On Listening, Part 1

I think it’s natural for me, as a composer and musician – especially a long-time improvising musican – the be very sensitive to what I hear and really notice the details of sound. My day-to-day experience is a combination of all the activities and sensations of my mind and body, and sounds, things I hear, can matter a lot in the moment of being in a particular place at a particular time. We live in an environment of sound, and it matters.

I also have an iPod, and there’s a lot to say about the device, of course, and I think that’s better left to others. It’s a great thing for me, and I enjoy the experience of having it in a lot of different ways. One way is certainly that way that music can accompany certain experiences, for good, ill or just odd. I had a good one recently, getting on the F train as the Sibelius Symphony No. 6 began. It has a very quiet opening, and it took a little while for me to hear it above the noise of the car – try and keep the volume at less than half – and when it did, the seemingly distant yet clear sounds of the high strings were an uncanny but wonderful moment of discovery, in my ears, in a noisy, crowded public space. I’ve done a rough recreation of what that sounds like here:

This concept of the environment of sound is a vital one, and frequently ignored. For interested readers, I would refer you to this extraordinary, profound book, and the related project.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.