Saturday, November 8, 2008

CDs vs. mp3s

I've always thought of hearing as more of an extension of touch, not a completely separate sense. Your eardrum is really just skin with extra sensitivity than can feel sound waves. Then all the amazing mechanisms behind the ear turn that information into something the brain can process. 

If music has a strong bass line, or is just loudly played, we can feel it tactilely throughout our bodies. To my mind, that has to be part of how music can so affect us.

If all that's true, then listening to music via earbuds or headphones means your experience of the music is diminished. Terry Teachout, of the About Last Night blog over in the blog list, said sometime back that earbuds were fine, as most folks his (our) age are losing the ability to hear the higher frequencies that are lost turning CD quality sound into mp3 quality sound. 

Part of all this might be that we all listen to music differently. A critic has to be very analytical if he's going to be able to say anything interesting about the music. If you're dancing to the music, you're probably listening to and feeling the music differently, in a more non-verbal mode.

A great experiment would be to have a one group of folks dancing to a live band behind a curtain and another group dancing to that same music via earbuds off in a different room. My guess is the people who can feel the music as well as hear it are going to have more fun, and that their dance movements will be more fluid.

UPDATE: Here's a post on The Overgrown Path, one of the very best music blogs, talking about this subject.
Crumb's music just doesn't make sense unless you can physically experience the visceral quality of the sound, and you need serious loudspeakers to do that. Yet, much listening today is done on PC speakers, or even worse in-ear headphones that are prevented, again by the laws of physics, from reproducing the soundstage in front of the listener lovingly created by the recording engineer.

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