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English definition

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.)

Sunday 9 January 2005, by Rob Weale