Easy Listening?

We like to think there are two ways of listening to music. Either there is active listening like when we’re at a concert or passive listening like when we put music in the background to study.

And yet it isn’t that simple…

Take Erik Satie’s attempt to create music made for passive listening, his furniture music: music which repetitively lulled in the background. There is one recorded instance when he performed them during a concert intermission, everyone sat to pay attention anyway. The audience took Satie’s passive music to be actively listened.

Why not talk about passive listening at concerts while we’re at it? We’ve all done it. Dozing off just happens and conundrums confront our cortex: “Did I turn off the oven?” “I wonder what I could be doing instead of being here. Becky invited me to go drinking…” The music that was meant to be actively listened is now mixed together with passive listening.

You could probably come up with more examples. The point is that how we listen to music isn’t as easy to define. Passive and active listening are like Yin and Yang: where one appears the other is always there.


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