This is Evelyn Glennie, who lost almost all of her hearing at the age of 12, talking about how to really hear and experience music and how she changed the minds of the pooh-bahs in the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Watch. Listen. Really listen to her, because she’s talking about much more than just music. And enjoy.

RSS Readers will need to click through to the post – it’s a TED thing, sorry.

My story about listening hearing:

Many years ago I did a consulting gig with Windmill Lane Recording Studios here in Ireland.* Windmill was an analogue studio at the time and I was soon fielding requests from artists, producers and record companies with regard to our equipment set; so I had to learn what it all did. I asked one of the young Engineers, “What’s the difference between analogue and digital and seeing as everything we record here is going to end up on CD anyway, why do we still use analogue?” A piece of paper was duly produced, a sound wave was drawn and a clear and simple explanation was provided for me. But the lesson did not end there.

A few days later, Conal, the engineer, called me up to the Copy Room. “You wanted to know what the difference between analogue and digital is Rowan? Have a seat.” He explained to me that U2 had just sent us the original half-inch master tape of The Joshua Tree album to be duplicated (as analogue tape degrades over time). I was going to have the opportunity to listen to the full-on music, as Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and the band intended it to be heard. So I sat in this perfect live/dead listening environment with my cup of tea and Conal hit the Play button. The opening track on the tape was In God’s Country, a song I quite like, but not one of my desert island choices. A few bars in, my eyes started misting up. A few more bars and tears started rolling down my cheeks.

“Conal,” I asked nervously, “What the hell is happening to me?”
He beamed at me. “Analogue.”

Conal let the song play for a little while and then gently lowered the sound. “It doesn’t happen to many people to that extent, but for people who are easily affected by music, that’s not an unusual reaction. Now listen to this.” He switched the system over to the CD player and hit the Play button on that. Once again In God’s Country filled the room, once again nice and loud.

But it had no effect whatsoever on me.

Conal explained that just because we can’t hear certain things doesn’t mean our bodies don’t react to them. There are harmonics at play way above the human register and deep tones which are similarly inaudible, but which can literally set up vibrations in our bodies – and we react emotionally to them. This is why live performance is so compelling, whether it be music or spoken word. When you are hearing someone’s unsampled, unfiltered, voice with its full sonorous effect resonating throughout your body, the effect is vastly different to listening to that voice on a TV or computer. Buskers on the street can make me stop in my tracks because the instruments they play are reaching out to me in a way my iPod can never achieve.

Sometimes you just have to stop and listen.

Related posts:

The Power of Your Voice

* Windmill is the name closely associated with U2, particularly in their early days and, in the Old Windmill, you can still see the famous U2 graffiti wall where fans from all over the world come to pay homage. I worked in the new Windmill which was a much larger and grander facility, with two full-service analogue studios, one of which could accommodate up to an 80-piece orchestra. The Stones did their Voodoo Lounge album there. Riverdance was first heard there. The Cranberries, Elvis Costello, The Chieftains, Mark Knopfler, Thin Lizzy and of course, U2. All of these people, and many others, came to record at Windmill and I got paid to listen to them making their extraordinary music. Nice gig …