Q&A: Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy
Barbie Bertisch chats music, motherhood, and Mancuso with hi-fi’s modern-day Wonder Woman
Love Injection Fanzine 005: June 2015 Preview
Interview: Barbie Bertisch, Transcription: Nik Mercer
[Give me the vital stats first.] Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you now?
I’m Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy. I’ve done almost everything in the music business, I think! At the moment, I’m the founder of Classic Album Sundays, which is the world’s most popular album listening experience, with a great online listening hub. I am a DJ; I am a producer, a remixer, a compiler; I’ve worked in many record shops; I’m a journalist; and… I think those are the main things. What else have I done? I’m still a record label owner, I guess. Soon to be a publisher as well, of a book on the Classic Albums Sundays’ first five years. And a host! A radio host.
So you’ve had quite the trajectory. How did your journey into music kick off?
Well, I started by listening to the radio, actually; that’s where it all started for me. I got a little transistor radio when I was seven, for Christmas, and I became obsessed. The first song I heard when I turned it on was “Fly, Robin, Fly,” by Silver Convention. And then of course I had a little turntable that was given to me, and I would play records. I started in earnest, maybe when I was 12, and I started raiding my uncle’s record collection. My uncles and aunts were quite young, in their early twenties. We all lived in the same small town in Massachusetts. I started raiding his collection, and then my other uncle’s collection, and then my aunt’s collection. I started getting more into Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Beatles. One of my favorite albums at the time was the Moody Blues’ “Days of Future Passed”. I started making mixtapes with my all-in-one unit. Then I remember I was in the drama club, first year of high school, when I was 14, and there was a really cool guy — a senior — who put his Walkman on my ears and said, “Listen to this,” and it was Lene Lovich. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing! I’ve never heard this stuff!” He kinda got me into B-52s. And there was another guy in drama club who was into Elvis Costello.
And then I started listening to this show on WBCN, which I had always listened to, on Sunday nights, called Nocturnal Emissions. I started taping it, and that’s where I heard stuff like Brian Eno. At the same time, I was also getting into funk and early hip-hop because I had a few girlfriends who were really into that. Brown University had WBRU, which had a funk show. Plus, we had Kiss 108, which was also basically a dance station. House music didn’t exist yet, but most of the cool, underground stuff that was happening in New York hadn’t really hit Boston, but I did hear some of the Prelude [Records] stuff. My first concert was Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Gap Band.
That’s amazing! So your childhood hobbies led to radio directly?
I had my first radio show when I was 14. We had a 10 watt radio station and my first show was oldies because that’s what my parents listened to. The next year, it was called Punk, Funk, and Junk, and that’s how I got the name Cosmo. My friend’s name was Remix, and we made these sweatshirts with our names on the back and “Punk, Funk, and Junk” on the front. And then the next year, when I was a junior, it was more punky. My final year, I had a show called Strawberry Alarm Clock, and I was working at a record shop called Strawberries. This was a morning show, named after the 60s band, Strawberry Alarm Clock. “Incense & Peppermint.” It was a mishmash of everything I liked. It could be Sade into Strawberry Alarm Clock into Black Flag — a complete smash. That was before I moved to New York. I moved to New York in ‘86.
When you moved to New York, what was the journey from arriving to rubbing elbows with David Mancuso?
I went to NYU and one of the reasons I wanted to go there was because it was downtown, but they also had a great radio station.
They still do!
They still do! This was before the Internet, obviously, though, and they had 100,000 listeners, which, at that time, was a lot for terrestrial radio. And also the transmitter was in the Bronx, we had a hard time getting the signal in downtown Manhattan, so the signal was mainly uptown Manhattan, then Jersey, Long Island, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island. Seemed like downtown Manhattan was kinda hard because the buildings in the center broke up the signal.
Things we don’t think about now…
As soon as I started there, I went to the radio station and was like, “I wanna work here!” So they took me on, and I worked my way up to program director in two years. By then I was doing the new afternoon show, which was the big afternoon drive show, a big, three-and-a-half-hour show. We had a lot of bands up there, but you know, we were playing stuff by, like, Nirvana before Nevermind came out. I did that, plus I did a 60s show, called Plastic Tales from the Marshmallow Dimension, which was 60s psychedelia, garage rock, prog, and krautrock. When I left and traveled for a bit, I came back to New York a few months later, and started producing syndicated radio shows that were half-hour shows called Music View that went out to 200 college radio stations. I interviewed loads of bands, from Nirvana to Guru to [some] hip-hop. Probably 100 bands [in total]. So that was my day job at the time. I did all the production, hosted, wrote the scripts, picked the bands, edited on tape. Everything was done on tape, wasn’t even on computer. I did everything from A to Z. I was also co-producing a show called New Music Exclusives, which was hosted by Oedipus, who was the guy [from Nocturnal Emissions] I listened to growing up. He was the one that turned me on to that music!
You became a Renaissance woman of music! So how did all the radio work transition into your friendship with Mancuso, into DJing — how did that all come about?
I had a friend, who’s since passed away, whom I met at NYU. He went for a year and dropped out because he was hanging out and partying at clubs too much. He started to get into the whole Larry Levan thing, and I had never even heard of Larry Levan. I was more into punk and stuff. He would bring me out to certain clubs, like Payday, Trax — this is, like, late 80s. He brought me to the Choice, which must’ve been in 1990… which was on 3rd [Street] between B and C, at David’s new place. It was before David started the Loft himself, so he was probably just renting it out for the Choice. It was Richard [Vasquez who ran it]. It could’ve been Larry Levan playing that night — I just didn’t know any better. I remember the Clash coming on and going, Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m hearing the Clash!
Adam, [the friend I mentioned earlier, was] going out every night, and he was like, “Oh, do you wanna come to this party called the Loft?” because he knew I was always up for anything. So I went with him, and we go into this door that had no sign or people outside.
No balloons at the door then?
No! It was totally nondescript. It was at the same time as Save the Robots, which was also really nondescript. That was also around the corner. You would just kinda have to know. It wasn’t the kind of thing you would advertise. But, yeah, I was just transformed. I walked in, everyone was really nice, there was a coat check. I was vegetarian at the time and there was this whole vegetarian spread put out at, like, five in the morning. The woman that was the cook, who was this woman named Sheila, I had worked with at a restaurant, when I was waiting tables.
I didn’t really know anything about sound systems at the time — I was just into music, but I didn’t even know that kind of music very well. I didn’t know anything, really. The Orb, I would’ve known, and some English stuff. But I was really transformed and was like, Oh my gosh, this is the kind of dance music I could really get into; it’s not just for dance floors, it’s very emotive, there’s something psychedelic about it. I started to go every week, without Adam.
I met another guy there named John Hall, who was a record dealer. But I knew him from the 80s because I used to also work, when I was in college, at Rockpool, which was a trade magazine at the time. I was writing record reviews for them, for their 12-inches. More, like, the Wax Trax! Chicago scene kind of industrial stuff — I was really quite into that. John was a big DJ at Billboard, a Billboard-reporting DJ, and I used to take him DJ charts. But, yeah, he was there, and I kept coming up to him asking, Who does this song? Who does this song? I didn’t know anything!
When I walk in through the doors at the Loft, it’s always, like, research night, and look forward to what the lesson for that night is going to be. I get that!
It’s crazy. Also, the Loft wasn’t really popular at the time. There was a big gap in the 80s where it just wasn’t open, and it was in a new neighborhood, and, at the time, it wasn’t a nice neighborhood. People who used to go, they were scared by that neighborhood. There was a lot of heroin. Like, you’d walk down the street and it’d be like, body bag, body bag, body bag. Constant. It was crazy.
We take that for granted now.
I wasn’t scared going there because it was my stomping ground, but, yeah, so I met John Hall, and he worked at Dance Tracks, with Joe [Claussell], before Joe owned it — so when Stan Hatzakis owned it. Joe and John worked there, and John had his records stored everywhere — including at David’s house, at the Loft, and at Dance Tracks. It was an absolute mess. I had worked at two record shops already, so he was like, “Well, why don’t you work for me? I can’t pay you in money, but I can pay you in records.” I was like, “Brilliant!” So I was doing my job, producing these shows, during the day, and I’d go over there at night. After the shop closed, [John] and Joe would be playing me records, asking if I knew this or that, turning me on to stuff, teaching me, basically.
I’d go do shows with them — I can’t remember the names of them, but they were shows that were held at various hotels — and one was at 14th Street, at Union Square. It was with DJ Kool Herc, who had a huge [collection]. He had a huge area. All the Japanese would come early and buy all the expensive stuff to ship back to Japan. That’s what it was like in the early 90s! But it wasn’t like disco was having a true revival at that time. I mean, I was still going to charity shops, buying Larry Levan remixes for a dollar.
You’ve built such an impressive collection. Was this when your collection started growing?
I mean, I started when I was 15, but that was all rock stuff. But, [before this time with John], I’d worked in the industry and I was getting stuff for free.
But then what happened was I got a radio show. WNYU asked me back on the air. They said they needed some talent back on the air again and asked me what kind of show I’d like to do. I said, “Well, I’d like to do a dance classics show because it’s not being done.” They had a dance show, called Club 89, which was on every night, which was all new dance music, but it wasn’t even being mixed. So I started Soul School, and that was kind of, like, Garage and Loft classics, and that got quite a name. Then I asked David… I was sort of getting to know him through John. This was when David still had a house in Woodstock and would still spend half the week in Woodstock. He’d do this party until noon on Sunday, then he’d go up to Port Authority and take a bus to Woodstock. Well, I lived, at that time, at 30th [Street] and 8th [Avenue], so I would just hop in the car with him, and he’d drop me off. I kind of got to know him. I would sit behind him, but I never really bothered him — I’m not really into drawing attention to myself and I never was, like, schmoozing. Actually, I asked John to ask David if he’d do my show because I was quite shy. But then David’s like, “Why don’t we go out for a drink?” I was like, “Oh! Okay! Sure!”
So we go out for a drink and I started to talk to him about this kind of synchronicity effect I’d experience with music, which was kind of twofold. One was me as a DJ on the radio, where I’d have another record queued up and someone would be like, “Hey, Cosmo, can you play ‘Macho City’?” and I’d be like, “Wow! It’s queued up already!” Those kinds of weird things, like you’re connecting with people and you can’t even see them. Also, we had a lot of different listeners, like blind listeners and people on Riker’s Island who would save their one call for me. Really quite heavy stuff. Then, on the other side, I felt this at the Loft. I’d [be there] and be like, “Oh, gosh, I think Sandee’s ‘Notice Me’ would go really well next,” and David would put it on!
So, yeah, we started that friendship, and he came and did my radio show, and I never, ever expected any reciprocation from him. I didn’t consider myself a DJ — I was a radio person, I was a radio host, I was a radio DJ, but I was never a DJ out in clubs.
The first place I played records at CBGB Record Canteen, which was on the roof of Mars, but that was for my radio station. But if it was dance music in particular, my first time playing out was at a bar on 11th Street, but I wasn’t mixing. Anyway, David asked me to play some records at the Loft and I was like, “Oh my god!” I think I listened to my entire collection before because, of course, with his system there’s no headphones and you had to queue with this Koetsu [cartridge] that’s worth thousands of dollars, and do it by eye. I remember the first record I played was “Wax the Van,” by Arthur Russell, as Lola.
I can’t remember the name of the remix, but it’s seven minutes and eleven seconds long — I can see it right now. [Editor’s note: Colleen’s referring to Jon’s dub.] I can’t remember what else I played! We played one-on-one: I was on one side, he was on the other, so one, one, one, one. I remember when I played “Wax the Van,” he was like, “Very good, Colleen.”
A few years ago, I asked him, “Why did you ask me to play records with you? You didn’t really know me very well, and it’s not like I’d been in the scene, and I didn’t know anything about equipment.” I mean, I could edit tape and I knew my way around how to set up a system, but I didn’t know anything about hi-fi. So I was like, “Why did you trust me with the music, the equipment, and your crowd? Why?” He said, “It starts with a vibe long before you hit the turntable.”
That’s incredible. I think you can apply that phrase to the party itself. It starts the moment you walk through that door.
I know! I mean, I went as a woman, alone, for a long time, and I could even have a dance with someone on the floor and not feel like they were trying to come on to me.
I was also going to dancehall clubs at the time, like Sticky Mike’s, and going alone as this white girl in this Jamaican community. I knew some people there, too, because I was into dancehall, but it was a completely different experience. I was always getting hit on, whereas I felt very safe [at the Loft].
I’ve brought my mother to Joy and my brother to the Loft — these are very welcoming places. They’re completely different experiences, they change the way you listen to music. How old is your daughter?
If I was her, I’d raid your collection when you’re out of town.
She’s good, she’s very good. She knows not to touch the system and all that, but she knows a lot about music. I guess that’s not surprising, but she knows a lot.
How are you passing on the torch? I’m intrigued because, it’s that whole ‘being a woman in a man’s world’, how does that work for you?
Well, it’s two things. I still don’t try to control her musical appreciation. I hate it when those parents don’t let their kids like the pop stuff. And the stuff she picks out in pop is actually quite good; she picks out the people who can actually sing and write songs.
Who does she listen to?
Now her favorite person in the world is Ariana Grande. We’re gonna go see her show. I took her to see Jessie J. I’m also taking her to Fleetwood Mac. She’s seen Johnny Marr. She’s gone to all the festivals with us, so she’s seen a lot of bands play. She loves Joni Mitchell, she loves the Beatles, that kind of stuff. And then she knows dance music, but… I guess, in the car, I don’t really listen to dance music.
I guess for her, her memories of home will be of David Bowie, Kate Bush, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell — those are four artists we play a lot in the house. And then the Beatles. And then a lot of reggae because my husband is a reggae DJ. She’s been exposed to a lot.
What’s your definition of an audiophile?
In one interview with The Village Voice I said I’m not an audiophile, but I know I am… but I guess the point I’m trying to get across is the technical speak of the audiophile world — like, I’ve written for Audiophile magazine, I’ve written for Stereophile, I’ve written for Hi-fi+, and I’ve been featured quite a bit in these hi-fi magazine; I think one also called me “hi-fi’s modern day Wonder Woman,” which is quite a funny tag — but I’m more of a practical person. My expertise, coming from David and then all my Classic Album Sundays events, is how to set these up in different situations, what works with different room acoustics, what works with different kinds of records, what equipment works together. I’ve worked with a lot of different brands, manufacturers; solid state transistors to valves, tubes, horns. I think I have a pretty broad knowledge for not being a salesperson or a real full-on audiophile journalist. But I have a very practical usage — it’s kind of what I’m very good at. So talking about… how a cable is made or the innards of an amplifier… I don’t really understand. But I could say, “Okay, the 300B valves compared to the 211s [or VT4Cs] sound like this.” I can say that, just from experience.
That’s already more than 90 percent of the people know, though.
Sometimes I hear myself speak and I’m like, “Shit, I do know a lot.” But I always preface it, when I’m talking to engineers and people who really understand the physics. Like, one of the guys I do stuff with, from one of the brands we work with, called Audio Note, he’s a friend of mine, and the way his brain works… my brain doesn’t work that way. I wasn’t built that way. I really kind of had to study things like impedance and ohms to know what it all means. I really had to sit there and read about it and let it sink in. I can’t say the physics come naturally, but once I understand, I understand.
I think I’m better at the practical side — what works with what, how to get the best sound out of something as far as speaker placement or whatever. It’s a knowledge I use.
David always had a distrust of hi-fi dealers because, you know, he sold a lot of equipment in the 70s that he didn’t necessarily need. He’s always kind of stayed away and done his own thing, and he also knows what works for his own situation. I mean, Klipschorns and their Heritage series and their La Scala, really, they really fill a room, they throw. And it’s 150 dB for one watt, so the efficiency is amazing; it’s a very low distortion. For what we do, when we do these parties, you can’t really do them with a different kind of speaker. Then there’s the whole Funktion-One side, which is very different, but it works! And when it’s set up properly, like at Cielo, it is very good. It’s more transparent, there’s more bass. But the K-horns have a higher cutoff bass frequency. But it just depends what your situation is. When people are dancing for 12 hours, like at David’s parties, at least like they used to be (I guess now they’re eight or nine), you probably actually don’t want a lot of bass all night.
I can set up most turntables relatively well. Some turntables I don’t know very well — I’m still learning. But I can’t sit and solder, but I carry a soldering kit and need to learn how to do it myself. I think in some ways David dragged me into this kicking and screaming a bit. I have to give him the thanks for making me do it. He brought me in to play records and I knew nothing, though he knew I had a steady hand and was respectful and all that, so I guess that was good enough for what he needed me to do. But when we started the party over here he was pretty adamant that I do the sound. At first I hired a PA company, but that didn’t work. Then we came up with a solution, me and two other guys, that we were gonna buy a system, and when that system was bought, I had a baby, so I had to take a maternity leave break, step out of the scene a little bit. But David still wouldn’t let go of me. He would do all the sound stuff with me, all the reviews with me, and I was kind of going between two people, and he was just adamant that I should be handling this.
Then Classic Album Sundays started and I was all of a sudden thrown into the audiophile world. It’s not like I intended to, and it’s not like I was trying to prove a point. I had to set up the whole Loft system at our party, our Lucky Cloud loft party, one time because our engineer couldn’t come down. So I can set that whole system up myself.
What I also forget is, when I went to NYU, one of my majors was radio and sound, and this was before computers, so we weren’t using Logic or anything. I was doing everything on tape. So I could set up a recording studio in some ways — I knew how things operated. I was a teaching assistant in the sound department. I ran the internship program for radio, so I taught kids how to edit tape. I kind of forget that that’s also my background. At my first job, where I produced syndicated radio shows, I did all the engineering, I did all the cutting. So actually I did have a lot of background in sound, but it wasn’t in this audiophile world, although it was tape, which is one of the best formats, probably better than vinyl, really.
It seems like it wasn’t really applied until you were put on the spot.
David always says women have the best ears, female conductors have the longest lives. David’s very supportive of females, actually. I notice a lot of his close friends are women, including myself. Not that he doesn’t have male friends, too — he has great relationships with men as well. It’s not like he was even trying to; it just kind of happened.
What other mentor relationships did you have through the years?
François [Kevorkian]’s been a mentor as well, and he’s been very good to me. On the sound side, coming from a different experience to David, he’s much more on the digital thing, but I get what he’s talking about. You listen to his productions and they’re stunning. He’s an amazing engineer, even from the Prelude [Records] days. The stuff that he mixed sounds fabulous. You can play it on any system and it sounds so good. He’s been a mentor as well, but he comes from a different side to David. He gets David, but he does something different, and I respect him as well. He’s an audiophile, definitely. I guess I’ve been quite lucky to have these two guys take me under their wing. They treated me as an equal, so it’s not like they [babied] me. They’ve really helped me out. I hope I’ve helped them at certain times, too.
I went to the WFMU record fair on my own, and I looked around and realized I was pretty much the only girl there. It was strange. You get looked at differently.
I used to work at a lot [of records fairs]! I know what you mean. Ask for the most obscure thing you know! I’ve done that! Just to be taken seriously and to be like, “I’m not just his girlfriend.”
It is cool at the same time, too, to, carve your own path. It has more to do with music reaching you as a human being, regardless of gender.
I don’t think François’ ever mentioned the fact that I’m a female. David does, but he started the Loft more because he was interested in civil rights rather than to be a DJ. For him, it was very much about racial equality, gender equality, sexual orientation, class. To him, that’s very prevalent in his mind. He’s always like, “You’re so great and you’re a woman on top of it!” I don’t think François has ever mentioned the fact, which is great, too: it’s not like he was choosing me to make a point. I don’t want that, either.
Being able to share memories like the first record that blew me away on Klipschorns was… I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t put it into words. Do you remember what your first was?
Well, it was at David’s, but I can’t remember the specific songs because it was all so overwhelming. I had walked into the Loft for the first time and, again, I didn’t know that kind of music that well, but certain things that did stand out were, like, E2-E4 just because it’s such a long piece; you sort of have to give yourself over to it. It’s very trance-inducing. And Danny Tenaglia’s own sort of version of that [as] Code 718, “Equinox,” which still brings me straight back to the Loft. That whole sound I really associate with the K-horns, but now I listen to everything on them at home and use them at my events a lot, too, so everything to me sounds good on them, unless something’s really badly mixed and I hear the flaws.
The thing about Klipschorns compared to other brands is other brands go for transparency, so every bit is represented to the best of their ability. Klipsch has more coloration because it’s physical — you have the physical quality of the horn and the wood in the cabinets. There’s more coloration, but it does change the sound somewhat. What I’ve noticed with them, if they’re set up properly, is they fill the room with music. Generally, with the other ones, you have to be in a certain area. K-horns make the room sing, they’re very human and very musical to me.
There’s a big consumer electronics show in the states called CES. Klipsch hired me to [be part of what they were doing this year]. They said they needed to do something unique, so I suggested a radio station on site. So we did that and I hosted it. I had to do all these shows on Paul Klipsch, the founder, so over Christmas I was researching every morning. I learned a lot about the man himself. He was such a figure. Then all these strange connections came up! He was also a pilot and he had several planes. He’d fly all over the U.S., to visit his dealers, to go to the audio fairs, he was members of lots of clubs, like the Rotary Club. I was looking on the site and found his air map of the US and I look up to New England because that’s where I’m from, and my town is on it! My town of 13,000 people. What!? He flew to my town!? When I was telling my father about Klipsch, like, two decades ago, he said, “I remember hearing some Klipschorns!” and he told me this story about how he heard these Klipschorns at what turned out to be Paul’s biggest dealer in the world. My aunts and uncles know his sons, they all went to school together, now we’re all friends on Facebook, they’re sending my pictures of Paul and their dad’s sailboat. He had a place called the Music Box, in a very high-end town called Wellesley, a couple towns away from where I grew up, but he lived in my town, on the same road as me. It was just one of these weird coincidences. It was just too cosmic.
Those things happen for a reason!
I just couldn’t believe it. So weird. Really freaky story, really cool story. The connections run deep! I’m also really close to the VP of creative marketing, who does all the creative strategy. They consult with me quite a lot. They know I understand the brand very well and I’ve been using it for over 20 years. They don’t know anything about the Loft or David. Isn’t that crazy? They called me up about a year ago and we talked for about an hour, but I told them all about the Loft and David and I how I got into it. There’s this whole cult following of Klipsch in Japan, in New York. We’re starting it in Italy. I said David is the one you have to thank for all this because he’s turned so many people on to Klipsch. They had no clue!
What’s your ideal setup when you’re DJing?
My Bozak is the only DJ mixer I’ve had in my life, which is funny because even though I was working at Dance Tracks and had a radio show and was playing records at the Loft, I didn’t even have two turntables and a mixer at home. But I remember when I was working at Dance Tracks, maybe when I was still part-time, and Joe Claussell said a Bozak had just come in. He was really kind and said he’d sell it to me for the same price they bought it for. They could’ve marked it up a lot. I’ve had it recalibrated by this guy over here named Justin Greenslade, whom a lot of people around the world will know as a Bozak specialist. Also, the model I have is one of the best Bozak models. So it’s all been customized. It even has an external power supply, which prevents feedback.
What kind of tonearm do you have?
I have a Jelco tonearm, and the cartridges are Audio-Technica 440MLAs. They track at 1.8 [grams], so they’re hi-fi cartridges, but you can backspin. The Jelco arm is great because it has two different counterweights. I also have different feet — I have Isonoe feet. And then I have anti-vibration platters by Auralex. And then these Japanese rubber mats that were given to me.
Basically, when I’m in a regular DJ situation, I bring my own cartridges and I also calibrate the turntables, so I know they’re even. No matter where I am, as soon as I get there, I [take] a spirit level — a bubble level in America — and make sure the turntables are level. Then I swap the cartridges out. Then I equalize the tonearm. Then I put the proper tracking force on. Then I adjust the anti-skip. This is all stuff David taught me to do. You want the arm to be completely parallel with your record.
It never ends! When I first bought a turntable, I was like, “Oh, I think I’m into this!” I got a cheap Audio-Technica to feel it out. Then I found a [Bang & Olufsen] Beogram RX2 that was just a work of art to me and I got that. When I started playing, I got some Mission speakers from a friend, and I like them a lot.
It starts with basics! We always talk about the sound and the requirements I have — I want rotary mixers, I like to have a separate isolator — but…
You always start somewhere and can build from that. Well, I wanted to ask you about active listening. How do you define it?
Well, I would say you can’t really be doing much else. I think we take our ears for granted. We take our sense of hearing for granted! It’s always there and we don’t have to direct ourselves to it very much. You have to physically turn your head to look at something and fix your gaze on it, whereas we can hear what’s going on around us. It’s almost like hearing becomes like breathing: it’s something we do, but we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Not a lot of attention is put into it. Everyone kind of thinks our sense of sight might be more important, but I disagree. I think they’re pretty equal. For instance, when I was teaching my daughter how to cross the street, I told her to listen for cars first and then look for them. And, also, I kind of feel like since we take the sense of hearing for granted, we can do so many other things [simultaneously]. I do it. I’m on the computer, I’m listening to music — sort of — but the work is first, and the listening is there, but I’m not really focusing on it. Because we take our sense of hearing for granted, we don’t just stop everything else and just listen — unless we’re asked to do that. I say at our sessions that everyone should just close their eyes. I feel like when you do you can hear even better because you’re not focusing on all the other things in our lives; you can hear things you’ve not heard before. So active listening is almost like treating your sense of hearing as your primary sense for [a certain amount of] time.
We’re not going to change how people listen to music in an everyday way — that’s the modern world. We put our earbuds in, we walk down the street, we stream stuff on the computer. That’s not going to go away. What I want to do is offer an alternative to people. Not everyone can afford two Klipschorns or a Bozak or the equipment I [personally have]. Or they’re not willing to part with that cash. I don’t want to be the music police and I don’t want to tell people this is how they have to listen to music. I love being on the plane and having my Klipsch headphones on. I love putting a CD on in the car, and there’s terrible acoustics in a car. It’s not always like, “Oh, I only listen to music if it’s on a hi-fi.” I can’t say that. I would not really appreciate anyone saying that, really, to be honest. [I’m just trying to] give people an opportunity to do something they can’t do at home.
It gets emotional. People do cry at our events or laugh, even if it’s, like, the Beastie Boys. You’re sitting there and there’s so many jokes in there you’ve never heard because it’s all coming at you so fast and furious all the time. People have had to leave the room because it’s just too emotionally heavy.