Listening connects players and creates shared spaces. Listening is crucial for diving into stories, moods and fictional worlds. Listening is a key skill in larp, but are we aware of that? How good are we at listening? Can we learn it and improve it?
In larps we usually give importance to speech abilities and visuals, but listening can shape the rhythm and space of a live experience. We will present an interdisciplinary approach drawing from music and sound studies theory: we will also propose exercises and practical solutions. Listening is a matter of respect and empathy. It is an interface for co-creation: if we all learn how to use it, maybe we will achieve new forms of negotiation.
Listening as an Embodied Tool
Your listening is unique: no one listens like you. Your listening is linked to your body and your experiences. It is individual and unique, like your fingerprint or your voice. Since listening is not tangible, this aspect is often forgotten. However, it is important to keep this in mind as you read the rest of this text. Each technique and exercise will test your way of listening in a different way and produce different outcomes. These are
not prescriptive exercises. Some will be very useful, others will not. You may already use some of these techniques. Everyone larps in different ways, everyone learns according to their own rhythm and their own interest. Each listener, each soul, is different and beautiful.
Listening — A Different Awareness
Listening is physical, like having blond hair or dark eyes. Understanding this, we can learn to use it as a tool to portray a character. Just as we change our appearance, our posture, or our way of speaking, we can try to change the way we listen. This does not require previous training, but it is necessary to be more aware, or perhaps aware in a different way toward what surrounds us. We propose two pre-larp exercises and three techniques for in-game use.
1. Listen to the Space
If possible, visit the location before the larp. Walk in silence and listen to it. Every room has its own voice. Figure out what spot your character will like the best, where they will spend most of their time. Connect your character to the location by deep listening to it. Experience that with fresh ears. Then try to break down the soundscapes. Use your mind like an audio mixer, breaking down what you hear, as a producer isolates sounds and instruments when working on a song. This place will be your house. Know its inner voice.
2. Listen to the Time
Prepare yourself by listening to the sound of the setting. Will it be historical? Listen to the era’s music and songs. Become familiar with the historical soundscape and what was around back then. Usually this is only done when our character is somehow connected to the music (musician, singer, etc.), but remember that we are all music lovers. We all have songs we are attached to and that speak to us. Let your characters have some too. The same applies also to dystopian/non-realistic settings: every world has it own sounds. Listen to soundtracks of movies or games that are set in the same or similar world. Use this music while reading or preparing your character. Listen to it again just before the game, to better get into your character’s shoes and start your larp with a boost of immersion.
1. Shape your own Soundscape
Each character has their own soundscape. You can build it as you would any physical affectation. Do they live in a silent world? A noisy one? If you have your own house or private space in the game, make it sound like your character. For example, if you are a priest, surround yourself with silence. Let your environment speak for you.
2. Filters and Listening Positions
Listening can be an instrument of power. You can use it to exclude other people or silence them, or conversely to rebel or impose yourself. When we listen we always use filters, which can come from our cultures, privileges, beliefs, expectations, intentions. Each of these values filters the attention we pay when we talk to someone. In a larp these filters can be reworked and combined in many ways. Not listening to someone or to certain sounds is a powerful way of building relationships. Changing those filters generates new listening positions, the attitudes that place us, through sound, in the world and the social order.
If you play a mystical character maybe you may never listen to all that is said by ordinary people. Or your traumatized character can react strongly to sounds connected to their trauma.
3. Limit Verbocentrism
In the most larps, we talk a lot. Words are used to express concepts and feelings and to achieve goals. Try to listen more and talk a little less. What are the other players expressing, or asking for? How are they right now? Listening in this way becomes a vehicle for inclusion and hopefully a contribution to an ingame safe space.
These techniques are not universal and they only work in the right context. It may not be easy, since it’s based on an impalpable material and because listening can take place only when there is connection and mutual understanding. It works if we mean listening, and larp, as a way of being connected to the world.