Rediscovering the lost art of deep listening to music

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/03/19/rediscovering-the-lost-art-of.html

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Hammock, lake, sun, slight breeze, set up a four hour paddle and two portages from the nearest road.
BoothLake
Pull the headphones and music box from the dry bag, and settle back to a modern classic. I’ll admit my taste tends to rich, free-form ambient these days, but parking your brain in a good album for a few hours is magic. :+1:

Social distancing at its very best.

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It truly is what we need to heal our brains from the stress – I recommend - Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”. – I am sure all you Boing Boing fans will remember it from Soylent Green and of course Fantasia. Peace to you all - as we realign ourselves to the new normal.

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Gotta say I appreciated music a lot more when I was shitfaced. I don’t get nearly as much satisfaction from music these days. Got it on in the car, but I actually find it an annoying distraction if I am working on the computer or the phone. I’m not in a jurisdiction where MJ is legal, so, sadly, deep listening is out.

But here is something I like:

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You can shake the musical part of your mind loose by finding covers of songs you know and love. It is much easier to follow and appreciate the language of an unfamiliar genre when your brain already knows the song. And you’re likely to learn a whole lot about that song that you thought you knew so well.

A bluegrass cover of Hotel California right as I saw this post is what inspired this comment, but I’ve also got a punk cover of it that’s just as tight. If you’re unsure of where to start, check out Richard Cheese or Hayseed Dixie. (And definitely Jazz Is Dead for some beautiful GD instrumentals.)

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The modern human really has been spoiled when it comes to music.

Consider this: prior to radio or recorded sound you had to play an instrument or know someone who played an instrument in order to hear music regularly, with the exception of church music. A lot of folk music was unaccompanied singing, because that’s all you had available. Selling sheet music and simple inexpensive instruments like zithers was a serious business in the late 19th century, and small towns typically had gazebos on the town green for summer concerts. Something like Beethoven’s 9th you would be very very lucky to hear once in your lifetime (in fact other classical favorites like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” were basically lost to history until the recording industry popularized them). Now we can hear it all at the touch of a button, which is great, but we forget how valuable it once was.

[ETA: probably my favorite “deep listening” album is Can’s “Future Days”, but I’ve heard it so many times it’s almost invisible to me now. Lately I’ve been digging on Don Shirley, the pianist from “Green Book”-- his “Point of View” and “Water Boy” (a.k.a. “The Don Shirley Trio”) LPs are great.]

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nice - it reminds me of Debussey - Clair de Lune

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I always think this is interesting to think about. What I wonder if there are less people now than back prior to the rise of sound recordings that play a musical instrument and if that is a kind of loss? I also wonder if the ability to disconnected the consumption of music from the production has caused the consumption of music to be a more isolated rather than a collective activity? Feels sort of up Adorno’s alley to assume that the technological changes are merely a loss rather than a trade off of sorts, though. Everyone knows I’m more of a Benjamin guy…

There is also this book, which I recommend if you have not read it, which argues that sound recording did on some level lead to more isolated and individual consumption of music, but also created new means of connecting with others across time and space (that little jolt of connection you feel when you talk with someone who likes the same music that you do, especially if it’s a bit off the beaten path). I kind of think it shows that even in the age of individualism, we still seek out connection through the production of culture.

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And even touching a button is too hard, now.

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I’ll have to go on a walk soon specifically to listen to music. I’m rather strict about listening to an album in its entirety (even if it wasn’t originally released that way, e.g. most things from before WW2) before moving on to the next. I don’t mean I listen to the album in one sitting – I mean I finish one album before listening to the next. Between taking the kids to/from school and going back-and-forth to work, I’d typically get thru an album a day. Now I’m not doing those things – if I had to go to the store (which I’m avoiding), that’s only 7 minutes each way.

I’d love if music player apps (at least the one I normally use) had a way to hide and deactivate the shuffle feature, and then send it down /dev/null never to return. I’m always inadvertently hitting it with my palm.

Wow, I haven’t seen Diva in years – I still have the VHS, somewhere.


Anyway, speaking of Deep Listening, I was hoping they didn't use that term without mentioning Pauline Oliveros. Fortunately, they did!

IIRC this involved the Deep Listening Band if not Oliveros herself. (Maybe NSFW.)

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highly recommend moody bluegrass.

I also wonder if the ability to disconnected the consumption of music from the production has caused the consumption of music to be a more isolated rather than a collective activity?

Prof David Huron, when he was still at U Waterloo, gave a very good talk on this. The thesis was that “Happy Birthday” was about the limit of collective singing that we had in common in broader North American society. This was early 90’s, so the disconnection can only be greater now.

It’s a little sad, really, that we don’t have the Italian cultural predisposition to singing (nor the weather, at the moment).

We atheists really don’t have a lot of good songs anyway. :crazy_face::thinking:

Agreed.
Here’s the listening page for nearly all the 100 reel-to-reel tapes of unaccompanied Yiddish song collected by the pioneer ethnomusicologist, Ruth Rubin, starting in 1947.

She was a single mother, working days as a secretary, & studying “Folklore” by night at community college.

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I’ve thought about that too. On one hand good cheap instruments are plentiful these days, but on the other hand I think far more people just give up after a few failed attempts. There’s no way to know, but I suspect people a century ago would have more patience and drive to learn an instrument (more so if they built it themselves, like a banjo.) But then there are other factors-- amount of leisure time for example.

(I have not read that book-- thanks, will keep an eye out for it.)

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Ah yes, the Diva soundtrack! I love the La Wally aria, and the piece you posted, in fact I ripped those two tracks from the soundtrack CD just the other day while rebuilding the missing half of my iTunes music library after a combined hard drive/backup drive failure, lovely music, great film. :grin:

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Another wrinkle is the rise of electronic instruments and cheap synths, as well as cheaper recording gear (think tape decks and what that did for punks and rappers in the early 80s), which allows for more people to have new ways to make music…

But yeah, it’s hard to really measure all of that.

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Even before I knew about Pauline Oliveros I was fascinated by acoustical spaces and the way they sounded. I remember being in a church in Philadelphia and before the service started the various whispers and footsteps and doors sounded hypnotic in that big reverberating room. I sat with my eyes closed for several minutes just taking it in.

I also find that these days I will deliberately stop listening to music, it’s too easy to just have it playing all the time. I’ve come to appreciate silence (what a friend of mine once called “the original ‘alternative’ music.”)

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I thought this was the only way of actually “listening” to music. I always felt if i was doing anything else, I wasn’t really listening

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I’ve noticed an increase in people who play, because instruments are more affordable now. That may be due to more disposable income in general, though. I live in an area where listening to music (live and recorded) is a popular group activity. People complain about not having enough space to do so as often as they’d like.

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Yeah. I can’t (or, don’t) listen while I’m working.