I Wanna Be Literated #208

I Wanna Be Literated #208

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Ways of Hearing
by Damon Krukowski

There is no doubt that Damon Krukowski is the right guy to be talking about music. He understands it at an intimate level where I either wished I could talk about it the same way, or that I could spend a couple hours picking his brain over a cup of coffee. Ways of Hearing is a curious book that doesn’t really have a thesis and is more of a work-in-progress. It discusses different aspects of music and noise. Really, it tries to distinguish between the two because even though this book is mostly about music, it’s also a lot about how we hear it, and as such has to deal with how it is that we hear noise in general.

Right off the bat I knew I’d be in good hands with Krukowski’s book because the first thing he discusses is the metronome, or clicktrack, and how our switch from analog to digital has complicated its use because with digital music., there is a small fraction of time that’s needed for a computer to process analog sound into digital signal, and this causes a delay. The smaller picture is that the approach to using a metronome has to be changed since the beat we’re recording isn’t the same as the one we’re playing along with on our instruments (something I’ve dealt with myself). The larger picture is that this is a shift in the way we hear things because, when dealing with digital recording or broadcasting, nothing is happening in real time, but delayed by microseconds. Is that the end of the world? Not really, but it is a change that has occurred right in front of us that we haven’t even noticed.

It’s topics like this, and many others, that Ways of Hearing explores. Like how the space we inhabit affects the sounds in our life, how technology can be used to manipulate the qualities of the things we hear, and how our purchasing experience affects what music we play. In the latter, imagine two people looking for a particular song. One finds and purchases the song on Amazon as an MP3. The other goes to a record store, browses the bins for the record that has the song they want, purchases that record (along with the other songs it contains), and that other record they happened to come across in that same visit which had a striking cover but contained music they would otherwise never listen to. These two hypothetical people were looking for the same song but ended up with different music. It’s these beautiful little things in our lives that Ways of Hearing makes us aware of.

Now, the format of this book is something entirely different, as it’s made up basically of transcripts of Krukowski’s podcast, right down to the guests he interviews. There’s even photos of the subjects or artists discussed and indications of which song was playing when Krokowski dictated his parts. So, it’s an easy read but kind of feels unnecessary if you already listen to the podcast. I don’t, so I dug this.

Ways of Hearing is an oddly formatted book with some truly wonderful ideas. It makes you ponder the world around you and makes you appreciate it more. As a music fan, I highly recommend it.

Get it from MIT press.

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