Listening without interpretation...is it impossible?


I came across an interesting quotation about texts which applies, it seems, to music listening and audio:

"We never really confront audio immediately, in all its freshness as a thing-in-itself. Rather, audio comes before us as the always-already-heard; we apprehend it through sedimented layers of previous interpretations or --if the audio is brand new -- through the sedimented listening habits and categories developed by those interpretive traditions." [Paraphrased from Frederic Jameson in The Political Unconscious (1981)]

If this application to audio is accurate, it indicates that what we hear and how we listen are profoundly influenced by how we talk about it, argue about it, interpret it. The ways we talk about it and who we talk about it with change the very ways we “confront” or encounter it the next time. This would apply not only to the macro impressions about entire songs or even passages of songs, but even the minute ways we describe the details. Using “etched” to describe the “highs” or “boomy” to describe the “lows,” and so on. It also would set aside, as obtuse, the repeated suggestion that one can ignore what people say and “just get back to listening for oneself.” There is no such way of listening. Yes, one can move away from the computer, for days or weeks or more, but the notion that one can move one’s “own” mind away from the “sedimented layer of previous interpretations” is, well impossible.

I’m not sure, personally, where I fall on this interesting question. But it’s interesting.

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"If this application to audio is accurate, it indicates that what we hear and how we listen are profoundly influenced by how we talk about it, argue about it, interpret it". 

Well, this doesn't just apply to audio but to every moment of our lives. We are constantly "talking, arguing and interpreting" about experience, not to mention, harboring expectations, all of which gets in the way of simply "experiencing our experience".  Those who are not engaged in this process are known as awakened/realized/enlightened beings. Those who've had glimpses of this may have also found that there's "nothing special" about it-- that it's the most natural way to be. . . if only our conditioning wasn't in the way.  

In terms of audio, if we constantly hold some sort of ideal sound in our heads whenever we hear music, how well can we actually "hear what we're hearing"? 

I don't mean to suggest this state of affairs is inevitable and inescapable, though. There are plenty of traditions and practices that are designed to bring attention back to the present moment. 

Perhaps Master M will have something to say about this...

Well said, Stuart. I think there are ways of "being in the moment" that do not involve reflection or holding up standards to what we're hearing *while* we're hearing it. That's important. But the notion that we're ever "simply* hearing it in some way that does not owe a debt to past talk is what Jameson is pointing at.

Although we cannot fully escape from our preconceptions, we can become more aware of them, and be surprised when things dont work like expected. These unexpected surprises are often the most interesting.

I’m unsure of the what is being questioned??? I’m on a Brazilian Jazz kick and it’s all in Portuguese and i don’t understand a single word of Portuguese. It doesn’t need to be interpreted to be enjoyed. It actually may be enjoyed more because now the vocalist becomes a musical instrument rather than a singer which makes me much more aware of vowels and consonants and inflections without the distraction of having to attach meaning to the words.

I do recognize the female singer as female which is built on the foundation of being human so it is filtered by my experience but I don’t need to argue or even talk about it. My enjoyment is just between me and the performers. The song was heard by someone who engineered what is being played back so I’m listening to their interpretation of how it’s supposed to sound. The music itself came from a previous genre which at some point intersected with a previous genre that I I’ve heard so it’s lanyard on the familiar but but what isn’t.

Listening without interpretation is possible but the title has very little to do with the quotation or additional text and

sedimented listening habits and categories developed by those interpretive traditions

Is nonsensical jibber jabber