Listen: A History of Our Ears

Listen: A History of Our Ears

Preceded by Ascoltando by Jean-Luc Nancy
Translated by Charlotte Mandell
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Listen: A History of Our Ears
    Book Description:

    In this intimate meditation on listening, Peter Szendy examines what the role of the listener is, and has been, through the centuries. The role of the composer is clear, as is the role of the musician, but where exactly does the listener stand in relation to the music s/he listens to? What is the responsibility of the listener? Does a listener have any rights, as the author and composer have copyright? Szendy explains his love of musical arrangement (since arrangements allow him to listen to someone listening to music), and wonders whether it is possible in other ways to convey to others how we ourselves listen to music. How can we share our actual hearing with others?Along the way, he examines the evolution of copyright laws as applied to musical works and takes us into the courtroom to examine different debates on what we are and aren't allowed to listen to, and to witness the fine line between musical borrowing and outright plagiarism. Finally, he examines the recent phenomenon of DJs and digital compilations, and wonders how technology has affected our habits of listening and has changed listening from a passive exercise to an active one, whereby one can jump from track to track or play only selected pieces.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5981-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD Ascoltando
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    Following the example of composers, who were never shy of inventing terms for tempos, and on the model ofcantandoorscherzando, reading Peter Szendy makes me think of the markingascoltando: “listening.”¹ It directs us to play while listening: while listening to what?—What else but the music that one is playing?

    It is immediately obvious that this marking could not have any specificity, since no instrumentalist plays any other way but while listening. What is playing, if not listening right through from beginning to end: to hear the score that is written so as to understand it, to...

  4. PRELUDE AND ADDRESS “I’m Listening”
    (pp. 1-12)

    I forget when I listened to music for the first time. Maybe some people remember the unique, singular impression that launched their history of listening. Not me. It seems to me there has always been music around me; impossible to say if—and when—it began one day.

    Even more improbable, undiscoverable, as if it were drowned in the flood of shapeless memories, is the moment when I began tolisten to music as music. With the keen awareness that it wasto be understood[entendre], deciphered, pierced rather than perceived. If this moment, like the other, can’t be situated...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Author’s Rights, Listener’s Rights (Journal of Our Ancestors)
    (pp. 13-34)

    I dream.

    What if the listener I am were none other but the reincarnation of a distant predecessor?

    What if the ears I have and carry everywhere with me were older than I am?

    What if my two ears, which I sometimes outfit in headsets and other prostheses, had been prefabricated, at least in part, a long, long time ago?

    To lend an ear, as they say, is of course to stretch it [tendre l’oreille, to listen, means literally “to stretch the ear”]; it is in a way to mimic internally the outer mobility of this organ among certain animal...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Writing Our Listenings: Arrangement, Translation, Criticism
    (pp. 35-68)

    I love them more than all the others, the arrangers. The ones who sign their namesinsidethe work, and don’t hesitate to set their name down next to the author’s. Bluntly adding their surname by means of ahyphen: Beethoven-Liszt (for a piano version of the nine symphonies), Bach-Webern (for an orchestration of thericercarin theMusical Offering), Brahms-Schoenberg, Schubert- Berio, who else—in short, a whole mass of double-barrel signatures.

    Now, it seems to me that what arrangers are signing is above all a listening.Theirhearing of a work. They may even be the only listeners...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Our Instruments for Listening Before the Law (Second Journal Entry)
    (pp. 69-98)

    I’ve just finished listening to you know what, by you know who. On a disk. I raised the volume right at the part you know. Very loud, just to see the result. All the rest, what there is before and after that moment, has become like a backdrop from which our passage stood out with a contrast that I had never heard in it before. Modestly, with the feeling of having in my hands a blunt, rough chisel, I couldn’t rid myself of the haunting idea that I was the conductor of what I was hearing: my tools—that ridiculous...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Listening (to Listening): The Making of the Modern Ear
    (pp. 99-128)

    What might theresponsibility of a listenerbe today, in the era of digital recording and sampling, who, far from receiving a musical work as “something to be heard,” would assumeresponsibility for its making? In what sense could one say, taking into account an increasinginstrumentationof listening (by radio, tape, recordable CD, sampler, etc.), thatit is listeners who make music(just as Marcel Duchamp said, “It is the viewers who make paintings”)? How can one accede to the notion of listeningas arrangement, and of the work as it is (andmustbe) as something that is...

  9. EPILOGUE Plastic Listening
    (pp. 129-144)

    I look for my words, in silence.

    I look, from among all those that float around my listenings, forle bon mot. The right word, the apt one, the one that will come to seize hold and pluck out of the musical flux what I want to tell you.

    But there are a lot of words. As Michel Butor wrote so well, “Every musical work is surrounded by a verbal cloud.” Those were his words, in 1971; the first words of a brief essay published under the title “Les mots dans la musique” [“Words in Music”], in the journalMusique...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 145-160)