Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's not there!

I remember this happening so many times:  My grandmother would say, "Faith, go look on the dining table for the bottle of ..."  "I don't see it, Momsie" "What you mean, you don't see it??" footsteps.... "See it there!???  Did you look???"  I usually look at the offending item in amazement.  Just a minute ago it wasn't there.  I looked.  I really did.  I just didn't see.

Have you ever not known something and didn't know you didn't know it?  You may have discussed topics based on this thing you didn't know you didn't know, answered questions knowledgeably, so you thought, spoken of things as impossible.  Suddenly, you find out something new.  It's as if a rhinoceros appeared in the room.  How could you have missed that?  How did you live before, not factoring this bit of information in?

Big, noise reducing headphones on, I'm watching an episode of the Sing Off, an a capella vocal competition and my current obsession.  I love a capella because I get to really listen to the voices, not disturbed by electric guitars and the like.  This year's Sing Off has taken a capella to another level, because all the sounds, electronic, scratches, reverb, cello, flugle horn, brass band, all of it is still there, done by human voices.  I find myself lost inside the music, listening to a particular song over and over again, each time hearing something new.  As I sit listening, I notice that I can't hear a particular vocal part.  I see the guy singing, I just don't know what he's singing.  I replay a few times, listening intently.  There are 3 members in this particular group, 2 are doing the bass/drum/percussion sounds, 3 are singing the words.  It shouldn't be that hard....  Isaiah is on the bed beside me and he hears the somewhat faint strains of what I'm listening to.

You don't hear the 3 separate parts?
What?  I take off the headphones
I'm just wondering if you don't hear the 3 separate voices.  I know who is singing what because I hear the 3 voices differently and I know what each person's vocal texture is and... 
I glance at him in annoyance.  If I could hear the 3 voices separately, I would not be sitting here repeating the last 15 second interval over and over.
No, help me understand.  You don't hear the 3 distinct voices?
You aren't being helpful.  You can hear them.  I know.  Now, shut up about it.  I'm trying to hear them.
I put the headphones back on.
When you hear what you listening for, tell me how you do it.  Since I hear it, I don't know what to do when .... tells me she doesn't hear it.
What?...
....
Is it because the part he is singing is an alto?  Alto is sometimes harder to hear and...
What? I take off the headphones.
He repeats and I give him another look that hopefully communicates his lack of helpfulness.

Finally, I am able to hear what I'm listening for. 
It was a combination of factors.  The guy I was listening to has a very high voice and he wasn't singing with and edge or texture in his voice, I was hearing him and thinking it was the girl. ...
But how did you hear it?  What did you do?
When I don't hear the parts in the arrangement, it's as if I'm only hearing one thing.  The music is just one complex thing.  I have to pretend the music is a room I have to step into.  I have to listen from inside the music.  It's as if I literally turn and focus my attention on the one thing, until it's clear.  Then I turn and look at something else.  Then I check if I can quickly switch my focus from one thing to another and still be aware of both things.
Silence. 

I'm not sure how helpful that was to him... but it was very helpful for me to clarify my process and the big role of my imagination.  Then, I can use it more intentionally!  If I contrast my not finding the bottle on the dining table that Momsie sent me to retrieve and me finding the vocal part:
  • I owned wanting to find the part.  I was less intentional about the bottle
  • I believed the part was actually there, I wasn't sure about the bottle
  • I decided I could find it, so I didn't back away from the initial feeling of confusion when I realized I couldn't find what I was looking for.
  • I paid attention to what I was doing to get a glimmer of success so I could do it more
There is always information around us that we aren't aware of.  Our awareness is mostly dependent on our perception of expedience and necessity.  What do you do to decide if you need to increase your awareness?  If you decide you want to be more aware, how do you go about discovering the rhinoceros in the room?

1 comment:

  1. Isn't it cool how we hear what we listen for and see what we look for.

    I remember a psych experiment where observers were instructed to count the number of times a basketball was passed during a game. In the middle of the game, a guy wearing a gorilla suit conspicuously walks across the court. When the observers were asked about the gorilla, most responded, "What gorilla?"

    The one thing that I would add to your list of owning, believing, deciding and paying attention is practicing. Iris and I have been discussing lately how her ear has improved as she practices singing and drumming. As she listens to old songs, she now hears things she never knew were there. Singers that sounded great are out of tune. Drummers that were rock solid waver. Harmonies that didn't exist can't be missed.

    Practice, practice, practice.

    Teflon

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