Lion Seats: A Sound Diaries Project by Richard Bentley
This series of sound diaries will explore the soundscapes of formal (usually sitting) meditation, examining both locations expressly set aside for meditation such as priories, chapels and quiet rooms, as well as the ‘quiet spaces’ chosen by practitioners such as urban parks, peaceful rural locations or spaces set-aside in a home. In probing that which is ordinarily dismissed as mundane, the enquiry hopes to highlight the impact of found sound on formal meditation practice. Inherent in such a study is the documentation of the sounds of practice, ritual and devotion. Whilst these sounds are, at times, integral to the soundscape, the focus for reflection and scrutiny will be the ‘background’ sound of everyday activities, incidental sounds and the environments in which they occur.
Each diary entry sets out to investigate and document the interplay of sonic events with the lived experience of the practitioner. This autoethnographic journaling should enable the research to capture, not only sense experience, but thought processes, perceptions, affective responses, and underlying states of mind. Whilst such a personal diary has a naturally subjective character, it is effective in capturing the nuance and richness of experience, particularly when compared to other narrower or more detached forms of enquiry. Being experiential and practice-led allows the research to respond to insights gleaned through the evolving process of listening, recording, transcribing and responding to what is heard. The approach also encourages the development of a workable praxis, of tangible benefit to practitioners. This is particularly pertinent, given that this series of reflections sits within a broader body of research, with the aim of developing listening practices that employ found sound as an object of meditative focus.
Although far from being an exhaustive list, the following questions give a clearer sense of the initial focus of the investigation:
• How does the soundscape drive decisions over the locus of practice? Issues to explore here may be decisions between rural and urban locations, the presence of naturally occurring sonic features, the acoustic properties of a space, or the incidence of distracting sounds.
• How is sound controlled or manipulated within these environments in order to support contemplative practice? Sonic modifications may be instigated by the practitioner themselves or by those that designed, built or manage the space. This will naturally include some consideration of acoustics as well as the organisation of objects and people within the space.
• How do the soundscapes of the chosen spaces change over time? A handful of key sites will be documented over longer periods of time, to uncover variations in sonic character throughout the day, week and year.
• In what way does familiarity with a soundscape change the practitioner’s perception of it? Returning to key sites will give opportunity to document the effect of familiarisation on the practitioners’ experience.
• How does the soundscape support or frustrate the meditative focus of the practitioner? This will be explored initially through personal reflections, but will later draw upon work from the field of ‘Auditory Scene Analysis’ to identify areas of commonality between the present research and existing theory.
• How does the act of recording meditative practice alter the experience for the practitioner? This will include observations around location, choice of recording technology, set-up and operation, extension and alteration of the soundscape experienced through headphone amplification, and the cognitive and affective consequences of recording in contrast to simply listening.
Through the exploration of these questions ‘in the field’ it is expected that common themes will emerge, providing the raw material from which to cultivate praxis and reveal new lines of enquiry. In particular, it is hoped that the research will contribute to the development of distinct approaches to working with found sound in formal meditation.