Here we are again, my friends. Spring is in full-effect (already summer, for those of us who live nearer to the Equator) and the amounts of music are escalating to their mid-year fever pitch. Won’t you think of the poor music journalists in your life, drowning under the weight of excellent music? Oh cruel fate! In all seriousness though, it’s an exciting time of the year; it always feels fresh to me, in keeping with the spring theme, and that usually brings me to explore further than I normally would. I’ve been listening to a lot of music that’s out of my comfort zone and that got me thinking about the nature of music itself and how we process it. Eden, thinking a meta-thought? Wow, you must be so shocked.
The other catalyst for these ruminations (which we’ll get to in a second) is that I’ve been doing a lot of market research in preparation for buying my first set of truly high-end headphones. While I definitely have some good sets already (I use the Sennheiser PXC-550II for on the go listening, the Sennheiser RS-185 for at home listening and the SteelSeries Arctis Pro for gaming also yes, I have a lot of headphones) I’ve never really owned something that could truly be called “audiophile”. Yuck, I hate that term; I promise I’m not going to turn into one of those guys (or, wait, am I already one of them? Oh god, the call is coming from inside the house). Anyway, while conducting this research I came across a really interesting opinion that was shared by several reviewers and several of my friends: there’s nothing quite as post-modern as audio.
Allow me to explain: one of the more well known strains of post-modernism is called “perspectivism”. This way of thought existed well before post-modernism and can be categorized into the field of epistemology, or the philosophy of how we know things. What are facts? How do we collect them? How do we know when something is true? Perspectivism says that it’s all a matter of, you guessed it, perspective. Our current position in regards to the subject matter at hand, our histories, our approaches to the world, all affect the ways in which we come to gain knowledge. Some perspectivists were not post-modernists and, indeed, predated them but the idea (or group of ideas, if we’re being accurate) made it pretty far into the bones of the philosophy. After all, what is more at the core of post-modernism than that truth is constructed? Constructed primarily by power but also by the different subjects of power and their relationships with each other.
Where did I encounter these ideas when I researched headphones, you might ask? Well, I read several articles by reviewers and manufacturers which went so far as to say that objective audio doesn’t exist and I agreed with them. Music today (but also sort of always) is a very mediated sort of art: first, there’s the production of what you’re listening, the quality of the file, how it’s being played, etc. Then, there’s whatever is playing that file back to you; the difference between headphones and speakers is a good example. It doesn’t change the sound, it also changes the mood and your reception of the music. There’s also the room that music is being played in, its dimensions, the materials involved. Then, there are your ears and their very physical reality; how much have you hurt your eardrums (wear plugs, PLEASE)? What tones can you still hear? But then there’s also your brain; how does it interpret the signals that your ear transmits? And then, of course, there’s the “heart”. What mood are you in? What are you feeling? Where does the music meet you?
All of which comes together to a very prespectivist sort of reality. There really is no such thing as objective sound. Chasing after it is also ridiculous, outside of the studio setting where you’re simply trying to get as close to how the instrument sounded on recording as possible (although that also gets interpreted differently by different people, of course). You can always go bigger and better, buying up and up and getting into the insane costs that audio equipment can quickly spiral towards. But why? What objective signal are you chasing? It doesn’t really exist; fidelity only takes you so far because you can’t tune your brain or your ears (yes, yes, Mr. Musk, I’ll add “yet”). I’m of course not saying not to to invest in gear, especially if you’re a pro. I did, after all, buy some fancy headphones (I got the Focal Clear MG and I’m counting the seconds until they get here).
What I’m saying is that there’s a point where we need to embrace the particulates of music, the perspectives involved in listening to it, and that’s what brings me back to spring. There’s something so amazing about listening to music while the world wakes to life around you, something that encourages you (or, at least, me) to savor the momentary experience, the momentary sound that I’m hearing. After all, seeing as how the human psyche is so fluid, you could say that it’s the first and last time I’ll get this particular listening experiment. So, let’s embrace that idea and dive into lots and lots and lots of new music and have some fun together. We love you, yeah? That’s the underpinning message of all of those intros.
Thanks for reading. May 2021, here we go.
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