Material and Method
When using a listener-centered approach here, the aim is to use textual comments (free self-reporting) as a basis for discussing how the YouTube users experience the recorded geophony. The study thereby connects to other studies that can be called listener-centered, involving focus groups and diaries, interviews, surveys or other materials and applying qualitative or quantitative methods to study affects and effects among individual listeners. However, in most cases these studies involve insights about everyday listening to music rather than listening to recorded geophony. Studies of subjective experience of music have presented a number of insights, often focusing on the experience in terms of emotion, mood, and perceived functions. Music psychologist Ruth Herbert (2016: 53ff) has used first-hand reports of everyday music listening to illustrate a number of phenomenological themes. Juslin, Liljeström, Västfjäll, and Lundquist (2010) have discussed how music may induce emotions in various ways, describing seven underlying “psychological mechanisms” by combining insights from field studies and laboratory experiments. It is, however, far from obvious that listening to recorded geophony would yield the same results as listening to music. Thus, rather than searching for existing concepts (connected to musical listening) or relying on traditional binary categories such as pleasant or unpleasant listening experiences, we sought to identify case-specific categories and concepts based on the sonic materials and the responses to those materials.
What initially generated interest in the seven videos that are discussed here, was how these (as well as other) videos seem to have similarities in how they present winter winds. Some videos have quite a large number of comments, something that we found interesting. The selection of the videos is strategic, and the ambition was to explore rather than to categorize and quantify user comments for the purpose of generalization. The seven videos were selected on the basis of their similarities, their popularity, the number of playbacks they have received, and the number of comments they have received. The indented, functional use by the publishers is also evident, as revealed by the titles of these videos, which often refer to relaxation and sleep. Winter winds was chosen, as this type of geophony would likely stimulate ambivalent responses, meaning that such sounds would generate an interesting variation in the user comments.
After selecting seven videos and a large number of comments consisting of free self-reporting, this diverse and unstructured material needed to be narrowed down for relevance. Combined, the videos had received 3894 first-level posts in the commentary fields, published over a period of six years (when downloaded on 29 April 2019).
As a first step, we chose the initial, first-level user-generated comments and excluded all of the replies by other users. Our focus was to target the initial user responses rather than the dialogue between users, which seemed to quickly focus on other aspects than the listening experience, serving more of a social function.
Secondly, we separated the relevant comments, those which explicitly described the user experience in one way or the other, from the less relevant. The many posts that were put aside included a broad array of expressions that primarily revealed how commentary fields can be used as a social arena: the users may express gratefulness to the publisher, greet other users, try to be funny, argue about others’ spelling, present thoughts on the local weather, etc. After excluding these, the relevant material was reduced to 564 comments.
In the next step these comments were treated as (textual) qualitative data and studied by means of a hermeneutic process often used within studies that aim for ideographic end results. Evaluating and mapping single comments, comparing comments, and identifying possible categories, larger structures, and themes, resulted in a growing understanding that could be used to check and modify the initial mapping of comments. This iterative process mostly involved induction, but also some shifting between smaller steps of deduction and induction, identifying and testing concepts and categories based on repeated comment comparing. This process was performed manually, but showed similarities with coding and computer-assisted processes, such as when using software for the analysis of qualitative data.
The material was then categorized as follows:
- Users found peace, became relaxed, sleepy, or ended up sleeping
- Users felt uncomfortable or ambivalent
- Personal memories were evoked
- Users experienced changes in perceived temperature
- Users reported an acoustic contribution to situations of work and creativeness, studying, or reading
- Memories of dramatic scenes in fiction films were evoked
- Health problems were ameliorated (tinnitus, dementia, insomnia, etc.)
These categories were again combined to form three themes that will be discussed in the following: 1) reported changes in mental states, 2) reported evoking of memories, and 3) reported powerful effects on health and temperature.
While the videos consist of both audio and video tracks, we focus on the relevant experience as a listening experience. This is because the visuals that complement the sound often contain only a single still image projected for the majority of the sound event or consist of a short loop of a limited number of video frames. A typical example can be found in Video 2.
This eight-hour long video begins with a quote by William Shakespeare and a description that leads to several slowly dissolving moving images of empty winter forests. These moving images continue for the first half hour of the video before they are replaced by a still image of a mountain cottage, which serves as the visual content of the video for the remaining 7,5 hours. Another example can be found in Video 1 above, where we see a nine-hour loop of a lamp post at night, layered with (most likely animated) gusts of fog, in the winter wind. This reflects a common phenomenon on YouTube, for example when popular songs are published with a still image of the band or the cover sleeve of the song. The visuals may in this case function as a visual reference for users that have no or little experience with winter winds by depicting some sort of a winter storm, trees without leaves, graphical representation of ice and snow, etc. However, it is rather unrealistic to assume that users watch these static visuals for a very long time. For this reason, we focus in our study on the inner imaginary visuals evoked as part of the experience rather than the visuals presented in the videos. This approach mirrors what is expressed by the user comments.
As concerns visualization, a listening experience can contribute to mental processes that involve images, visual associations, memories, and daydreams for the listener. In a phenomenological sense, experiencing these recordings can involve the evocation of mental images that may be explained in relation to the interplay of senses, such asthe poetic image written about by philosopher Gaston Bachelard, whereby mental images arise while reading poetry. We might also connect this to the case of reading novels, where the reader creates mental images of characters or places based on the text at hand. Philosopher Don Ihde (2007: 208) writes that listening to sound may also lead to the same phenomenon: the experience of sonic sensations can stimulate visual images in the listener.