This is an abstract from the Beyond Listening symposium program.

Something fragile. Ambient listening & background musics qualia

Piotr Kędziora

Wednesday 22 November — Presentations


Documentation of the lecture

Sound epistemologies, specially those surrounding music, refer explicitly or implicitly to the definitions of professionalized listening and listener. From various typologies (+20 already collected), one can find a trace of the egalitarian/democratic, unprofessional, untrained listening which represents the silent majority. Obviously, this fragile (but described as ordinary, primitive, inadequate) mode of listening is marginalized from professional discourse, since it is described as a mode to be at best aware of, but surely as a negative one, not actually important enough to bother with. This stigma depends on the particular interests of the agencies who force the answers on what to listen to and how to listen.

My research on commercial/artistic background musics and by the mentioned sound epistemologies brought me to the concept of ambient listening as overlooked and abandoned on one hand, and highly threatened and fragile, on the other.

Among the many ways in which ambient listening can be defined, one seems particularly important in the context of the pedagogical and conceptual efforts of acoustic ecologies.

Do they speak with the voice of those they wish to protect from the consequences of sound pollution when they fail to define and consider their underlying form of acting in and through the soundscapes, which is naïve, unlearned, distracted listening?

My attempt is to raise this problem from the web of connections between scientific images of hearing/listening, social/cultural conditions of listening practices, and technological/political sources of their amplification.

It can be considered as a descriptive move towards defining a fragile and innocent quasi-listening mode, which is also the most susceptible, and therefore the most oppressed, situational and ephemeral moment of developing sonic subjectivity, or as an emerging new field focused on the ‘hear-to-listen’ moment when the conscious, meaning and judgement can be free up and expanded or intercepted and instrumentalized.


Piotr Kędziora is a cultural studies scholar at the Institute of Cultural Studies, Adam Mickiewicz University, researcher of music and issues related to the idea of listening as a cultural practice, author of articles in the fields of cultural studies, media studies and anthropology of music, web application developer and graphic designer

Piotr Kędziora, photo: Jacek Smolicki