Monday, May 20, 2013

"Listen to them, the children of the night."

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Usually when people talk about listening to a composer, they discuss which pieces to listen to or which composers or whether to listen to live or studio music. But I have a different question, prompted by your instructions in your recent Maybe Logic Academy class to listen to 'Hammerklavier' at least once a week, preferably with eyes closed.

 "When you listen to recordings of Beethoven, what conditions do you use? Do you just put the hifi on and and resume what you were doing? Or do you consume a substance/ask everyone in the household to keep silence/listen on headphones/burn incense/snuggle with your wife/perform a magick ceremony? Or do you do different things at different times?"
I think about Korzybksi's notion of subscripts: 
Listen1 means listen with one's full attention.
Listen2 means start out listening with one's full attention, but the mind starts to wander and perhaps one falls asleep.
Listen3 one puts the music on and resumes one's normal activity.
In my 11:32 Beethoven experiment I strove for Listen1 but mostly did Listen2.  I did not consume substances or burn incense.

For the process of listening to Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas eleven times each, I divided the sonatas into eight sets of four.  I associated each set with one of the circuits in the Wilson/Leary eight circuit model.  During the first four sonatas I focused on the physical act of listening.  I imagined the vibrations coming from the speakers, entering my ears, vibrating my eardrums, entering my nervous system, etc.

During the second set of sonatas I focused on the emotional impact of the music and focused on my breathing as well.  During the third set of four I paid attention intellectually, trying to follow the form.  I reread the analyses in Charles Rosen's book on the sonatas to help me with this.

Etc.  I guess one could model this as a magickal ceremony.  I don't think Beethoven intended the sonatas to illustrate the eight circuit model.  I just found it an interesting way to come to a deeper understanding of both the sonatas and the eight circuit model.

In the fall I plan to teach Rafi Zabor's novel The Bear Comes Home, so these days my listening focuses on the wonderful "Listening Guide" at end of that terrific novel.


  1. Listening to the piano sonatas carefully seems like a particularly worthwhile project because Beethoven wrote many of them, and they provide a good representation of his early period, middle period and late period.

    I am curious whether you listened to all 11 performances of one recording, or whether you tried renditions by different performers to get in your 11 listens. I tend to listen to a lot of Alfred Brendel, but lately I have been listening to other performers.

  2. I own complete sets of the Beethoven piano sonatas by Schnabel and Wilhelm Kempff on CD. I own CD's with Charles Rosen playing Op. 54, 90, 101, 106 (two versions), 109, 110 (two versions), and 111. I have Solomon playing Op. 90 - 111, Glenn Gould playing 109 - 111, and Slaviatislav Richter playing Op. 31, #2. I found it very interesting to listen to these various recording. I really fell in love with Rosen playing Op. 54. For Op. 106 I go back and forth between Rosen's later performance and Solomon's. I feel glad I can listen to both.

  3. Do you fuss a lot over having a good stereo system, having the right headphones, etc.? I can't afford the best, but after I read on Wired about an earbud set described as the best $25 earbuds available, I sent off for them.

  4. I do not fuss about having a good stereo. I listen mostly to a portable cd player hooked up to external speakers. Sometimes I listen using the bluray player hooked up to the tv. I haven't used headphones for years. Decades ago I had one roommate who went to bed early and one who slept in, so I listened to almost all music with headphones then.

    I notice lots of people love earbuds these days.