About Aural Diversity

The Aural Diversity project has three main aims:

  • to create a platform and a set of conventions for staging concerts in which aurally diverse musicians perform to an aurally diverse audience
  • to offer people new ways of approaching the listening experience that shows awareness of different needs and opens up rich experiences for diverse listening profiles
  • to undertake research into aural diversity that will influence policy and future work in fields such as music, audiology, sound studies, environmental design, and hearing aid manufacture

Society typically assumes that everybody hears the same. The sound and music industries are mostly built on an assumption that everybody has the ears of a healthy 18 year old (BS ISO 226:2003).

The truth is, of course, very different. Our hearing changes all the time. We all experience varying amounts of hearing loss as we age (presbycusis). Millions of people of all ages suffer from a range of more severe hearing losses related to various conditions and disorders, traumas and shocks. And changes in hearing need not necessarily mean loss: some hearing may actually become more acute. This is all in a state of constant flux. Even a simple thing such as having a cold on a given day can affect the way we listen!

Aural Diversity seeks to address this complex picture by exploring and researching the differences in hearing between individuals. It is an inclusive and wide-ranging project that is not restricted solely to disability or deafness.

Aural Diversity consists of a series of concerts and academic conferences that will lead on to published research and various social and community initiatives.

The project was conceived by Andrew Hugill in 2018 and supported by GNResound Ltd. The word "auraldiversity" was coined by John Levack Drever in a series of articles following on from his landmark study into the effects of hand dryer noise. He explains:

”In contrast to the medicalized term "otologically normal", I have provocatively coined the term auraltypical which I use to refer to a “normal” hearer (of which I was one until recently I developed moderate tinnitus in my right ear), a term that I have adapted from the autistic community, which often label people who are not on the autism spectrum as neurotypical. Neurotypical refers to non- autistic people’s normality and implies their tendency to impose their understanding of normality on everyone else as correct and natural.

Accompanying auraltypical hearing which we are trained to practice as acousticians, is the actual variety of (often less than ideal) hearing that we experience throughout a normal day and through- out our lives albeit to varying degrees (from the trifling experience of a temporary threshold shift or transient ear noise to intolerable pain from hyperacusis) which can be called auraldiversity."

The Aural Diversity project applies this idea to music, the sonic arts, environmental design, audiology, hearing aid design and other related areas.

It will be noted that the project avoids the term "disability". This is not to deny the disabling effects of hearing loss, but rather to focus on the creative potential in the concept of diversity. By inviting aurally diverse musicians, composers, artists and audiences to undertake practice-based research into the commonalities and differences between them, we aim to establish a new kind of musical theory and practice that meets the needs of all listeners. This concept is elaborated in a blog post by Andrew Hugill, which states:

Most music is made and reproduced on the assumption that all listeners hear in the same way. Psychologists generally write about aural perception as though it is a single standardised thing. Acousticians normally design the sonic environment using uniform measures. Musicologists typically discuss music at it is meant to be heard, not as it actually is heard. The reality, of course, is that almost all people hear differently from one another.

Research Publications

Drever, J. (2017) ’The Case for Auraldiversity in Acoustic Regulations and Practice: The Hand Dryer Noise Story’, 24th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, London, pp. 1-6.