space in the history of architecture, albeit only from an iconic and not a constructive point of view, is the 1700s, the era of Étienne-Louis Boullée's enlightenment and visionary projects. His project for Newton's cenotaph, an example of the Revolutionary Architecture of the neoclassical period (which stood out for having an intense ethical and evocative value), was conceived as an enormous sphere of 150 meters in diameter, to represent the immensity of the universe [Fig. 3].

These "illuminated" architectures are distant anticipations of what Richard Buckminster Fuller, American architect and designer, realized centuries later with his geodesic domes, extremely efficient from a geometric and constructive point of view, which reunite the ancient geometry of the Platonic solids and the complexity of the spherical solid [Fig. 4].

Even today, many of the geodesic domes are in use, of which the main ones are located in the United States and Japan, a land that hosted, on the occasion of the 1970 Osaka Universal Exposition, the German Pavilion, designed by architect Fritz Bornemann in collaboration with the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen [Fig. 5].

Considered one of the greatest music visionaries of the 20th century for his pioneering ideas on electronic music and for spatialization techniques - with which much importance is given to the listener's sound experience -, the German composer actively participated in the design of the pavilion, the first, and so far only, spherical concert hall in the world22.

Conceived by Stockhausen as the temple for his space music, the pavilion was characterized as a huge sphere of 28 m in diameter in which 50 speakers were installed that projected the sound three-dimensionally into the space, uniformly surrounding the audience (660 people) who sat in the center of the sphere, in order to amplify the listening experience. For this occasion, in 1968 Stockhausen conceived the composition Hinab-Hinauf [Fig. 6], with the aim of projecting the listener into an immersive and multisensory space - amplified by the morphology of the pavilion - which unfortunately, however, was never realized; instead of it, the most ambitious compositions of the master made up to the 1970s were reproduced.

3.3 The circle in social relations

The symbol of the circle occupies a place of particular importance in the processes and social relationships that have characterized human civilization since its dawn, from religious and initiation ceremonies to moments of sharing in a community. For the native Indians of America, whose culture is traditional rather than literate, the meaning of the circle has always been expressed in ritual practice and art. The lives of men and women, as individual expressions of the Power of the World, move and are nurtured by an uninterrupted circular / spiral movement. This circle is often referred to as the Medicine Wheel.

Human beings live, breathe and move, giving further impetus to the circular movement, as long as they live harmoniously, according to the vibratory movement of the circle. Each seeker has the opportunity to eventually discover a harmonious way of living with their environment according to these precepts. All indigenous societies adopted a circular formation during religious or cultural rites of great emotional transposition. This peculiarity can be found in analyzing behavioral elements of dance - especially in reference to those musical genres such as techno, in which "tribal" rhythms awaken this ancestral sense of tribe, of belonging, which can be spatially visualized in the natural circular conformation assumed while listening to such vibrations. Similarly, in Ancient Greece, music was of great importance in the educational process; Pythagoras, strongly aware of the many virtues of music, adopted the practice of listening daily to achieve states of psycho-physical well-being. A form of purification that he advocated involved the performance of music and singing accompanied by the lyre. He prescribed a special method in which the lyre player sat in the center of a circle; around him those who sang were arranged in such a way as to express harmony and rhythm through singing combined with musical accompaniment23.

Since the Pythagoreans thought that the celestial bodies were separated from each other by intervals corresponding to the harmonic lengths of the strings, they believed that the movement of the spheres gave rise to a musical sound called "harmony of the spheres"; Earthly music was, therefore, nothing more than a "faint echo of the universal harmony of the spheres"24.

3.4 The circle in acoustics

The classic graphic representation of the sound wave, which portrays a sine wave, does not correspond to the real spherical propagation of the sound; by “dissecting” a sound bubble, compression regions alternating with regions of rarefaction of the air are denoted, so what is often referred to as a sound wave is a "mathematical representation of sound pressure peaks and valleys"25. Going back in time, these assumptions can be found in written evidence dating back to Roman times. In De Architectura (on Architecture), a Latin treatise written approximately between 35 BC and 25 BC by Marco Vitruvio Pollione and which represents the only manuscript on architecture that has survived intact from antiquity, we find notions concerning the propagation of sound in space in spherical form. The treatise, which formed the foundation of Western architecture from the Renaissance to the end of the nineteenth century, is divided into X. books that describe the theoretical and practical knowledge in the field of architecture and engineering. Especially in book V., dedicated to public buildings with particular attention to theaters, Vitruvius recalls the principles relating to the transmission, propagation and reflection of sound in space; it is in this context that he affirms on the sound “vox et in latitudine progreditur et in altitudinem gradatim scandit”26, or that its expansion occurs in three dimensions as in a sphere. The Roman architect also focuses on the architectural applications of the propagation of sound and its effects in space. With reference to the morphology of theaters, he states that the semicircular shape of the cavea is the best for accommodating the sound in its spherical expansion. It is to Leonardo Da Vinci, however, that the first graphic representations of the spherical propagation of sound matter are attributed. The most acclaimed hypothesis is that these are sketches relating to a never completed treatise on music, dating from the 80s and 90s of the fifteenth century. Among the sketches, the most representative are those that illustrate the creation of spaces for listening, as in the Paris code B in which “the theaters for listening to mass" are represented [Fig. 7], or rather a mixture of a Greek cross church and three semicircular steps, and the “theaters to be preached” [Fig. 8]. Other examples of three-dimensional representation of sound in space can be found in the Codex Atlanticus, the largest collection of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings and sketches dating from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries27.

During the Baroque period, the relationship between science and sound became more consolidated: numerous mathematicians, especially belonging to the Jesuit order, dealt with understanding the nature of the sound phenomenon through a geometric study of its propagation in space, especially in reference to theaters; the writings of Giuseppe Biancani, Athanasius Kircher, Francesco Maria Grimaldi, Daniello Battoli and Mario Bettini were the basis for the study of sound throughout the century in Jesuit colleges. Among these, Giuseppe Biancani and Athanasius Kircher are considered the leading figures in these studies. Giuseppe Biancani, a Jesuit mathematician, can be considered the father of acoustic geometry especially with the work Sphaera mundi seu Cosmographia from 1620, in which he lays the theoretical foundations on the behavior of sound within space.

Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit mathematician, used theatrical places to analyze the propagation and amplification of sound, tracing a close relationship between scenic architecture and sound movement within an enclosed space. Introducing the notion of acoustics first, in his works Musurgia Universalis of 1650 and Phonurgia nova of 1673, the Jesuit investigates the wonderful applications of sound, inaugurating the most specific studies of acoustics, aimed at creating sound events aimed at astonishing the spectators27. In fact, the founding elements of Sound Art can be found in his figure, that is the relationship between space and sound in relation to the man who perceives its dimensions and peculiarities through listening and whose perceptual-cognitive limits are investigated. In Phonurgia nova, all the experiments described - conical-shaped sonic machines that insert within the architecture for greater sound amplification - emphasize the properties of circular and curved surfaces for greater sound propagation.

4. Proposed methodology

If conscious listening is a condition to be able to investigate the deeper dimensions of one's being and for establishing and accelerating the process of evolution of consciousness, in order to create an ethically healthy society, it becomes essential to lay the foundations for an education in listening. Starting from childhood this will determine an important resonance in the emotional, behavioral, expressive and cognitive component of the child. In recent decades, thanks also to the cross-fertilization of various disciplines and the progress of neuroscience, there has been a renewed interest on the part of the scientific community for the vibratory perception of sound and the emerging listening abilities during the first years of life of an individual, already starting from the prenatal and perinatal period.

Our relationship with sound and the consequent attitude to listening is inexorably intertwined with the first glimpses of our existence: a relationship that originates in the intrauterine world, an immersive vibrational universe in which we develop the first relational forms through sound matter. Our primitive acoustic relationship is established with the mother's voice: Alfred Tomatis states that “the vocal nourishment that the mother provides to the child is important for the development of the child, just like her milk”28. In the embryo, hearing is the first sense to develop and this constitutes the ability to perceive any maternal sound quality: heartbeat, respiratory rhythm and emotional alterations constitute information acquired consciously through an active approach to its sound environment, which guarantees it a harmonious development. For Tomatis, an otolaryngologist who has dedicated his life to studying the close relationship between listening and psycho-body processes - leading to the birth of audiopsychophonology - listening is “a faculty of the highest level, such as to be inscribed on the same level of consciousness, as if [...] it were at the same time an open door to consciousness and an opening of consciousness to the field of perception”3. It is precisely starting from the gestational period in the womb, therefore, that listening - understood in its cochlear and non-cochlear dimension - begins to constitute our sound identity or ISO which, in the meaning of Rolando Benenzon, one of the world's leading authorities in the field of music therapy, it corresponds “to the infinite set of sound, acoustic and movement energies that belong to an individual and that characterize him”. This sound identity, therefore, is constituted through processes of interaction with the surrounding environment, as evidenced by the numerous studies conducted in the psychology of the developmental age and especially in the figure of Jean Piaget, and thanks to which the idea is abandoned of the child as a passive individual.

Here are some proposals to build an educational methodology for listening practices aimed at children:

1. Learning the difference between sound and music through field experiments, such as creating instruments that produce different sounds, activating in the child a phase of exploration of the subtleties of the sound dimension itself before it becomes music; deepen the knowledge of Cymatics, one of the tools through which to understand the morphogenetic effect of vibrations on matter and, therefore, that everything is in a perennial state of vibration;

2. Artistic / scientific experimentation and workshops with specialists or, at least, people with skills in the field, on vibrations and on the fundamental characteristics of sound, through experiences that can be both fun and very learning;

3. Create a collective experiential program of perception of the sonic flow in a circle; for example, focusing attention on listening to different sound registers, both natural and unnatural, describing the experience with all the participants at the end. These moments allow the activation, in the child, of cooperation and socialization processes, the acquisition of tools of knowledge of the sound flow, the enhancement of the creativity, participation, sensitivity of others, strengthening the concept of dialogue and sharing and increasing the own relational space - both introspective and social;

4. Personal and surrounding environmental connection: through playful exercises, you will learn to listen to your breathing and then move on to the vocalization of the breath, first focusing on the sound of your own voice and then, increasing its tone in unison, trying to find some “melodic” correlations with the breaths of others, with the aim of creating a collective sound structure;

5. Practice dialogue: invest in the relationship, focus on what matters, be intentionally present, remember the ongoing story and actively respond to needs. Dialogue is the basis of democracy and develops in individuals a deep sense of empathy;

7. Listening to nature and the sound code of animals and their relational dynamics, to learn and nurture a sense of respect and preservation;

8. Through various playful moments, learn to listen to silence29: aimed at enhancing attention and concentration skills, this exercise focuses on the desire to rediscover, in the child, the value and education of silence as an action that helps to connect with your own inner world. The child is called to discover that silence is an integral part of the world of sounds, and that even in its non-sound being, it is presence.


The goal of promoting listening practices in children lies in the desire to provide them with ethically healthy tools that can contribute, during their growth, to their formation as future adults with a greater awareness of themselves and the world. Through listening, as a profound and conscious act, a process is thus implemented that is capable of laying the foundations for an all-encompassing change. This process resides in the practices of deep listening, collective moments of intense emotional introspection that provide individuals with new channels of knowledge and expansion of their consciousness and which, as such, should become a fundamental educational subject within the school system. This multisensory sharing of the sound experience could be  practiced by adopting a circular arrangement in space. As demonstrated through numerous examples, the shape of the circle and sphere enhance the sound dimension on various levels: from the cognitive processes activated in humans to the social dimension it represents, from its physical propagation in space to the spherical nature of listening itself. Learning to listen is an intentional task of solidarity and the road to shaping a better future.


  1. Marshall McLuhan, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century, Oxford University Press, New York, 1989, p.74;

  2. Raymond Murray Schafer, A Sound Education – 100 Exercises in Listening and Sound-Making, Ricordi, Milano, 1992, p.1;

  3. Alfred Tomatis, L’Orecchio e la Voce, Dalai Editore, 1987, p.112;

  4. Pauline Oliveros, Deep Listening. A Composer's Sound Practice, p. 23;

  5. Ibidem p. 24;

  6. Ibidem p. 26;

  7. Pauline Oliveros, Software for People. Collected Writings 1963-80, pp.140 - 141;

  8. Ultra-Red, Five Protocols for Organized Sound, p. 4;

  9. Rafael Moneo, Fragmentacion y compacidad en la arquitectura reciente, Rivista El Croquis, 1999, p.98;

  10. The concept of place refers here to the expression of Max Neuhaus, in the English meaning "place" which is not only the physical place, it is a global concept that includes the human presence (...) who possesses it and acts at the internal, with its visual and auditory characteristics";

  11. Iegor Reznikoff, The Evidence of the Use of Sound Resonance from Palaeolithic to Medieval Times, in C. Scarre & G. Lawson, Archaeoacoustics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, 2006;

  12. Ian A. Cook, Sarah K. Pajot & Andrew F. Leuchter, Ancient Architectural Acoustic Resonance Patterns and Regional Brain Activity, in Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, 2008, 1:1, pp. 95-104;

  13. Paolo Debertolis, Fernando Coimbra & Andrew Linda Eneix, Archaeoacoustic Analysis of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum in Malta, 2015, Journal of Anthropology and Archaeology, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 59-79;

  14. Paul Devereux, A Ceiling Painting in the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum as Acoustically-Related Imagery: A Preliminary Note, in Times and Mind, 2009, Volume 2, Issue 2, Berg Publishers, Oxford: 225-231;

  15. J. Miguel Gaona, Nicolas Rouleau, Joey M. Caswell, Lucas W. E. Tessaro, Ryan C. Burke, David S. Schumacher, Archaeoacoustic Investigation of a Prehistoric Cave Site: Frequency-dependendt Sound Amplification and Potential Relevance for Neurotheology, NeuroQuantology, 2014, Vol. 12, Issue 4, pp. 455-463;

  16. C. F. Blackman, S. G. Benane, D. E. House, W. T. Joines, Effects of ELF (1–120 Hz) and Modulated (50 Hz) RF Fields on the Efflux of Calcium Ions from Brain Tissue in Vitro, Bioelectromagnetics 1985; 6(1): 1-11;

  17. Csicsvari J, Hirase H, Czurkó A, Mamiya A, Buzsáki G. Fast Network Oscillations in the Hippocampal CA1 Region of the Behaving Rat, J Neurosci 1999; 19(RC20): 1-4;

  18. Oliveira AM and Bading H. Calcium Signaling in Cognition and Aging‐Dependent Cognitive Decline, Biofactors 2011; 37(3): 168-174;

  19. Michael Tellinger, The Healing Effects of the Stone Circles in South Africa, 2018, (Link);

  20. Trevor J. Cox,  Bruno M. Fazenda, Susan E. Greaney, Using scale modelling to assess the prehistoric acoustics of Stonehenge, Journal of Archaeological Science 122 (2020) 105218;

  21. Miriam A. Kolar, Archaeoacoustics: Re-Sounding Material Culture, in Acoustics Today, 2018, Vol. 14, Issue 4, pp. 28-37;

  22. Golo Föllmer, Karlheinz Stockhausen: Spherical Concert Hall, 1970, (Link);

  23. Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier, Pitagora e il suo influsso sul pensiero e sull’arte, Edizioni Arkeios, 2008, p. 77;

  24. Angelo Raffaele Sodano, Giuseppe Girgenti, Porfirio - Vita di Pitagora, Rusconi, Milano, 1998;

  25. John Stuart Reid, Annaliese Reid, Cymatics - A Bridge To An Unseen World. The Art and Science of Visible Sound, November 2010;

  26. Marco Vitruvio Pollione, De Architectura, book V, chapter 3.7;

  27. Elisa Bastianello, Architetture dell’Eco. Vincenzo Scamozzi e Athanasius Kircher, alle origini della scienza acustica, in Engramma. La tradizione classica nella memoria occidentale, Issue 154, Marzo 2018, (Link);

  28. Alfred Tomatis, The conscious Ear: My Life Transformation Through Listening, Station Hill press, 1839, p.133;

  29. In the context of sound-sensory education, aimed at enhancing attention and concentration skills, there will be Games of Silence. «Absolute silence equals absolute immobility», writes Maria Montessori in her book Educating to freedom; many aspects of Listening practices, in fact, resonate with the Montessori philosophy. Maria Montessori was an Italian educator, pedagogist, philosopher, doctor and child neuropsychiatrist, internationally known for the educational method that takes her name. This bases its founding principles on the freedom of the student, who thus learns self-discipline, and on numerous didactic activities in which the child's cognitive development is stimulated through multisensory experiences.

About The Author

Daniela Gentile is an Interior Designer and Multimedia Artist with a keen interest in Sound Art, which leads her to experiment with sounds related to space, exploring the theme of perception within the listener.

She holds a Master’s degree in Multimedia Arts and Design (RUFA). Her thesis was carried out with a long-term research placement at the Spatial Sound Institute (SSI) in Budapest, where she developed the project "Listening as an eco-political form of resistance." The engagement with this topic planted the roots of her current research and practice in Sound Activism, the study of sound and waveforms as weapons and as a political means for the manipulation, control and psychophysical influence of the civilian population.

Daniela is part of Quadro Quantico, a collective of young artists born in 2017 that creates interactive multimedia installations and audiovisual performances through the use of various expressive languages. Since 2020, she collaborates with the audiovisual duo BARANSU, focused on Sound Activism in all its aesthetic-formal forms.

She is currently a Research Assistant at The Works Research Institute in Budapest, an institute that investigates spatialized sound and its effects on psychological and physiological well-being.