On Capturing Thoughts In Formation: Notes On Listening

by Thomas Brett

It would be a blog post about listening.

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It would be about the relationship between what we listen to and what we create as musicians.

About the tension between wanting to listen to many (new) musics briefly and listening to one (older, familiar) music repeatedly. Is one approach “better” than the other? Or–as it’s more PC to say–are they just “different”?

About how and how much we remember what we listen to. Where exactly does that remembering reside? In our minds or in our limbs, or in both? Do we in fact register some of our favorite sounds and patterns in our muscles, remembering by trying out little copped moves–a half-recollected riff, a personal remix of something we liked a lot? How does musical remembering work?

About what happens in the spaces between our listenings. Is there an optimal spacing here? A day? A week? An hour? Do we synthesize in the days off, or just atrophy?

About whether or not we’re listening even when we aren’t “paying attention.” It turns out that playing Mozart for your baby never did make her smarter–even if she was paying attention. Now then, does being half-attuned to music do anything to us, for us?

If we “pay” for our attention, what currency do we use? Is it just physical energy we expend while listening, or do we somehow deplete reserves of imagination as we venture outward to meet the music halfway, waving hello and inviting it inside us for a spell?

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And it would be a blog post about listening-food analogies.

Can listening “feed” us?

Can music be a toxin? (The composer Arvo Pärt says there are musics that can heal and musics that can kill.) Does its “bad taste” tip us off to its toxicity or its health benefits?

What about overly sweet musics? We call them saccharine, sentimental, New Age-y. Might they be empty sonic calories? Will they make us fat?

About the possibility of binge listening, or conversely, starving ourselves from a lack of nutritious music. Either way, how do you know when you’re in the midst of an extreme listening situation, drowning in excess or devoured by deficit?

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It would be a blog post about listening.