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Music in Context

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I have been thinking about the context of listening to music these past several months. Several experiences and forum comments have precipitated this post.


Music is art, and art is embedded in various layers of context: cultural, chronological, and personal, to name three. My point here is that the enjoyment depends as much on the context of the listening as it does on the music itself.


I find myself buying music that I listened to as a child and teenager. I wonder if I am trying to experience those times through listening to the music I had then? Sadly, I am almost always disappointed. The music is not the same I feel. Well, of course, the music hasn't changed. No, it must be that my present context is radically different than when I first heard that music.


A few months ago I read on CA that one member (don't recall who) never "got" Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. My immediate reaction was "are you kidding me?" I could not understand how someone could not see the deep beauty of that masterpiece. So, a few days ago I played it through my new Mcintosh and I was not moved. I wondered to myself why I loved that album so much. Now, it seems very distant from my tastes.


Richard, (REShaman), wow, you sure do know a lot about this topic. When I read about your listening to HD music while your massage therapist worked on you and your wife I thought you sure know how to live life. And your therapist probably eagerly awaits your appointments as he/she can enjoy such beautiful music. It reminds me of my work in Korea at a women's college where 95% of my students were ladies (grad students). For the first year there, I kept saying to myself: are they really paying me to stand in a classroom of beautiful girls???


Anyhow, I don't know if anyone else has had such experiences with music and differing contexts of listening,but I am curious to hear about your thoughts.





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As a youth, I have recollections of “all night” road trips across the great plains of North America. All I had was AM radio in my car and the signal faded in and out, yet somehow that music communicated to me. How can that be? So little of the signal was getting through, yet I made an emotional connection with the music.


I can identify the moment I became an “audiophile”. It was on a dance floor in a college gym. One of the guys had set up his high powered stereo system (something like a solid state Kenwood Integrated amp with large Advent speakers). When he put on Doobie Brothers “Black Water” I stopped dancing. I had never heard such clarity before; the frequency response, the dynamic range, everything. I remember the absolute overwhelming feeling the music gave me.


I have been searching for that epiphany ever since. Like you observe, when I listen to “Black Water” now, I hear it as a bit gimmicky and I don’t feel the connection to it. The feeling was situational. Likewise, my experience level has increased, so all music has more context. This is mostly for the better, but in some ways a little bit for the worse.


I have tried to stop listening that critically to the sound. It really is futile, but I try to tell myself to listen only to the music.


I don’t really agree that the goal of an audiophile system is to reproduce music as close to a live performance as possible. My system is good enough to “see” into the soundstage and it is clear that for so much music, that soundstage is manufactured by the person at the mixing console. "Reality" is a false promise. I enjoy more now acoustic music because of the pleasure of the natural ambience, but I think this phase is just my next "Black Water". A short while ago I was only listening to music from the 1930s and 40s which has largely horrible fidelity.


I agree that "context" is a huge component to the enjoyment of music.


Peachtree Audio DAC-iT, Dynaco Stereo 70 Amp w/ Curcio triode cascode conversion, MCM Systems .7 Monitors

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I enjoyed your post immensely Brian A. I could imagine listening to the music on AM (and not the sound) as you enjoyed driving through the night across the "great plains of North America." Those times are irreplaceable I imagine.


And before I read your post I was looking up AM and FM on Wikipedia, trying to understand the difference between the two. Amplitude modulation versus frequency modulation, those terms actually make sense to me now. And I read that AM is much stronger in the evenings, because changes in the ionosphere (whatever they may be) allow the radio waves to travel through the sky as opposed to the day when they seem to be confined to the ground.


Really, it was a week for learning. I also got an email from a cousin who mentioned she liked Michael McDonald but her father didn't. I had to look him up too and discovered he was one of the Doobie Brothers. Yes, they had some great music back in the day. I'm somewhat agnostic but I still really like their song "Jesus is just alright."


I guess the benefit is that we create new contexts for our listening. Life goes on. Reminds me of Thales of Miletus: you can't step into the same river twice.


Thanks for responding.




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