British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

The Listening Experience

What kind of evidence are we after?
Music is heard in many contexts by many different kinds of people with different levels of attention and musical knowledge – at one end of the spectrum might be, say, radio listeners, concert-goers or amateur musicians, and at the other, people who encounter music in a more incidental way – perhaps travellers or passers-by in the street or the park. We want to document reactions and opinions across this spectrum, and from whatever period and cultural context they come.

… music is heard in many contexts by many different kinds of people with different levels of attention and musical knowledge

We are looking for essentially private and personal experiences of listening to music that are documented, rather than professional music criticism or reviews of performances or recordings. By ‘documented’ evidence, we really mean things like diaries, memoirs, letters and oral history – things that are already written down or recorded. The parameters of the project don’t allow us to ‘solicit’ responses specially created for LED, so – for example – we’re not looking for your own reflections about a piece of music you heard on the radio the other night or what you’re listening to on your iPod, or a childhood memory of listening to music. What we are really keen to uncover is the hidden cache of family letters or diaries held in your loft, or the journals of a traveller held in your local library, archive or society. Provided that they have already been written or documented, LED isn’t concerned with the quality of the writing. It’s not about collecting highly literate accounts by prominent people. It’s about collating honest accounts of musical experiences from any era, culture or type of listener.

For the time being, so that the initial three-year phase of the project is focused and manageable, entries will be restricted to English-language sources, but our intention is that, in the future, the project will expand to take in a network of international participants, and that the database will ultimately include sources in other languages.

The database will help us to form a better understanding of the effect of music on listeners and the ways in which it is, and has been, valued and understood in society. Amongst other things, it will enhance our understanding of how recording and broadcasting technologies have affected people’s relationship with music, and offer a new range of evidence of how music is studied and learned. It will also sharpen our insight into the settings and ways in which music has been performed – how, for example, it has been used in the home and in religious rituals.

LED-logoIt is hoped that the data will interest a wide range of people – performers, teachers, social historians, music historians, psychologists of music, people working in the creative industries – indeed, anyone with an interest in the performance and reception of music. To find out more and learn how you can get involved, visit:

Simon Brown

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