When the opening credit sequence of The Art Of Listening started, I was taken aback by how many people were featured in the documentary. At least five million. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it was a lot given the documentary clocks in at 74 minutes. It also makes perfect sense because when you're talking about music, there's an endless pool of people to hear from: musicians, engineers, producers, composers, songwriters, craftsman… Or we could simply say "artists."
The Art of Listening doesn't aim to answer any big questions or cram information down your throat. Instead it takes you on an inspiring and passionate journey by way of stories from those aforementioned "five million" (give or take) artists and it is literally impossible not to get swept up in the magic of it all. (If you don't, you're probably dead inside—just saying.)
It opens on an intimate acoustic set in a Nashville bar where someone talks about how listeners want to emotionally and personally connect; we watch Kaki King play incredibly on a guitar and say that "it's not your job to master or control a guitar, but discover what it can do;" next up, electronic musicians take us through their various inspirations in finding and testing sounds; we watch guitars get lovingly built; we tour famed music studios; we see Hans Zimmer dressed in a velveteen jacket sitting on a velveteen chair (AKA heaven)...
It reads like a jumbled mess, yes, but on screen it flows and ebbs perfectly, each story seamlessly giving way to the next. This is in part to sublime cinematography and editing and a beautiful score (I mean, a documentary about music should have a beautiful score, right) bringing everything together.
The documentary is also full of personal little insights just begging to be put onto motivational posters: "Without a great song, why build a violin." "It's about serving a song." "You need to listen to yourself and find your own tone." "Challenge your process." "Look at how technology can serve you."
That last quote (from Steve Vai) was a sentiment that echoed from a documentary. The Art of Listening showed great respect for all kinds of musicians and artists (and showed it by jumping from an electronic musician to a trumpet player in an orchestra) and the subjects had the same respect. Bottom line is: it doesn't matter what you're playing, as long as you are doing it with passion.
That passion came into particular focus at the end of the documentary, which juxtaposed the amount of care and obsession these artists put into their work only to have it played at some super low quality through shit headphones by commuters on a noisy train. To brush that off as music snobbery is truly a disservice to the art of music. If anything, I hope this documentary would inspire you to take some time to just listen to some music—not whilst commuting or making dinner or working. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go buy some better headphones.