When is the last time you listened to an album from beginning to end? And sticking it on in the background while working on the computer, talking on the phone or doing chores around the house does not count. I mean sitting down and giving the album your full attention. For many of us, it has been awhile.
Hearing is like breathing and smelling – it does not require an active, directed effort; we do it subconciously. When we want to look at something, we direct our gaze toward the object; when we want to touch something, we must reach out. In short, we have to focus our attention. Hearing, however, is different as we constantly hear 360 degrees around us. We can hear things going on in the other room while we chat to a friend whether or not we are trying to listen. We cannot shut our ears and therefore we often take our sense of hearing for granted.
Active listening takes effort. It requires us to slow down and completely stop other actions which is very difficult in this age of hyper-reality. We are used to multi-tasking at all times – texting or tweeting while we are out with friends or talking on the phone while we make dinner. It is rare to focus on one activity and that is what active listening requires.
Actively listening to a whole album from beginning to end involves a fair amount of concentration and requires us to set aside some time. We have to commit ourselves to the task and in our day of the MP3 single download where we are used to the quick sound bite, this can be quite a feat. As Hermione Hoby stated in The Observer, “It’s hard not to develop an aural antsiness when YouTube is there for the flighty browsing, iPods for the impatient shuffling. Meanwhile, Spotify and every other streaming service allow us to take for granted a song being there for our ears when we demand it. In short, our restless listening might mean we’re in danger of becoming careless listeners, too.”
Over the past few years my husband and I have achieved super-geek status by slowly assembling an audiophile sound system. The cons: a hole in our pocket. The pros: listening to music with friends and rediscovering our record collections. We recently had our friend James over on a Sunday night and after dinner we sat down and listened to Brian Eno’s “Another Green World”. The last time I truly listened to that album in its entirety was nearly two decades ago but it sounded just as fresh – maybe even better as it is such a rare occasion to have the opportunity to shut everything else out to solely concentrate on the music. It was somewhat meditative and definitely therapeutic not to mention artistically beneficial.
Our friend Greg Wilson had a similar realisation and has started “Living to Music”. On the first Sunday of the month, people are encouraged to sit down with friends and listen to a selected classic album. There are suggested guidelines such as having time for small talk before the listening session gets under way and turning off all mobile phones (Yes!). Of course, these are all suggestions and it is hoped that is will cross-pollinate with people starting their own listening movements and selecting their own classic records.
My husband and I sat down and listened to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, the second album chosen by Living to Music. We had the Mobile Fidelity version which is part of their “Original Master Recording” series which featured half-speed mastering by Stan Ricker. Whilst listening to this amazing recording, it just seemed rude not to share the audiophile experience with others. It also seemed like a good idea to have more of an exchange regarding the selected album with other people.
With Greg’s nod of approval, Cosmodelica started a monthly London listening session called “Classic Album Sundays: A Communal and Audiophile Listening Experience”. So far we have covered The Beatles’ “Abbey Road”, Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” and De La Soul’s “3 Feet High and Rising”. In the next couple of months, we have David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars” and Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” and there are many more fine albums lined up for the rest of the year.
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