A Grammar For Listening – Part 1

Country: UK
Duration: 22 mins
Sound: Separate .wav file
Ratio: 1:1.33
Available Format/s: 16mm
Original Format: 16mm film
  • Everyday
  • Music and sound


Over the centuries, Western culture has relentlessly attempted to classify noise, music and everyday sounds… Ordinary noises and the mundane sounds that are not perceived as either annoying or musical are of no interest.

How to create a meaningful dialogue between looking and listening? Luke Fowlers film cycle A Grammar for Listening (parts 1-3) attempts to address this question through the possibilities afforded by 16mm film and digital sound recording devices. In part 1, Fowler furthers his on-going dialogues with the sound artist Lee Patterson (Manchester, England). Parts 1 and 2 evolved from filming and recording trips, whose locations were chosen based on a number of geographic and acoustic possibilities.

Silence dominated “experimental film” of the 1960s. Sound or musical accompaniment was often dismissed as illustrative, manipulative or redundant. Instead, a return to the experiments of early cinema, concentrated on rhythm, structure and material and thereby considered films potential as an art form with its own unique grammar.

Prior to this tendency in film, composer John Cage had foregrounded “silence” within his 1953 composition 433. Purging concerts of conventional musical content, he allowed the sounds from outside to come inside and become the focus of the audiences attention. These foundational ideas, (in parallel with conceptual frameworks outlined by music-concrete pioneer Pierre Schaeffer in France, and latterly with the introduction of the R. Murray Schafers world “Soundscape ” movement), have led to a burgeoning music scene focused on environmental sound and field recording.

Pierre Schaeffers early use of music created entirely with tape recorders and found sounds, posited the concept of the “acousmatic ” (or reduced listening). He suggested that sounds should be perceived in and of themselves, stripped of instrumental and cultural contexts, in order to develop a language of purely sonic descriptions. These attempts to cultivate a focused and more thoughtful listening practice frequently supplanted a dominant visual order.

Lee Patterson has been making recordings of various forms of underwater life (fish, aquatic plants, insects etc) using homemade hydrophones : “Ive come to regard such places as special, self contained acoustic spaces with very specific sonic and biological qualities”. Within the film these environmental recordings are complimented by performances to camera involving found objects amplified by contact microphones. Patterson evokes complex, harmonic overtones in electro-magnetically “excited” springs (often found in discarded lighters) to the exploding and shifting micro-sound of burning walnuts.

More works by Luke Fowler

, 2006
44 Minutes

We’d love to hear from you

If you would like to speak to a member of our team, please get in touch


LUX, Waterlow Park Centre,
Dartmouth Park Hill, London, N19 5JF, UK

Telephone: +44 (0)20 3141 2960

Sign up to our newswire to stay up to date with everything LUX

LUX is a registered charity and not-for-profit company limited by guarantee:

Company No: 4421812
VAT No: 795 9063 73
Charity No: 1094936

Artis Council Supported Logo

© 2021 LUX. All rights reserved.

Skip to content