It's funny the way we all listen to music differently. I mean how we literally hear it differently. I listen for the rhythm, beat, quality of the voice, and harmonies. Words come much later, if they come at all. I have to be way engaged first by the rhythm and overall sound for the words to penetrate. The sound burns a groove, then the meaning.
I don't know why. I can't describe in musical terms the beat I'm looking for - but I always recognize it. In the many recent articles on James Brown, they keep refering to the genius of "stressing the first and third beats rather than the second and fourth." I don't really understand what that means, but of course I recognize the examples cited as my favorites. The NYT wrote, “I changed from the upbeat to the downbeat,” Mr. Brown said in 1990. “Simple as that, really.” I'm not a musician, never studied music theory - I really don't know if it is that simple or not. I've just always loved the sound. In the old days, guys checking out my record collection used to say, "hmmm, James Brown? Rare for a girl to be into.."
The listening divide can be confusing when it comes up with friends. Yesterday on KUT-FM I heard a song that immediately grabbed my attention, "Complete or Completing" by The Annuals. Grabbed my attention so completely I dropped what I was doing and looked for it on Napster where I could hear it again in its entirety. (Not a download, or illegal download of old - that's what they offer now - a limited number of full streams.) Repeated it 4 times.
I checked to see if my good friend Matt had mentioned it in his Albums Worth Your Dime. He listens to tons of music and is a great source. Duh, it was right up top, on a blog entry I'd read an hour earlier. He'd mentioned it as one of his year's top 25. But he compared it to Arcade Fire - a critical darling group I could never get into at all. So now I'm totally confused. I go to Amazon.com to hear some samples (why not itunes? who knows - I check out different sources, different moments.) Click on the first track and no - I don't think they sound alike at all! Not one bit! The singer and the beat are profoundly different. So what is Matt hearing that's so different than me? This has happened before. He recently compared Sufjan Stevens' concert at the Paramount to "Imagine ELO fronted by James Taylor." I can't imagine what he's talking about except maybe that ELO and Sufjan both use violins. I can't put my finger on it, but I know I'm not hearing ELO with James Taylor's vocals. If I did, I wouldn't love Sufjan Stevens so much. Not to rag on Matt here :) I think we're really hearing the music differently.
In my salsa classes I don't have to count. That is, for the most part. I hear the beat. But I dance with partners who clearly don't, though they try. And when it comes to samba (the sound of Brazil), I hear it so much more clearly than anyone else. Which is odd. Why? I'm far from the best dancer in the room but it just makes perfect sense to me. Everyone else struggles. How am I hearing it differently? I'm not just talking about a preference - I love XTC, you don't. I'm talking about the very way the music makes itself known to us. Just really wondering about it.