Saturday 29 January 2011

More thoughts on hearing

I'm a bit less deaf today, I think, but not much. I discovered something about hearing which I expect is awfully elementary and obvious, but was a new thought for me. I can't normally do any kind of mental work, as many people do, with music playing. Not even very quietly. Not even very minimalist stuff. Not even the most twiddly, repetitive baroque. I wish I could - I expect it would make boring work less deadly and soothe my mood. I find it way too distracting. While I'm a bit deaf, though, I can -  since I can hear the music less well, it distracts me less. This is clearly not just a question of volume or in the normal way of things simply turning it down would solve the problem, and it doesn't. 

I have poor eyesight and good hearing. My conscious apprehension of the world is overwhelmingly visual and I'm very much aware that seeing things blurred and only seeing them in any detail close up is absolutely integral to my taste, perceptions and aesthetic, and indeed to my whole personality. I'm much less aware of the significance of hearing. I've always listened to music a lot, loving it deeply and emotionally, but in a broad and pretty ignorant way. I have almost no natural sense of pitch, little fine discrimination and a poor auditory memory. But still, acute hearing is a gift and I suppose I rely on it much more than I realise. It's just dawned on me that it's not only a matter of high sensitivity to volume and being able to distinguish very quiet sounds. It's obviously much more, a comparatively high sensitivity to frequencies, tones and subtleties that enter me on all sorts of levels. If I can work to music only when my hearing is diminished, there must be a whole range of effects I'm not getting in the way I usually do. 

Perhaps I'll try to be more appreciative in future. Perhaps, too, I'll do something to amend my ignorance of the subject and what people have written about it from both scientific and subjective viewpoints. Meanwhile, I've had a long copyediting job to finish today, and just for once been able to play music while I did it.


Zhoen said...

And maybe invest in noise canceling headphones, for when your poor ears get better, hopefully very soon.

Hannah Stephenson said...

It helps me so much to have music on while I write or edit or grade--I use it as a treat or way to mark time (in 3 songs, take a break!).

Interesting thoughts on this!

20th Century Woman said...

I think it's true that there are tensions and competition between and among the senses. How one shifts focus from one to another is food for thought.

I, too, am very visual, but I listen to music with the same sort of ignorance and pleasure that you describe.

I enjoyed this post.

Stray said...

This echoed with me - thanks for sharing.

I also have poor eyesight (-3, so the end of my arm is where the world stops without glasses), and very good hearing.

I can't work at all with music on, I'm utterly compelled to pay attention to it - it draws me in. Sometimes it overwhelms me - perfect triplet falling arpeggios (John Martyn's speciality) make me feel like I might pop.

On the other hand, I find the repetitive drone of 24 hour news so perfectly pitched for ignoring that I sometimes use it to find 'the zone' when there are others in the house.

Anyway, this week I have a sound like scrunching plastic bags whenever I move my jaw. Clogged ears are very annoying.

Dale said...

Since I do most of my writing in cafes, it was fortunate for me that my hearing worsened right around the time that the last holdout cafes started playing music: for decades my first criterion for a breakfast place was "a place that doesn't play music." I doubt I could find one now.

I wonder often and often how much of what we think of as "personality traits" has to do with which senses we favor, and how much: I have become much more acutely aware, since becoming a massage therapist, of how important touch is to me, as a sense from which I draw information, and that many people barely register more than rough binary hot/cold sharp/dull information with it.

Anonymous said...

I can pay bills and that sort of thing with music on, but not write. I feel muddy in my head when I can't hear (and am short-sighted too!).

Jean said...

Interesting comments - thanks! I'm glad this resonated with some readers, as I was not quite sure what I meant, and groping towards it by writing it down.

This morning my colleaugue said: how's your ear? and I said: what? So clearly not recovered yet, but getting there.

Beth said...

Jean, sorry to hear that you've been having trouble - I hope your ear clears soon. But I'm fascinated to learn that you can't work with music on. I can't either, and always thought it was some sort of attention-deficit disorder; everyone at college and ever since seems to be helped by music but I can't concentrate, at least on anything requiring real focus. I don't even like walking with headphones on, or riding on the metro. Perhaps it's that my brain, and yours, are acutely attuned to music and therefore can't relegate it to the background. Have you read Oliver Sacks' "Musicophilia?"

Rebecca Kavel said...

Not realizing pitch or tone or any of those auditory signs shouldn't lower the significance of hearing. It does take some "skills" to differentiate and catch all these, which can help heighten your senses more, but it would need time you're willing to give.