Topophonophobia – the space and place of acute hearing

Drever, John L.. 2015. 'Topophonophobia – the space and place of acute hearing'. In: Hearing Landscape Critically: Music, Place, and the Spaces of Sound. Harvard University, United States. [Conference or Workshop Item]

No full text available

Abstract or Description

Ten years ago I waxed lyrical on the deep, indelible ties of the sounds of Dartmoor with its inhabitants (Drever 2002), betraying an inclination towards what Sterne’s has called the audio-visual litany (Sterne 2003). In this endeavour I added a sonic turn to Tuan’s concept of topophilia (Tuan 1974): “fleeting visual pleasure; the sensual delight of physical contact; the fondness for place because it is familiar, because it is home and incarnates the past, because it evokes pride of ownership or of creation; joy in things because of animal health and vitality." My notion of topophonophilia stressed the affirmative relationships between place, the sensation of sound and sentiment.

Those of us who research and practice soundscapes, tacitly extol the positive attributes of sound and hearing with relation to space and place. We talk of how through sound we connect, locate, embody, discern and immerse. Through my recent research I am urged to propose that the opposite is also a reality: sound isolates, excludes, disconnects, disembodies and dislocates from the material and social world.

Through a study of the impact of noise from high-speed hand dryers, my research uncovered a wide range of vulnerable groups that due to the sensitivity of their hearing or particular hearing requirements led to elevated anxiety, fear, pain and confusion and were in some cases exacerbating their social avoidance. These groups included infants; the elderly; partially sighted people; hearing aid users; and people with dementia, cerebral palsy, Ménière's disease, phonophobia, hyperacusis, or hyperacute hearing in the context of autism and Asperger's syndrome. In the case of autism exposure to noise can even lead to a shutdown. Following on from this study I came across an extensive range of environmental sounds that are causing suffering to these groups: bird scarers, mosquito alarm, classroom noise, traffic noise, waves on a beach and even the dawn chorus.

With reference to Beethoven, Grandin, Canetti, Kafka and Noël Coward as well as new interview material, this paper will explore the sensory threshold shift of the sensitive hearer, and the sensitising of hearing, including the use of sonic thresholds to control subgroups. In conclusion, I propose a new paradigm for understanding hearing that extends from a medical classification of the otologically normal to a socio-cultural conception of the auraltypical. Within what I see as the hegemony of the auraltypical, I call for a new agenda of auraldiversity within acoustics and sound studies.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


auraldiverse; aural diversity; auraltypical

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Unit for Sound Practice Research


15 January 2015Accepted

Event Location:

Harvard University, United States

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

19 May 2015 14:03

Last Modified:

06 Dec 2018 09:47


Edit Record Edit Record (login required)