Focusing your ears

How come you can shut your eyes but not your ears?

A crucial skill not often discussed by people who work with sound is that of being able to focus your ears… Most people understand the idea of focusing your eyes because we all do it constantly and you especially become conscious of the skill if you have some kind of vision defect/gift such as myopia. But how do you go about focusing your ears?

It seems if you were considering the idea of ‘training’ your ears to detect pitch (if not perfect pitch then relative pitch) then there are plenty of books & courses of study/practice. This is due to history and musical tradition ie you MUST be able to sing/play in tune… So the idea of training your ear to focus on pitch is well known, but what of sonic focus ie to be able to sonically zoom in & focus on a sonic detail?

As an example when we are mixing a film there may well be 100 sonic elements playing at once, all contributing at different relative levels as the scene plays but it sems the ‘trained’ mind has an ability to ‘look’ past all the mass of sound & hear, say, a single glitch or a mistake/imbalance. Or to focus specifically on one element of a background ambience.

Compared with visual focus, it seems sonic focus is psychological – we aren’t altering our ear function to zoom in on a sound. So focusing the ear is more of an aesthetic endeavor than a purely technical one, we are choosing to focus our mind to listen to one aspect of what our ears are hearing… So is this heading into the land of psychoacoustics, cognitive psychology or instinct?

2 Responses to Focusing your ears

  1. Matthew says:

    Definitely something very important to consider.
    Though I wouldn’t say the ear does not physically change when focusing on different sounds. I’d love to see your sources about that.

    An energy current passes through the ear at differing magnitudes and fluctuations, (also known as Ki, which has been detected and proven to exist) Concentration or mental focus alter the movement of this Ki, I doubt that would not significantly alter the physical state of the ear. (at least at the molecular level)

    Any change in the tension or shape of any of the flesh around the ear area will result in a different kind of “filter”– any sound which passes through it will also be affected.
    It’s highly complicated and intricate, for example, we not only hear through the eardrum but also through the skull. Considering today’s little knowledge about the human body and its enigmatic nature, as well as the nature of sound, I would suggest not making such naive statements about the physics of our organic hearing.

    Would be great if someone made a microphone which could be “aurally focused” similar to how our ears do– allowing a single microphone to be suitable for a far wider range of situations– Rather than a $1000 mic for guitar, yet another $2000 one for a violin, still yet another $3000 mic set for an ambient orchestra, (but not being used interchangeably) and etc. etc.

    Nice post, definitely a topic that is quite overlooked, and definitely worth thinking about– especially for those who possess $20000 equipment but have forgotten how to listen, due to the perceived cost and glossy surface of their equipment. (No offense to you in particular, just some food for thought, and I very much welcome to be proved wrong.)

    • Luke says:

      Tim – Nice post. There is definitely something more to our hearing than medicine has discovered.

      Matthew – Thanks for commenting. All very interesting information. lol that you are reaming someone out for not citing their sources but you also failed to include sourcing with your claims. Don’t be lazy, even when commenting! =)

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