British Universities Film & Video Council

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The Listening Experience

The Royal College of Music and The Open University have created the Listening Experience Database (LED), an ambitious three-year project, funded by the AHRC, to document the impact of music on people’s lives. Simon Brown, Research Associate, The Listening Experience Database, puts his ear to the ground.

About the author: Simon Brown graduated with a BA (Hons) in music from The University of Nottingham. In May 2008 he won the Bernard Slee Music Award for his paper on Wagner’s opera, Das Rheingold. He then subsequently received an award from The Society for Music Analysis, together with a scholarship by The University of Nottingham that enabled him to gain an MA in Music in 2009. Later that same year, he won a Collaborative Doctoral Award funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council to study for a PhD at Birmingham Conservatoire. He is also an Associate Lecturer with The Open University and is the Research Associate at the RCM working on The Listening Experience Database project.

Overview of the project
In his speech, ‘On Receiving the First Aspen Award’, Benjamin Britten described ‘true musical experience’ as a ‘holy triangle of composer, performer and listener’. When we think of this concept, we usually consider it to be three equal sides of a triangle, with all three participants in the musical experience being equal partners. However, when we consider the written history of music, things are anything but equal; you only need to visit the library or retrieve a quick Internet search to reveal the vast amounts of information on composers and performers. These are the people we celebrate, whose names enter the imaginary museum of musical works. For most people, they are the focus of our attention, but what about the listeners? If we accept Britten’s idea that the listener is an intrinsic and vital part of the experience – how can we hope to understand the history of music if we’re only getting two thirds of the story?

… how can we hope to understand the history of music if we’re only getting two thirds of the story?

The Royal College of Music has joined forces with The Open University to create the Listening Experience Database (LED). This ambitious three-year project, funded by a £750,000 research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, aims to produce the world’s first database documenting the impact of music on people’s lives. The main purpose of the project is to design and develop a database, freely searchable by the public, which will bring together a mass of data about people’s experiences of listening to music of all kinds, in any historical period and any culture. It is also using crowdsourcing as one of the ways to populate the database.

Street musicians, May 1989, New Orleans,  photographed by Brenda Anderson. (Photo © Brenda Anderson)

Street musicians, May 1989, New Orleans, photographed by Brenda Anderson. (Photo © Brenda Anderson)

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