Dot writes: a couple of months ago I posted a plea on Facebook for people to recommend things for me to listen to. I felt I was in a rut, always listening to the same old favourites and never investigating anything new. When I was in the sixth form I found things to listen to by having Radio 1 on while I allegedly did my homework and taping anything that appealed to me. (This was a stupid idea. I cannot do academic work to music unless it is purely instrumental – song words use up the same bit of my brain as reading and writing – and, frankly, it helps if it’s also rather dull; I find any kind of meaningful sound hard to tune out, which is one reason I can’t stand having the telly on all the time.) Later I acquired listening habits from my friends, who in my graduate student days were mostly rock and metal fans a bit older than me – thus my taste for AC/DC and Aerosmith. But these days my exposure to new music (new to me, that is) is minimal. I hear things in shopping centres and usually hate them.
Anyway, my friends sprang into action and recommended various different bands and musicians, and I started to investigate them via YouTube. I found I quite liked Austra. I enjoyed the live version of Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear (what a name), but only the live version because the official music video was so horrendously creepy. I discovered that Boards of Canada were a sound I could work to, and I have now listened to entire albums of theirs without being able to remember any of them afterwards. However, it was actually something Ken had come across – for he, unlike me, listens to the radio – that opened the doors.
The best way to find listening material is to discover something that can lead me into other things. Ken showed his family a YouTube clip of Somebody That I Used to Know by the Australian musician Gotye, which has been an enormous hit over the last couple of years and has umpteen gazillion views. I liked this a lot and so did the boys. (Actually Frank at least preferred the Star Wars parody version; in his life everything is better if it involves Star Wars, and most things, such as lego, Angry Birds, pyjamas, lunch boxes and now music, come in a Star Wars version.) I listened to some other Gotye tracks on the internet and thought I’d like to buy his most recent album, but I couldn’t find it in Tower Records and I’d read that Gotye is supposed to sound a bit like Peter Gabriel, so I bought an album by Peter Gabriel instead and played it half to death. Peter Gabriel was not someone I’d ever paid much attention to before. Then, after a bit, I went back to Tower Records and found that they did now have the Gotye album, so I bought that and played it half to death. Actually, it has been doing the opposite of dying; the more I play it, the more I like even the tracks that at first I found less interesting. With familiarity the music unfolds its layers. It’s also helpful that Gotye (real name Wouter de Backer, or Wally for short) has kindly provided a documentary about all the clever things he did to make the album, which means I have a better idea of what I am listening to. It adds an intellectual pleasure to simply enjoying the sounds.
So, it turns out I like Gotye very much indeed. And then, joy of joys, I discovered that Wally de Backer was in another band too, a three-piece rock and roll band called The Basics. He is the drummer and also does a lot of the singing, which must be a very physically strenuous combination. The Basics sometimes sound like The Beatles, and sometimes like Crowded House, and sometimes like The Police. I happen to like all of those bands, and I love The Basics. They are not as famous as Gotye, so I gave up on Tower Records; I ordered one CD directly from Australia and downloaded some other bits and pieces, and I hunted down my iPod, which has been lying neglected in a drawer for ages. Ken is amazed by my sudden capitulation to the digital world. In my enthusiasm I’ve even gone so far as to follow The Basics on Facebook, which means that I was among the very first to know that they will be playing a concert in London in July that I won’t be able to go to.
It doesn’t even end there. In my minor obsession with both Gotye and The Basics I have watched a number of interviews and other clips with them, and when they mention bands they like I have started to investigate some of those. The big find so far is the John Butler Trio, who have a marvellously funky, crunchy rock/bluegrass sound dominated by virtuoso guitar. So that’s another album downloaded. (John Butler has done lots, but I chose one. I need to listen slowly and allow the music to sink in.)
I may be turning into an embarrassing over-aged fangirl, and I’m certainly annoying my sons by fighting them for the auditory space in the kitchen/dining room, which they like to fill with the aural litter of computer games, but I am immensely enjoying this sudden wealth of music in my life. The funny thing is that it could all have happened ages ago, because I’m pretty sure that Ken actually first played me Somebody That I Used to Know back in 2011 or 2012. I remembered the artist’s odd name more than the song itself. For some reason it didn’t grab me until earlier this year. I think the lesson of this whole episode is not just that the best way to find new things to like is to follow a trail of association, interest and influence from something I’m already keen on, but that sounds have to hit at the right moment, when I’m in a listening mood, or maybe even when the other things I have been listening to have prepared me to like what the new thing is giving me. I’ve noticed over the years how my ears become conditioned by current habits, so that textures and instrumental qualities in particular affect me very differently depending not just on their immediate musical context (though I’m always struck by that – for instance, how astonishingly frail the oboe sounds when it enters during Siegfried’s Funeral March in Götterdämmerung) but also on the wider context of the music in my life at the time.