The Raw and the Cooked: Food and Listening

There is a connection between how we listen to music and eat food. Roland Barthes was unaware, but he outlined this in his book Empire of Signs.

Therein he mentions the difference between Eastern and Western food practices. A major distinction is that Eastern food comes fragmented, usually uncooked. The eater has to manipulate what she is eating to bring everything together:”the painting was actually only a palette with which you are going to play in the course of your meal, taking up here a pinch of vegetables, there of rice, and over there of condiment, here a sip of soup, according to a free alternation…”

An album is only a mass of parts. It is the songs that we play with, taking a pinch here, putting in a playlist there, rearranging for our liking. All music is separated and fragmented. In order to listen to music we must first play with it. Spotify, Bandcamp, Youtube, Pandora, Logic, and Itunes are at once the plate of food and the chopsticks.

Barthes takes the idea further with a comparison to Western practice: “you yourself make what it is you eat; the dish is no longer a reified product, whose preparation is, among us, modestly distanced in time and in space (meals elaborated in advance behind the partition of a kitchen, secret room where everything is permitted, provided the product emerges from it all the more composed, embellished, embalmed, shellacked).”

Think of the opera, an album played all the way through, or a concert. These are fully fleshed out and composed experiences. All of its parts are thought out and formed accordingly by the composer, artist, and or performer. We are lead through the experience like a four course meal.

Here we have two distinct listening experiences: the Raw (Eastern) and the Cooked (Western).

This is a dichotomy, but how much of our lives are spent in this either/or? Our eating habits are varied. A person will eat sashimi for dinner after having bacon and eggs for breakfast. The Raw and the Cooked are mixed within our music lives as well. One will listen to arias separated from the context of an opera. Another will listen through a mixtape that is crafted with such care that it might as well be an album.

That is why it is “the Raw AND the Cooked”. Each is meshed within our lives. They compliment one another. The result is uncanny: our music is not entirely raw but not cooked all the way either.

1 comment
  1. Wow! That is so insightful! I never thought of it that way, but you are absolutely right 🙂 thanks for sharing!


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