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Sound matters: Towards an enactive approach to hearing media

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This article explores and proposes a model of hearing based upon an emergent line of thought known as the ‘enactive’ or ‘embodied cognition’ approach. This approach views the various modes of perception (sight, hearing, etc.) as styles of relating rather than processes carried out in the brain. Put another way, these approaches envision experience as constituted by embodied, perceptual relationships to the world. According to the phenomenological perspective of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, every self is constituted by perceptual, embodied relations within a lifeworld. For Merleau-Ponty, and for scholars like Francisco Varela, Alva Noë and Shaun Gallagher, this is no metaphor. It is a material description of the ordinary and everyday relations that constitute our selves in the world. As Noë reports, breakthroughs in neuroanatomical and neuropsychological research methods have led to considerable excitement and energy being poured into cognitive studies. It is thought that by these means we might even be able to ‘see’ consciousness at work. Yet Noë is highly sceptical of this ambition because an ‘explanatory gap’ remains between the data (images of brain activity, etc.) and true understanding of perceptual experience. Working from this critique, Noë and Kevin O’Regan have argued convincingly for a sensory-motor account of vision and consciousness. Currently, there is virtually nothing written on the possibilities for an enactive model of hearing. Therefore, my goal in this article is to initiate a sketch of such a model. I contend that this alternative approach may prove to be very enlightening with respect to studies of film and television reception, which otherwise tend not to notice the meaning-making activities of the body.
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Keywords: embodied cognition; existential phenomenology; film and embodiment; film reception; film sound; sound theory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Bishop’s University

Publication date: 2011-08-11

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  • The Soundtrack is a multi-disciplinary journal which brings together research in the area of music and sound in relation to film and other moving image media. A complex cultural, technological, industrial and artistic phenomenon, sound-with-moving image is a rich area for analysis, investigation and speculation. We encourage writing that is accessible to audiences from a diversity of intellectual backgrounds and disciplines as well as providing a forum for practitioners. The Soundtrack's aim is to nurture this new and expanding area of academic investigation in dialogue with soundtrack producers of all kinds.
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