Thursday, September 18, 2008

learning to listen

Music is ever present in my daily life but I rarely get the chance really listen to it. Usually, I hear music on the go, through my $10 iPod headphones that do little to block out the ambient sounds of my neighborhood. These sound—shrill taxi horns, car engines revving, the clang of metal on a construction site, repeated clicks of stiletto heels on the sidewalk and a faster walker brushing past me --become integrated into the song, adding another track to an already complex mix. Eventually, the sights and my thoughts push the music into the background so that it becomes an indistinguishable hum in my ear.

To combat this passive listening, I decided to sit down with some noise-cancelling headphones and listen to some songs on my playlist. I closed my eyes and paid close attention to the arrangement of music. I’m no musician so this was a rather difficult task at first. One song began with just a simple piano arrangement, then a guitar and base was introduced at the same time as the deep male voice. At one point, the base alternated from my left to my right, then to my left to my right again, causing me to feel completely dislocated. I listened to the same song again and again, each time trying to isolate one instrument that I then followed throughout the piece. The keyboard track slipped away from me as I got distracted by the lyrics but I caught it again--faintly at first and then as a unwavering rhythm that became the only thing I could hear.

I was surprised by the clarity of all these different tones once I started listening closely enough and I appreciated how sound conveyed a sense of space depending on the way it was panned. While listening to a song may seem like the most intuitive and elementary thing, I realized that there's an instrinsic difference between hearing and listening.

No comments: