PS Audio: “What is this defense mechanism? It’s not in your ears but rather your brain”

A point of view

I learned a new word from one of my readers this morning: conflate.  It means confusing two messages together and apparently that’s what I did yesterday in my post; so I’ll start by clearing the conflation up.

I first defined what I believe Listener Fatigue is and then went on to describe how music communicates with us; two seemingly separate issues but in my tangled mind relate perfectly.  The reasoning here is simple – listener fatigue pulls us away from receiving the message contained in a musical piece – so I more correctly should have started with the goal of getting closer to the music’s message first, then detailed the problem in achieving that secondly.  My apologies.

Speaking of getting closer to the music, let me start out with an observation.  If my ears are in their defensive mode I find it nearly impossible to get closer to the music and when they are relaxed and receptive, I can actually see into the music and become connected with it.  Might seem a rather obvious observation, but I am not sure we all realize the ramifications of this ear-defense mechanism.

What is this defense mechanism?  It’s not in your ears but rather your brain.  I’ll give you an analogy you can easily relate to.  When someone starts out a conversation with “hey, I’ve got some bad news” what’s your first reaction?  In my case I scruntch up a bit, prepare for the worst, and engage my “ready to pull away” feelings.  I am guarded.  But when someone tells me “hey, I’ve got some GREAT news” the exact opposite happens.  The same can be said about listening.

The first time I ever sat in front of a pair of horn loudspeakers I went into defensive mode – a guarded listener – I was simply afraid what I was going to hear was not going to be pleasant.  I was not disappointed.  For you horn speaker fans, subsequent listening on a different pair gave me hope that music might be able to come out of these things, but that’s another story.  The point is if I am mentally relaxed and open for a close connection to the music and that musical presentation is proper, I get closer to the music – more connected.

If I am relaxed in front of my system and put on a known reference source to audition a new product or change to an existing design and over time I get less connected – pulled away from the music – I eventually get fatigued listening and go on with something else.  The times where the opposite happens and I am drawn deeper into the music – are the times where there is no fatigue and I want to do nothing else but play disc after disc.

I hope that clears up the relationship between where we want to be, connected and involved with the music, and what comes between us and our goal, listener fatigue.

Tomorrow we’ll get on with relating that goal to design challenges in reducing listener fatigue.

Paul McGowan