Quiet Vs. Loud

26 Oct

One of my recent musical acquisitions is the self titled compilation from the New Zealand band Shocking Pinks.  After giving them a thorough and enthusiastic listen on the ride to work I was hooked.  The music seemed to hum through my head – playing more with air than with noise.  It was at once wholly unpretentious and totally arrogant at the same time.  The kind of feeling you get when you suspect the music your listening to knows its good.  Sometimes, its a welcome sensation.  I found myself looking forward to giving the album another listen.

On the way home I split headphones with my girlfriend, eager to show her my new musical treat, when I was suddenly aware of how the album worked absolutely not-at-all when listened to in mono.  It was too soft and indistinct and it clearly wasn’t hooking her.  I quickly changed tunes so as to prevent an unfair judgement on the music, then gave it another listen with proper stereo sound the first chance I got to make sure I hadn’t been in some sort of sleep induced trance on that initial listen.  It was just as good if not better.  Because of this incident however, I began to notice a strange phenomenon.  The album was brilliant when loud.  Yet merely intriguing at best when listened to at lower, more conservative volumes.

I remember reading an interview by Eddie Vedder for Magnet Magazine (no.67) with Sleater-Kinney just before the release of The Woods.  In it he asserted his belief that the band should be held responsible for his blown out car speakers, in the same way that cigarette companies could be held responsible for lung cancer in smokers, because their music just demanded to be played louder and louder.

I have experienced versions of this in both directions.  Music that you just cant get enough volume from, where the more you feed into the stereo the better it sounds.  And music that seems to be at its most serene when only audible enough to tease your eardrums.

All of this made me wonder about the connection of volume to music.  Hendrix used to say that the two best ways to listen to music were live and through headphones.  While there are many factors that make his a reasonable argument, volume to the extent that it blocks out all other noise must surely be a significant factor.  Does this idea pertain to all genres?  Or does it stay confined within well defined lines, i.e. punk = loud, folk = quiet.  Do we define music by the volume at which we consume it?  I’d be curious to hear peoples feedback and/or examples of other volume sensitive albums.

In the meantime here is the video that made me want more from the Shocking Pinks.  Crank it if at all possible.

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