The Bartlett School of Architecture


B-Pro Urban Design Talk: Ben Ratliff

16 November 2023, 2:00 pm–3:00 pm

Ben Ratliff Every Song Ever Book Cover

This is an online lecture organised by Urban Design MArch.

This event is free.

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The Bartlett School of Architecture

Listening, Inefficiency and Value 

In 2016 Ben Ratliff published a book called Every Song Ever, which proposed an integrative and inefficient way of listening to the vast corpus of recorded music that streaming services had only recently begun to offer. Or rather, twenty ways, based around potential organising ideas such as repetition, slowness, density, “closeness,” and onward toward stranger and more subjective categories.

These were suggestions, not prescriptions; essayistic dreams of listening against the algorithm and thereby connecting musicians who are not usually aligned. For instance, under the banner of “slowness,” which everyone understands in some way: late-period Shostakovich, meet DJ Screw. Listener, meet both. Ben was curious if this might make a listener feel freer and fuller in listening to each, because that listener is less likely to represent a known dataset.

What if we constructed our own strategies and reasons to access more of the vast amount of music that has been made available to us? If that involves trial and error, if it seems basically inefficient, well: doesn’t music primarily exist in real time? In order to feel music, isn’t it necessary to listen? In order to listen, isn’t it necessary to spend time, even to waste it? 

Ben Ratliff

Ben Ratliff has written about music for publications including the Washington PostPitchfork, NPR, and the New York Times, where he was a staff critic 20 years, from 1996 to 2016. He is the author of books including Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty; Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, and a forthcoming book on running and listening. He teaches critical writing at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. 

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Image: A portion of the cover of Ben Ratliff's new book, "Every Song Ever." (Courtesy Farar, Straus and Giroux / The Publisher)