David Sound + : An interview with Composer Stephen Montague

In this new guest blogging series “Sound +”, Laura Haapio-Kirk will discuss why sound is important and what it means to different professionals in various “sound-focused” industries. Today she talked to Stephen Montague, a composer who discusses how sounds make us appreciate our environments, what makes a “bad sound”, how music “civilized us” as evolving humans and much much more.

As a researcher for SoundCloud I have talked to many interesting people, gathering all kinds of perspectives on how sound figures in our lives. I was fortunate to speak with composer Stephen Montague who is currently directing the John Cage celebration taking place today (March 3rd) at the English National Opera. We talked about the nature of sound and how we can learn to appreciate all sounds, even silence, as containing beauty. Here are some of the highlights from the conversation!

Listening to the sounds around us can be a healthy way to appreciate our environment – “The music is always there, it is we who turn away”:

“Noise’ can be defined as unwanted sound, but perhaps upon listening closely all sound can become interesting:

Leading sound researcher Prof. Trevor Cox investigated “bad sounds” and found the worst to be the sound of vomiting. Here’s Stephen’s take on how ‘bad’ sounds in context may actually be very good:

We evolved to have stronger vision than hearing, however the development of music is found across cultures and can be understood as something that ‘civilized us’:

Listening to recordings without visuals frees our imagination:

Thanks to Stephen for the wonderful chat and good luck with Musicircus!

For more information on Mr. Montague, please check out his Wikipedia article.

You can follow Laura on Twitter here.

  • Guest

    What an interesting and thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing! 

  • Anonymous

    This is a really intriguing post that made me think about the value of and important role sound plays in our day-to-day lives, not just music.  What an interesting application  and extension of Cage’s approach to music.  I loved him point about Cage’s idea of identifying something good in things you find ugly. That’s not only a great music and sound lesson, but a great way to view life too. 
    Thanks for sharing this! 

  • Woops, *his point, not him 

  • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, so glad you enjoyed it! I agree, there is huge scope for thinking about how sound affects us….and it might just be a perfect theme for the next post in the series :)

  • Happy that you enjoyed it!

  • Great comment, Katie. Spot on. Glad to hear you liked the post