[Abby’s Road] Waves of Mutilation – a Decibel Discussion

Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993. Something was stolen from my awkward, teenaged body leaving me a changed woman today. I blame 808 State and Meat Beat Manifesto. That day, in a steel town discotheque (RIP), an unknown percentage of the hearing in my left ear disappeared… ne’er to return. I was reminded of this incident when I went totally grandma at Pantha Du Prince last week and unabashedly muttered, “It’s too fucking loud.”

I suppose it was a combination of the many shows I’d seen up to and including MBM in the late-eighties/early-nineties that caused this slight impairment, though this particular evening put my receivers over the top. As a youngster I had a standard procedure for show-going. Get to the venue, chatter with friends, make a beeline to the front, left of the stage and remain there for the duration. In retrospect, unfortunately, this placed me (read: my ear) pretty much right up against the stacks. Stupid girl.

What is it about volume that turns a relatively intelligent young person into a complete moron? I recall, seriously, not being able to hear ANYTHING for at least 2 hours following a live, amplified performance and I would laugh about it afterward. Back then, tinnitus was an aural badge of honor. Earplugs? Bah. Would I have purposefully stared at an eclipse? Well, of course not. My hearing was another story. Even though I relied on it for my most favorite pastimes, I always figured it would come back. On that fateful day it did, but not completely. Though not a profound loss, it was enough that as an adult I got into a habit, especially when I lived alone, of sleeping on my left side, freeing up my “good ear” for fear that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to hear a cat burglar entering and absconding with my irreplaceable tchotchkes .

Back to Hendrick Weber. His new record is outstanding. On ‘Black Noise’ he bridges the organic with the synthetic beautifully, so much that to properly appreciate details on the record one really must listen with headphones. (Note: I can go on and on about how headphones should be worn when listening to all music but I don’t have all day, so I will stick to talking specifically about this one particular record.) The layers of bells and chimes coupled with loops of boiled down beats cannot be heard properly through the air. Even (arguably) the best sound system in DC didn’t do his music justice. In a live setting it was too booming, even with earplugs. It was a fun time for sure – I even danced. A lot. I believe the highlight for me, however, was seeing Herr Weber in what ended up being an enormous black sweatshirt which, at first, I interpreted as being a hooded cloak. I found this particularly amusing. The show would have been better had it been a cloak. I’d have written a rave public review and smeared it all over the internet by now had he balanced working his MacBook Pros while holding onto a sickle.

Regardless of age, we’ve all been told to turn the music down. Even when others couldn’t hear it (maybe sometimes they could) we were reminded to keep the volume of our Sony Walkman or Discman or iPod or iPhone or *iPad to a minimum. Of course, this message was being conveyed to us by the same folks who claimed that sitting too close to the television caused blindness, so it was easy to disregard everything they said as a bunch of malarkey. There is truth to some of their rants, I’m afraid. For myriad reasons, health wise and acoustically, sometimes less is more when it comes to volume. Especially when listening to something like Pantha’s record. I guess Oye and Boe are right. Sometimes quiet IS the new loud.

Happy weekend.

*Mine arrived yesterday. I’m giddy.

[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]

3 comments to [Abby’s Road] Waves of Mutilation – a Decibel Discussion

  • Abby — I love your stuff. Keep up the good work. God, I feel like that too sometimes, especially in closed venues. I find it’s not about getting older — but wiser. Most music simply is too loud. That leads me to another pet peeve of mine … when bands seem not to give a damn about their lyrics. So much so, they don’t even care if we can hear them through the noise or not. Ugh. Sometimes a low key act can mesmerize even more because the quietness focuses us. Think the xx. Don’t get me wrong — I love my Iggy Pop. But I think I’d rather hear AA Bondy. :)

  • I’ve always been terribly paranoid about my hearing (having been a DJ for many years). I’ve found a pair of earplugs can be a life saver in both clubs and live music venues. Might make me a bit of a goon, but I’d rather keep my hearing. I think it actually made me a better DJ, as I could easily detect when another DJ needed to adjust their levels.

    Abby Reply:

    Here here, Sean. Sound systems have evolved. Though some may chalk it up to me being crotchety, shows ARE louder than they used to be. I saw MBV and Dinosaur Jr. in 91-92 without earplugs. How my ears escaped that unscathed is beyond me. That said, upon seeing them over the last couple of years in NY and VA for “reunions” I purchased special earplugs for their shows specifically. Moreover, patrons all but had to sign in blood at the door stating they would not hold the venue liable if hearing loss were to occur after a show if they did not take the free, little foam earplugs available at the door/bar. I know MBV is in a league of its own when talking about decibels, but all in all, most shows sound better when filtered with a good earplug. I’m a proud member of your Goon Squad. -A