A watched pot never boils

Our perception of reality, of the here and now, of past and future, is relative: time crawls when you watch a clock’s secondhand and speeds past when we’re otherwise occupied.

The same can be said for listening to music. We like to imagine that recordings are immutable, that what’s on the disc is fixed and no mood or perceptual change can influence that which is. But, we would be wrong. Just as wrong as thinking time is also immutable, or how long it takes to boil a pot of water when you’re watching it.

Intellectually we understand that clocks and water obey strict laws, yet we cannot say the same for our perception of them.

Measured dynamic range, for example, is rarely a good indicator of how dynamic music sounds. Instead, it is the juxtaposition of loud and soft—the contrast between passages—that makes us feel like it is dynamic, not the measured range itself.

I know the scientist lurking in all of us wishes to measure, quantify, and catalog our physical world. Unfortunately, we haven’t any equipment to measure how we interact with it.

And how it makes us feel is a more valuable measurement than numbers on a page.


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