Chapter 3 
Active Listening Workshop led by Vivienne Griffin. Conducted at the Delia Derbyshire Building, College of Arts and Society, Coventry University, Cox Street, Coventry, on 11 July 2023.

It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds; what worlds make stories. 

― Donna J. Haraway 

Vivienne Griffin is an Irish artist based in London and New York, who creates sculptures, drawings, and audio works in their “antidisciplinary” practice.[178] The voice, vernacular language, and noise are utilised in their text works (2D and aural), and a free poetic form is applied to assemblages of objects (found and made). With a focus on the problematic aspects of “hyperindividualism” in an ongoing body of work and exploring the use of sound (and/or silence), dance music, meditation, singing, and podcasts as means of transcending the self. In their biography, Griffin states further that “their work seeks emancipation from the apathy of banality, entangling the everyday with the extraordinary and positing the ordinary as rare”, a statement that shares numerous crossovers with this research project and the sonic excavation of historical forms of cultural activism on a superficially unremarkable street with no obvious features. 

After attending and later co-organising an installment in a series of “deep listening” events with Ignota Books at the Camden Art Centre, which celebrated the reedition of Pauline Oliveros’ Quantum Listening (2022)—a manifesto that heralds listening as a form of activism through simple yet profound exercises to show that “deep” or “active listening” can reshape the social matrix into one that values the consideration of others and tranquillity to inform daily actions and behaviours—I visited Griffin’s studio. There, I gained an insightful understanding of the sonic dimension of their practice, which incorporated “listening workshops” as an integral part. As a consequence, I invited Griffin to participate in the event at Camden Art Centre and subsequently in this research project. 

This invitation was motivated by Griffin’s aim to explore sound from a non-musical angle, deliberately avoiding music theory as a starting point. They wanted to engage “in a different way that didn’t require musical knowledge”, mainly because “in some cases, it is kind of elitist, and it has to do with whether you can or can’t afford music lessons... And in my case, we couldn’t afford music lessons, so I didn’t have that education. So, I wanted access. I wanted a point of entry, and I didn’t want to have to go back to like a sort of a 5-year-old learning piano phase”. Additionally, Griffin ironically noted that “loads of musicians will always say as well that when they kind of engage with experimental sound, they wish they could unlearn what they learned, which is funny. They’re like, I’ve spent years on unlearning that theory so I could just be free”.[179] 

The ambition to maintain an accessible and inclusive methodology, as outlined in this research and the curatorial toolkit, while considering financial and spatial constraints, partially aligns with Griffin’s rationale for engaging with experimental forms of sound art and listening practices. It also alludes to how every environment has its distinct sounds and characteristics, thereby reflective of Oliveros’ ground-breaking work. Griffin elucidates, “Basically, I’ve been aware of the movements of practitioners in New York in the 1970s around that time. And I was looking into people like Pandit Pran Nath, who was La Monte Young’s teacher… But, yeah, I was looking at minimalist composers. And from exploring that genre, Pauline Oliveros just stood out to me. First, she’s a lesbian. She had a beautiful perspective on sound exploration and a sense of humour… Someone on a deep listening course mentioned that by the end of the sonic meditation retreats, I think in New Mexico, participants were basically remaining silent from 10 pm until 1 pm the next day. I love the kind of trajectory that the listening practice ends up with half the retreat in silence”. 

Their orientation towards minimalist and conceptual practitioners from that era (also echoing my interest in artists of the time including Maryanne Amacher, Michael Asher, and Adrian Piper among others), combined with a multifaceted awareness of various listening practices, reinforced the decision to engage in and develop an analysis of “active listening” led by Griffin as a critical communication strategy for this research. The process demands total engagement with the speaker, focused concentration, comprehension, thoughtful responses, and memory retention of the message conveyed. It also surpasses simplistic forms of auditory perception, encouraging profound involvement with and reflection on the content shared. This technique, when applied and engaged with correctly, can ensure successful communication, particularly within the realms of research projects, collaborative endeavours, and scenarios that call for deep understanding and empathy. 

Target Audience and Marketing 
The workshop was purposefully tailored to serve a diverse audience, aimed particularly at artists and musicians to refine their auditory skills for more nuanced sound interaction. Educators and therapists were identified as potential participants for their interest in advanced auditory techniques and their impact on psychological and physiological aspects. Similarly, cultural workers and curators could gain a deeper understanding of sound art, drawing from the theories of Oliveros and LaBelle.[180] Plus Art, architecture, and sound engineering students were offered practical skills to understand the relationship between sound, space, and materiality. Additionally, those interested in mindfulness and meditation were presented with a novel approach to sound, enhancing their moment-to-moment awareness through sonic meditation. Overall, the workshop aimed to integrate technical skill-building with immersive sound experiences, advocating Ursula K. Le Guin’s philosophy that “Telling is Listening” and a connective act, which was evidenced by Griffin’s encouragement for participants to transform their engagement with sound by combining theory with practice.[181] 

The deferral of the listening workshop was necessitated by a protracted deadlock in communications with the North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (NWCDTP), leading to the event being rescheduled for July 11, 2023. This delay coincided with a time when the student population was notably reduced. Despite this timing issue, the marketing strategies remained robust and unaffected, utilising social media platforms, especially Instagram, to tap into the digital communities. The content was crafted to engage potential participants by underscoring the workshop’s distinct benefits and the transformative nature of prior sessions. 

Local and regional music networks were pivotal in the outreach, connecting with a community already sensitive to the subtleties of experimental sound and listening. Information about the workshop was disseminated through these networks to target individuals eager to enhance their auditory skills. Additionally, Coventry University mailing lists were employed by Dr Louise Adkins to directly reach an academic cohort and their respective students. Promotional efforts through these lists were designed to accentuate the workshop’s educational quality and the potential for its practical applications across disciplines, thus appealing to students, educators, and professionals looking to incorporate active listening into their academic or clinical repertoire. The marketing strategy for the active listening workshop was predicated on a multi-channel approach that was both targeted and inclusive, ensuring that the message reached and connected with individuals across different sectors who share a common interest in the depth and potential of auditory engagement through active listening. Please refer to the Appendix for a detailed outline of the messaging utilised. 

Active Listening Workshop Objectives
The workshop aimed to lead participants through an immersive educational journey, designed to broaden their auditory attention and hone their listening skills. Equipping them with the tools to discern patterns within complex auditory environments and underscored the significance of acoustic memory in enhancing the precision of recalling and articulating sonic experiences.  For example, “acoustic memory” is a crucial aspect of human cognitive development, influencing our interactions with the environment by enabling us to recognise music, understand language, and navigate landscapes rich in layered sounds. Musicians, for instance, depend on acoustic memory to master and perform intricate musical compositions. Similarly, it plays a pivotal role in language development, assisting in the retention of the sounds of words and speech patterns that are essential for effective communication. In educational settings, acoustic memory forms the basis of traditional learning methods, essential for processing and remembering verbal information, thus facilitating academic advancement. It also underpins all aspects of daily life by enabling the detection of essential environmental signals, whether it’s the honk of a car horn or the ring of a mobile phone.  

An awareness that Griffin in conversation with me sought to progress with the application of Oliveros’ “sonic meditation” scores and the artists own adapted versions, which were written to elevates listeners to profound levels, where one becomes deeply engaged with the sound, fostering a sophisticated and expansive auditory memory. This heightened engagement leads can also lead to a greater sensitivity to sound’s subtle details, bolstering concentration, and a profound attentiveness to the auditory stimuli to foster a state of “sonic mindfulness” anchored in the present, permeating everyday life, situating an individual firmly within the acoustics of their existence.  

The philosophy behind enhanced sonic mindfulness, advocated by Oliveros, calls for a renewed understanding and approach to existence, nurturing growth at both personal and community levels. It fosters an acute awareness that deepens connections with the environment and offers relief from stress. In line with other mindfulness practices, sonic mindfulness grounds participants in the present moment. Engaging in this practice brings about a tranquil, meditative state, sharpens focus, highlights the finer details of sound, and fortifies memory, aiding in the recognition and recall of auditory information. This heightened cognisance acts as a catalyst for creative innovation and, through shared listening experiences, fosters a sense of unity and connection, thus strengthening social bonds. It cultivates empathetic communication based on the principle that empathy stems from effective listening. 

Additionally, an increased sensitivity to the auditory environment can lead to greater ecological consciousness, mindful of the impacts of sound and noise pollution. These discussions extend into broader academic dialogues about sensory perception, as well as the cultural and ecological repercussions of how society interact with sound. The program further explores the transformative potential of sound art, inspired by Labelle, (2006), to engage with socio-cultural narratives, offering participants an avenue to reflect on and interact with their surroundings through auditory expression. 

Active Listening Workshop Overview  
The “Active Listening Workshop” presented an immersive pedagogical experience designed to enhance auditory perception and empower participants to fully engage with and immerse themselves in their shared surroundings. This workshop provides an experience that blends theoretical knowledge with practical application, steering participants through the subtleties of “active listening”. Informed by the teachings of Oliveros, and on this occasion the investigative work of Abu Hamdan, and, to a degree, the collective insights of Ultra-red. Active Listening cultivates a deep engagement with the acoustic environment, going beyond passive forms of hearing. Instead, it requires a focused and sustained effort to comprehend and internalise and process the auditory stimuli that occupy the surroundings, such as the continuous drone of the Ring Road. 

This workshop was a carefully structured sequence of activities, which opened with Griffin and me, introducing to the participants to our respective research and vocational work and where it connects with auditory theory before moving towards interactive exercises that apply these theoretical frameworks practically. These activities were designed to sharpen the participants’ abilities to focus on and internalise the vast network of sounds that make up their immediate environment. Griffin facilitated the workshop with a confident grasp of both theoretical and practical elements of sound art and active forms of listening, guiding participants through the complexities of auditory perception. The instruction was tailored to be accessible to all attendees, aligning with Oliveros’ philosophy of sonic meditation, which requires no prior experience with sound theory. Emphasis was placed on clear communication to ensure that all participants fully understood and engaged with the material, creating an inclusive environment that encouraged contribution and collective learning. 

The workshop addressed the physiological, psychological, and environmental influences on auditory perception, offering a comprehensive understanding of how we listen. It is designed to cultivate an ability to discern distinct sounds, benefiting personal growth and professional expertise in acoustically focused disciplines. Participants were encouraged to attune to the subtleties of sound, fostering skills crucial for artists, musicians, and audio engineers. Moreover, the workshop’s aim was to foster a deep appreciation for the sound arts and listening, with potential to enrich participants’ daily lives.  Tailoring an environment to create an open dialogue was prioritised, with structured intervals for discussion and reflection to maximise the learning experience. 

Supportive materials were selected and prepared to enrich the learning experience and to provide participants with long-term resources, while maintaining ethical standards that ensure the anonymity of research components and permit participants the autonomy to withdraw at any stage. The workshop, initially advertised as a two-part event, included an additional phase that concluded with a soundwalk, thereby creating three distinct phases of engagement. The initial phase of the workshop was conducted in the expansive ground-floor entrance area, where a discreet corner was selected to offer a welcoming space for participants, particularly those who were initially self-conscious, and to facilitate introductions and begin initial activities. 

Griffin began the session by discussing the philosophy behind “sonic meditation” as developed by Oliveros, highlighting “Deep Listening” as a vital practice for recognising sound’s significance in daily life. They pointed out that this workshop differed from previous ones due to a greater focus on synthesising theoretical knowledge with practical application, particularly concerning “active listening”. Griffin explains that “this time around, there was a tad more theory involved than I usually incorporate, mainly because of the emphasis on “active listening”. I wanted to explore what does listening really entail? And what’s the essence of listening critically? These questions nudged me to frame a more contextual setting”.[182] 

It was apparent that one essential part of the workshop was the introductory listening breathing exercises termed “scores”, which were informed by a “couple of branches of deep listening practice that are closely linked to meditation practices”. Griffin explained, “they’re very formal. I’m not sure of the exact word to describe it, but there’s a certain aesthetic attached to them that I associate with contemporary classical music and extended vocal technique”. By closing their eyes participants to focus their auditory senses by disconnecting from visual distractions to concentrate on the sounds around them. 

Pauline Oliveros scores from Sonic Meditations used by Vivienne Griffin in the Active Listening Workshop:[183]

Score Xviii


Listen to a sound until you no longer recognise it. 

Score XiX 

Lie flat on your back or sit comfortably. Open your eyes widely, then let your eyelids close extremely slowly. Become aware of how your eyelids are closing. When your eyelids ore closed, turn your eyes slowly from left to right, around, up and down. Let your eyes rest comfortably in their sockets. Try to be aware of the muscles behind the eyes and of the distance from these muscles to the back of the head. Cover your eyes with your palms and shut out all the light. Become aware of all the sounds in the environment. When you think you have established contact with all of the sounds in the external environment, very gradually, introduce your fingers into your ears or cover them with your palms. Try to shut out all external sound. Listen carefully to the internal sounds of your own body working. After a long time gradually open your ears and include the sounds of the external environment. 

This action was followed by a series of bodily movements and breathing exercises to encourage participants to relax physically in the space. Griffin’s rationale is that “achieving this is relatively straightforward, but if you don’t do it… People have difficulty vocalising and get relaxed in the space. It’s pivotal for me to guide them through a set of exercises centred on breathing and warming of their voice. Followed by the clapping and foot stomping exercise to encourage them to think about timing and musical rhythm”.

Zina circle  

Stand together in a circle, with eyes closed facing the centre. One person is designated, the transmitter. After observing the breathing cycle, individually, gradually join hands. Then slowly move back so that all arms are stretched out and the size of the circle increased. Next stretch the arms towards centre and move in slowly. Finally move back to the normal sized Circle, with hands still joined, standing so that arms are relaxed at sides. Return attention to breathing. When the time seems right, the transmitter starts a pulse that travels around the circle, by using the right hand to squeeze the left hand of the person next to her. The squeeze should be quickly and sharply made, to resemble a light jolt of electricity. The squeeze must be passed from left hand to right-hand and on to the next person as quickly as possible. The action should become so quick thot it happens as a reflex before the person has time to consciously direct the squeeze. Simultaneously with the squeeze, each person must shout hah. This shout must come up from the centre of the body (somewhere a little below the novel) before passing through the throat. 

There must be complete abdominal support for the voice. When the first cycle is complete, the transmitter waits for a long time to begin the next cycle. When the reaction time around the circle has become extremely short, the transmitter makes the cycles begin closer and closer together until a new transmission coincides with the end of a cycle, then continue trying to speed up the reaction time. If attention and awareness are maintained, the circle depending on its size, should be shouting almost simultaneously. 

Variations: 1. Reverse the direction of the pulse using the left hand to transmit and the right hand to receive. 

1. Reverse the direction of each cycle. 

3. Each person chooses which direction to send the pulse. The transmitter continues to control the beginning and ending of a cycle. 

The selection and ordering of the workshop exercises were implemented by Griffin to enhance the participants’ discernment of intricate auditory layers. These were followed by the introduction of their “active listening” techniques such as rhythmic clapping and frequency-specific humming. These exercises were aimed to improve individual auditory skills and establish group rhythmic synchronicity, drawing from entrainment and resonance theories.[185] The humming segment focused inward, prompting participants to attune to their own internal sounds, like their heartbeat, and to understand the resonance of sound within the body. This part of the workshop explored psychoacoustics, with reference to Amacher’s Making the Third Ear, exploring how sounds are internally perceived versus externally heard and the phenomenon of additional auditory signals occurring in the neurological translation from ear to brain.  

In preparation for the workshop’s second phase, Griffin collected ambisonic field recordings at junction of Cox Street with Pool Meadow and the former site of the Eclipse. The drone sounds selected were not just reflective of the auditory environment near Coventry’s Ring Road but also echoed the historical richness of the data sets, which included Indian classical music and poetry infused with electronic compositions. Griffin utilised the drone sounds as an acoustic conduit, merging historical and contemporary elements, thus creating a sonic continuum between past and present, tradition and innovation. This phase of the workshop included an experimental sound lab where participants engaged with tuning forks, condenser microphones, and Max MSP software to create layered sounds from ambisonic field recordings. These layers were then adjusted to align with the frequencies and rhythms characteristic of the ring road, incorporating new auditory dimensions using rhythm and delay, inspired by Oliveros’ innovative work with early computers and accordion. In this session segment, synthesisers and tape loops were utilised to produce novel sounds, distinguishing the activities from Oliveros’ deep listening practices while still aligning with their sound mapping ideas, which allow for inventive auditory data visualisation. Echo location exercises and group improvisations were employed to foster collaborative sound generation, enhancing the collective understanding of sound dynamics within the group. 

The workshop’s final phase featured a soundwalk that began at the college on Cox Street, moved to the intersection with Lower Ford Road, and ended at Coventry Cathedral. Griffin, the participants, and I collectively acknowledged and deliberated on the intricate range of sounds characterising this complex acoustic environment. The variety of auditory stimuli present highlighted the density of the inner-city acoustic experience via sound-walking, which enhanced the general awareness of the layers of sound, uncovering overlooked patterns and rhythms of city life. The activity encouraged a careful and sensitive interaction with the environment, discerning between human and non-human generated sounds and contemplating their effects on communal and spatial experiences. These practices foster an enhanced appreciation for diverse acoustic environments and prompt deeper reflection on how sound affects our emotions and behaviours. They also highlight the significance of acoustic considerations in city planning, with the aim to enrich living quality. 

Active Listening Workshop Data Evaluation  
The evaluation method in the workshop incorporated scaled questionnaires and a qualitative assessment conducted by me, as the principal researcher to determine the educational impact of the active listening workshop. Anonymous questionnaires were administered post-workshop to measure subjective auditory experiences, including participant engagement, experience quality, and perceptual nuances. These printed questionnaires facilitated easier distribution and ensured active participation. The choice of paper over electronic methods was based on the workshop’s context, technological accessibility for participants, and the need for prompt feedback. Scales were selected for their ability to yield quantifiable insights from participants’ experiences. The detailed feedback from these scales, alongside the following graphic aids, aimed to deepen the understanding and future development of listening and sound art practices. 

Scaled Questionnaire Questions and Results  

Scaled Questionnaire Analysis (Visual Data)

Range Values  

The range value in the bar chart represents the frequency of responses for each scaled item in the questionnaire related to the Active Listening Workshop. The numbers at the top of each bar indicate the total number of questions that received a particular range value. For instance, a range value of 1 was selected 3 times, a range value of 2 was selected 9 times, and a range value of 3 was selected 3 times. There were no selections for a range value of 4. This distribution provides insights into the participants’ responses, suggesting that the majority of feedback was concentrated around the central range value of the scale. 

Deviation Value 

The standard deviation values on the bar chart represent the variability or dispersion of the responses to the scaled questions in the questionnaire. The bar at 0.30-0.39, with the highest count of 9, indicates that most responses varied within this range, showing a consistent level of agreement among the participants’ answers. The other bars indicate fewer questions fell into the other ranges, with 3 questions having a low standard deviation (0.0-0.09), suggesting high agreement on those items, and some questions with higher standard deviations (0.6-0.69 and 0.8-0.89), indicating more variability in responses. 

Median Values  

The median scale value in the diagram represents the middle value in the range of responses to each question (Q1 through Q15) on the Active Listening Workshop questionnaire. For example, for questions 1 and 2, the median value is 4, indicating that the central tendency of responses is around the scale value of 4. Questions 3 through 10 and 12 through 15 have a median value of 5, showing that most responses for these questions lean towards the higher end of the scale. Question 11 has a median value of 4, similar to questions 1 and 2. This median value is crucial as it indicates the overall trend in responses without the influence of outliers, providing a reliable measure of central tendency for each question’s data. 

Mean Value

The mean values indicated on the bar chart correspond to the average scores for each question (Q1 through Q15) in the Active Listening Workshop scaled questionnaire. These values are calculated by adding all the scores for a particular question and dividing by the number of respondents. A mean value close to the top of the scale, such as 5, suggests a high level of agreement or a positive response from participants, whereas a lower mean value, such as 4, indicates a more moderate response. The chart visually represents the central tendency of responses for each question, providing an overview of the participants’ collective assessments. 

Based on the data accrued from the scaled questionnaire and the provided graphs, the effectiveness of the workshop can be assessed. The mean values across most questions were high, predominantly around 4.6 to 5, suggesting that participants rated their experience positively. The median values were also high, mostly 5, indicating that more than half of the participants rated their experience towards the higher end of the scale for most questions. Standard deviation values, where available, showed a moderate range of responses, suggesting some variability but not significant enough to detract from the overall positive trend. The lack of low mean and median values, and the concentration of standard deviations around a middle range, implies that the workshop was generally well-received and may be considered a success based on the participants’ feedback. 

The purpose of evaluating the workshop using a scaled questionnaire is to systematically gather quantitative data regarding participants’ experiences. This method allows for a nuanced understanding of individual engagement levels, the quality of their auditory experiences, and their perceptual acuity during the active listening activities. The use of such a questionnaire is relevant as it provides structured feedback that can be statistically analysed, offering insights into the effectiveness of the workshop, and identifying areas for improvement. It also helps to ensure that the workshop’s objectives are being met and that the participants are benefiting from the designed exercises and educational content. 

Active Listening Workshop – Conclusion 

The delivery and evaluation of the Active Listening Workshop provided valuable insights into its effectiveness and impact on participants. The findings indicate a positive reception of the workshop, with participants expressing high engagement and reporting favourable auditory experiences. Under Griffin’s confident and knowledgeable guidance, the workshop successfully integrated theoretical knowledge with practical application, cultivating an appreciation for active listening and its potential influence on personal and professional growth. 

To ensure continuous improvement, it’s essential to recognise the potential for further development, even in light of the positive feedback. Future iterations should prioritise evolution and adaptation, guided by participant feedback, akin to how the toolkit was appropriately adjusted through sustained dialogue with artists to align with the evolving landscape of research in active listening and sound art. Additionally, diversifying the workshop’s content can enrich participants’ learning experiences, potentially by incorporating additional theoretical frameworks to explore various aspects of active listening or introducing fresh perspectives on sound art. Such diversification would enhance participants’ knowledge and skills, providing a more comprehensive educational experience. 

Simplify marketing strategies to engage a broader audience with diverse interests, leading to increased enrolment and a more varied participant base. Ensure accessibility, keeping the workshop open and inclusive to participants from diverse backgrounds and varying levels of expertise, supported by clear communication and inclusive teaching methods. Incorporate qualitative methods, such as interviews or focus groups, alongside quantitative assessments to gain deeper insights into participants’ experiences and 

Explore collaborative opportunities with experts from different demographics and geographies in the field of active listening and sound art. These collaborations can involve guest speakers, enriching participants’ understanding, or collaborative workshops with institutions specialising in sound art, leveraging combined resources for comprehensive learning experiences. Encourage interdisciplinary collaboration among participants from diverse backgrounds to foster cross-disciplinary learning and innovative approaches to active listening and sound art. 

In conclusion, the Active Listening Workshop demonstrated the potential to deepen participants’ understanding of auditory perception and its implications for personal growth and community engagement. By implementing the recommended improvements and exploring diverse collaborative opportunities, future workshops can build upon this success, providing meaningful and transformative experiences, and advancing active listening and sonic art as academic endeavours transcending traditional instructional boundaries.