Artist Tips: Peter Van Hoesen on How to Listen More Effectively

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Since we revived the 'Artist Tips' series last year, a wide variety of producers and DJs have volunteered to share a little bit of their expertise with our readers, and the advice that they've given has been similarly varied. Some have elected to get uber-technical and specific, while others simply passed along the philosophical keys to their approach. And still, despite this range that's been covered, it's safe to say that XLR8R hasn't yet published an 'Artist Tips' column quite like this one from Peter Van Hoesen. The Berlin-based Belgian has been turning out finely crafted pieces of techno under his own name for nearly a decade—the most recent being the 'Call & Response' EP on his own Time to Express label—and all of that experience has apparently taught him that there's more to making music than gear and technical know-how. For Van Hoesen, the art of listening plays a major role in the creative process, so he's put together some tips on how to listen to music in a way that's rewarding and maximizes enjoyment.

Travel in space.
Step outside the comfort zone. Open up your ears to music which is entirely unrelated to your favorite genres or artists. Step outside the boundaries of Western music. The world is a treasure trove of neverending musical goodness—why stay within the confined boundaries of the music you are familiar with? A couple of suggestions based on things I've been listening to recently: Balinese gamelan music (calms me down), traditional Turkish wedding songs (lifts me up), and West African djembe rhythms (achieves both).

Travel in time.
A very long musical past stretches out behind us. Even in a relatively young field like electronic music, one can experience entire journeys by traveling back into the past. The early synth pioneers are a great starting point. It's humbling to hear what they produced (and how they produced it) right at the start of this genre. There were no rules, just the experiment. But not only electronic music is worth a history trip. Knowing the foundations of where music comes from enables us to face our musical future with better knowledge and understanding. It seems to me that through knowing the past, the present becomes sharper somehow, like something has enhanced the overall resolution of things. Understanding is deepened, and therefore the listening experience becomes a richer sensation.

Be respectful of musical context.
There are many contexts and situations in which we listen to music. We might focus all of our attention on it, or we might be doing the dishes at the same time. We might be on a dancefloor in a packed sweaty club. Every situation calls for a specific sound, and not all sounds are right for every situation. Also, when experiencing music in a shared environment, I think it is crucial to be aware of others. There is nothing as annoying as people talking during a concert. When I'm part of an audience, I feel it is logical to respect the people around me and will not start a loud conversation. It's also a matter of respect towards the artist. If you don't like what you're hearing, you still have the option to leave. (Or you can try out the next tip.)

Prepare to be annoyed.
Sometimes you might encounter a piece of music that makes you uncomfortable. Embrace this, analyze it. Ask yourself why this happens—there is something there for you to pick up. By hearing something you don't like, you might end up refining the definition of what it is that you do like. Tastes change continuously, partially because we are experiencing opposing stimuli. We like one thing but don't like the other. This can happen to you as an attentive listener or as a producer. Be prepared to experience the fact that, given a certain amount of time, you might even start enjoying what sounded like total sonic insanity earlier on.

Strive for quality sound.
If you really want to experience music in the fullest way possible, you should ditch those little white earbuds now. Someone who's serious about music should in my opinion be serious about his or her listening situation. It does not mean splashing out tons of cash on the latest 10,000 EUR speakers (although it will most certainly help). You can go a long way on a limited budget. There is a lot of info out there, and many decent second-hand deals can be done with the click of a mouse. Focus attention on the listening environment as well. I recently moved house, and I noticed that the new living room has a very short reverb tail. It's my number-one priority to sort this out, as it really stands in the way of an optimal listening experience. A couple of well-chosen acoustic panels should take care of this. They will sonically balance out the space. As a result, they will balance out my musical enjoyment, which is one of the most important things in my current reality.