A Special Sense
Touch is the most personal of the senses. Hearing and touch meet where the lower frequencies of audible sound pass over to tactile vibrations (at about 20 hertz). Hearing is a way of touching at a distance and the intimacy of the first sense is fused with sociability whenever people gather together to hear something special. Reading that sentence an ethnomusicologist noted: “All the ethnic groups I know well have in common their physical closeness and an incredible sense of rhythm. These two features seem to co-exist.”
The sense of hearing cannot be closed off at will. There are no earlids. When we go to sleep, our perception of sound is the last door to close and it is also the first to open when we awaken. These facts have prompted McLuhan to write: “Terror is the normal state of any oral society for in it everything affects everything all the time.”
The ear’s only protection is an elaborate psychological mechanism for filtering out undesirable sound in order to concentrate on what is desirable. The eye points outward; the ear draws inward. It soaks up information. Wagner said: “To the eye appeals the outer man, the inner to the ear.” The ear is also an erotic orifice. Listening to beautiful sounds, for instance the sounds of music, is like the tongue of a lover in your ear. Of its own nature then, the ear demands that insouciant and distracting sounds would be stopped in order that it may concentrate on those which truly matter.
Murray Schafer: The Soundscape. Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. New York, Knopf, 1977. p. 11/12