A Response to Schafer’s “Open Ears”

After closely reading “Open Ears” by Murray Schafer, I have a strong feeling he is arguing that humans are slaves to sound. Schafer brought up many intriguing points but one that really struck me was his analysis of the use of church bells. In the passage, he describes how church bells are not only used as a device to draw the gods attention but also to announce when it was time to pray or take action. Schafer described the bells as not only a sign of worship but also as a tool of keeping order. This not only shows how humans adapted to take commands by a sound but also that not even the gods were above following orders from a sound. Almost immediately I could think of a variety of examples where this is still present today, such as school bells, breaking news alerts, alarm clocks or timers, or any sound in a car to warn you of something being wrong with the system. Each has the commonality that a set action follows the sound no matter what. Another point Schafer presents is the concept of studying history by listening to it. His writing strongly supports the idea that by actually listening to history, you can gain a better understanding of what society was like and what it might evolve to. Schafer points to Pop music which he argues has always shown what state a society and the government are in and offers examples when the government either listened and thrived or ignored and fell. These examples support his main argument that humans are slaves to sounds by showing the evolution of sound and its effect on society.

Within Schafer’s “Open Ear”, he brings up the exercise of imagining sound to provide evidence that humans can contain sound within our own heads. However, when imagining sounds, what does it say about a person or their personality they way they imagine a sound? If asked in imagine a woman weeping as Schafer does in the passage, what does it say about a person how they imagine the woman? Is it a familiar woman that the person has seen before or not? What is the pitch or intensity of the woman’s voice? Does one imagine the reason she’s crying as well or not and what does that say about the person imagining it?

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