Bradford Bailey / The Hum
Bradford Bailey is writer who has divided the last 15 years between New York and London. He is currently enjoying an extended stay in Mexico City. In addition to writing liner notes and texts for a number of outlets and applications, he also runs The Hum, a blog dedicated to the exploration of historical and contemporary to music existing outside of mainstream interest.
For this iteration of SIDES, we have included a one-question interview with the mix creator. You can read it below the tracklist. We recommend simultaneous consumption.
- Gregory Jones / Roy Sablosky — No Moon No Mirror
- Lilienthal — Die Fluten des Amazones
- Laurie Spiegel — Appalachian Grove 1
- Babia — Misterio del Entendimiento
- Arica — Absorption
- Ariel Kalma — Pagnifico
- Yes-Kaz — The Gate of Breathing
- Benjamin Lew — Les Traces D’Un Pont
- J.D. Emmanuel — Moving Backwards in Time
- Carl Erdmann — Holobizzarre
- Ros Bandt — Annapurna (Lime)
- Chaitanya Hari — First Stage
- Pauline Oliveros — Watertank Software
Commend: What does collaborative music listening mean to you? Can we do it over the internet? How does your listening change when you touch an object or see a person listening along with you (or not)?
Bradford Bailey: Great question, and strangely prescient.
I’m currently working on a book with Eric Namour, who has a long history of staging concerts and festivals of experimental music in Europe and Mexico, and François Bonnet, who makes music under the moniker Kassel Jaeger, writes, and is the director of Groupe de Recherches Musicales in Paris. It draws on our very different orientations, operations, and experiences within the music community, but, in a nutshell, is about the act of listening, both to music, and more broadly.
In a conversation we had last week, François made a really interesting distinction about how different musics are engaged with collectively. He pointed out that a lot of popular music is staged as means for people to come together in the same space – a dance floor, a party, or a concert hall, and that the act of listening is secondary to the experience we have with those people. Sound is a kind of vehicle rather than an end. Ironically, these kind of experiences, while taking place in the company of many people, often become hyper-individualized. It isn’t really a collective experience, because two people rarely focus on, or experience, the same thing. On the other hand, music which, for the sake of faulted simplicity and generalization, might be described as organized sound which doesn’t center around repetitive cycles of rhythm, tends to provoke a very different kind of experience. As in the former cases, its gatherings aren’t what they first appear. They tend to be characterized by people sitting quietly, focused intently on the music. This implies isolated, individual experiences taking place. While they aren’t interacting with each other directly – physically or vocally, and seem to be locked in little bubbles, because of the nature of their focus, through the act of listening, their experience is collectively bound.
While this isn’t usually the way I approach thinking about music, I thought it was an interesting idea to throw into the mix.
From my point of view, and responding directly to your question, there’s an interesting distinction connected to your use of the term collaborative music listening, vs collective music listening. In order for us to collaborate, we must first come together and form a bond. As such, I see collaborative listening as something which grows from collective listening. Being a member of the far-left, the collective means everything to me. Collaboration is a way of sustaining or furthering it.
Of course, how we define and understand the collective has infinite possibilities. In the simplest terms, we could think of it as a group of people who come together to have a shared experience, or work towards a mutually beneficial belief or goal. In my view, music radically expands the potential of this.
My life is defined by two deep passions – music, and the fight for a true form democracy (vs what claims to be that thing) – where every person on the planet has equal rights, access to economic security, education, healthcare, and the ability to express their voice and agency. In other words, a world built on mutual aid and respect, where no one person has more power than the next. Most of us recognize that the potential for these things, especially in the United States, are diminishing at a rapid pace, while greater separations open between us.
When I decided to focus my energies on writing about music, after spending most of my career working in the art world, I began with all of the expected notions – a desire to give back to the world which had brought incredible joy into my life – its sounds, artists, and community, as well as a frustration with the state of journalism, and the fact that most of the music I was passionate about was being neglected or ignored. Founding The Hum was an attempt to establish autonomy from the normal restrictions of publishing, and to tap what I feel to be under-explored potentials of music, particularity its promotion of community and democracy. It’s an attempt to push against the prevailing tide, for music and through it.
The idea of community within my writing came from a surprising place. Most of my friends have always had pretty diverse tastes, and most of the music I loved was made by people of similar temperaments. In my own life, sound comes first – it’s an all consuming love affair, but is also a means to come together, learn, and share. The subsequent bonds encouraged open ears, curiosity, and enabled a lot of incredible encounters that I might not have otherwise had. The idea of genre was never really a thing. As my record collection grew over the years, with my listening habits, it became incredibly diverse. It was the norm among everyone I knew, so I never stopped to think about it. Don’t ask why, but at some point I began to watch how records from Africa would fall onto the turntable after an avant-garde electronic record, free-jazz, ambient, folk, Indian Classical, or any number of possibilities and permutations. I rarely listen to similar music in succession. As this process unfolded, through proximity, the voices of very different people and cultures, often from divergent periods in time, entered into conversation with each other. When I looked at my shelves, I saw the world as I dreamed it might be – diverse, with every voice and idea offered equal place, gathered together without borders between them. In a word, it was democratic.
It might seem silly to offer a record collection as a metaphor for utopia, but, in addition to what I describe above, the fact that music compels us to value the actions of others more than money, inviting them into our lives, implies that isn’t a bad place to start.
This is a very long winded way of getting back to your question – what, in my thinking, doescollaborative music listening mean? Because I see collaboration as byproduct and support for the collective and community, collaborative listening is a multi-directional effort. It might be what we pursue together through the act, or what grows from that experience – how we share and assemble understanding together. This is the remarkable thing about listening to music, particularly recorded music. There is always someone with whom that experience is shared, even when they are on the other side of the globe.
It can also be addressed on a grand scale. The entire history of music is sequence of collaborations. Nothing grows in a vacuum. No mater how radical or paradigm breaking, music is always a hybrid, building on the efforts of those who have come before. This means that for music to be made, it must first be heard. To sing is to collaborate with all those who have sung. As listeners, we enter into a collaboration with music as it reaches our ears. It’s evolutionary. As it changes us, it changes with us. Great music is rarely the same thing twice, and each of us is instrumental in that process.
Another answer to the question might dwell within two more – what is music, and what does the act of listening to it mean? Within the contexts that I most often address music – how it promotes collective understanding, community, and empathy, these are very important considerations. Music is often associated with great social and political change, cast as a rallying cry. This is important, but for me there is something greater at play. Music is the voice of the people who made it – a culmination of individual artistry, ideas, and experience, with the culture to which they belong, and histories from which they spring. Very often, these people come from different backgrounds than ourselves, and by circumstances which predate us all, remain separated from us. In a society like our own – one which thrives on the promotion of difference, hierarchy, and separation, our choice to recognize and value the voices of others – to listen to them, to hear their experiences, culture, and histories, holds a powerful potential. To truly listen and hear music, is to choose to actively collaborate with society. The act, when harnessed, is a recognition of the equal value, power, and agency that we all hold.
Regarding collaborative listening over the internet. I absolutely believe it’s possible. It’s a place within which community forms, so all that remains is the choice to use it as a means for collaboration. The internet is one of those surprising contexts which, like presumptions about shared experience, defies expectation. When people address it critically, it tends to trigger notions of detachment – people checked out, avoiding reality and the people they are in the room with, scrolling through meaningless content and click bait – and it is all of those things, but I engage with it as an efficient form of technology, and little more. I use it to share information, and to learn from others. I have a much stronger sense of belonging and community than I would have without it. Of course, when addressing its effect on the context of music, the internet has changed everything, but here it is important to distinguish between the context of music and how it is consumed, and the music itself. It’s really down to how you choose to use the tool in your hands.
I do have a suspicion that the pace of internet has eroded many people’s attentions spans, and that this has an effect on how they listen and invest, to music as much as other people, which can have a lot of negative effects. That said, I still think the pros far outweigh the cons, particularly its ability to forge bonds around shared experience across great distances, to distribute information, and to collaborate.
How does your listening change when you touch an object or see a person listening along with you (or not)?
This is a tricky question. I assume it addresses the phenomenological – how one sensation alters or augments another. I’m pretty different to most people in this regard. I have pretty bad ADD, but in my case it comes with condition referred to as hyperfocus. This means that when I actually manage to concentrate on something, time stands still and nothing else exists. I can sit down and read an entire book without looking up once. Despite the fact that hours have gone by, I often think only five minutes have passed and wonder why I’m starving. The same goes for writing and listening to music. Importantly, I can’t do any of these things – reading, writing, talking, and listening to music, at the same time. Each one is so consuming that it takes over. I think this has something to do with why I initially fell in love with LPs over CDs, they were shorter and allowed me to interact and keep better track of time. So in response to the first part of your first question, I have no idea. I actually have no memory of touching an object in all the years I’ve been listening to music. I obviously have, but it has never penetrated the depths.
Responding to the second part of the question. This is obviously related. If I see the person listening to music, I’m not actually listening myself, but in this case there’s an interesting dynamic which comes into play. For me, so much of what comes with music is about sharing. Nearly everything I write stems for a hope that others might experience the incredible joy that it brings into my life. I’m constantly playing music for people, and love the moments they do the same for me. A big part of both is watching their responses – seeing them respond to the needle dropping on a record the love, or one they’ve never heard. It brings almost as much pleasure as hearing the music myself.