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Mindful : August 2013
“I see a world where we’re drown- ing in sound,” Glennie says. “ Even toys are now electronically enha nced, so that they squeak and squawk and beep. There are many layers, and this sound-drenched world is wearing on our patience. To find a place where there is little sound is quite rare. That’s pretty worrying. It’s almost as if there were food in front of you 24 hours a day, and you couldn’t escape it. How would that be? How would you react?” Seth Horowitz, whose research in comparative and human hea ring, bal- ance, and sleep has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Nation- al Science Foundation, a nd NASA, points out that throughout the day and, to some extent, the night, sound provides us with a steady ba rrage of information we nor- mally filter out of our consciousness. Too often we only notice it when it signals imminent danger. He views sound as much more than a means of interacting with others. Hea ring is our “alarm sys- tem”—roughly 10 times faster than visual recognition a nd the only sense still active when we’re asleep. Horowitz points out that sound affects us even when we’re not consciously awa re of it. Sound “gets under our conscious radar system” via the most primitive par ts of our brain, which is why it’s so good at triggering our emo- tions. In Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, the renowned neuroscientist Oliver Sacks describes how the brain reacts when we listen to music, stimulat- ing memories a nd evoking emotions with an immediacy beyond a ny other sense except smell. Most of the time, Horowitz explains, our brains act like noise-suppressing headphones, and there’s a good reason: they’re blocking out an endless stream of potential distractions, most of which we need not heed. In contrast, complete listening requires much more energy and skill—but it’s a skill that can be trained. “I want people to take off their head- phones a nd pay attention to the sounds of their environment,” Horowitz says. “If you don’t, you get a Twitter version of the world around you.” To that end, Glennie and Horowitz have now teamed up in an ambitious venture called The Just Listen Project, a kind of manifesto about how to make one’s way through a sound-saturated world. With producer Brad Lisle, they Thomas Riedelsheimer’s documentar y about the world-renowned percussionist Evelyn Glennie has what you would expect, given the subject mat ter: gorgeous audio design, especially in footage of Glennie’s collaboration with musician Fred Frith. Speaking in her gentle Scottish accent, Glennie helps us understand how she interprets the music in her life. “I want to be open to absolutely ever ything that comes my way,” says Glennie, whose hearing has been impaired since childhood. “The most interesting thing to a musician is the sound journey.” As we observe how she absorbs and makes music, Glennie seems a restless spirit, forever searching through her own personal soundscape—using her body to “hear” sound through the physical sensa- tion of her instruments’ vibrations as she plays them. Given her inability to hear in a conventional way, Glennie’s talent for music seems like a magic trick. But it’s really the simplest thing: she’s always listening with ever ything she’s got. — Carsten Knox TOUCH THE SOUND Documentary English • 99 minutes Evelyn Glennie performs at DaDa Fest, Liverpool. PHOTOGRAPHBYSTEVEGOUDIE 56 mindful August 2013