Monday, 15 December 2008

Junk Shop - a game for Christmas and beyond

Can we truly hear something unless we start from a point of silence? Is it necessary to clear the mind of all the expectations we place on sound, and in this case sound organised into music, to respond honestly? To listen without leaping to a judgement?

I wrote last time ( about the challenges of developing listening skills in children. The fact is that children have fewer pre-conceptions with regard to sound. The older we get, the more we take for granted. A child, on hearing a familiar sound, is far more likely to look for the source of the sound than an adult. They are open-minded (or naïve) enough to make a visual check that the sound corresponds with what they assume to be the cause. An adult will tend to assume that if they hear a familiar sound then it has a familiar source. And no criticism is intended. If we didn't then our concentration spans would shrink to zero.

What is interesting about this, however, is that it means that children are more open to the possibility of the sounds they hear emanating from someone or something other than the people and things generating them. Of course we are all open to this possibility. If we weren't then sound effects in the cinema, known as foley, would be rendered ineffective. The sound of a stick of celery being broken takes on a whole new meaning when laid alongside a movie of someone getting their arm fractured. Working backwards, some imaginative soul must at some time have snapped a stick of celery and thought 'this sounds just like a bone being broken'.

So here's a game, an experiment really, to play with children or adults. Let's call it Junk Shop as a working title. I'm sure you can adapt it for use at Christmas dinner.

Age group: children, teenagers and adults.
Duration: 20 minutes upwards,including discussion
Aims: to develop listening and concentration skills; to encourage the group to think imaginatively about sound.

You will need:
  • A screen – nothing elaborate. A pile of books on the front of a desk will suffice.
  • A selection of articles such as paper, scissors, woodworking tools, bottles – plastic and glass, thick cellophane, cutlery, a pair of leather gloves, bubblewrap, a 12" (30cm) ruler, a plastic box full of metal bottle tops, an aluminium drink can etc, etc. Basically anything you can get a noise from. The toys in those Christmas crackers have to be good for something.
  • Two sheets of lined paper, one with the lines numbered.
  • An able, literate and inventive volunteer to make the sounds.

The volunteer hides behind the screen with the assembled 'noise generators' and the numbered sheet. Everyone else sits where they can't see the volunteer and the stuff. It might be good to have them sitting with their back to the screen. The volunteer makes a sound, using the items in front of them, and writes down what they did to create it against number one on their piece of paper.

Now everyone else tries to guess how the sound was made. Record all the suggestions against the number one on your piece of paper. Teenagers and adults will find it easy to guess many, if not most, of the sounds. Here the game is to think of as many plausible causes of the sound as you can before identifying the true source. Encourage outrageous flights of fancy. Once you have exhausted the first sound the volunteer makes another. Keep the sounds coming. Don’t let your group get bored. When you feel you've had enough, have the volunteer step out and tell you whether the guesses were right or wrong. Have them demonstrate some of the more interesting sounds in front of the other players. Now everyone can have a go at making the same sounds; and new ones too.

I'd love to know how this went for you. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention it, there are more games, like and unlike this one, in my book Adventures in Sound available from Amazon.

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