Blog Archive

blog search

« What's a bass for? | Main | The Mermaid Guitar »
Monday
Feb152010

Quiet Listening

I have been experimenting with a new kind of listening over the last year.

For reasons partially, but not completely, clear to me I am finding that my ear has developed a kind of threshold. This threshold is not just volume oriented, it is also information oriented. Once I cross this threshold my ears shut down -- both internally and externally. Meaning that not only does my inner ear shut down and I cannot bear to listen anymore, but my physical ears don't want any more sound either. They kind of stuff themselves up.

This threshold seemed to get crossed with volume over a period of time. Even with the simplest music, the louder the volume the shorter the time span I can take. This seems to range from several hours to 15 minutes in one sitting, I am guessing.

But the threshold also gets crossed with density of musical information. Meaning the density and intensity of musical/sonic information can push me over this threshold even if the volume level and the duration threshold are long from being crossed.

This has been quite challenging for me with the current CD I am working on - the Normalizer project with Marco Minnemann's drumming (release date May 18, 2010.) The musical density can be enormous. Just the drums, alone, can be quite a dense listening experience. At the end of the day, I have found ways to strip out the textures and musical ideas so that the ears have space to breath, but the process of getting there has been one of enduring tons and tons of density.

The way I have generally been working on this project -- after extended pondering of each section -- is to start throwing ideas on to the drum tracks. It often takes three to five "throws" to find something that sticks. But even once I have found something that sticks, it doesn't mean I have landed on success. I have to find another idea to counter to the first one. I really need three elements/statements that can interact before I really know how a section is going to flow: the drumming, the main idea and a counter idea.

This process of throwing stuff on, finding a partner for each idea, weeding through each one and it's combinations, can be extremely fatiguing to my ears. Just juggling all the sounds and possibilities has crossed my 'ear threshold' so many times - not to mention mixing each section -- that I have had to come up with a new kind of listening strategy.

And here it is:

Turn down the volume

It's pretty simple and obvious, but somehow quiet radical. Especially when I turn down the volume, a lot. And I mean A LOT. Turn it way, way, way down, so the music is extremely quiet. Percolating just above the ambience of the room.

In my studio, this is pretty quiet. And a challenge to rise to. When I first started playing around with this Quiet Listening, I had to fight the constant urge to turn it up. Even though it isn't really necessary. Sure, if you are in full on engineer mode, then you need to hear everything clearly and sharply and this means giving some power to the sound. But if you are composing/producing and developing ideas, there is no reason, whatsoever, that you can't get a clear sense with the volume extremely low. In fact you may get a clearer impression, as the music has to speak from it's own authority, not from the power of it's sound.

This Quiet Listening has had a fairly strong impact on my workflow. Not only can I work longer, I feel like I can work more thoroughly and I have a clearer sense of what is the focus in the music.

And interestingly enough, I have begun trying it with general listening and the experience is quite something. Usually you turn up the volume to meet your ears - and this is one kind of listening experience. But what happens when you listen quietly? You turn up the ears to meet the music. It's a very, very different experience to be sending the ears out to the music rather than the other way round. It IS challenging and places a demand on the listening. But, and here is the interesting part, this demand doesn't fatigue my ears. It doesn't push my threshold, where I would have thought it might.

There is some kind of 'secret something' in all of this, that I am sure will emerge with further application.

I look forward to hearing about everyone else's experience with listening in these different ways.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (23)

I don't find myself doing much active listening lately. I miss it. Music is often pushed to the background...I listen mostly while I drive and while I work. There's an anxiety created by the drive to always be "doing" something that makes it hard to get your mind to sit still and just listen. But it is a completely different experience of music, and I think those that practice it appreciate music in a very different way. My fiancee introduced me to the concept of Mindfulness some time ago, and as I've read more about it and practiced it, I thought about how mindfulness can apply to anything done thoughtfully and consciously. It can elevate the smallest acts into an artform. So for me the pinnacle of mindfulness has been anytime I've been able to truly immerse myself in music and just shut out all other thoughts and anxieties. The idea is to "be present now." When I get to that place while playing music, it's an extremely rewarding experience. I think this "quiet listening" is a form of listening mindfully.

It also reminds me of an electroacoustic music exhibition I went to some time ago. It blew me away...just a completely new and different way to experience music. Everyone gathered in a small classroom/theatre with a few chairs, but may people even brought their own pillows and sat directly on the risers. Everyone stayed perfectly silent and just listened. The music was at times beautiful and at other times very odd, but the added directional component was extremely interesting to me. True surround sound, designed very intentionally.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdaniel

"It's pretty simple and obvious, but somehow quiet radical."

best pun ever.

i will be advocating this 'quiet listening' for as long as i can. my ears need the rest anyway.

March 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercyrus ghahremani

What a great blog! It is a pity that I can not find RRS address. If RRS offers a subscription service, I can easily follow your blog!
By Air Jordans

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAir Jordans

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>