Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Can you explain again why you are listening to each sonata 11 times? I know you explained that before, but I can't find the answer."

I find it fascinating how much access we have to music in 2012 C.E.  For most of human existence, to hear music one had to hear live people (or birds, dolphins, waterfalls, etc.).  During my lifetime I've mostly heard recorded music.  Now, I love recorded music, but I think in a McLuhanesque sense our whole relationship with music has changed over the past 150 years.  (I love Paul Schrader's essay on the film canon which deals tangentially with this issue - .)  I remember reading an article about a guy who said his father had a life goal of hearing all nine Beethoven symphonies.  The father traveled all over Germany to accomplish this goal.  Now with recordings one can easily listen to all nine in one afternoon.

I have mostly used music as background for the past thirty or so years.  I have it on while driving, reading, working, etc.  I have tried over the past few years to spend more time just listening to music.  In Finnegans Wake the number 1132 shows up over and over.  The fact that the Big B had written 32 piano sonatas nagged at me for years, and I decided to listen to each sonata eleven times.  I find it hard to find time sometimes, but over the past two years I've made it through the first 23 sonatas.  I find it a wonderful legal means of consciousness alteration much like reading great poetry out loud.


  1. COMMENCEMENT OF COMMENTS: I find one part of my brain is trying to listen to music while I'm reading or writing, so I consider it multi-tasking and it doesn't feel good to me. I want to really LISTEN to music, as, along with sex and being in the forest and laffing, these things are sacred - they are my version of "sanctity." I do blast virtuoso rock guitarist in the shower, on my little gadget that plays CDs and can get wet without shorting out.

    I think the neuro-noise I feel when music is on while I read or write probably constitutes a clue to my temperament, because clearly" many others LOVE having music on while they read or write. I can listen to certain bits of Eno, Satie, Cage, other "ambient" stuff...probably largely BECAUSE this music was devised to be audible wallpaper, part of the total environment...Info-dense music, if on while I'm doing something I want to attend to, can be consciously screened out. I HEAR it, but don't LISTEN to it. But it tends to capture my attention anyway.

    QUESTION: Aldous Huxley once noted - and this was when people had access to music on the AM radio! - That because music was so easy to access now, we take it for granted, and thus we tend to diminish its importance and not attend to it consciously as we did when we had to dress up and travel to the concert hall. What do you think of this idea? Does it relate to poetry reading in any way?

    I love the story about Bach walking for 200 miles to hear Buxtehude play organ. People who sleep on the sidewalk to get tickets for Bruce or U2? That stuff PALES in comparison to Bach!

  2. Eric, I love your observation about how technology has changed our relationship to music. The characters in the three "Historical Illuminatus!" books only to get to listen to the Mozart that they happen to hear at live concerts. It's mind-blowing that I can listen to any Mozart (or any Beethoven, or any Bach,, or any Prokofiev, or any Stravinsky) that I want to.

    Changes in the technology of recorded music also change our experience. For years, when I listened to LPs, it was a relevant concept to talk about the "good side" and the "bad side" of the LP. (I once saw a review of a hard rock album in Creem magazine which remarked that all of the slow songs were on one side, which was handy because it made it easy to figure out which side to use to wipe cat shit from the speaker wires.) I used to have many LPs where I thought it was obvious that one side was better than the other.