Search this Blog


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ear Gym

As the late Gertrude Stein once wrote: "Use your ears as your eyes"... this very sentence, apparently senseless, make a world of sense, indeed.
A sound and music lover since short-legged trousers years, I always - first in a naive way, later more consciously - applied it.
I'm an eyeglass wearing guy, but ears and nose have always been my world interfaces of choice, needing no outer supports.
What I do is sooo simple: when I have a walk with my dog or sit reading on a park bench, when I'm at a concert or when I'm playing myself, mostly alone, I try to differentiate sounds, layers of sounds... from the lower to the higher pitched, from the subtlest to the loudest... then every sound is sort of analyzed, weighted, considered, appreciated or blamed... the wind different noises, the grass, the leaves, the birds, the different birds singing, a burglar... how far is it? Cars and trucks, while in the park... where are them: north or south? Church bells... what church is it? How many times do them rang?
Is the harpsichord on the stage tuned at A440 or A415? Do you hear the soprano breathing, at the concert or through your music system? What heard my dog, when it raised its ears? How did it... my wife's car, how the hell, as I didn't heard nothing?!? Yes, dogs reach higher frequencies and, maybe, level of attention but... now, I'm able to hear my wife's car engine, down in the street... my dog - with its attention - taught it to me;-)
Do all the above make sense? IMO, YES... it's care for Life and what happens around. Sound or music, it's not different... it's like wearing a blinding, dark-lenses eyeglasses or earpads... it ALWAYS makes a world of difference living (trying to reach) the 100% of our essence. Mine is like I described... my fault, my strength?!? Who knows?
Is it tiring? Fatiguing? Music unfriendly?
Definitely nope!
Would you define a clever chap cleverly running his healthy three miles a day? ... or anyone having a daily walk of at least half an hour, the very minimum for heart good health, as "body enemies" or "fanatics"? Or people appreciating the smell of a forest, while trekking, calling'em "nature foes" or "lunatics"?
No, of course...
This very practice, which, like every skill must be cultivated to improve at its best, is among the best Zen-like techniques a motivated music lover and/or musician should explore and learn, period!
When I listen to music, I concentrate on all melodic lines, different timbres, harmonic complexities or easiness, and it's such a joy to enter in a sort of sonic fabric, appreciating, feeling, absorbing down to the tiniest debris of sound and music. I know I'm not alone at doing this and everyone has his approach... this is mine.
When audiophiles listen to "the sound of cables" or "the sound of tubes", they're sure making a sincere, yet limited, effort to listen to the ineffable, to the tiny details of life... only calling this "miracle" with the wrong name;-)
... but, please believe me, as a complete beginner isn't able to listen to hidden details and differences in instruments tone and best recordings, so deeply & properly "feeling" the music, not only "listening to" it as a pleasant noise, everyone's able to reach such a level of "attention" with dedication and passion: through meditation & mind self-cleaning and... yes: Ear Gym.


R_Carter said...

Dear sir,
I believe that maybe you are somewhat mixing facts and perceptions (and yes, I'll understand about the holystic stuff you wrote before). Many people would agree on ear education (to sounds and music) as well as this ear gym stuff you write about. But. A three miles PT, like a cardio-vascular walk are indeed objective measurable activities. You can measure cholesterol levels, hemoglobin oxygenation and a slew of other parameters before and after and you'll see the differences. Smell and hearing are different stuff: They requires a lot of brain integration, hence they all have a psycho-something models. For example, how can you define the smell of a tropical fruit in your wine's bouquet if you never smelled a freshly cut papaya before? If your not there, every papaya you'll put your hands on is not the real thing. Moreover, as well as you can train yourself to recognize smells or sounds or colors, there are some basic, measurable, parameters which define the essence of those properties (thus we have gas chromatography, spectrum analyzers and colorimeters) while everything else is actually subjective perception. By the way, on this matter maybe you could re-read your Carlos Castaneda's books...
Regarding the "sound of cables", I can give you a first person case history. Around 1992, while I was still working in California, I had a chance to work on a project with legendary analog engineer Bob Pease ( One of the item raised by an audiophile in the team was about the sound of cables in high end sound systems (basically, he shelled out a couple of grands in cabling, and we were a bit concerned about the resons he gave us to justify this expense) . After a substantial amount of work, they were able to set up a "double-blind" test system to make cable quality measurements using tools from the National Semiconductor labs as well a originally designed to switch cabling in real time with the listener none the wiser. Well, I think the results are still floating on the net somewhere, but the bottom line was that there is no objective proof of the different audio quality of a good cable wrt an esoteric-line cable.
In my line of work, customers are paying a lot of money for a good psycho-acoustic model, as it generates revenues for them. In the industry there are many indicators, like the Mean Opinion Score, to define the quality of an audio transmission; and please take note the the operative word here is *opinion*, so these models have a good statistic component built in.
As for the ear gym, I think it's actually a perception gym the you could use to compensate from other unavoidable problems. Just think that the ear physiology in your mid fifties is quite different from the one you had in your twenties and that in 10 years the simple physical mechanics of sound will impair your capability of analyzing melodic lines, timbres and harmonics of sound. So I'd say that some degree of geekiness is unavoidable as well, and what you can do is to keep it under control.
Unless, of course, you really think that ear gym make sense. In this case, I'll more be than happy to offer you a tenure track at the Erich Zann chair in the perceptions engineering degree course here at my University.

Best Regards,
Charles Dexter Ward IV
Miskatonic University
Arkham - Rhode Island

Please reply on your blog, as I don't have any other means to keep in touch with you.

twogoodears said...

Thanks to Howard Philips Lovecraft in person who took his time to read my humble post from Outer Space...
Interesting stuff, anyway...
Thanks for yr. interest...
P.S. - The Music of Erich Zann was, IS a favourite of mine among HP's... aehm... I mean, your writings.

twogoodears said...

Jokes apart, Howard;-)... I find very interesting re-reading your post... ear-phisiology and hearing age-connected progressive failure are as real as the ignorance involved in not cultivating any skill.
If Rostropovich, Segovia, Gustav Leonhardt, Leonard Cohen and many others are or were at their best in their seventies, it's absolutely true experience and education play a role which is beyond simple science or nature.
I mean: having sex at 16 isn't like at 40... less nervous, more relaxed, balanced and careful about partner and ourselves.
My "Ear Gym" post is in this vein... an hint to be careful, to care about things... and only humbleness and experience give this care... also if with a restricted bandwidth;-)
BTW... would you please greet the late Don Juan Matus on my behalf?
He and Carlos Castaneda sure were an intriguing reading in my teens... always felt that science (and religion) simply doesn't say it all...
Thanks again for yr. interest.

twogoodears said...

R_Carter wrote: "In my line of work, customers are paying a lot of money for a good psycho-acoustic model, as it generates revenues for them. In the industry there are many indicators, like the Mean Opinion Score, to define the quality of an audio transmission; and please take note the the operative word here is *opinion*, so these models have a good statistic component built in."

Yes, Howard... let me spend few words on M.O.S. concept... we're not - as you're well aware - talking about a computer speakers-combo, maybe 1000-8000 hz/bandwidth, but about the ultimate in music, at home or played live, and sound attention.
I guess an average listening panel in industry has the attention and motivation of an "Holothuria forskali Delle Chiaje" (vulg. Sea Pumpkin)... and the money related facts (lower and lower costs components and the like) do the rest in this "Flat Earth", Wal-Mart, China-made culture.
Something similar happened to me quite recently: I read on newspaper that "ARPAV", an italian public society devoted to natural, weather related facts, was looking for people "having a good nose".
I've always been a smelling freak as I can remember... I'm able to smell a smoker in a park from yards and the like;-)... I contacted those people, of course, and they told me they were not looking for "super-noses", but for average, medium noses... and my 50 were too much for their panel.
I smiled and when I later saw a local TV showing who they choose, the Noses Team... they were young people, male and female, to be used in "air quality" and "industry pollution" on-field searches, as a support to exotic apparatus. Definitely not "noses" as parfume industry uses and cheerish.
As you say about wine-tasting and papaya;-) ALL this needs a lot of brain integration and open mind and experience, I would add.
Our Western World and culture "need" mediumness... the Super-Duper is considered a problem, or am I exaggerating?!?
Would like to discuss further, at yr. convenience.
Thanks for yr. attention.

R_Carter said...

Dear Stefano,
in retrospective, I apologize to put so many different items on a single comment. The focus of my letter is on the perception vs. "reality". My point is that your unique sound processing (but maybe "flavoring" is more apt) capability is most likey the result of a (small) part of your ear physiology and a more significant portion of what I could only summarize as your cultural background.
That's why listening to a musical score, rather than reading a passage from a book, savoring a whiskey or bourbon, smoking a fine cigar as well as looking at a photography or a picture become a unique experience *inside* yourself. It's ok for you to try to convey somehow your feelings on this experience, but I think that everybody'll make a personal "view" on the very same experience which is biased by their different cultural background.
Thus the many techno-gadgets you work on could just be helping devices to reach your own ideal of pureness or clearliness, or whatever you're trying to pursue. But they hardly can reveal something which is not already inside yourself. That's what probably is the most interesting teaching of Don Juan.
Regarding the nose stuff: I think the ARPAV chose young people because they probably have less imprinted smell capability, that's why they are inherently more suited for the task. Ditto for sommeliers: the average age of the "wine spectator" reviewers is under 40 and few if any are older than 55.
That's because for this specific job you need to reconciliate a peak sensory performance with an openess of mind mandatory for a credible experience.
How does this relate to sound and music and all the good stuff you talk to? Well, in the second half of the 80s I was living and working in a very interesting cultural area spanning from the surfer's philosophy of Orange County (CA) to the tought provoking liberal movement of the Bay Area (San Francisco and San Jose). I had a chance to meet a brilliant guitarist, Michael Hedges, in a club as well as attend a Bob Pirsig public lecture, just to name a few.
The late Hedges was a phylosopher on its own; he didn't show a particular passion for his own instruments, he was disenchanted. Guitars were just a tool to express his feelings, period. No particular quality was required to enable him to play exactly what he had in mind, so the selection process was pretty natural.
This is common to Bob Pirsig's lesson: quality is an underlying property that is strongly related to the nature of things and is often hindered by useless infrastructures.
Just try to cut the crap, try to see how much of the Quality is inside yourself and how much really you need to rely on prosthesis to fit the idea you have of yourself.

I'll leave you for now with a this quote (which you probably know) from Pirke Avot:
"If I am not for myself who will be for me? Yet, if I am for myself only, what am I? And if not now, when?"

Best Regards,
Charles Dexter Ward IV

twogoodears said...

...פרקי אבות!
Dear you... would you know how I feel? Like the thirsty who has been drunken, the hungry eaten...
Since I was a boy I always read the "same book", hope you'll see a sense on this... Alan Watts, Robert Pirsig, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Carlos Castaneda, Hofstadter, Alisteir Crowley, Aldous Huxley, John Fahey (yes...) All the above and others "hinted" what I already knew, unaware.
... as music and cinema... the ineffable, the untold, BUT still truer than truth. That's it...
I've always been attracted by the "wrong" note... I'm able to whistle Jocelyn Pook's music from Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" OST note by note, or a sitar raga - just kidding on this;-)), and yet I can't remember song I listened at the radio ten minutes ago...
My mind is on wavelenght I love... BUT feel so lonely, at times!
I have a friend (an Irish-American) almost in his 80, a classical piano player and a teacher... and when I chat with him I feel "at home"... his multi-cultural, multi-layered conversation, referring to ancient Greece, philosophers or to The Herald Tribune or The Guardian... or Tibetan Book of Dead... or Bach's Goldberg's Variation... well, our conversations are my bread and butter.
Believe it or not... your referring to the "Pirkei Avoth" made my day... it's all there!
Living, having broader knowldges, travelling doesn't mean nothing if you don't share... if this is what you want, of course.
... anyway, I apologize for being a little silly: let me THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts... I feel me less alone, this evening... and everything make sense if you consider your toys (anything out of our bodies) like colours and palette for understanding... or, maybe, simply finding a worthy path.