In Japan, I knew a gentleman who ran a 200 year old miso shop. K san was also a bon vivant par excellance! Studying Enshu school tea ceremony, he wore stylish kimono by day and organized French film festivals on the weekends. He also spent a fortune on tea bowls and art, which he often would show to his friends.
Everyone in town knew him and his miso shop was a gathering place of local luminaries.
Of all the interesting things he was involved in, my favorite of his activities was his gramophone club. Once a month like-minded collectors would show up with a favorite record (or not) and sit around listening to old records while drinking sake. Need I say anymore to his incredible sense of style?
Appropos of all this, years ago in Berkeley, I sat in a class where my beloved guru Hubert Dreyfus was struggling to get us to wrap our minds around the fact that there are different understandings of being, which thereby lead people into differing ways of doing things. Take for example, he said, tea. There are people in Japan who will sit and spend 45 minutes just to make one cup of tea. Can you imagine, he asked. Think of how different that is from our world of plopping a tea bag into water and nuking it in the microwave.... 30 seconds and presto: a terrible-tasting cup of tea--probably made in a disposable Styrofoam cup no less. He laughed and laughed. I had not been to Japan at that point so didn't understand what a 45 minute cup of tea could mean....I was 18.
Time can bend... Can't we just slow down and talk about the weather or talk about ideas (instead of people and things)? Can't we think outside the corporate box of fast food and corporate junk. In tea ceremony, everything is made by a craftsperson and names are attached to things and things are attached to stories. This is why those old bowls have charisma. And that matters.
And then we can maybe slow down eough to feel sound waves washing over us in delight --since every old record only has two songs on it. So we listen again and again.... hear the air between the notes.
As I wrote about here, this all reminded me of a great show Robert Harrison did for entitled opinions with fellow Stanford professor Gabriella Safron on the history of listening."Generalizations are always problematic," he said, "but there is one generalization you can make about western civilization that won't get you into any trouble. And that is that Western civilization is one that thorougly philoscopic." That is to say that Western culture from very ancient times has priledged vision over the other senses. There is no question about this; from Plato's Ideal forms (eidos: visible aspect) to a Proustian vision, it was spiritual vision (and rational in-sights) that were thought to be the means to knowledge.
Harrison mentions being amazed at the way our video technology progresses constantly--while that of our audio continues to degenerate. This is also something that is unquestionably true. When I returned permently to California after twenty years, one of the many things that surprised me was how sound systems seemed to have disappeared. In Japan, we continued with a sound system and most of our friends had stereos. It was rare to listen to radically compressed digital music. Based on my own experience at least, I would say that Harrison is correct that while video technology has progressed in stunning ways, over those same two decades since I've been away our sound techology probably has degenerated. At least that is how it felt for me.
The show on listening is fascinating and I highly recommend it. After discussing ancient Greek philosophy (vision) and the Hebew Bible (listening), Saffron discusses how difficult it is for us to even imagine a time when information was taken in mainly by sound. This was a world where there was a shared calendar too, and for example the liturgy was repeated every year like a clock and people let information sink in over time by listening over and over again. They discussed the way that ritual listening has all but disappeared from our modern lives.
Now, we prioritize new information and that is almost always taken in through independent reading. Saffron, who is a Slavic languages specialist, talks about the pleasure people must have in repeated listening. To hear something again and again. For Easter, she described the Orthodox tradition of greeting one another with the paschal greeting: Christ has risen, truly He is risen...
It is a kind of embodied knowledge and also an embodied know-how, and these are things that are inherently pleasurable (thinking of Csíkszentmihályi's work on Flow Experience). These shared and repeated experiences can-- by teaching us each to wait, as well as to beckon us to something beyond our own personal concerns and predilections-- give a shape to one's life and perhaps even impart a certain meaning.
Anyway, because of all this, I was utterly delighted to find out that one of my favorite 3Quarks associates has organized his own group of gramophone listening time travelers!
He is so cool!!!!!
And he says this:
The point is that the sound travels from producer to consumer without ever disappearing into some electronic circuit to be changed or shaped. Jascha Heifetz plays his violin into a horn, those vibrations become scratches, those scratches become vibrations, and I hear Heifetz play. Everything is on the surface; nothing ever goes into a black box. I am one step away from direct, physical connection to Heifetz, as I would be if I handled his bow or tried on his hat. It is a form of aural time travel.
As I mentioned here, my time travel field guide says that time travelers are ultimately characterized by a reckless abandon and the disregard for mistakes.It's true I think.... but time travelers can also be divided into two sorts: those who prefer the past to those who prefer the future for their destinations.
Speaking for myself, I had never even contemplated going forward in time... my eyes, I guess are inevitably in times past~~~~ traveling backward through history books and paintings-- and sometimes in bowls of tea.
My friend Glenn's Talking Machine below