Are You Seeing With Maximum Pleasure At Concerts?

When I “saw” St. Vincent earlier this year I questioned whether or not concert fans need their eyes to enjoy a concert, or if music writers really need their eyes to write a concert review. And after reading an excerpt from one of the best books about the five senses, I’m starting to see concerts in a whole new way.

So am I second guessing what I said in my St. Vincent post about not needing our eyes during concerts?

Nope. Not at all.

And I’ll tell you why we need to refine our St. Vincent Experiment to better understand the sensual power of our eyes.

After reading Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses, I’m reconsidering how crucial of a role our eyes play when it comes to experiencing maximum pleasure at concerts.

Ackerman’s book is a fascinating read, and if you want to have a deeper understanding of why you smell, taste, touch, see and hear the way you do, I recommend picking up a copy and diving in yourself.

So let’s see why her book is perfect for experimenting with live music.

Do You Go To “See” or “Hear” A Band Play?

Even though I know what concert fans mean when we say “I’m going to SEE a band play,” I’ve still always wondered if there was a scientific or biological reason why we say were going to “see” when we probably mean “hear.”

But after reading this excerpt below our choice of words makes a lot more sense.

And when it comes to having maximum pleasure at concerts, I think our eyes just might be more influential than our ears.

So, like I mentioned, I’m refining my St. Vincent experiment. And I invite you to join with me in this mini-experiment by swapping out “Lovers” for “concert fans” in the Ackerman excerpt.

And when she refers to the connection between the Lovers, I also suggest switching up the context of the Lovers and pretend that the relationship she describes is between the Concert Experience and You, The Individual Fan, instead of between two love-struck people.

I’ve done this “swapping” many times already and I’ve also read the passage out loud while doing the swapping.

And when I did, this passage takes on a whole new meaning. The more you read it in a concert experience context, the more you can begin to see just how big of a role our eyes do play when we want to experience maximum pleasure at concerts.

Seventy percent of the body’s sense receptors cluster in the eyes, and it is mainly through seeing the world that we appraise and understand it. Lovers close their eyes when they kiss because it they didn’t there would be too many visual distractions to notice and analyze — the sudden close-up of the loved one’s eyelashes and hair, the wallpaper, the clock face, the dust motes suspended in a shaft of sunlight. Lovers want to do serious touching, and not be disturbed. So they close their eyes as if asking two cherished relatives to leave the room.

The reason this passage is so powerful in the context of live music is because you can use it to illustrate how our eyes and ears both work together to give us maximum pleasure at concerts.
Like I did during St. Vincent, I “closed” my eyes and had a wonderful time letting my other senses and imagination take over.  And when I’ve done the opposite and relied on my eyes to give me pleasure at other concerts my eyes have never disappointed (well, maybe a few times; it can go both ways, I guess.)

See No Concerts, Hear No Concerts

So do we actually “see” more or “hear” more at concerts?  And should we close our eyes more often at concerts so we can experience more pleasure?

The answers to those questions depend on many variables; like for example, what type of concert you’re at, how your body is wired up, who you’re with at the concert, what sort of substances you have in your body during the concert and where your vantage point during the concert is.

And whatever your answers to those “variable” questions are, I think you should have fun testing things out for yourself.

And if you do decide to do a little testing, you’ll find out, like I did, that when we discover how much of a sensual epicenter our eyes are, it definitely makes us think twice about whether our ears are really the ones fully responsible for giving us maximum pleasure at concerts.

And if you do run your own concert experiment, you just might accidentally plunge yourself in to a pool of live music pleasure like I did at St. Vincent.

You can look forward to more mini-experiments like this because Ackerman’s book is full of passages, like the one above, that are perfect for illustrating the sensual power of live music and showing us how our bodies adapt to and are changed by the live music experience.

So What Will You Do During Your Next Concert?

Will you let your eyes do the hearing? Or will you let your ears do the seeing?

Pick up a copy of A Natural History of the Senses via Amazon:

Photo by Colleen Catania

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  • http://soundcitizen.com Mike Phillips

    It's an interesting question. The one reason I must watch a concert as well as listen is because the band's body language can give cues as to the pace of a song, or to build up to some kind of payoff. Then, of course, there are bands you must SEE, like Flaming Lips. However, some others are just amazing to hear, whether you see it or not. It makes me think of Ravinia – it drives me nuts when I can't see what's going on onstage.
    Here's another one for you – try closing your eyes at a baseball game. You'd be surprised at what your other senses pick up – sounds of people chatting, vendors and foul balls, the smell of hot dogs and beer. Pretty intense, really.

  • http://soundcitizen.com Mike Phillips

    It's an interesting question. The one reason I must watch a concert as well as listen is because the band's body language can give cues as to the pace of a song, or to build up to some kind of payoff. Then, of course, there are bands you must SEE, like Flaming Lips. However, some others are just amazing to hear, whether you see it or not. It makes me think of Ravinia – it drives me nuts when I can't see what's going on onstage.
    Here's another one for you – try closing your eyes at a baseball game. You'd be surprised at what your other senses pick up – sounds of people chatting, vendors and foul balls, the smell of hot dogs and beer. Pretty intense, really.

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