Michel Chion is a composer, filmmaker, teacher, researcher, and the author of several books, including
James A. Steintrager is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and European Languages and Studies at the University of California, Irvine; he is the author, most recently, of
This chapter considers two of the key concepts of the seminal sound theorist Pierre Schaeffer: reduced listening and the sound object. The former indicates an effort to listen without attending to the context or causes of what is heard. Its correlate is the sound object: sound conceived as a phenomenon in itself, independent of materiality. These concepts led Schaeffer to attempt a new classification and description of sounds, in which the traditional aspects of musical sound (pitch, duration, intensity, and timbre) would be rethought in different terms: mass, maintenance, grain, caliber, bearing, and so forth. The second half of the chapter examines the ongoing relevance of Schaeffer’s ideas for the analysis of sound, including the many reasons why sound is difficult to treat like an object: the propensity of certain sonic characteristics to stand out, the difficulty of isolating sound in time and space, the capacity of sound to signify beyond itself, and so forth.