Quatre Écoutes

Musicology of Electroacoustic Music [MEM]  >  Listening Experience  ]

This term is one of the key theoretical concepts in Schaeffer’s theory. There are four modes of listening (Écouter, Ouïr, Entendre, Comprendre) which can be arranged in a table with four sections numbered from one to four. They arise from the crossing over of two dualisms which are encountered universally in every perceptual activity: the Abstract/Concrete dualism and the Objective/Subjective dualism (a confrontation between the object of perception and the activity of the perceiving consciousness). Schaeffer represents them as follows:

Abstract Concrete
3. ENTENDRE  2. OUÏR Subjective
  1. Écouter, is listening to someone, to something; and through the intermediary of sound, aiming to identify the source, the event, the cause, it treats the sound as a sign of this source, this event (Concrete/Objective).
  2. Ouïr, to perceive by the ear, to be struck by sounds, it is the crudest level, the most elementary of perception; so we "hear", passively, lots of things which we are not trying to listen to nor understand (Concrete/Subjective).
  3. Entendre, here, according to its etymology, means showing an intention to listen [écouter], choosing from what we hear [ouïr] what particularly interests us, thus "determining" what we hear (Abstract/Subjective).
  4. Comprendre, means grasping a meaning, values, by treating the sound like a sign, referring to this meaning as a function of a language, a code (semantic hearing; Abstract/Objective).

These four modes can be summarised more or less in this sentence: "I heard (ouïr) you despite myself, although I did not listen (écouter) at the door, but I didn’t understand (comprendre) what I heard (entendre)." (Paraphrase of Michel Chion (1983). Guide des Objets Sonores. Eds. Buchet/Chastel, Paris. 1995 translation by John Dack/Christine North.)


See also:

Causal Listening, Listening Strategy, Modes of Listening, Reduced Listening, Schaefferian Theory, Semantic Listening, Technological Listening



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Alphabetical order - Chronological order

Chion, Michel (1983). Guide des objets sonores, Pierre Schaeffer et la recherche musicale
Palombini, Carlos (2002). Musique Concrète Revisited
Schaeffer, Pierre, Reibel, Guy, Ferreyra Beatriz, (1998 (1967)). Solfège de l’objet sonore


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