Sonic Art for Public Ears - Enabling Children as Designers
Submitting InstitutionQueen's University Belfast
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media, Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Summary of the impact
This work impacted on children between the ages of 8 and 14. Since 2011
over 90 children
living in Northern Ireland have benefitted from day-long workshops, taking
place at the Sonic
Arts Research Centre at Queen's University Belfast (SARC). The program has
annually since 2011. The children have benefitted in exploring digital
learning to understand ways in which these shape and influence ways of
listening to music and
our environment. The children acted as content designers in the area of
technologies. The impact is centred on empowering children to design
technologies, such as iOS and sound diffusion.
The underpinning research focuses on three key research questions, which
pursued both theoretically and through creative practice as part of Dr
The key premise of the underpinning research is the articulation of
listening within digital
Specifically, the research looks at how recent social technologies place
the user at the centre
of the design process, and how these technologies suggest participatory
models that rely on
iterative content creation.
The three research questions are:
How do modes of listening change in networked social
- How is a user's perception of musical form changed through
digital distribution, and how
might this change a user's participation in designing content?
- How might contemporary collaborative practice make use of the
network as a social
environment for content production?
These research questions led to the development of
1) Models of listening as articulated in the concept of `haptic aurality'
2) Identification of strategies that might alter participatory engagement
in the design
of content (Schroeder 2012)
3) A specific creative practice methodology for large-scale distributed
This question was addressed in Dr Schroeder's edited volume on `user
content and digital
media' and her chapter on `haptic aurality' (Schroeder 2009), which
listening attitudes in network music environments. It endeavoured to shed
light on the
question of how the network makes us listen to ourselves and to others.
suggested a new paradigm for listening, entitled `haptic aurality'. The
idea of listening within
digital platforms, investigating how social technologies change our
understanding of form in
music and ultimately make us listen in different ways, was further pursued
by Dr Schroeder in
2013 with a journal article on `network listening' (Schroeder 2013).
Dr Schroeder's work on shifting listening identities (2012) addressed
this question. The
research examined dissemination of content and how content has been
environments such as Spotify, Youtube or by network music performances, as
user content and listening links to other wider research activity at SARC,
research in the area of distributed music performance and composition.
This research question was addressed by Dr Schroeder's practice-based
work as a performer
engaged in new technologies. This work is further exemplified by an annual
composition/performance showcase (www.somasa.qub.ac.uk/~fschroeder/Showcase.html),
well as by collaborations, such as with internationally renowned
performance artist Stelarc
In the collaborative work with Stelarc, entitled
"Rotating Brains, Beating Hearts" (2010), the concept of `haptic aurality'
informed the design
of the performance, while making use of social technologies (SecondLife).
The research outputs mentioned above directly led to the development of a
program entitled "Big Ears — sonic art for public ears", in which young
children could explore
social technologies and gain insight into how these influence our ways of
listening to music and
to our environment.
References to the research
1. Schroeder, F. (2009) Schroeder. Network[ed] Listening: exploring
possibilities of a haptic aurality. In: Performing Technology: User
Content and the
New Digital Media (ed. F. Schroeder). Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp.
2. Schroeder, F. (2012). Shifting Listening Identities — Towards a
Form in Digital Music. S Broadhurst & J Machon (eds), in:
and Technology: Practices of Empowerment, Embodiment and Technicity.
Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 24-43.
3. Schroeder, F. (2013), Network[ed] Listening — towards a
of beings. Contemporary Music Review, pp. 215-229. Routledge
4. Schroeder, F. (2010). Rotating Brains / Beating Heart: International
collaborative performance with Stelarc, the virtual reality ensemble
Orchestra Metaverse, Pauline Oliveros, and Martin Parker.
Details of the impact
This case study focuses on children as creative users and content
simultaneously creating opportunities for collaboration between
researchers and young
It places emphasis on empowering young listeners to lead projects
informed by current
research in the sonic arts. The meeting place between researchers and
children acts as a
way of publicly articulating the exchange between children in Northern
Ireland as content
designers and local sonic art researchers.
"Big Ears" was designed as a public engagement training programme, funded
by the AHRC
between 2011 - 12 and by the HEA in 2013. Tailored to children and
doctoral students with
a sonic arts background it has benefitted over 40 researchers from ca.
20 different UK HE
institutions since its inception.
"Big Ears" has delivered training in communication skills, public
engagement and offered
hands-on experiences for researchers in communicating their work to a
audience. The training has received input from several Queen's University
specialise in public engagement and in work with children, such as the
School of Education,
the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work and the Science
researchers have contributed expertise in the area of ubiquitous mobile
technologies, sensor technologies, instrument design, composition and
The focus of "Big Ears" is to provide innovative training in public
engagement for researchers
while creating vital links between the University and local creative
industry partner, the Belfast
Children's Festival (run by Northern Ireland's leading children's arts
organisation Young at Art,
www.youngatart.co.uk). This partner has
invaluable experience in public engagement and in
working with children. Young at Art contribute extensive expertise in
designed with and for children and they have a major network for the
distribution of their works
(website, publicity, social networking sites), attracting over 15,000
visitors each year.
Furthermore, "Big Ears" delivers stimulating ways of teaching
communication skills; it offers
skills in designing, managing and planning a project involving children;
it provides hands-on
experience in working and designing with a non-specialist public.
Big Ears Impact Example
Exemplary of Big Ears' impact, which was informed and underpinned by the
outlined above, was a collaborative network environment for musical
In this work, the notion of `haptic aurality' informed the design of a
network instrument that
allowed for children to engage in different forms of listening across two
Strategies for the development of participatory engagement in music making
on children developing specific graphic scores for this instrument, while
This work was presented in a performative context, which allowed children
about ways of collaborating across these two spaces while reflecting on
how best to
present the distributed collaborative work to an audience. As a result
evidence from the feedback that this has significantly impacted upon the
self-confidence of the children involved — a feeling which is
transferrable beyond this
setting and which can have positive effects on young children.
"Big Ears" has impacted on three different user groups:
- local children, and since Big Ears' inception, the programme has
benefitted over 90
- local industry partner "Young at Art" has seen a benefit to over 20
members of their
staff who have been involved in running "Big Ears".
- UK researchers, around 40 researchers from across different UK HEI have
access to the public engagement training
Quotes by ethnographer Siún Carden (2011):
"Big Ears enhanced the University's contribution to the
educational, cultural and social life of Northern Ireland by
providing local children with a unique cultural experience that
was both educational and inspiring."
Children's post-show comments (evaluated by `Young at Art' and an
From over 100 notes gathered, the most popular comment was `fun' (30
notes), followed by
comments to do with sound (21), such as `MUSIC!', `Sonic Arts Sonic BOOM!'
shhhhhhh'. There were many (19) enthusiastic comments, like `MAGIC',
and `Fabulous'. Notes (16) about the activities included `tecy' (techy),
`Taming Dragons', and `Evil Gloop', `Crazy, mad, mental, fun, exciting,
scary'. One child wrote `This place is fandaby dosy'.
When asked `What was your experience like? Children comments included
"Great; Superb; Cool; Great Fun; Great, amazing; Tremendous, fantastic;
Please consult the ethnographic report, which includes ca. 20
pages of evaluation and
Ethnographer's comments about the children engaged in the 2013 event:
"The change in self-confidence
and stage presence became apparent..."
"The sonic art pieces ... were based on story-lines and themes developed
by the children,
featuring dragons, zombies, dinosaurs, car-shootings, far-away planets,
"Sound was complemented by light, fused with poems and narratives,
drawings, and flavoured with a dance performance".
"It was impressive to see how much creativity can be set free in just one
day if children
are encouraged to follow their imagination and trust their abilities"
Children's comments included
"It is epic"; "This is amazing"; "This was brilliant" and "Really cool".
Sources to corroborate the impact
Evaluation Reports of the Program (all three reports were done by
Big Ears Main website:
Letters of Support: on file by the Director of the Belfast
Big Ears is seen on:
1) AHRC AH/1500677/1 — BIG EARS — sonic art for public ears: 2011
AHRC, Arts & Humanities Research Council Collaborative Training Grant,
PI Dr Schroeder
2) HEA (Higher Education Academy) Teaching Development Grant: "Big Ears —
learning to design sonic art for public ears" (PhD public engagement
2012 - 2013: HEA UK,