This happened a few years ago.

I was up in the woods somewhere near Timmins. The short summer treeplanting contract I was working was wrapping up and I was killing time in my tent, early in the morning. We had had a wrap party the night before, in-camp, as only treeplanters can party, so most everyone else was still dead to the world. I was not quite ready to get out of bed (read: sleeping bag) yet, and fortunately, that unpleasant tenty greenhouse effect hadn’t kicked in yet, so I rummaged through my belonings, grabbed my discman and popped in my earbuds.

As the word “discman” may have hinted, this was quite a while ago. The CD that was in there was Tweekend by Crystal Method. I was a pretty big fan of this sort of big beat, and while this album was not their best (Vegas) it did have a few really solid tracks. My favorite, and the first on the album, is PHD.

The song itself (I failed to find any convenient web source for the song) builds itself up in a fairly simple manner, one instrument at a time, more or less. Start with a sketchy outline of the drums, then bass, few more drums layered on top, and so forth, slowly building up the song. I’ve long been a fan of this technique, (thank you, Orbital) ’cause when the song is all built up, then you can dig through all the layers and just pay attention to one bit, listen to how it interacts with everything else that is going on.

What follows is a singular experience. Immediately afterwards, and several times since then tried to figure out exactly what had happened, come up with an excuse, a reason, some sort of explanation; either so that I might seek to replicate it or just to know what had happened. I’m not going to do it again, here.

Around <4:50> in the song, I decided to just focus on the main drumline for a bit, really pay attention to it. First just the kick, then the bass drum, then the shaker. Then, it only seemed to follow to include the little fill drum (toms?) bits into my… well, let’s just say depth of field for lack of a better term. By the time I really had a grip on what I was listening to, the song wound down, so I rewound back to the 4:50 mark and gave it another go. After a few tries, I was able to pay attention to more and more of the song at once… and I felt this incredible excitement, almost like a drug high. (only explanatory caveat: no, I was not on drugs) There was just something so thrilling about being able to really hear the whole thing at once. After listening to that passage a few times I popped my headphones off and left the tent, excited that I had perhaps discovered some new way to listen to music.

Subsequent attempts that day, or later, were not successful. I couldn’t seem to spread my attention out over all the parts of the song; by the time I got to the melody I had lost some parts of the rhythm. I don’t think I’ve ever really told anyone about this, ’cause I thought it would sound loony, or more likely, because I was unsure of how to really explain it.