Pierre Schaeffer’s concept of acousmatic music and in particular reduced listening relates directly to the Socratic concept of the form of the Good in the context of exploring sound. Schaeffer was a pioneer of music concrète and the concept of acousmatics. Music concrète is music derived from sound itself, as opposed to a harmonic structure (as in traditionally tonal music) or formula (as in pieces born out of set theory). Acousmatics is the concept of hearing a sound divorced from its physical source — this means a sound just as the sound itself, as opposed to a sound related to the instrument or physical body that makes that sound. Listening in this way is ideal for Schaeffer and is what he refers to as reduced listening. For Schaeffer, there are four aspects to acousmatic listening, the last of which (entendre) is the ideal reduced listening: ouïr, comprendre, écouter, and entendre.
Schaeffer’s four modes of listening are akin to Socrates’ conception of the levels of knowledge of reality. To Socrates, ignorance acts as the zero point, which would correspond to a total lack of listening on any level in Schaeffer’s modes of listening. Then comes imagination, which is for Socrates reflective of something but not necessarily attached to truth or knowledge. This corresponds to ouïr (perception), a completely passive, basic manifestation of sound at a primal level. The next level for Socrates is opinion, which is interpretive as it passes judgement on something but it is still less true than knowledge. This corresponds to comprendre (comprehension), which is listening according to a language or signal. An example of this could be the understanding of musical tropes and gestures in tonal music, or our more or less automatic means of attaching the sound of a word with its meaning from a linguistic standpoint. This corresponds to opinion in that it is interpretive but regards sound as a representation of something tied to our physical world, and is still listening to sound in the context of its source. Scientific knowledge is the next step for Socrates, as it is factual and proven with data but still driven by hypothesis, which is rooted in the physical world. The next step in Schaeffer’s hierarchy is écouter (to listen), or sound as indices of worldly events or physical objects. Similarly to Socrates, this is an unreflective, information gathering action. In the same way that scientific knowledge is factual, this form of listening is true but still in relation to a worldly source. The highest level of knowledge is knowledge of the Forms, which corresponds to a knowledge of the true nature of reality. This is where entendre (to have intention [in hearing]) comes into play. Entendre is essentially this idea of reduced listening, in hearing sound divorced from its physical source. This is the purest and most ideal form of listening, in that it allows for a dissociation between sight and sound and promotes listening from a perspective that places the foremost importance on the sound itself. An example of this is when you repeat a word over and over again to the point that it stops serving the linguistic purpose we assign to that word and instead just becomes a combination of phonemes and vibrations — when you start hearing like that, you are taking part in reduced listening. The four Schaefferian modes of listening correspond with the Socratic levels of knowledge of reality in the sense that level of comprehension of a concept correlates with how pure one’s understanding of that concept is (the concept in Socrates’ case being reality and the concept in Schaeffer’s case being sound).
Schaeffer also speaks on sound objects, or a discrete and complete representation of something that remains the same at its core from any perspective. Sound objects are both ideal and objective, and they are revealed clearly only in an acousmatic reduced listening setting. He states the following in his piece Solfège de l’objet sonore (As referenced by Brian Kane in his book Sound Unseen, pg 32): “A sound object … endures through these changes and enables different listeners … to bring out as many aspects of it as there have been ways of focusing the ear, at the various levels of attention or intention of listening.” Here, Schaeffer argues two things: first, that a sound object stays the same and maintains its integrity even when taken from different perspectives; and second, that a listener can perceive this object to different degrees of clarity, depending on the intent of their listening. This to me is an almost direct philosophical corollary to Socratic and Platonic thought as outlined in the Republic with the allegory of the Cave and further discussions of the form of the Good. Socrates discusses the form of the Good as something that cannot be degraded in its purity; only the Forms (which are purely conceptual) are truly good, and Goodness still exists within physical manifestations of these forms, but to a lesser degree because physical reality is a degraded version of true reality (the reality understood through knowledge of the form of the Good). Schaefferian sound objects and specifically the idea of the transcendence of the object (taking something from several different perspectives and it still is at its core the same thing) resonates with the form of the Good as illustrated in Plato’s Republic. For Schaeffer, a specific sound at its core exists most purely in the conception of that sound, which is most accurately accessed in a pure listening experience (that is, a completely reduced listening experience where the sound exists only as the sound itself). I am not sure whether or not Schaeffer was directly influenced by Socratic thought when establishing his philosophies on sound, but there is certainly at the very least an indirect influence, whether the Cave and Plato’s Republic were something Schaeffer was intimately familiar with or whether it is just a reflection of how Platonic and Socratic thought have shaped our society over the course of hundreds upon hundreds of years.