The Year Of Difficult Listening

The Year Of Difficult Reading is a blog reading project someone’s doing - tackle “twelve of the most notoriously difficult novels in the English language” across 2011, one a month. (Two of ‘em aren’t English language novels, but they are very well-read in translation, so no quibbling!)

Obviously this project raises a million questions about the definition of difficulty, how it gets assigned, what the value is in approaching ‘difficult’ art, and so on. That’s precisely WHY I thought it would be really interesting to ask what a music equivalent would look like. What records would be on it? What balance of classical tradition and others? What does “difficulty” sound like - does material that’s emotionally or politically difficult stack up against things that are sonically taxing? The reading tumblr has picked stuff which - by and large - is already in the canon, but is this an option in music?

So this post is a call for suggestions, rather than discussion. Because it takes less time to listen to a record than to read a book - even a difficult record! - I think we can go for 52 items, not just 12. I’m not necessarily going to DO this project - I have enough on my plate as it is - but I’m very happy to crowdsource a curriculum and leave it open to any lunatic who wants something to take on. Or just leave it as a list and an idea. What I’m hoping to end up with is a list which would include material that you might see as “difficult” whatever your current comfort zone might be. Perhaps that’s impossible. Perhaps the whole idea is misguided. Let’s find out!

Your suggestions?


  1. bsdf answered: la monte young - the well tuned piano
  2. andrewtsks answered: Scott Walker’s The Drift, some later Leonard Cohen like The Future, Antioch Arrow’s In Love With Jetts, Waits’ Bone Machine maybe?
  3. meserach answered: "The Boiler" by the Specials.
  4. bengraham answered: I’ve never been able to listen to both CDs of Aphex Twin’s ‘Drukqs’ in full. I’ve tried, but it hurts my head after a while.
  5. jonathan-bogart answered: How about the Nurse With Wound list — difficulty also includes finding it!
  6. ley-lines answered: Caetano Veloso’s Araca Azul. Weird but not that difficult to a 2011 listener. But its rep is so dismal in Brazil he disowns it in his autobio
  7. thevidsarealright answered: Robot Ninja Dinosaur Bastards from the Wrong Music lot? Or Ceephax, even!
  8. douglaswolk said: "DogPoundFoundSound." "The Boiler." That final Harry Pussy double-LP. Something by Disc.
  9. slangking answered: John Coltrane’s “Om” is one of the most “he’s totally lost it” works by an agreed-upon legend; Throbbing Gristle up in this piece?
  10. davidkatz answered: ,
  11. zmedelegantdiningroompackanimal said: Anyway, the Nancarrow player piano studies have always made me both excited and angry, so I guess I’d vote for them.
  12. zmedelegantdiningroompackanimal answered: Shouldn’t time should be a consideration? The book list seems to acknowledge that size matters when it comes to difficulty.Esp42daysADHDmndst
  13. thaayandrade answered: não entendi ):
  14. thirtydollarproject reblogged this from tomewing and added:
    Ooohhhh. How tricky! My first thought was that the fella who is undertaking The Year of Difficult Reading seems to be a...
  15. markrichardson answered: John Coltrane Ascension
  16. circlingskeleton answered: i suppose “Metal Machine Music” is an easily notorious one for this?
  17. everygreatsongever said: Actually, its contextual as well. For Western listeners, any number of ethnic field recordings could be considered difficult listening.
  18. everygreatsongever answered: There’s certainly a spectrum of difficulty, which you touch upon, but msotly I think it’ll come down to sonics.
  19. anythingcouldhappen said: Minimalists like Philip Glass and Terry Riley. Anything that requires patience tends to be difficult for listeners conditioned to mp3 shuffling and instant musical gratification.
  20. whitelikeheaven answered: Autechre - Confield, I like All Music’s description of it as “a record to respect, not enjoy,”
  21. bowiesongs answered: An unaccompanied sax solo record is a good endurance challenge: Anthony Braxton’s “For Alto” or Julius Hemphill’s “Blue Boye”
  22. popcornnoises answered: First thing I thought of was Metal Machine Music, but that’s w/o considering the wider spectrum of ‘difficulty.’
  23. jrichmanesq answered: Metal machine music? Trout mask replica? Merzbow? Is this stuff too obvious?
  24. tomewing posted this