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The Lost Art of Record Playing

The Lost Art of Record Playing

August 17, 2020 / Patrick Zavorskas

I want to ask you a serious question - what is your favorite record ever? For some, this question may be easy to answer, but for others, it can disclose an indecisive phenomenon where you continuously begin to question the very thought of it. But I am asking you this question, dear reader, as I want you to remember that last time you listened — actually listened — to this incredible, perfect record from start to finish? Did you give it your full attention? Did you listen to it with intention? Did you listen to it like when watching a movie or reading a novel?

If you didn’t, well, now is the time to clear your schedule finally. I want you to choose an album, any album, even if it isn’t your favorite. This can be one from your own vinyl collection, CD case, or also your streaming service of choice. Just put that album on and relax - or better yet, listen:

For years now, we have shifted the idea that music and the album should be something only of the background. Whether we have a record playing when we are doing work and typing away on the computer, cleaning the house and disinfecting every surface, or just romancing partners during the perfect date night in over a candlelit dinner, we usually strip the album of its initial core, focusing on songs we like, and then process them with other songs that have been dropped into playlists that we soon forget about. The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t have to be this way. 

It was found that in researching this article, there was a study done in 1989 by Pauline Oliveros in which she had coined the term “Deep Listening.” This idea was used to describe a practice of radical attentiveness. She states that “I differentiate to hear and to listen. To hear is the physical means that enables perception. To listen is to give attention to what is perceived both acoustically and psychologically.”

If Erik Satie can get through his concert where a fraction of the audience booed, hissed, and was generally unruly, but were eventually silenced by an enthusiastic ovation, the least you can do is commit to deeply listening to a full album for an hour or two. 

So here is what I want you to do - Get comfortable on the couch or your bed, which, ideally, is centered in the sweet spot between the speakers. Or put on your headphones or earbuds, or lock yourself in a closet with your best Bluetooth speaker. Whatever works. But take a moment, practice some mindfulness, and take time to listen to the album. The point is to listen with your ears in the same way you read with your eyes, to absorb the quality and nuances that went into creating your perfect album. For me, that ideal album is no other than Patti Smith's, Horses. 

For me, Patti Smith sounded like everything I ever dreamed of being. Almost raw, emotionally-driven, and deadly serious at times. She was probably only one of the very few artists whose record I probably have worn the shit out of in my most needy, overindulgent hours, studying and mimicking everything she does with her voice-- every rend, tear, and bite, and no clean cuts. Her opening line of the album, "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine," became a mantra of sorts, to live my life undoubtedly and unabashedly unapologetic. The album, almost flawed, still, however, becomes an album of its time-- not because it's dated, but because it precariously captures a phase in Smith's life, and when all the raw elements fall in place, it feels miraculous.

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