What can happen when we listen to music sitting quietly? What can be the effect of music during a concert that takes place in a condition of “worshipful silence”, as it has been established in Western culture since the 19th century? With the recent increase of interest in the act of listening in several artistic and scientific fields, these questions are addressed focusing on its role and significance on music-making and audience engagement.
In her book Deep Listeners, Judith Becker, a scholar and researcher of musical and religious studies, suggests that listening outside a religious context can, nonetheless, create a religious emotion, mainly that of a connection with a divine power. She argues that people who submerge into deep emotional experiences while listening to music can share similar characteristics with those who fall into trance and reach higher states of consciousness during a ritual with religious context. She links the secular listeners, the “deep listeners” as she calls them, to the “ecstatics”, the participants of sacred rituals, claiming that both groups are potential “trancers” (another term coined by Becker) who respond strongly to the stimuli of music by experiencing an intense arousal of emotions. This emotional response is “characterized by focus, by duration, by limiting the sense of self, and by the surety of special knowledge – the gnosis of trancing”.
After relevant scientific research Becker concludes that the brains of both groups of people, Deep Listeners and Ecstatics, produce similar neurochemical reactions. Secular listening provides access to hidden worlds, invisible and intangible, like the spirits summoned in religious rituals. In both cases, music “invokes a realm of unseen power and limitless extension”.