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Challenges traditional listening

Published: 29 September 2020

New research at Luleå University of Technology examines the role of listening in intercultural musical collaboration and in ecological sound art. The hope is that the study, which has been carried out for more than 10 years, will be a tool for a greater understanding of how people are part of the world around them. By challenging traditional listening, the project wants to create inclusive musical practices that can also be a model for tolerance and foresight in society at large.

− Artistic practices in these fields create and relate to specific challenges of the musician's listening. An in-depth understanding of these challenges also contributes to the development of these practices that play an important role in shaping the society of the future. Here, new approaches to addressing issues of migration, multiculturalism, globalization and ecology will be crucial. New practices for listening can be developed among artists and passed on to other levels in society, says Stefan Österjö, professor at Luleå University of Technology.

Learns to listen based on cultural norms

The research has been conducted within the framework of a number of projects in Sweden, Belgium and England. Much of the work has also been done in Southeast Asia, and especially in Vietnam. The research results are now presented in the newly written book Listening to the Other.

− The analysis is based on a material that partly extends over a long period of time (material collection extends between 2007 and 2019) but also, which is absolutely central, the analysis is produced with intersubjective methods that involve all participating musicians. It is thus not an analysis based on perspectives from Western researchers, but on the creation of a common understanding of these processes, says Stefan Östersjö.

How we listen and interpret what we hear is a constant challenge for musicians in intercultural collaboration, states Stefan Östersjö.

− Every individual learns to listen based on cultural norms in the society we are socialized into. These norms constitute resistance in all contexts where a listening that extends beyond these frames of reference becomes necessary.

Embodied cognition

According to Stefan Östersjö, a key to creation in intercultural contexts is to understand listening as integrated in a cognition that is situated in a cultural context, but which is also embodied.

− This understanding of cognition as localized, not only in the brain but in the whole organism, today constitutes a basic prerequisite for much cutting-edge research. Music research is no exception, and this perspective is therefore important in order to be able to understand the interplay between bodily experience, perception and the brain's processing of this data. In music research, this perspective has important consequences for how we understand learning, and from a broader perspective, how we understand society's role in the development of musicians to artists and social individuals.

Stefan Östersjö hopes that the research presented in the book can be a tool for creating a more open-minded and tolerant view of other cultures.

− An understanding of the processes that are activated in intercultural collaboration can of course be helpful for individual artists, but I hope not least that it can also be a tool to create a greater understanding of these perspectives among decision makers, and more generally, among us all who together shape tomorrow's society.

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Stefan Östersjö

Östersjö, Stefan - Professor and Head of Subject

Organisation: Musical Performance, Music, Media and Theatre, Department of Social Sciences, Technology and Arts
Phone: +46 (0)911 72606