One of my biggest pet peeves are headphones. And yet, I partake in them once in a while, though never quite willingly. As a child of the 90s, it looked very aspirational on kids TV, where the coolest kids had big headphones connected to their walkmans(google that, kids of today) as if it was their armour against the uncool – parents or other kids- who would try to penetrate their territory. But, when it came to actual music experience, then and now, give me John Cusack with a boom box any day. You couldn’t declare your love with a pair of headphones you keep to yourself, could you? Guarding your elevated taste against The World, especially when you are in places where having headphones on is the unexpected thing to do. Good going, rebel you. Mission accomplished. Everybody around you, most definitely, finds you unapproachable.
But, what about the music itself? I feel a great injustice is done to the music when experienced in such an isolated manner that also doubles as a barrier. Because, one important aspect of music is missed out in this limiting experience. Feeling it. Ya, ya, you can’t feel music, you can only listen to it. But I have some breaking, scientifically proven(someone out there must have tested this) news for you. Yes, you can. You can feel music on your skin, in your blood, in your bones. As Elvis said, “Rhythm is something you either have or don’t have, but when you have it, you have it all over.”
Maybe, the workings are your brain taking music in as an auditory stimuli and translating it into a number of reactions, including the sense of touch. This is particularly evoked in sensual music, say Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s get it on”. Now, whether you touch yourself or someone else is none of my business. However, I am talking about something more innocent and universal. I am talking about literally feeling music. My neighbour has a couple of semi-giant speakers(at least, that is what I imagine them to be) where sometimes he blasts music. It takes him time to adjust the volume, and the music is always EDM. Which means, there is ALWAYS a thumping bass which puts my windows at a high risk for an unspecified period of time. Music is comprised of vibrations, so my glass windows seem to create their own layer of music by synchronizing with the music, adding to its texture, but being the most prominent in my ear. Thus, even as I fear my windows cracking, I also anticipate that music I cannot hear, what is known as “music from another room”, or in this case, another flat. “Heard melodies are sweet but those unheard/Are sweeter,” as wrote a certain poet(write the name in the comment if you can guess).
For all headphone lovers, here’s a geeky but silly experiment you can do if you have speakers. Mix cornflour and water into a paste and then slather it on the speakers(there are YouTube videos with foolproof instructions). And then, turn the music on. Watch the cornflour paste come alive, as little white people(more like white-sheet ghosts from low-budget films) dance to the music. So, if cornflour can have a good time feeling the music, surely we, as the more evolved species, can give it a try. Which isn’t possible with headphones. For one thing, I like to move around if I particularly find the music groovy. But, the headphone wire sometimes gets caught on some nearby object and gets violently plucked from my ear, causing the strains of whatever I was listening to be simultaneously plucked from my consciousness.
And then, there is the case of ear damage. Though I see more and more people becoming immune to it. As well as staring at bright screens for long periods of time without straining their eyes. Could someone please explain to me how this happens? I, perhaps, would have used headphones more then, if I actually had the immunity. It amazes me how people try to drown out the noise of public transport with their Chopin or Skrillex. And don’t even get me started on people who use their “headphones” and yet, every *beep* thing is audible to passengers all around. Music from another room is fine by me, but not music from another ear.
Most of all, there is the sense of ‘music and community’ and ‘music and individual relationship’. Because our experience of music as live is so less compared to our experience of recorded music, we are not only more attentive to it, but we also tend to remember those musical experiences more. There is a sense of procrastination of feeling when it comes to recorded music. While we take time to “absorb” an album through repeated listens, with live music you have to be on your toes or you’ll miss it. That feeling of live music can only be, to an extent, replicated through listening to speakers. Because, whether there are other people in the room or not, there is still a sense of community created. With headphones, you may understand the nuances of the music better, but it will still be far more isolated and cold. Thus, feeling music tangibly translates into feeling music as a warmer, more belonging experience.
Which do you prefer when experiencing music – headphones, speakers or good ol’ live?