The other day I happened across a wonderful article about a young man named Austin Chapman. Austin is deaf, and thanks to new hearing aids he is now able to hear music — for the very first time.
Go on. Read the article, and then come back here.
Personally, my mind is boggled about what must be going though his head right now. The story and his situational experiences have me utterly rattled.
Really, I’m dumbfounded: Just imagine for a moment that you can make out some muffled speech and environmental noise — but you’ve never heard music. Imagine that there is no such thing. Music just doesn’t exist in your world.
And suddenly you’re exposed to it for the first time.
What would it sound like?
How would you perceive a lengthy symphony with several movements compared to, say, some smooth jazz, a simple Bob Dylan ditty or Brian Eno’s ambient work, let alone a barrage of Front 242 or some Scandinavian death metal? What would strike your immediate fancy? How would the music stand up on its own, with none of the familiar and stereotypical visual cues to distract from the basic audio experience? How do you detail different media (vinyl vs. MP3) or playback systems (floor-standing Hi-Fi speakers vs. headphones) with no prior experience — or wouldn’t any of it matter as you delve into the raw tonal emotions conveyed by the sounds and the performance themselves?
In fact, how much unconscious prejudice is there in the music we listen to?
Can you like Tchaikovski if you’re a homophobe? Could a blind KKK member enjoy Stevie Wonder’s music? Will Austin Chapman confirm that Justin Bieber is a whiny little shit?
What is it that shapes and defines your playlist? The impact of music on our very fabric of being, our hair style and dress sense, the company we keep and the circle of friends we mingle with, our cultural identity, our philosophies and political views — the very way we define ourselves — was and is, in some minutiae, shaped by the sounds we’ve grown up with as well as the music we listen to today, and the old music we listen to today is based on past experiences and childhood memories.
Austin starts with a clean slate. He’s a young adult of 23 and therefore has few leanings towards the music that was popular during his formative years; he will have outgrown any bias against certain genres that, well, for kids and teenagers just aren’t “cool”.
So, unsure where to start, he consulted the oracle of Reddit and was overwhelmed by suggestions covering the full spectrum from Amadeus to Zeppelin.
One question that comes to mind at this point is how his age influenced his experience and the recommendations made by the counsel of Reddit over and above his final preferences. Would people have recommended different music if he was 20 years older — like I am? Continue reading