Why Not Listen to Everything?

I’ve been haunted for 15 years by these phrases: “Very usually if I used to be given the selection of listening to a bit of music I actually preferred or listening to nothing in any respect, I might select nothing in any respect. … These days I do not take heed to a variety of music, and I discover a variety of pleasure in no music. There’s a sort of silence and simply listening to some dialog from outdoors, or listening to a police automotive within the distance, simply these fragments of day by day life are very poetic and really peaceable in some way.”

They had been spoken by Britisher David Toop (footnote 1), confirmed music-head, somebody who has spent his life enjoying, listening to, and writing about music. Why would an individual who amassed such a dragon’s hoard of obscure releases {that a} documentary was made about it—who tried to take heed to each darn factor ever recorded—on the finish of the day choose common sounds that might not even match the dictionary definition of music? I may see no risk of ever coming round to his standpoint, or ever desirous to, however Toop’s phrases stayed with me, like a riddle I may neither clear up nor overlook.

Music is how I navigated life. I approached every album as a privileged view inside one other particular person’s thoughts. What had they discovered, what had they seen, that I had not? I might be hijacked by a tune, a band, an obscure subgenre, by the sound of a Hammond organ pouring like rainbow velvet magma out of a station wagon pushed by an uncle. Looking again, my 30-year path appears clear sufficient: from Top 40 pop to grunge to indie rock to submit rock. To IDM to something digital. To ambient, to the perimeter of musique concrete, to questioning what music even is. To an empty discipline, a chrome steel mixing bowl by chance struck whereas making breakfast, ringing like a temple bell. To the woods, an autumn seashore, not worrying anymore however psyche dissolving in uncooked sound.

I swam towards the deep finish, sinking into essentially the most weird and highly effective records and assembling an more and more esoteric vinyl-based equipment with which to listen to them. But as my hi-fi system grew to become extra lifelike, because it grew to become higher at doing what a hi-fi system is meant to do, I used to be pulled away from it, as if caught in an alien tractor beam, towards real-life sound. Instead of being impressed to go see and listen to reside music, I used to be impressed to take a seat in metropolis parks and take heed to breezes rustling tree leaves, a crow, the distinctive Doppler-effect signature of every passing automotive. In comparability to the wide-open expanse of unrestricted bandwidth that’s an outside soundscape, my exactly positioned boutique audio system began to sound canned and tinny.

I fought the method. I could not simply sit in my lounge with the window open on a quiet morning and lose myself within the light squeal of a rubbish truck’s brakes as my obsessively curated records sat unplayed in my devoted, acoustically handled basement listening room—may I? Yet right here it was, throughout me, full-spectrum, 360° immersive encompass sound, totally actual, extra analog than analog, extra fi than hi-fi, occurring on this exact means for a single second then disappearing totally. The excellent sounds I had been in search of had been already there, extra compelling than the painstakingly organized and recorded music in my assortment, the guitar gamers and singers and drummers so desperate to showcase their skills, their songs closely laden with human intent.

One afternoon, after I got here to a cease in a parking zone, I cracked the automotive window and heard a hip-hop tune from throughout the pavement, low-pass filtered by distance in order that it was largely kickdrum; I heard church bells from throughout an intersection, and the ticking of metallic as my automotive’s engine cooled—all melding right into a tearjerkingly stunning soundscape.

All I needed to do was cease and hear. I may pull into the identical spot in the identical lot day-after-day for 1000 years and by no means hear that very same poignant trio. To think about that any soundscape anyplace, in any second, is the tune of the universe enjoying itself is to open the door to a unending provide of stunningly stunning—or horrific, or bittersweet—performances. As I saved listening—to cicadas, kids’s voices, guitars and synthesizers as I performed them, footsteps in dry leaves, and shutting doorways—Nietzsche’s competition that “Without music, life can be a mistake” slowly changed into “Life with out music can be okay, however life with out sound can be unimaginable.” Heinrich Heine’s assertion that “Where phrases depart off, music begins” might be prolonged to, “Where music leaves off, silence begins.” But aren’t phrases sound, and is not music sound, and wasn’t the silence there earlier than the phrases or the music?

A scientific rationalization of sound excludes the subjective, psychological affect and ignores the truth that sound passes by way of the entire physique. The quivering intestines of anybody listening at a SunnO))) live performance, or to thunder or a passing prepare up shut, will understand we expertise sound by way of our our bodies and never our ears alone. I’m drawn, like Toop, to the expertise of visceral sound in actual time, sounds I’m not accountable for: The blissful sound of sunshine rain on concrete interrupted with out warning by the vicious barking of a toaster-sized designer mongrel. A leaf blower can solely whine so lengthy earlier than silence returns like water within the desert. Real sound in every flowing second—might I hear it and adore it earlier than it turns into one thing else!

The hassle with reproduced sound is that it’s reproduced. An infinite quantity of money and time might be spent in a unending quest to flawlessly recreate what can by no means be flawlessly recreated. No matter how lifelike the hi-fi, it can by no means have the power, the punch, the mysterious chi, the vibe of life itself, expressing itself in pure, fixed, unamplified sound.

Why not take heed to every little thing?—Casey Miller (footnote 2)

Footnote 1: Toop is an English musician, writer, curator, emeritus professor, and a member of the Flying Lizards. His books embody Rap Attack, an early e-book on hip-hop, from 1984, and Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener.

Footnote 2: Casey Miller tells Dad jokes and fights a dropping battle with a fluffy cat for occupancy of a snug chair in Champaign, Illinois.

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