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Positive Feedback ISSUE 17
january/february 2005


Stepping Off the Roller Coaster - musings on Gary Beard's life change
by Joseph Cohen


Joseph Cohen is the man behind PranaWire

"Music is like a thing in the air: once it is gone you can never recapture it again."
Eric Dolphy

Once, when each of us was a child, teenager or young adult we heard music reproduced in a way that imprinted itself indelibly on our awareness—a moment of bliss, revelation or reverie, a moment that may have defined the trajectory of our lives. In our adult life we find ourselves on a quest to reproduce that moment, and, should that quest become successful, we find ourselves with a new defining moment, a new benchmark, and the process begins all over again. In Buddhism this process is called Trshna or thirst or craving—the underlying cause of suffering. Invariably we find ourselves separated from that which we desire (a new $60,000 speaker) or joined with that which repels us (the same speaker, acquired, but found wanting). Insight into the futility of this process may generate the impulse to "leave the world" (become a monk, or sell the system). Perhaps we feel a sense of emptiness, or futility. We realize that collectively we live on the coast of Banda Aceh. Audio seems small and futile, selfish and personal.

If we sit really still in the quiet and listen deeply, the sound stage expands beyond the horizon and encompasses all beings. Sitting in this fashion we realize that we are not alone and we see the mere fact of our existence in this moment as a blessing.

The way we engage in audio almost necessarily plunges us into duality: This system is better than what I remembered hearing five minutes ago in another room, that system is too bright, too dark, too forward or too recessed or too (fill in the blank). What are we searching for? We are searching for that moment when our mind finally shuts up and allows us to be carried along on the thread of the music.

John Cage tells a story of being invited to dinner in a fashionable New York brownstone and bringing a Zen Master with him. After dinner the host and hostess sang third rate arias from a third rate opera in a third rate fashion. He was embarrassed for them until he looked over and saw that the Roshi was in perfect bliss.

It takes all of us to make a system, thousands of laborers, musicians and engineers thousands of hours. Perhaps we should perform a brief puja before listening to acknowledge the sacrifice of all those who made our listening pleasure possible—paying homage to the community that sits with us in our listening rooms as we breathe.