Listen: A History of Our Ears

Listen: A History of Our Ears

Listen: A History of Our Ears

Listen: A History of Our Ears

Synopsis

In this intimate meditation on listening, Peter Szendy examines what the role of the listener is, and has been, through the centuries. The role of the composer is clear, as is the role of the musician, but where exactly does the listener stand in relation to the music s/he listens to? What is the responsibility of the listener? Does a listener have any rights, as the author and composer have copyright? Szendy explains his love of musical arrangement (since arrangements allow him to listen to someone listening to music), and wonders whether it is possible in other ways to convey to others how we ourselves listen to music. How can we share our actual hearing with others?

Along the way, he examines the evolution of copyright laws as applied to musical works and takes us into the courtroom to examine different debates on what we are and aren't allowed to listen to, and to witness the fine line between musical borrowing and outright plagiarism. Finally, he examines the recent phenomenon of DJs and digital compilations, and wonders how technology has affected our habits of listening and has changed listening from a passive exercise to an active one, whereby one can jump from track to track or play only selected pieces.

Excerpt

Following the example of composers, who were never shy of inventing terms for tempos, and on the model of cantando or scherzando, reading Peter Szendy makes me think of the marking ascoltando: “listening.” It directs us to play while listening: while listening to what?—What else but the music that one is playing?

It is immediately obvious that this marking could not have any specificity, since no instrumentalist plays any other way but while listening. What is playing, if not listening right through from beginning to end: to hear the score that is written so as to understand it, to examine it or auscultate it, taste it, then while playing it not to stop listening and experiencing the music that resounds—one could say sentire or feel it, still in Italian where the general term for sensibility or sensoriality also designates listening (so the tempo marking could also be sentendo).

Ascoltando is the secret direction for every musical performance. In music it designates an element in music that is never lacking in any phenomenon of sensibility, hence one that is not absent from any of the other arts, but that is brought out in all its fullness in music: it is the element of a formative repeat [renvoi constitutive], a resonance or a reverberation, a return to itself by which alone the “self” in question can take place. To feel is always also to feel oneself feel [se sentir sentir], but the subject who feels “himself” thus does not exist or is “himself” only in this . . .

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