Review: Ways of Hearing by Damon Krukowski

Damon Krukowski’s Ways of Hearing is an ear-opener. Based on the podcast of the same name from Radiotopia, the book is a multimodal experience, one that opens the ears through the eyes.

Things over the last century or so have certainly changed – quickly, drastically. We can see that: in reflecting on “Progress,” transitions from one time to another are often explored through pictures, or sharing verbal snapshots of the way things looked: the changes in buildings, fashion, cars, bridges, roads. Yet we don’t so often discuss the ways in which we can experience the world has changed through sound: the ways we move through space in crowds; the ways we interact with each other through phone calls; the ways we record, share, and access music.

Each chapter is an important and worthwhile meditation on the ways we create and interact with sound, and how they’ve have changed in recent decades through a handful of lenses: time; space; love; music; power. Its use of images interwoven throughout the text conjure sensations of specific sounds tied to particular times throughout history, from the cover queuing the sound of a needle hitting a record, to lines of Debussy, to the sensation of walking through a New York City street with your headphones in. Krukowski’s prose explores the technological changes in an accessible manner and asks, How do we benefit from these changes? How do we lose?

The text itself is a quick read, with both overlaps and differences from content explored in the podcast. The book actually feels like reading a podcast, which I find mostly pleasurable, but there are, at times, certain repetitions my ears appreciate in verbal storytelling that my eyes don’t need so much on the page. Nevertheless, upon finishing, the way I think about the ways I listen have certainly changed.

Much of the change examined in the book is emphasizes losses amidst the gains of the ways we’re listening today. Things have changed; what do we want from here? The reader is left wondering – as Krukowski intends. The point is to ponder where we’ve been and where we are, so we can make future choices about what we ultimately want. Onward from here: how best to go about living in the world, and how best to listen?

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