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Ears April 16, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Earphones are the scourge of the stealth work-avoider. In the past, if I heard the front door opening or the screech of the Russian’s chair from the next room, I could panickily close any incriminating window and arrange my shoulders to reflect a stern hunch over an especially tricky translation. Or, though this was only a recent discovery, and could only be applied when I was willing to explain myself, press ‘sleep’. What a brilliant button! So much less drastic, and traumatic for the computer, than pressing reboot or the big off button altogether. I can tell the computer suffers PTSD whenever I do that to it.

But the Russian must have recently decided that the noise of me, or noise created by me, or the noise of what I am listening to, when I allow myself, you understand, a rare break between almost non-stop translo-slog, is too painful a reminder of both my existence and proximity and has decreed that I am now to sport earphones. Which I vaguely loathe. I’m quite a believer in ambient sound and there’s no noise on earth or no music ever created that I love enough to want it to fully occupy my hearing. Bar, perhaps, silence. Occasionally.

So I was caught red-eared when the Russian came in from actual out the other day – we could have been burgled and I wouldn’t have noticed. Mind you, any burglar of our flat would go away feeling very hard done by indeed – and walked in on me, with a deliberately sudden whoosh of the living-room door, watching the I Like to Move It, Move It scene from Madagascar on youtube. I hadn’t been so embarrassed since my ex came home early and found me bunking off work with my hand very guiltily in a packet of crisps. “The translation’s about raccoons,” I lied brilliantly, but the Russian was not for fooling.

They almost did for Michael Douglas’s wife in Fatal Attraction too, remember.

My father was of the view that walkmans were the creation of the devil, or perhaps Protestants, because folk would listen to their music on the street and, by some strange musical brain-numbing and fear-quenching mechanism, would forget not to be run over by cars until they were as much as dead. My objection to having my ears hijacked is less to do with worrying about being squished to a pulp, though I agree that is a perfectly good objection, and more about having free aural space for spontaneity, burglar-catching and spousely-moan-avoidance.

Do the world’s great religions pronounce on earphones? Surely it must be a sin to insert speakers, however small, into any orifice.



1. Ed Ward - April 17, 2008

And right you are. I find them more annoying in people walking around outdoors completely oblivious to anything but what’s going on in their own heads, and have written extensively about why, as someone who’s dealt with music his whole life, I hate the idea that we now have a generation which believes that the venue in which music is performed is the center of their skulls. (Also a generation in which around 15% have serious hearing loss, if Oliver Sacks is to be believed).

Unfortunately, rather than listen to music through headphones at home, I’ve stopped listening to it as much as I used to, which has put a serious cramp in my career. But since Germans would rather appeal to authority (ie the police or the landlord) rather than talk to you directly, there’s not much I can do about it.

That said, I Like to Move It, Move It is a pathetic thing to go down for.

2. BiB - April 17, 2008

Ed, but haven’t you seen the way that giraffe moves?

Do you think one can grow out of music, or is that madness? What I was sort of vaguely seriously half-contemplating as I wrote the gibberish above, which I mention with the not-liking-any-music-enough-for-it-to-take-up-all-my-hearing, is whether music is becoming a diminishing pleasure. But then that sounds a bit gloomy. Music was such a staple of growing up. The charts every weekend were the most important thing of the week. And one played music, to replace thought, I suppose. Maybe I’m now happier to befriend the cavernous emptiness of my head.

3. itinerantlondoner - April 17, 2008

I saw some research from a radio station that said that a lot of men do essentially grow out of music – hence why there are lots of radio stations targeting older women (things like Heart & Magic) and not many targeting men.

Although it hasn’t happened to me yet, I’m still as obsessed as I was as a teenager. Interesting point about music replacing thought. Perhaps I should go without for a while and see what happens?

4. Mangonel - April 17, 2008

I am never, EVER more interrupted than I am when I have my lovely iPod plugged into my orifices. I am subjected to an array of interruptions designed to show that, earphones or not, I do NOT get to disengage from other people’s demands – sorry, make that Everyday Life.

There Is No Escape.

So I don’t listen to music nearly as much as I did either. I think one’s life just keeps changing shape, and I liked your point about music substituting for thought, though I would probably amend that to ‘feeling’ (speaking as someone who learned her whole spectrum of emotional response from the Charts of ’73 to ’77. By Uni I gave the whole pop music scene up with not a backward glance.).

But I do long wistfully for an uniterrupted Brandenburg or a Gymnopedie. Any idea where I can get a decent set of leg-irons with matching gag?

5. BiB - April 17, 2008

Mango, your last line actually made me do a manly, hearty guffaw and I thought if I only I had the right type of shirt on and could quickly grow a beard, people would mistake me for an adult. But, in your honour, I’ve gone through my tapes – yes, actual tapes – and found a bit of Satie for us. Once this Parade is over – gun-shots, kazoos, the works – I’ll get Gymnopédie No. 1 and then No. 3 which I will vicariously listen to with your ears. Or I will make my ears thine for 6 minutes and 18 seconds. I have created a very quiet everyday life for myself – a silent other half, working at home, German neighbours – which has its plusses. In any case, Satie is on, in your honour, and I haven’t EVEN put the earphones in.

Itinerant, don’t do it! What if you turn into me? That would never do. Go and insert an earphone this minute. In any case, music creates thoughts of its own, doesn’t it, so even if it takes you off one type of thought, or feeling, as Mango says, it will evoke others of its own, won’t it? There’s one piece I go on and on about that I often stick on in times of not-knowing-what-to-do, some Schuberty bit, and I don’t know what it does to my head, but it does something. I’ve made up my own version of what it means, as I don’t really understand the language of music. Maybe it means something very specific for knowers.

6. Geoff - April 17, 2008

I can’t insert earphones, my ears are a funny shape and they won’t stay in, so I have to wear old-fashioned ones that go over your ear instead, making me look like a refugee from the 80s (which I am, I suppose).

If anything, I’m listening to more music than ever (thanks to the whole not having to pay for it anymore thing – haha only joking lawyers, obviously I pay for EVERYTHING I listen to…). In my head I think it keeps me young. Although the funny looks I get at gigs suggests genuine young people think I’m a sad old git.

7. BiB - April 17, 2008

Geoff, I refuse to believe it. What ears of Beelzebub are these? I’m now going to go and scour the internet for photographs of your irregular ears. My ears don’t really work either, though not because of shape. Just because I’m a defective organ. So I probably shouldn’t have speakers tinnily inserting more nastiness straight into them. (Oh gosh, but Michael Douglas wore those big ones…)

And you are magnificently young. Just as young as you need to be. Any younger and you’d be living with your parents, so praise Old Master Time for the just-right draining of the sands and delivering you to your timely prime.

8. Geoff - April 17, 2008

They look normal. I think, anyway. If they don’t, no-one’s ever told me otherwise. Which is now making me paranoid that for years people have been laughing at me behind my back about my odd ears.

It’s just that they don’t work properly. All in-ear headphones fall out. It’s very tiresome.

“Timely prime”?! If you weren’t in Berlin I’d hug you. I’m certainly not feeling very prime today. Damn the new ‘continental-style’ licensing laws forcing me to stay out til 1am on a school night.

9. BiB - April 17, 2008

Geoff, I too was out on a school night, but alcohol actually makes me speed-sleep, which is useful (not that I ever really need to be up at crack of dawn).

Virtual hug accepted and very much appreciated.

10. Marsha Klein - April 18, 2008

“The translation’s about raccoons,” I lied brilliantly, but the Russian was not for fooling.

That’s because he knew they were lemurs.

Ooh, I couldn’t live without music to listen to. Mind you my preferences have never been particularly tied to the charts and have tended towards the more *ahem* eclectic (which is teenage code for “crap”).

I had to rush out and buy a whole CD of Satie after I heard this:

used as part of the soundtrack for “The Painted Veil” (Edward Norton ..mmmm). Much in the same way that I had to buy 3 CDs by Shostakovich after I heard this:


in “Eyes Wide Shut” (Tom Cruise…bleargh!)

Geoff, I have one ear which won’t hold a headphone properly and my younger daughter can’t wear in-ear earphones at all.

11. Geoff - April 18, 2008

I feel much better knowing I’m not alone in my ear deformity, thank you Marsha!

12. Blonde at Heart - April 18, 2008

As someone who constantly has earphones on, I must disagree. Earphones are great. Especially the big 80s style ones.

13. BiB - April 18, 2008

BaH, even at Pesach? Another year will pass and I still won’t have lost my Seder virginity. In any case, Happy Passover, if one says such a thing, and enjoy the music.

Geoff, I’m sure you have the prettiest ears in all of London. But do they work? This is the important thing. Function over style. Mine might hold the modern earphone but they don’t hear all that much.

Marsha, Edward Norton looks a bit scarily like the man I had a terrifying nightmare about yesterday, though, truth be told, my nightmare man looked perhaps even more like a cross between Tim Roth and Ian Beale. Terrifying… I used to half-harbour a fantasy of going to Madagascar, before I lost interest in the geographical unknown. And I’ve looked up the words for lemur (lemur, not surprisingly) and raccoon (less predictable) in Russian so that I’ll never be confused and tongue-tied ever again… And Shostakovich is a bit of a dark forest (as they say) to me. I know he’s someone I’m meant to be interested in, but I mentally compartmentalise him along with Stravinsky, whom I’ve mentally compartmentalised next to the Yorkshire Ripper and Myra Hindley. Maybe I need to rehabilitate them.

14. liukchik - April 18, 2008

Shosters is bliss. I bought the complete symphonies with Rosters. I wouldn’t play it with company. And he was far more nihilistically rock and roll (rock’n’roll?) than most:

In later life, Shostakovich suffered from chronic ill health, but he resisted giving up cigarettes and vodka. From 1958 he suffered from a debilitating condition which particularly affected his right hand, eventually forcing him to give up piano playing: in 1965 this was diagnosed as polio. He also suffered heart attacks the following year and again in 1971, and several falls in which he broke both his legs; in 1967 he wrote in a letter:

“Target achieved so far: 75% (right leg broken, left leg broken, right hand defective. All I need to do now is wreck the left hand and then 100% of my extremities will be out of order.)

Wikipedia distills things so well that I may never need to actually write ever again. Just copy and paste;)

15. BiB - April 19, 2008

Liukchik, I agree it’s a type of music best enjoyed alone, unless at a concert. I once forced the Russian and another pal to sit through an inappropriately long piece of music, saying all the while, “The really fucking good bit’s coming in a sec,” so will stick to Ace of Base in similar situations from now on.

Took me a while to work out who Rosters was. I have a feeling I stood at Shosters’s grave with your good self. Which means I’d better make an effort to get to know and love him, having already made the effort of pilgrimage.

16. Marsha Klein - April 19, 2008

I should probably point out that I only wanted a recording of the particular bit of music that’s in the film. I only bought 3 CDs because I could only find the piece I wanted as part of a 3 CD set. I’m very much a “best bits” kind of classical music fan, although I’m enjoying “Swan Lake” at the moment ( especially this: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=d2Sl_QO2NBY).

I only know Stravinsky from the bit of the “Rite of Spring” which appears in “Fantasia” so he’s assciated in my mind with cartoon dinosaurs rather than serial killers.

17. BiB - April 19, 2008

I hated the Rite of Spring the first time I heard it and have never given it a second chance, though now that my ear is far more mature (and can hardly hear), perhaps I’d like it. On the to-do list, along with getting a life.

Swan Lake’s fun, though. Had forgotten how Russiany folksy it was until I remembered. First ballet I ever saw, on a school trip when obviously some teacher in our inner-city shithole primary school thought we needed to be emposhened. Not a compulsory trip. I was the only boy that went along. The girls all raved on the tube on the way home about the male star. They were so right to. I held my tongue.

18. Blonde at Heart - April 26, 2008

“Happy Pesach” is indeed the thing to say. And no, not on the Seder, obviously. The only persons allowed things in/on their ears are over 80.

And about the new pub, it is like in Jerusalem, only really fast-forward – my favourite pub was closed a few months ago, and last week someone else thought he can do better. He went to uni with me, so I do wish him luck, although I like the old place better.

19. BiB - April 28, 2008

I hope it all passed off nicely and unleavenedly.

I once had a favourite restaurant in London which was still going strong when I left. Occasionally I’d have a nostalgic dinner there when I went back but my ex, whom I used to go with, wrote he went once since it had changed ownership and, I quote, “now it’s shit.” The shock of it has stopped me forming an attachment to anywhere in Berlin.

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