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?
And it is here that our paths cross and where I can relate to Austin.
No, I’m not deaf (yet) but followers of his blog should know that I do like and process music more than perhaps the average person, and most folks do enjoy music to some extent or another. I’ve also been (and still am) on a musical binge, rediscovering old(er) music anew.
What we have below is a small list that I had made of some albums and compilations I discovered, listened to and made notes of while sifting and sorting through a pile of tapes a while back, in the hope that someday I’ll use it for something.
Someday never happened. Until now. Here goes:
- Elton John – Live in Rio 25.11.1995: OK
- The Police – Rockpalast, Markthalle, Hamburg 11.1.80: OK
- The Beatles – Abbey Road: Although I knew the individual songs, I had never heard them in the form of a cohesive album. I’ll definitely have to get this one.
- George Harrison – Cloud Nine: Proving there was more to the Beatles than just Lennon/McCartney and that Jeff Lynne was a great admirer thereof.
- The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico: Unquestionably influential in their days and beyond but not quite my cup of tea.
- Chumbawamba – Anarchy: Strange and great at the same time.
- Luscious Jackson – Fever In Fever Out: Somewhat disappointing. Reminded me of Alanis Morissette who I cannot handle in doses of more than three songs at a time.
- Prince – Live in Scandinavia 9.5.87: Disappointing.
- Rod Stewart – A Night On The Town (+ a few extra tracks): Not too bad if he didn’t want to get naked all the time.
- The Cramps – New York 7.8.79: Ho-hum.
- Christian Death – Pornographic Messiah: Heavy and fierce stuff. Yeah!
- Pink Floyd – Live from Venice (SWF3 1989): Pretty much their standard set but not the best renditions or sound quality.
- John McLaughlin / Al Di Meola / Paco De Lucía – Friday Night In San Francisco: Brilliant performers.
- The Beatles – Washington Concert February 11, 1964: Reasonable performance, horrible sound quality.
- Dead Can Dance – Spiritchaser: Not quite what I had expected. Unimpressed.
- Nirvana – Incesticide: Tremendous! A must-buy. Not as polished as “Nevermind”, which gives it a raw edge. Kurt’s vocal performance is top-notch, even drummer Grohl develops a sound of his own.
- Ministry – ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ: Nice ‘n heavy and loud but became boring after a second listen.
- Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Sleeps With Angels: Alternative, leaning towards grunge and blues. An ear-opener. Still don’t like his voice though.
- The Alan Parsons Project – I Robot: Didn’t impress me enough to bother with a comment.
- The Beatles – Lost Pepperland Reel: Very insightful.
- The Sugarcubes – Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! Musically great but Bjork’s vocals are beyond irritating, sorry.
- Sinéad O’Connor: The Lion And The Cobra: Splendid.
- George Harrison – The Concert For Bangla Desh: Interesting.
- Cat Stevens – The Very Best Of Cat Stevens: Must get someday.
- Neil Young – Harvest Moon: OK.
I listened to all of it by choice, much of it by reputation, some of it by chance, and none of it on advice.
This new experience Austin is going through must surely be second to none. He’s embarking on a truly fantastic journey.
Now go! Everyone, go out and listen. Listen to everything you can, hear all there is to hear, and do so with an open mind.
There’ll be a sequel to this post.
Photo credit: hmvh DOT net