on the effects of headphone usage

Ever since getting an iPod I’ve spent a significant portion of “commute time” (e.g. to rehearsal on BART) listening to music. I pop in the headphones and (modulo the train rumbling) shut out the world around me. Last night I bought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Solti) recording of Verdi’s Requiem (1977 Grammy winner) and popped it in the CD player at home. We’re singing it in June so I figured I would just read along with the score. What struck me immediately was the non-immersiveness of the listening experience. I was acutely aware of the creaking of my chair, the people next door calling their children in from the backyard, and innumerable other distractions.

The iPod made me lazy, I decided. While you do hear all of the music with the earbuds, it’s like it’s being spoon-fed to you and it’s easy to not pay attention to it. When I took the composition seminar from John Harbison, he complained about a similar phenomenon with regards to any headphone-listening experience. He said that ears become more closed when the music is that you don’t really hear the fine details. At the time I kind of lumped that comment with the audiophiles who like the “warmness of tube amplifiers,” but now I’m starting to think he was onto something.

And therefore I resolve to listen to more music without headphones. Too bad I have to work in an office with 20 other people all day.