The Art of Listening: Lost?


I’d like to think that I wasn’t in a more pensive mood than usual, but this evening especially, I was thinking about the art of listening.  I’ve previously written about music being an essential part of what it means to be human and music as a shared experience.  Tonight, however, it was all about music taking the forefront instead of being a background activity.

Whether it’s truly fact or blissful fantasy, I am left with the impression that spinning up a record was an activity in and of itself.  The art of cleaning vinyl, laying it on a platter and letting it spin was an event.  Listening was oftentimes—though not always–accompanied by looking at the album art or liner notes.

You couldn’t relegate music to being a background activity for too long because LPs were not really that long playing.  When compared to today’s endless, even mindless catalog of music playlists, they are but a blip.

Listening to music, as opposed to hearing it, was an acquired art. Apprenticeship at the footstool of a turntable grew—was forged even—over weeks, months and years.  Exploring different genres, different artists, or the rediscovery of a dusty collection was part of that rite of passage.

It’s unfair to speak of such things in the past tense.  Tonight, I recaptured a bit of that nostalgia spinning up on vinyl Dire Straits timeless album, Brothers in Arms and Yo-Yo Ma’s simply heavenly rendition of Ennio Morricone’s most enduring pieces from the LP, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone.

Sitting, listening, engaging, experiencing.  Dire Straits made me lose time.  Yo-Yo Ma made the hairs on my arms stand on end.  There is tremendous power in music—a power that transcends cultures, languages, and time itself.  If you’ve seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, then you might also argue that a simple five tone motif can be used as a medium for first contact.

Whatever it may be at its essence, music is a creative act that by its very nature commands an active reception.

On the one hand, I love the fact that music is seemingly ubiquitous.  But at the same time, I hope that familiarity doesn’t lead to subtle contempt, that we take music for granted. Deep down, I hope that we never lose the precious art of listening.


  1. I've found buying vinyl forces me to listen to it, really listen to it, the way I used to. When I was a tween/teen CDs cost about $15 each. So saving up allowance to buy one was a big deal. And I'd sit and listen to it all the way through. Pour over the liner notes.

    Buying vinyl has reconnected me to that experience. Its not about the sound quality for me, it's getting back to actually listening.

  2. I see you’re showing the SACD release of Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms. The good old 1985 CD release is a wonderful listening experience. The album is a full digital recording, and was recorded at 16 bits with a CD quality sample rate. I don’t understand how one can make a high resolution SACD of an album, who’s digital master is CD quality.

    • Therein is the core problem of hi-res audio. For it to be truly hi-res it needs to be recorded, mastered, and finally encoded in hi-res. Recording at 16-bit and up sampling to hi-res isn’t hi-res.

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