It’s been a somewhat quiet time for me in the concert-going department since I’ve returned from the Cabrillo Festival. But for the past three weeks or so, I’ve still been cramming reams of music down my ears via recordings in order to properly prepare for various projects I’ve been working on, all with nearly simultaneous deadlines-articles I’m writing for various publications and a variety of interviews, including the next NewMusicBox Cover (stay tuned!). It’s frequently been music from the moment I wake up, throughout the day whenever I can do something during which listening to music will not be a distraction (all too few things), and then once I’m back home, often late into the night and frequently with score in hand.
But at some point this afternoon, while clocking in some more listening time as I was clearing my email, I suddenly got a massive headache. I decided to take a listening break, even though I don’t really have time for such a luxury right now. But since I stopped listening and started writing this, the headache is receding.
Is it possible that I have been listening to too much music? Is there ultimately a finite mental capacity for processing sonic information? A traditional gamelan performance goes on all night, as did Terry Riley’s night flight concerts back in the ’60s, and there are several composers who have attempted 24-hour-long pieces. The Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim even conceived of an electronic composition that would take hundreds of years to realize, and most folks in the new music community are aware of the performance of John Cage’s organ piece ASLSP (e.g. As SLow aS Possible) in St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt which began on September 5, 2001 and is not scheduled to end until September 5, 2640. But how can a listener even begin to attempt to listen to something like that in a meaningful way? I’ve attended some of Bang on a Can’s 12-hour marathons in years past, but breaks in between pieces and conversations with other attendees provided a crucial frame for the time focused on listening to the music being performed.
I know that there are many people who have headphones on from morning to night, listening to their own personal soundtracks, with nary a moment of silence to reflect on what they’ve just heard. I could never do that. It seems like the musical equivalent of going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and never leaving. How much music can you listen to without getting sonic indigestion?