Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Magical music box

My name is Sarah and I love music. I've loved music all my life.

I listen to music. I can remember the first song I heard on the radio (Northern Lights by Renaissance)  I play music. I used to be in orchestras, choirs, musicals...  I write music (I may share some of that with you a bit further down the line, you never know). I write about music (here). I remember everything about the moment I was watching Multicoloured Swap Shop and a beautiful, eccentric angel absolutely enraptured me with her performance of Wuthering Heights. I was 7 years old and throughout my early childhood I wanted grow up to be Kate Bush! I didn't quite make it but I was inspired to write my own music and reading Wuthering Heights as soon as I could manage the print size helped install a love of literature, story telling and writing. It sounds a bit over the top I know but I still attribute a lot of who I am today to this moment in my life, I really do ( and I still know all the moves).

If you remember Swap Shop and the original release of Wuthering Heights you'll know roughly how old I am, and if not the information is only a couple of clicks away. So knowing that I'm a young at heart girl whose body at least is the wrong side of 40 by a year or two and knowing that music is one of the things my universe spins around you may think it a bit strange to hear that yesterday I heard music, really heard music, for the first time.  Yeah I was pretty shocked too.

I've kind of started this blog a way into the story so don't worry, I'll take you back a few steps tomorrow but to make this post make sense all you need to know for now is that I have recently discovered I have some hearing loss. I knew I had grown up with a bit of an impairment and I knew it had been getting worse since hitting that big 4 0 (probably before really) but what I didn't realise is that there are frequencies of sound in this world that I may never have heard before.

The absolutely amazing folk from Croydon Hearing tested my hearing a couple of weeks ago and I'm waiting for an appointment to get some hearing aids. Yesterday, these fantastic Croydon Hearing people came round to see how they can help me in the mean time and gave me an amazing little box.

In a nutshell, this amplifies anything that is fed into it through a microphone or jack lead to a level it can be heard and, even better, you can boost frequencies. I was asked to put it in my computer and see if it made any difference.  My curser randomly fell onto this song - Kerry Ellis' version of Anthem from Chess. I only heard a few bars just to test it out. I wasn't really expecting anything other than it would be louder, which would be great as I find ear phones unsatisfyingly quiet. It was louder but as I turned the the frequency dial to boost high frequencies something incredible happened. All of a sudden I could hear violins where I didn't even know they were. I said it out loud. It was an awesome moment. I can't describe it really. Emotional and strange too to suddenly hear something for time for the first time even though you've listened to it over and over.

I had loads of work to do yesterday but there was no way I could have concentrated on anything. I listened to music literally all day. Nearly every track had hidden surprises. I could list hundred and you'd be so bored this would be the first and last post you'd read but it's hard to contain my excitement. But to give you and idea, I love celtic music and the male voices at the start of this track can make my hairs stand on end if I'm in the right mood. But what I had never heard before is another tune soaring above the voices. It's magical! I love Gabrielle Aplin's version of The Power of Love, so much in fact that I play it myself. I've heard and learned the piano part but had no idea there is an oboe weaving a motif in and out of it, even though I used to play the oboe in orchestra and love hearing it in contemporary music.  There are more strings than I had realised too. It's like unlocking layers and layers of sound. Turn the dial one way and there are hidden bells, piano riffs, strings.. the other way and new bass lines appear.  Music was wonderful anyway. The melodies, accompaniments and harmonies I had experienced were often beautiful but this new music is breath taking. It's not just what was hidden but the sounds themselves seem more alive. Recorded percussion always seemed a bit flat to me but the drums seem to ring more. Voices and guitars sound brighter and some of the lyrics are more audible. Going back to that first song I heard, The Northern Lights, now when she sings 'marking the space between the days' there is a flute bouncing around a melody in the space between the words.  I've never heard that before.

Yesterday was a strange day. I really don't think I have ever experienced anything like it before and it's hard to put it into words. It was a mix of being amazingly excited and exhilarated and a bit overwhelmed too but in a fantastic way. I had to just go and sit in the park and think only about the music because it felt like that was so so very intense there was no space for anything else at all. I listened to music all day and most of the night. I couldn't stop. I wanted to hear so many songs and see what there was there. It was so amazing to turn that dial and wait for something new to jump out at me. A friend came over and I just kept saying 'listen to this through this...' He was a bit bemused really I think. He got the excitement but kept reminding me that he had heard it before and it wasn't new to him to suddenly be told that the drums sound more 'ringy and bouncy' and that there is a synth above that piano intro (birds too apparently according to him but they didn't come out of the box so I'll take his word for that - show off ;) ).

So I love music and now I love it even more. Thankfully, a school sports day prized me away from my magic box for a bit today and focused me back onto other things that need my attention. But I have sneaked in a fair bit of listening and won't stop either... I know I have a lot to do in my own music. Now I've heard that fullness in sound I need to recreate it. A friend I'm recording with sent me some early drafts of an EP we're making to hear through the magic box but, despite some great things he's put in the mix, the fullness and depth of layers isn't there and I know my performance can be a bit flat (in depth not tone) because you can't try and create what you haven't experienced. It's going to be a new challenge.....