Music Sounds Better With You

Sometimes someone says something you’ve been trying to say (to yourself as much as anyone) for years.

In a recent issue of Wire magazine (well, November 2015), Bridget Hayden supplied the copy for their Inner Sleeve column. This feature allows a musician or producer to talk about the cover art, usually to an L.P., that has meant the most to them.

Bridget Hayden releases her own music, under her own name, and also is part of Vibracathedral Orchestra.

The cover art Bridget Hayden chose was Tago Mago by Can.


Revolution in the Head

Revolution in the Head

But it was an off-hand remark of Bridget’s, about how she got into lots of the bands she loves and that influence her, that has really stuck with me. What she said was:

music always sounded better at other people’s houses.

So simply put, and so brilliantly.

Such a small statement, but it goes such a long way.

There are bands who will always sound better at other people’s houses (as ouzo will always taste better in Greece). For example, for me, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. If you play the Captain to me, just as if John Peel played him on Radio 1, I think he’s wonderful. In the privacy of my own home, I feel a little embarrassed by him.

I have spent years thinking I liked albums because I was overawed by the rooms in which I first heard them.

For example, for me, The Doors’ Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine – because I’d heard it one particular evening, in a grown up’s living room, in the company of a gang of boys I wanted to be part of. And because the cover is great. But mainly, I think, because on that particular evening, through those particular speakers, behind those curtains, the album sounded better. If I listen to it now, it is entirely uncharismatic but also has worse bass.



There is also an opposite phenomenon to this. It’s identified in a letter the poet John Keats wrote between 16 December 1818 and 4 January 1819, to his brother George and his wife Georgina:

[James Henry Leigh] Hunt does one harm by making fine things petty and beautiful things hateful. Through him I am indifferent to Mozart, I care not for white Busts – and many a glorious thing when associated with him  becomes a nothing.

The important bit here is:

through him I am indifferent to Mozart

Putting these two insights together, Hayden’s and Keats’, I realise that it is almost a law of taste: If someone I dislike recommends something, a song, a band, a novel, I am likely to be forever repelled by it even if, under other circumstances, I would have loved it.

Similarly, if I am with someone I think is wonderful, in their home environment, I am going to admire almost everything that comes out of their stereo speakers even if, under other circumstances, I would have hated it.

What I think is worth mentioning – to take this a little further – is that whilst the repulsion seems to solidify, the sounding better seems to evaporate.

I have held on to borrowed dislikes far longer than borrowed likes.





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