The Art of listening

Music is mainly the organisation of Silence...

To listen… few humans listen.

Most of the time they hear only.

To listen implies vigilance.

It implies being focused on this sole action. Not distractedly surfing the Net, or reading or anything else. Listening implies using all the senses. Listening means more than to perceive sounds; it implies decoding them. It also implies assigning significance to them, seeking their deeper meaning and letting resonances blossom deep down inside us.

To listen is to be available.

Opening ourselves to the music. Dropping our masks, leaving our worries behind.

Being truthful with one self.

To listen is to learn.

Every day, listening to discover new sounds, new harmonics, from around the world.

To listen is to share.

More than words, music is a universal language. It creates a bridge between objects and human beings.

To listen is to understand.

The music, the sounds of humans, of objects and nature, connects us to the deepest mysteries of existence.

Everything «speaks to us»; the songs of the whales, the wind in the trees, the streaming rivers, the waves rolling on the shore, the music of humans. This is only a small part of life’s partition; need we to remind this to ourselves?

Listen to a movie score without the images...

Now, watch a movie without the soundtrack.

A simple experience, which reminds us to what extent our ability to hear is essential.

Never forget this: if our ears do not have «ear lids» it is because Life has decided so. Sight, so favored today, is actually "framed". Our audition stretches like a sphere around us, and reaches a lot further.

For many of us in this industrial world, whose lives are alienated, disconnected from nature, to listen is to live again. 

Practically, how does this all apply to High-Fidelity ?

We should cease dissecting sounds for the pure fascination of it. This pleasant and somewhat justified exercise should not be a means to an end. Our main guideline should be the ability of our sound systems to help us experience and assimilate the emotions and teachings contained in the music.

To reach this, a listening methodology becomes handy.

A good start is to develop one’s ability to integrate notions of objectiveness, subjectiveness, orderliness and poetry. For guidance you can consult our «Literature» section where you will find a key book en d « Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance», an inquiry into values, by Robert M. Pirsig.

Many audiophiles choose their products based on highly subjective grounds (blind loyalty to brands, fashion, preconceptions on various technological choices) convincing themselves that they are being rational, and then, as good audiophiles they listen with their logical brain.

The reverse would be better:  let go of emotions when in front of the products. They are only technical objects, sometimes beautiful mind you, but first and foremost designed to serve the form of Art that is the Music.

Our civilization often wanders into excessive fascination for technological objects. It is common behavior for spoiled and lost kids to focalize on what they have rather than on what they are.

Putting together a system should be made in a calm, rational and simple manner. One should evaluate a component the same way they would evaluate a piano or…a nice meal for that matter.

When choosing a piano for example, would one ask what is the tension applied to the strings, what brand of felt is used for the hammers or at what temperature was the varnish applied?

Hopefully not.

The buyer plays the piano, listens and decides. For the meal the same applies. Does one need to ask the Chef his knives or oven brand, or if he started by cutting the vegetables? No. The global evaluation is made upon the final result.

When listening to sound components, we should focus on their ability to make our senses come alive. Music should stir emotions, transport us, teach us, sweep our worries and much more…

We must be in tune with our emotions, open minded and available. The secret is to evaluate a system with a musician mental language rather than an audiophile language. When focused on dissecting the high frequencies range for example, we are not connected to the musical content, but rather to its "surface".

To achieve this, the best option still resides in regularly attending live music concerts. Should access to a good concert hall be out of reach, a simple street musician will do the trick.

Listening to unamplified instruments, including voices, of which our brain keeps a reliable and indelible impression is usually preferred to amplified instruments, as it is not tainted by an electronic reproduction layer.

As in all genuine quests, the search for a sound system is a never-ending process. As Taoists would say, the goal is not as important as the magnificent journey leading to it!


Pascal Ravach

The Art of Listening is the translation of a text
I wrote in French in the beginning of the 80s
to explain my approach in High Fidelity...
I decided to keep it with its original freshness;
and considering the raising obsession for technology,
I believe it is still relevant today...

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