When was the last time you listened to a whole music album, like, focused? I remember renting cd’s from the library and listening to every single song. Some albums had a hidden bonus track after the last song. I remember one on Left of the middle by Natalie Imbruglia (that’s how long ago it was). Albums were like mental trips, little windows to civilization out of my hometown Spijkenisse, and I was an adventurer conquering new territory.
My friend Christianne reminded me of all this. She set out on the coolest little project, beginning January 1st this year. The venture? Focused listening to one album a week for one year straight. 52 albums, 52 stories. Really.
Spotify playlist of the project (one song of each album):
Before I fire off my questions to her, I can’t help but detour to the topic of personal leadership. Christianne’s project resembles a popular technique to effectiveness. Endless blogs, magazines and management books have described it: the magic of the ritual. Lifehack published 7 morning rituals to empower your day & change your life just a month ago, and the Muse posted the article How 15 minutes a day can change your life. And the app Fabulous reminds me each morning of doing 3 yoga poses and 15 minutes of learning Portuguese. It’s only a small effort, but it gives me over 7 hours of Portuguese practice a month, a staggering 91 hours a year (that’s over 11 days, muito obrigada!).
Having said that, Christianne is now down to her 52nd (!) album this week (joined by many more albums she listens to on the side), investing just one hour of attentive listening a week. A little project gone ballistic: I’m inspired!
So, what are the rules to the project?
‘Well, really very simple.. I literally just pick a music album each week and listen to it actively. Could be at work, on the road or at home. I want to make sure I won’t be disturbed whilst listening to the album, so I do pick my moments for a listen session. The only other ‘rule’ is that I keep a list of all the albums I listened to. This way I know I don’t put up a record a second time and I can revisit all I’ve heard. Cause seriously..52 albums: my brain doesn’t hold on to all titles. The music can be of any genre and it can be older albums as well as new ones.’
How did the project begin?
‘Most of the time I would end up listening to the same few artists. Yet I was so inspired by discovering new musicians at the concerts and festivals I have attended in the last few years, I wanted to experience that sensation of discovery more often. And there’s just so much out there…’
What was your first album of the project?
‘It was January 2nd in the early morning hours at work.. cold, rainy, typical Dutch #@!-weather. I listened to Telefon Tel Aviv – Fahrenheit fair enough. This is super relaxed sunset music. A perfect start to the year.’
How do you select the albums?
‘I actually “crowdsource” a lot, asking people for their ideas. And I specifically ask them for things out of my ordinary playlist. All those suggestions have really stretched my musical horizon. When I tell people (friends, family but also strangers) about this project, they tend to get really involved, sending me their favorites. That has actually been the most interesting part of my project, as people feel sort of vulnerable disclosing their personal taste. They often end up telling me what they like about their suggestion, which sometimes feels like they are defending their choice. This makes it a great and interesting way of getting to know people better. After all, music really says a lot about who you are. And I’m also no exception.
I also follow new releases by artists on the record labels that I like. One of those labels is Erased Tapes, where one my favorite artists Nils Frahm releases music. Through his music I found the label and I almost always like the music they release, as the artists always have a certain sound which I enjoy. If I feel like fresh input, I check my Spotify daily mix (algorithm product based on previous listens). And if there’s cool stuff on the radio that’s a good source for new albums. And I just always select an album that matches my mood, so that I finish it.’
…what if you don’t like an album?
‘This is a hard one to answer, as the project is about stretching my horizon. Which means you also have to make it through uncomfortable moments every now and then. Listening to something that isn’t your taste is definitely uncomfortable, but also interesting and needs to be done as well. If the album really doesn’t suit my taste at that moment I do occasionally quit after a couple of songs and then the album doesn’t make it to the list. But really, I give it a proper try first.’
So what music came your way?
‘All types of music, with a focus on indie bands, electronic music and experimental piano music (people seem to know me quite well). But I also listened to techno, dark ambient, industrial music, Shoegaze (a 1980’s style) and music with jazz influences. I’ve had some amazing finds as well as things that are not my cup of tea. But discovering things outside of my usual playlist was exactly the point of the project. So I am open to anything.’
The best discovery so far?
‘First of all, Penguin café – The imperfect sea made a huge impression, it’s a truly phenomenal work by an orchestra with a long history: the father passed away and his son started the project again. It is quite minimalistic, classical and modern and the pieces have a great feel to them. Nice detail: their trademark is a penguin mask which they sometimes wear during concerts!
Another album is Echo by Bazart, which became my go-to album this summer. It’s a Belgian band with a good amount of synthesizers. The lyrics are in Dutch, wonderfully poetic and the music is even danceable at times. This album was my week 10. My tip? Listen to the song Goud, you might know it from the radio (in Holland & Belgium).
The albums by Lambert are the third highlight of my year (it must be said: I’m passionate about piano music). I started listening to his music after a concert. He’s quite the character, only performing with a mask on that he really doesn’t take off. He creates a jazzy, modern sound. So soothing, while there’s also something ominous about the sound.’
And the worst?
‘Gabriel Garzon Montana with Jardin, didn’t really push the right buttons for me. Listened to it in week 8, but can hardly remember the sound or what I specifically didn’t like about it.’
Did your music preferences change because of the project?
‘Yes, it is broader now and my playlists are reflecting that quite well! On that note it’s quite a successful project.’
Any surprising side effects of the project?
‘Yeah I’ve had different things happening. I started playing more music myself. I play the piano and recently started experimenting with a synthesizer. This also made me listen to music in a more technical way than before. Another nice side-effect is the contact I have with other people, speaking about music. I also started buying more music to play on my record player, even though I initially stream the albums I listened to (legally). On a final note, I really thought I could never stick to the project so long, but it turns out I can! Doing the project has been a surprising process.’
How about 2018?
‘Sometimes it was hard to stay committed to listening to one album a week, but it’s been a rewarding journey, so I continue it into 2018. Maybe I’ll try to challenge myself a bit more. Great discoveries come from stepping out of your comfort zone. I might also try and find a way to get more people, also strangers, involved with the project and share a bit more about it throughout the year. I also want to dive deeper into the background of certain music and albums, make the experience more profound.
I created a Spotify list with one song from each album I listened to this year as a personal reminder, but also for people to know what’s going on in the project. Find the list in Spotify under the link: https://open.spotify.com/user/reflecity/playlist/2yOH3LHxFiWhBiWsjno1lU.