So why Learning to Listen?

December 10, 2006

Because we don’t. Or I don’t, well, not enough anyway. Sure I sort of listen, there’s music playing in the background right now as I type this for instance, but is my attention fully with Sabine Ecklertz’s trumpet right now? Not really.

I need to listen more, really listen, not just in bed before falling asleep when there’s nothing distracting me, and not just when I need to write something about the music and I have to force myself to focus, but as a matter of course. It can be done, it just takes a little practice.

One place I often manage to listen well is on the train home from London on Sunday evenings, when my senses are heightened after presenting the radio show and the train home is (usually) relatively empty.
Tonight however, the train was busy for some reason, and whilst I found a seat, it was only in the “Quiet Carriage”. The concept of the Quiet Carriage has long amused me. The theory is that you are not allowed to use mobile phones or personal stereos in the carriage so that people can have a little peace and quiet.
On the whole I quite like the idea of not getting assaulted by some annoying teenager blasting second hand music at me and not having to listen to someone’s telephone conversation apologising to the wife for being late home, but for those of us that are able to listen to music and also have a little respect for those sat beside us its a little annoying.

My amusement however, comes solely from the title “Quiet Carriage”. Apart from the obvious fact that the shoddily built excuses for trains that run on the Great Western line make a similar noise to your average Prurient concert, there are many reasons why the carriage is far from quiet.
Tonight a bevvied-up bunch of Chelsea fans celebrated dropping crucial Premiership points by splitting their time between a game of paper bag football in the aisles and what sounded like a pretty accomplished belching competition. Behind me a young couple kissed each other so violently I could hear the sound of bruises forming, and a lone Asian guy was either ignoring the no phones rule or talking loudly to himself, could have been either.

So unable to retreat to my iPod like usual, I just closed my eyes and listened to this veritable cacophony until at the last stop before I get off the carriage emptied. Now sat alone I took out my iPod, figuring that the Quiet Carriage rules only applied if there was more than one person in the carriage.
However just before those little white buds went into my ears I stopped myself, realising that a moment alone without my ears being pummelled by anything more than the now somehow satisfying rumble of the train across the tracks was something to be cherished. The final ten minutes of the journey home were spent watching raindrops rush across the window and getting caught in the graffiti scratched in the glass.

So yeah, listening, I need to do more of it.

Comments (2)

  • Brian Olewnick

    December 10, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    Hey Grumpus!

    So, it only took me ten days to stumble across this, me the inveterate self-googler. Congrats, looking forward to it.

    Annette Krebs and I were talking about sort of the same thing a few weeks ago. I mentioned that, back around college days, it came to me that just looking at something–anything–could be a very moving, serious experience and, better yet, you could do it anytime! This greatly reduced the boringness of situations that would otherwise verge on the intolerable. Just carefully examine all the visual stuff, their inter-relationships etc. Automatic interest! Took me an unforgiveably long while to apply the same principles to sound. Waiting an hour for someone in the airport? Close your eyes, listen to the babble ‘n’ hum. Better than most Creative Sources discs! (unnecessarily snarky comment, but you know what I mean…)

    Good luck with the blog!

  • Richard Pinnell

    December 11, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    Thanks Brian. Noone was meant to find this yet! Now I’ve got to worry that people might actually be reading it. 😉

    Its not uncommon for me to just sit and listen closely to what is going on around me. It tends to be a bit less risky than sitting and just watching… you tend to get some strange looks if you do that in public…

    One of my favourites is the immertion system that makes up part fo the central heating system at my girlfriend julie’s place, I swear to God that if I recorded it one evening and released the results on a CD it would go down a storm…

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