Attention, Accommodation, and the New Individual Listener

Listening and attention, both in varying degrees musical and scientific concepts, began to overlap and intersect in the middle of the nineteenth century. Psychophysical studies of attention and accommodation (the change in aural experience as a result of changed attention in listening) in tone sensation was bound up with the aesthetic expectations of the music world. A close examination of the experiments of Hermann Helmholtz, Ernst Mach, Carl Stumpf, as well as the next generation of experimental psychologists of the early twentieth century, on attention and accommodation in tone sensation reveals several tensions: 1) between the subjectivity and objectivity of the listener 2) related, over the role and value of musical expertise in sound sensation experimentation, and 30) between the apparent incompatibility of universal laws of tone sensation and the historically or culturally rooted musical aesthetics and personal tastes. This examination of the experimental studies of attention and accommodation in tone sensation provides, one the one hand, a broader understanding of the changing definition of hearing and listening in both the natural sciences and the music world at the end of the nineteenth century and, on the other hand, the emergence of a new creature: the individual listener.