Live listening

Playing pool with my 11-year old yesterday and he made an observation that reminded me about the context of listening.

"It's more exciting hearing your favourite song on the radio, than it is playing it for yourself."

It was a profound observation for me and captured my own experiences listening to live and recorded sounds.

The sense of time seems to shift and listening can take us into a different temporal context.

That sense of being in the moment, like when a piece of music is broadcast, is something I'd observed while listening to 'the wires' for hours.

The recordings didn't have the same quality in more than the sense of fidelity.

It wasn't the discomfort of sitting on a granite rock, nor the experience of feeling the same breezes that would trigger the wave of harmonics.

I realised it was the moment and tension created from a cascade of thoughts, as I focused intently on the details in each micro-second.

It was a sense I was hearing something for the first time.

Being present while listening might be another description, much like the sense used by 'woke' individuals about living in the moment and not dwelling on the past or planning for a future.

I remember reading that Morton Subotnick would invite strangers into his apartment so that he would get the sense of hearing his recordings for the first time.

At various times I've heard musicians comment on how there's a similar tension when recording.

Gustav Ejstes described how "If we play it too many times before we record we lose something."

Sometimes I wonder if multitrack recording has diminished the thrill of hearing musicians sharing the same room – either from a richness in the sound of a bass player recorded through the kick drum microphone; or the performances as the band make eye contact with each other.

Perhaps it extends to the idea promoted by Dr John Diamond that digitised recordings provoke stress, as our brains have to reassemble the waveforms.

The thing that seems clear is that listening is an active experience and hearing your song on the radio feels like an invitation to enjoy that moment.