This month, MIT Press published Ways of Hearing
by Damon Krukowski, the former drummer of the amazing band Galaxie 500, current member of the duo Damon and Naomi, and one of the smartest music writers around. The book is a lively transcription of his 2017, six-part Radiotopia podcast
by the same title. It examines Krukowski’s experience of sound growing up in New York City, labor and power within the music industry, and the ever-changing meaning of sound.
(There is a particular novelty to how the words are presented on the page and how Krukowski attempts to best represent an audio experience in a physical book. I won’t linger too much on how the medium can best convey certain messages, but if such meta questions are of interest, I would suggest reading, rather than listening, to Krukowski’s thoughts.)
Krukowski, with whom I shared a panel at New York University last fall along with Liz Pelly, is one of my favorite thinkers in the contemporary music space. His piece “Making Cents
,” which appeared on Pitchfork
in 2012, deals with many of the core themes I cover here every week. Yet, it’s his broader thoughts on sound, explored in Ways of Hearing,
that really helped expose a number of my own particular listening habits. In the second episode, Krukowski writes:
If you stop up your ears—say, with earbuds listening to this podcast—you’ll find you aren’t as aware of the space around you. Or of other people. If you’re on the street, you won’t hear their footsteps approaching; you won’t hear their cough letting you know they are right behind you; you may not even hear them yelling at your to get out of the way.
This passage pulled me back to the last few years of returning back home to my parent’s house in a wooden suburban neighborhood, where the city sounds I’ve accepted as normal in New York City are suddenly gone. I’ve grown to anticipate music blasting from cars cruising on my block, whereas back home the piercing sound of an ice cream truck on a desolate suburban street is an isolated performance, not connected to a larger urban soundtrack.
What works so well about the book is that if you’re someone who works in music, or is passionate enough to read a weekly newsletter on the industry, there’s likely some audio experience over which you’ve obsessed. Krukowski’s own passion for the entire music production cycle offers a number of entry points for the reader. Perhaps it’s a certain recording technique, the way some artists form their melodies, or an appreciation or aversion to technological advances like the drum machine and Auto-Tune; no matter the specific sound, Krukowski’s attempt at breaking down the many components of the music ecosystem can allow one to dive deeper into even the smallest aspects. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that Krukowski devotes a good amount of time not only to the business of hearing, but the labor that produces such a vast audio world.