Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Random Thoughts about Listening to Recordings

Because I work as a record reviewer, much of the listening I do could be thought of by some as work. When I listen to a recording that I am planning to review I need to pay attention to what I hear and figure out something to say about it that might be useful to someone who may or may not be interested in what I have to say. Those readers may or may not go out and buy that particular recording, and if any of them do, each person would certainly have a different experience listening to the recordings I write about. I hope that I'm doing some good.

My concern as a record reviewer is to try and hear what the people who participated in the making of a particular recording, including the composer of the music, put into it. This requires listening beyond the surface. It is very important to be honest. If what I write is true (and there are many truths when it comes to writing subjectively) then I am happy.

I rarely have any contact with any of the people who make the recordings I review, even when they are people I once knew, and it is equally rare that anyone makes any kind of comment about a review I have written. It is a kind of lonely way of communicating, but listening to recordings has become a rather solitary act thanks to portable stereos and ipods. Even listening to the radio is usually a solitary act. People tend to listen alone in their cars. Once in a while two people might be listening at the same time in a car, but I believe it is rare to have a really communal listening experience listening to classical music on the radio. There is certainly no communication with the person sitting in the radio station who decided to play that particular recording and press the button to have it play.

In a way listening to recordings is the opposite experience from being in the audience at a concert. A recording you can turn off if you are tired of it, but at a concert you would be disruptive or even insulting if you got up and left. If you happen to be listening to a recording with someone else, you can make comments out loud about the music (another concert no-no). If you want to listen to something again on a recording, it takes no more effort than pressing a button. In a concert you would have to wait unti the end of the piece and yell "encore!" Even then the performers would probably play a selection they prepared for their "encore," and would not repeat the exact movement or section of a movement you would have liked to have heard again. It would also surely be different from the performance you would have just heard, because no two performances of any piece are exactly the same, even when played by the same people in the same place, and for the same audience.

At a concert (one that is not being recorded) you can share a collective experience of a moment in time that happens only once and will never happen again.

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1 comment:

Eustace Bright said...

When I was in a small college town, away from any good orchestras, I set out one day to have a communal musical experience, as described so accurately in your post.

The idea (never fulfilled) was as follows. Music department buddies, we would get all gussied up in tuxes / dresses as if going to the symphony and we would march in to my dorm at quarter to 7 for a program selected of classical favorites from our libraries as if we were sitting in the concert hall for the performaces we were listening to!

No one went past saying "that's an idea....." :) I did wish to have a listening experience to talk about with others who were able to converse about the music.

You know, there CAN be a communal BOON of radio listening. As you mentioned, one can talk when a radio is playing. Provided that people aren't talking about traffic conditions, but using sparse words to direct each others listing, radio listening with good speakers can be quite a pleasurable common experience, perhaps, in its own, small, way.

Thanks for the interesting post.