A Review of Sounding Composition: Multimodal Pedagogies for Embodied Listening by Steph Ceraso

Shannon Kelly

A focus on practice—the action of sounding—is key to Steph Ceraso's (2018) approach because she resists totalizing ideas about listening. To begin, Ceraso defined multimodal listening in contradistinction to what she names "ear-ing," or more conventional ideas in which listening depends solely upon one's ears and paying attention to interpret audible content, or what might be named "active listening" (p. 6). Multimodal listening, however, is a "practice of attending to the sensory, contextual, and material aspects of a sonic event" (p. 6). Multimodal listening operates by way of dispersed attention and attuning various senses to the ways in which sound connects and interacts with multiple senses and surroundings. To illustrate a framework for multimodal listening, Ceraso explored the listening practices of deaf solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. In this example, Ceraso explained how Glennie experiences the feel of sound in material encounters with vibrations (p. 33), as well as visually experiencing sound in Glennie's performances as she connects the movement of her mallets to the sound being produced (e.g., playing something quietly by moving her mallets without touching the instrument, p. 34).

Ceraso argued for practicing this multimodal listening framework regardless of where one falls on the hearing spectrum in order to experience expansive sonic experiences.

Similar to her multisensory focus, Ceraso also situated how she uses the term multimodal, which importantly for her does not separate modes or senses. Instead, multimodal elucidates how image, sound, and touch happen simultaneously via different senses. So, while multimodal can function to denote different modes, Ceraso employed the term in an ecological sense to demonstrate how senses work together in bodily acts such as listening (pp. 6–7). In pointing out the way that modes and senses can be separated, Ceraso also showed how some senses are privileged in dominant Western cultures, like sight. Thus, throughout the text, Ceraso argued for a more expansive, integrated approach to sensory experiences through multimodal listening pedagogies.