Tuesday, March 17, 2015


You are missing out.  I'm pretty certain of it.  You have settled into a world where classical music serves as background for upscale grocery stores, where two friends each share a pair of earbuds to get a low level dose of a song, where the baby is sleeping or the spouse is on edge, or where Steer Smart is telling you that you are going to get broadsided by a fire truck if you listen to music in your car at a decent volume.

Or, maybe you are one of those strange humans who is indifferent to music, in which case, stop reading now.

But, chances are, you are missing out.  Music is meant to be heard at volume.  Meaning, at the volume it was recorded at, or something close.  If you have ever heard an orchestra, a symphony, live, then you know what I am talking about.  The lightest Debussy melody, the heaviest Beethoven, while it may not "rock," has the same volume sensibilities as any other concert.  Meaning, it should not only move you; it should move within you.

Me, I judge it all on the bass.  If you are listening to modern popular music, make your volume decision based on the bass.  You should be able to feel the bass in your body, maybe not punching you in the solar plexus, like I like it sometimes, but at least challenging your body rhythms with its own.

Because I wrecked my car in the snow several weeks ago, I have been driving a rental car, a Ford Taurus, for a couple of weeks now.  For the first week or so, I was all about the Sirius XM radio, and, specifically, E Street Radio, the All--Bruce-Springsteen-All-The-Time station.  And then one day, inexplicably, the subscription or whatever it was ended.

I still wanted to listen to music, and, being me, I still wanted to listen to music I had some control over.  But, being me, I didn't want to bring some CD into the rental that I would forget and regret forever.  So I trolled through my extensive CD stacks and picked out a Freedy Johnson CD, his third one, in fact, which I had never paid much attention to after the first song.  "On The Way Out," the opener, was a straight ahead, guitar+bass+drums rocker that I played over and over in the rental, just as I had done years earlier when I first bought the CD.  As I would drift into later songs, I was ho-hum about them, as I had been when I first bought the CD.  It was too quiet after that first song.

But then something happened.  Maybe I forgot to turn the sound down when the first song ended.  Maybe I was in a groove.  Whatever took place, all of a sudden, I was listening to the whole CD,that I had dismissed, at a pretty aggressive volume.  And, all of a sudden, songs I had tolerated at best suddenly had punch and grooves and bass that mattered.  For ten or more years, I had not listened to the CD at a volume that displayed its merits.

Now, I still think it is a lesser work than the first two, but with a few notches upward of sound, I could now tell what Johnson was trying to do, and how these songs might sound live.  A song like the Raymond Carveresque "Gone To See The Fire" suddenly leapt from the embers, its obtuse lyrics suddenly making sense, its quiet intro building into a power chorus suddenly making sense.

I can't think of the music that was designed to be the background of our lives, and I certainly don't want to hear it.  Even the solo folksinger with just her guitar deserves for you to hear what she might sound like on a windy, cool spring day as you stand before her stage, her acoustic punched through a compressor and a chorus and anything else that make her steel strings confront you in that open field.

Volume matters.  If you can't decide whether or not you like a song, a CD, trying playing it a bit louder to where it takes over your aural universe, and then decide.  Give it the chance of no competing noise, including the words inside your head, and then see what it has to say or do.  Music deserves to be heard as if it is just you and the performer(s).  Anything less would be like you judging a home decorator's work in the dark, or near dark.  You would be handicapping yourself.


troutking said...



Billy said...

This is why, ultimately, I believe headphones are an essential part of any music lover's arsenal. The joy of a car ride, windows up, with high-quality stereo sound bouncing off the windows, is in some ways unmatched, because it gives me the unwritten permission to sing along, loudly, to whatever degree I'm inspired to sing, the harmony or the lead or some of both. The car allows me to interact with the music, but music never feels as intimate as when I've excluded the rest of the sonic world and created a space in my head, between those two ear-swallowing speakers, that exists just between me and the artist(s).

To review: Volume in car = joy; volume in headphones = intimate.