Listening is Love
Two microphones. Two ears listening. With my teponatzli, an Aztec slit drum, and a fresh pair of Vic Firth 7A drum sticks, I marched back and forth between two $35 Audio Dynamica Low-Z Dynamic microphones: "Stage left near!" Smack! Against the teponatzli. It produced a low tone. "Stage left far!" Whack! I gave the log another beating, this time on the higher pitch. "Center stage!" Barararata! I let off a diced-up buzz roll. I slapped on some cans to listen to the recording. It was all screwed up.
I had my microphones switched around, with my left mic panned all the way to the right and the right all the way to the left. Hearing me say "stage right" over and over into my left ear threw my head into an auditory whirlwind. Thus, I adjusted my Mackie DFX6 to pan the mics hard in the correct directions. I repeated the whole process: Smack! Whack! Barararata! Stop. Rewind. Play. The sharp crack against the log drum rang quick and bright with unpleasing reflections off my white plaster walls. The farther I walked back from the mics, the farther the log drum sounded. What beauty! A recreation of the existence of real sound in time and space! Two microphones equal two ears listeningwhat we all want from our recordings: to hear what is really happening.
People listen to music on so many different occasions and for so many different reasons. My mother listens to music as a classical guitarist, imagining David Russell's left and right hand technique while absorbing his gracious dynamics reflected within the depths of the concert hall. My father listens to music to remind him of his father singing old Sephardic songs on Friday nights with candles burning and red rice on the stove. I listen to music because it moves me, like a great orator. I love hi-fi because it helps me better understand what the musicians are saying. When you feel Billy Gibbons grip his guitar pick a little tighter towards the bottom with his thumb almost at the tip of the plectrum, his guitar just gets so wet. It squeals. Or when Trane blows so furiously into his sax that he churns past the note and just starts piercing your ears. Just at the point where you think he's going to completely lose it, he arpeggiates wildly back into a subtle and beautiful coda. Or when Charly Garcia's powerful voice starts to crumble into frailty and brutal honesty. These are not just musicians. They are speakers of sounds throwing their feelings on the table preaching and pleading for your belief.
Last night at the Sidewalk Caf around 2:30am, a poet took the stage. Her name was Penny. A tall pretty girl with long black curly hair, a tight red shirt, and a long bohemian skirt, Penny approached the stage nervously. Before reading her poems, Penny complimented the audience on their respect for the performers: "I'd like to thank everyone for really listening tonight. Everyone listens to each other, and it's really amazing." Always listening, always willing to give feedback, and despite the quality of any performance, always clapping like mad, the Sidewalk Caf is one of my favorite places because there is an appreciation and camaraderie amongst all. At the Sidewalk, listening is love.
Similarly, hi-end audio is a selfless act. We are workers for the world of music and its performers. The thousands of dollars that audiophiles spend on monstrous loudspeakers and thick, slick cables are not shameless self-indulgences, but expressions of grand devotion to the recreation of an expression, an emotion, a feeling! To truly take someone's words to heart. To find yourself in someone else's soundstage. To give yourself away and believe in somebody else's dreams instead of your own.
As everyone listens for different reasonsmy father for nostalgia and faith, my mother for her performance passionthey also show their love. But audiophiles are the greatest lovers in the world. Through the recreation of music and love and time and space, they're willing to drop everything, lose themselves in the depths and layers of the recording, and elope.