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The Listen Song (aka Hear)
By Caroline B.
Semiotician Roland Barthes characterized the distinction between listening and hearing as, “hearing is a physiological phenomenon; listening is a psychological act.” Hearing is always occurring, most of the time subconsciously. In contrast, listening is the interpretative action taken by the listener in order to understand and potentially make meaning out of the sound waves. Listening can be understood on three levels: alerting, deciphering and an understanding of how the sound is produced and how the sound affects the listener.
But what if the hearing human breaks the subconscious hold and tunes into the genuine sound that fills the environment? Within the urban environment, that could be a jarring experience, but amid nature and far enough from the din of traffic and chatter, it can become something quite revealing. The strange symphony of volumes and pauses begins to make sense.
Mason Williams, the very eclectic and multi-talented composer of the soul-stirring instrumental piece known as Classical Gas (one of the defining sounds of the sixties pop era) also produced a great number of non-mainstream songs and poems that are largely forgotten. One that investigated the phenomena of sound was The Listen Song (aka Hear). It’s about one man’s journey to “tune in”. Although humorously detrimental, it also serves to remind us that we live in a state of media noise-bombardment and how, if we don’t detach from time to time, we are in danger of being overwhelmed by the simplest sounds of the natural world.
Give a listen!
Editor’s notes: 1) Strictly for educational purposes. We encourage you to seek out these albums if you are in the mind to purchase; 2) the slight scratchy noise at the end is produced by the technology known as a record player.