Thursday, January 22, 2009
We Were NEVER Mnml, January 2009
A rider before we begin... this column developed out of thoughts from a dialogue I was having with Philip Sherburne about listening at the end of our massive (and slightly untimely) End of Year discussions at RA, which you can find here. If you take the time to read them and PS' own post here (scroll down or cntrl+F for 'editing is essential...'), it will hopefully add something...
All throughout 2008, one of the common threads coming through in the responses to questions I’d asked music makers from all over the sphere was a despairing sense that people simply aren’t giving listening its due, so I’d like to do justice to their pleas by starting ’09 with a few hundreds of words thinking about listening. Do us a favour: pause your pod, pipe down, and tune in.
The other day my friend’s girlfriend – an avid indie fan with a particular prediliction for the Fleet Foxes – explained her system for vetting new music. Each of the dozens of albums she downloads a week (shared with a group of fellow fan/friends on Pando) get played through her laptop speakers while she’s on the net. If she likes what she’s heard so far, she then loads it onto her mp3 player. Hardly uncommon. In fact, if my group of friends are any yardstick, it’s becoming the norm. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with filtering new music in this way, either: you graze the surface of things, you get an inkling, and that leads you on to a fuller and deeper listen.
But what if the fuller and deeper listen never comes? What if, like increasing numbers of people, your listening process is something like the following:
a) you get the feeling you 'need some new music', so you
b) acquire several hundred megabites worth of zips, either from friends’ USB drives, Pando, BitTorrent, or rapidshare, which you then place in/on
c) a folder on another hard-drive attached to your laptop, where they remain until
d) you’re sick of the 80 gigs already on your music player, which you then connect to your computer, prune, re-arrange, then add the new files into playlists which you then
e) listen to while you’re on public transport or the gym on a pair of headphones or
f) you listen at home while you’re on the ‘net, using the speaker set which is connected with a pair of speakers nearby, typically those used as your computer’s AV speakers
I confess: this is one part of my regular listening routine, and it makes me wonder… when was the last time you or I or anyone else we know actually sat down and ‘just listened’ to a song without being distracted or otherwise occupied with whatever else was around us? Good equipment and higher fidelity undoubtedly enhances the experience, but it’s no substitute for really, truly, deeply tuning in to the music that’s playing, and to me what's vital here is our listening environment and the attention we give to the recording while we're in it.
Ask yourself: when was the last time you gave whatever new music that came into your life your full attention, closing your eyes and giving yourself over to the sound? And not just to block out work or the world around you, but because the music makers who created those sounds gave their heart and soul and sweat to make that recording as good as it could possibly be in their hands?
Of course, it’s not like we can be expected to give the years of time and care that an artist does to their work (especially when we don’t have either the time or the care to), but nonetheless, before we pass judgement (or even form a vague opinion) on any piece of music that crosses our paths this year, let’s stop and question whether we’ve given it a fair hearing. If you claim to give a fuck about music, then, among your many resolutions, make the effort to be a better listener.
So then... what would it mean to be a better listener? Let's discuss....
(and Pipecock, before you chime in, this is not a post about the manifest superiority vinyl.... )