Knowing What You Notice: A Crazy Primer On How To Listen
Article by Herbert Reichert
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I happen to be one of those hapless fools whom thinks that wherever I look, all I see is myself. Most of the time I don't even notice (at least consciously) that I am simply staring at, listening to and (even) touching myself. I think most of what I see and hear is an illusion -- manufactured
by my collected fears and desires.
In order to feel normal, I maintain that I am neither alone in my views -- nor crazy. I suspect that we all do this. It's a defense mechanism. Here is how I think it works. A bunch of us get together and sort of agree that reality looks like this or that -- and then, we all mumble to each other that the noises we hear sound like thunder or maybe birds singing. But do we really KNOW what these birds or thunder sound like to anybody beside ourselves? No we don't! These are things we cannot know.
But, from talking to people, I have discovered that the majority of us seem to be afraid of the same kinds of things -- death, pain, poverty, lovelessness and especially, boredom and low-grade long-term suffering. We share many of the same desires also. We all want to live a long time, look good and be a big
shot (or at least a slightly bigger and better looking shot than the shot we are
Therefore, it appears that our personal illusions overlap. We all wanna be a big wheel, so to most people, the world, with all its trees and bugs and cars, looks just like the world should or would look like to a person who desires becoming a big shot. Right? And if we think we don't look good enough, then the world and all the people in it look better than we do. Right? So therefore, if most people don't think they look good enough, then "everybody else" looks better...
and that is how we all agree the world looks. Get it? If everybody thinks the same, and everybody desires the same things, and we are all scared of the same demons, then it is obviously not hard to get most of these frightened people to agree on what reality looks and sounds like. Right? Just tell them what it's like! And they all say, yes sir! That's the way it is sir!
Unfortunately, in this world view, people with fewer fears and more uncommon desires began to look a lot like the insane people. Because their reality doesn't overlap very much with the big group's reality. Which brings us to the biggest philosophical question of all: Is there (somewhere) a REAL reality? A big solid place where the buck stops and you can knock on wood and dang, if it ain't REAL 100% wood. No sir there isn't! Not that I know of.
So Then, You Tell Me...
How the hell can I tell you which loudspeaker makes the birds and the thunder sound the most like...
like what? Like "real" birds and thunder? Like "real" to whom? The guy with the most fears? Like the recording of birds and thunder? Who actually knows what the recording sounds like? What is my reference for the absolute realness? Either way, to even talk about which bird sounds are the most real sounding we still gotta find a group of people who are scared of the same things (audiophiles?) and who want the same things. Right?
So, if we don't actually hear and see what we think we are hearing and seeing, and everybody hears and sees something different, how can we ever know what is high quality, hi-fidelity, let alone who, what or where we are? The answer is; we can't. No way.
But the situation is not as bad as I make it sound. We all can know one thing for sure about ourselves, and about hi-fidelity. If we try hard, we can know what we NOTICE! We can know who and where we are too. How? By paying attention to what we pay attention to. We are what we give our attention to. What we don't notice, is what we are not. This, I believe, is a basic law of the Universe and, like water running through your hands, there is nothing we can do to stop it or change it.
Therefore, the best we can accomplish is this: To pay attention -- and bath in the flow! Enjoy being in the wash. We are stuck with this principle for the remainder of time, so why not try to understand it, enjoy it and take advantage of it? Better still; let me show you right now how to exploit this fundamental law of nature for your own personal gain.
Start Out By Asking Yourself A
Of These Kinds Of Questions:
What kind of person am I? Am I kind or gentle or mean and greedy? Do I like people? Am I a pissed off get away from me sort of fellow? Do I love my lover? Do I love my mother? Is my spirit heavy or light? What kind of music do I need to listen to? What kind of books should I read? If you try to answer questions like these honestly you will quickly discover that the honest truth about who you really are is not buried so deep as you may have thought. Just try doing the following exercise.
Tomorrow morning, on your way to the cotton field or the coal mine, try to notice what you notice. Driving is a great place to get in touch with your mind. Just pay attention to what you are thinking about while you drive to work. Make mental notes about where your attention is drawn. Write down your string of thoughts. Did you look up and see how cerulean blue the sky was today? How about the mass of the clouds? And their texture? Could you feel their friction building up an expansive electrical charge that was hanging right over your head? Could yo feel the static charge in the earth as you walked on it? Could you feel the car ties insulating you from the earth charge? When you were walking, did you feel like you could become a electrical conductor at any moment? No? Did you notice anybody's posture as they walked? Or the gleam and color of their eyes? Did you look at anybody's fingers? How many curvy asses did you stare at? How often did you fret, worry or feel sorry for yourself? How much did you obsess about your job? Or (worse yet) your hi-fi? Spouse doesn't love you any more? Boss is a fool? Children won't listen? And what about the hookers and the
gambling (overlapping realities sure do suck don't they)?
If you can start paying attention to what you notice during the coarse of the day, if you start noticing the shifting of the mind from one crazy thing to another -- if you recognize how long your mind stays on each topic -- you will be amazed at how quickly and easily you can change the quality of your life. Not only that, but you will began appreciating music and art and nature and people -- more and more and more, until eventually, you will be able to recognize who you really are, what you like and what you need -- you will always know how to take care of yourself -- instantaneously, and with absolute ease.
Music listening is the perfect checkpoint or barometer for your progress in developing this elusive inner vision and lightness of being. Having a kick-ass exciting and satisfying life is all about paying attention to where your mind and heart are at any given moment. And there is no better ways to start doing this than at home, while you are listening to music. Music is ABOUT where its flow takes the mind and heart. It is also about the condition of these important organs. Music addresses itself to our sentiments and what we aspire to be -- our fears and desires!
So go now and put on some music and listen. Ask yourself, how long does it take my mind to settle in, to become engaged with the musical flow? How long can I stay engaged without slipping off and thinking about sex or bills or getting over? Do you come back to the music space quickly, or is it hard to return?
Here Is The Most Important
Ask yourself, what are you listening to this music for? Try to notice while you are putting a disc in the player -- what are your expectations for the
program you are about to play? When we go to the shelves to pick out a disc, (usually) we have some psychic agenda in mind. Typically, we are looking for a mood change or a mood enhancer. Pick
any disc but take a second and make a mental note about why you think you picked that particular disc. Then, just sit and listen to it play, but pay attention to your thoughts. Try and watch where your mind floats to and recognize how those thoughts make you feel. Trace your mood as the song plays.
Can you do it? Sure you can. Just hang there in musical limbo watching and listening and letting yourself fall deeper and deeper into the experience of listening. And guess what? That string of thoughts and feelings and reveries and dreams and goosebumps you just had (including those thoughts where you were killing your boss and wishing you were back with your old girlfriend) -- that continuum of experiences IS your experience of the music you just played. What did the music do to you? It did those thoughts and probably a whole bunch of other things you weren't skilled enough to notice. Interesting huh?
Now Ask Yourself...
Is this what you were hoping for when you picked out the disc? Is this a
repeat of the same string of thoughts you usually have when you play music? How many of those thoughts and how much of that experience continuum do you think was caused by the music and how much was caused simply by sitting down, not talking and allowing yourself a few moments of reflective reverie? How much of the day's bad vibe did you bring to the listening experience? (Often I wonder if the music and audio hobbies are not just and excuse for something else. For example, maybe we use them like fishing, to give ourselves permission to isolate, meditate or simply be alone and peaceful? Maybe we use music to escape the overlapping of illusions?)
I recommend that every time you listen to music, you pay attention, notice what you notice and become actively engaged with the continuum of thoughts and feelings you are having. This is how humans and art interface. This continuum of experience is what art speaks too and tries to manipulate. The character and quality of this continuum, as well as the ease with which we stay connected to the music tells the listener a lot about the quality of the music reproduction. The difference between a very good and a mediocre hi-fi is this: The better audio systems keep you
intensely engaged and connected to the music they are playing -- they keep your attention INSIDE the music -- they direct your attention to the exact same places as the live performance does. The best audio makes you notice and think about the same kinds of things as the live music would. It holds your attention almost as much as the live version would. This is what you pay extra for in hi-fi. Bad audio lets your mind drift too easily. It gives you very little to pay attention to. It doesn't let you notice very much about the music that is playing. You buy the best audio, you get the most to notice and think about from the music you listen too.
Meanwhile, here is the most important point of this essay. Here (again) is what I am asking you to do. Go sit and listen to some music. Pay attention to all the little things happening inside your head and heart while you listen. Then, examine the whole continuum. Is this what you want your music to do? (Please lords; don't let me find out that these guys are sitting there "looking" at some
stereophonic soundstage. Counting the violins on the left side of the stage. Please don't let them e-mail me about the subways under Kingsway Hall. I'm begging you.) But instead, look at this continuum and ask yourself, am I allowing the sentiment and the attitude of the artist to affect me directly? Am I going towards the art of the musician? Am I being drawn in? Am I letting the music in naturally so it can work its changes on me? Am I permitting it to take me where it wants go?
And now boys and girls try not to laugh too hard. But I am not stopping with hi-fi, I am also going to ask you to do this same kind of awareness thing with the other parts of your life. I want you to try this kind of paying attention noticing what you notice exercise while you are walking down the street, driving your car and (even) making love.
You see, very shortly after you start paying this kind of attention to your thoughts and feelings you will recognize how much of each day you spend feeling sorry for yourself, worrying, or resenting other people. You will realize that when you are (supposedly) listening to music or making love, you are not even there. Your mind is somewhere else! Your mind is stealing your life and you are not even noticing it! (A new hi-fi and a new wife is probably not the solution.) Once you see this for yourself, it becomes easy to cut back. It is easy to say to yourself, hay man, why am I walking around with all them mean and resentful thoughts about my boss? What is wrong with my brain? Shouldn't I better be thinking about how an electro-motive force interacts with copper wire. I'd rather be thinking about the friction of the wind on my skin and how the same exact wind is making friction on millions of other people's skin -- right this very minute! Imagine that. The same wind rubbing us all. Me? I'd rather be speculating about how deep is the water that I'm fishing in and where those fish might be right now. This is living.
Once you notice how much time you spend on bullshit thinking -- it stops being easy or fun to do. Once you recognize the other kind of thinking -- the notice what you notice kind -- you'll get off on it. It's tons more fun and way more rewarding. Shit man, notice what you notice and every day becomes an authentic adventure. A wild trip. And then, as you gradually stop giving time to these painful and pointless and unrewarding endeavors, you'll find you got all kinds of NEW time on your hands... and on your mind! And what do I suggest one do with all this newly opened mind time? I say get your ass in gear and discover all the amazing shit people have already done for the pleasure and edification of their fellow humans. That
How about some Shakespeare? Or some Three Penny Opera? Or some Showboat? Or some Moby Dick? Maybe a few Goya paintings? Or a Marantz 10B FM radio playing through a pair of vintage Quad
Firescreens? Or a Dynaco Stereo 70 playing a pair of Rogers LS35As? Or maybe you should check out Brittany, or Shaggy or Fatboy Slim? It doesn't matter! The point is, the more you start noticing where your mind goes during the course of the day, the more you can enjoy the flow of living and the depth and movement of music. You won't need a vacation because you'll already BE on vacation. You won't need a new hi-fi because the one you picked will be already perfect. Your wife will look like a different woman everyday. For the same reason you won't need drugs. You can space out on art, music, books, people and, the flux of life -- all the time --and still have enough working consciousness left over to take care of business. You can now connect to the motherload of human feeling -- and like it! You can engage the larger humanity. You can flex your own humanity! You aren't free and easy until you start giving your thoughts over to the exotic stuff. Why do you think there was a Rembrandt or Beethoven? Or why do you think there is a night sky? So you can worry about the bus schedule? I don't think so.
It is absolutely essential that you always stay in the flow and motion -- as it is happening. Imagine that everything you see and sense and feel and think is a fluid and it is constantly slipping right past you.
Go over to your hi-fi. Pick out some rarely listened-to program. Put the disc in the player. Now watch yourself -- pay attention -- and, enjoy the music!