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Not Sure Where To Begin?

The intro posts are always a good start, followed logically by
my thoughts on Music & Being, which guide my writing.
You could also try my current favorite show on the blog,
plus there's good reading under the trading community label.
Or, take a walk on a
Listening Trail.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Walk In The Sunshine

If you could see it, it might ungulate like the liquid mirage of heat off a road. It might extend out from the stage in stratified layers, like ripples expanding out in wide arcs from the speaker towers - the low end in slow pulsing waves of purples and blues, the highs in frenetic squiggles of sea foam greens and yellows. There was a unique quality to the Dead’s music when they played in an outdoor venue – a palpable energy that you could almost taste, and quite definitely feel, as it washed over you. Out-of-doors, because there is little to no interference coming from the enclosure of a venue, the music captured on tape can feel more pure, not having to battle with the way a hall’s ambience can suck distinction out of low end and vocals. You’re left on more intimate terms with the music, and somehow with something more as well.

Birkshaw, England crowd May 7, 1972Good (and sometimes even not so good) audience recordings capture this energy amazingly well. So distinct is this “outdoor essence,” I knew from the very start I needed to create an Outdoor label, for this blog which would allow one to explore examples of just this certain visceral experience coming off of recordings. It bleeds off of tapes in something akin to the sum being equal to more than its parts. You often don’t know it’s there until you find yourself basking in some hypnotic passage of music and your ears pick up on something beyond the music itself. It can sometimes be expressed in the sound of electricity in Jerry's guitar, or the massive wattage of warmth emanating from Phil's bass. You can sometimes even feel it in between songs while the band may be tuning, and the crowd is relaxing. In the same way that without fully understanding how, we can somehow triangulate the precise direction from which a sound is coming while having only two ears on our head (physically we should only be able to discern left or right), there’s more going on than meets the eye (or ear). It seems that we can listen with more than our ears. Other subtler senses are listening, to be sure.

Panhandle Crowd Oct 6, 1966The audience recording awakens something beyond just the music, or in the microphones, or on the tape heads. It’s there regardless of our having any scientifically defined means of identifying it. And in an outdoor setting it can become a truly heightened experience. Perhaps in reducing the entire concert experience to the bandwidth of only sound, our ability to perceive more subtle layers is revealed? However it works, more often than not, when the band and crowd are locked into the moment of sharing the spiritual side of musical expression, it materializes into the auditory documentation we hear on tape.

I don’t know how long it took me to key into this phenomenon. Certainly I wasn’t looking for it, and it only started dawning on me over the years as I found myself more and more drawn to the audience tape medium. And to a degree, it might only be something I find happening in my own head. But, I know it plays a large part in the intense pleasure I take out of listening to old Grateful Dead shows, and sharing this mysterious level of listening with those who are willing to, uh.. listen.


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