A group of audiophiles gathered recently to rediscover Lauryn Hill, on hi-fi gear, no chatter. Kate Hennessy muses on our most starved sense: hearing
“I’m going to turn some lights off now – enjoy your session.”
Jean-Philippe Ducharne, an organiser of Classic Album Sundays, is speaking to a room of strangers in a Sydney bar, poised to hear Lauryn Hill’s 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. In full, on vinyl, no chatter.
People recline on pillows and slouch on couches, but still, you can feel it. The collective uncertainty. An edge of entrapment. The album is 70 minutes long. What are the rules again, exactly? “Think of it like a movie,” says co-organiser Jim Poe.
This is the Sydney chapter’s fifth listening session, although the now-global event has been running for six years in London. It was founded by New Yorker Colleen Murphy who “wanted people to hear music … contextually, communally, uninterrupted and in the best sonic detail possible”. In London, listening cafes are popping up left and right. Londoners, I suspect, are better at the uninhibited embrace of such concepts than antipodeans quick to wince at any whiff of wankery.
Hill’s extraordinary neo-soul rap record soundtracked a seminal year for me. I was living in an African American neighbourhood in Oakland and studying political science at University of California, Berkeley. Her album sold more than 19 million copies. I didn’t own the CD; I didn’t need to. Her songs were everywhere.
Yet the fact the Classic Album Sundays concept is just that – a concept – has got me sulking. Have we drifted so far from deep listening that it’s been dredged up and sold back to us as a price-tagged novelty? Do we really need a themed event to usher us through the inner world carved out by music?
Classic Album Sundays was the messenger I wanted to shoot. But 70 minutes after I arrive I’m a convert.
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