Responses to music: drug-like versus spacing out

While at RMAF 2012 I noticed I had 3 possible responses to the sound in a room:

1. Got to be some way out of here
2. Piles of troubles – Major Tom spacing-out until the song is over
3. Not so bad, interesting in its own way. Then more Major Tom spacing-out

In case #2, I was spacing out because I did not want to listen to the sound anymore.

In case #3 I was spacing out because I found the music nice and relaxing. Kind of a lot different than finding the music ‘engaging’ – but I found nothing engaging at RMAF but I will be, was, very happy with just ‘relaxing’ in those circumstances.

But one of the things I was spacing out about, if you can stand the recursion, is how ‘spacing out’ is related to responses to drug-like sound.

I think that pure drug-like sound pushes us around like a hurricane blows dead leaves around – that we have almost no conscious choice in the matter whether we are spacing out, sometimes to the point of hallucinating, or forced to focus on the subtleties of the music like our lives depended on it.

If this is so, then spacing out to a relaxing sound is just a response to a very, very mild drug-like sound, and that we are all kind of sailing the waters between this and an ultimate music experience every time we listen to music that sounds good enough to be in the range of ‘relaxing’ to ‘drug-like’.

This is great news for people who have built a decent sounding system – that decent and relaxing is on the path the drug-like.

But the sad thing is that 90% of the people we correspond with or visit – their systems are by composition and construction abrasive and obnoxious. They kind of know this about their system – but they think that all systems are like this, and that the rest of us are just making stuff up about drug-likeness and engagement and relaxation.

To the point that, from my observations of both audiophiles and reviewers, they refuse to believe what they hear when they walk into a room with non-abrasive sound. That they think something is ‘wrong’ when the sound is NOT atonal, sharp, uneven and emphasizing random frequencies and dynamics while completely obliterating others, collapsing all frequencies around various frequencies into one slap-in-the-face spike in hardness, etc. etc. etc.

To me, this is like wearing a watch that periodically pokes you with something sharp to the point of almost drawing blood from your wrist, or a bicycle that has a seat so ill designed that you can only ride it for 10 minutes without getting sore, or a car that has several things that start to rattle when you go over 30 mph.

People, you can do better than this. Music can, at a minimum, sound relaxing. Seriously. This is important. 🙂 [ I think this inability to grasp the relative quality of things is a real problem with people being able to fathom and enjoy our hobby… and our world]