was designed (also) to help those making music keep a proper relationship between attention, more connected to mental activity and ‘aroused by interest or desire,’ and awareness, more connected with the “body’s sensory receptivity.” As the musician practices or performs, the goal is to keep her attention finely tuned to the sound that is produced while remaining aware of the sensations of the body as well as all the vibratory feedback of the surrounding space. “Both have a tunable range: attention can be honed to a finer and finer point. Awareness can be expanded until it seems all- inclusive. Attention can intensify awareness. Awareness can support attention. There is attention to awareness; there is awareness of attention” (Oliveros 1984: 139).
On the other hand, Oliveros was also effecting a disruption of the distinctions between musicians and non-musicians. In other words, the scores that explore this mandala are written in such a way that those who do not consider themselves musicians can take part in a group sounding process in which the focus is on the sounding of the mental and bodily experience rather than the achievement of certain expectations related to aesthetic judgments of “beautiful” music.
However, the more “simple” the assignment does not necessarily mean the easier the execution, and in some cases a piece might become more difficult in direct correlation to the learned and practiced experience of the performer. Virtuoso musicians used to formal ways of reading, interpreting and reproducing a musical score might experience distress at the thought of performing the following:
“Horse Sings From Cloud.” For solo or ensemble.
Hold a tone until you no longer desire to change it.
When you no longer desire to change the tone then change it.
(Pauline Oliveros, © Copyright Deep Listening Publications 1979)(42)
This is a sounding in which control is relinquished, in which “the composer” bestows the music not only into the hands of the performer, but into the force of the non-desire, the will of the non-will. At that moment, when one note is held, one can become lost in the endless variety, the subtle variations of dynamics and tone color, the intricate ways in which that single pitch colors each moment that it passes, intersects with each breath, each twitch of a muscle, each sound that merges with it from the surrounding environment. Rather than seeking for a certain effect, or affect, one “gives oneself over” to the sounding. In the program notes for the performance of Rose Mountain Slow Runner, a related piece, Oliveros writes:
In this song my task is to listen to long sounds from my accordion, to join them with my voice, blending as perfectly as possible, continuing each sound until the desire to change it subsides. Very often I hear ways for the sounds to change mentally, but I give up those mental changes and wait until the sound seems to change on its own. This produces in me a sense of openness and awareness (Mockus 2005: 108).
As one “gives oneself over” in this way, in a listening-to-that-which-arises, the erotic, the sensual, the seductive, the untamable aspects of sounding open themselves up. The sounds are not something that I struggle to control with my body, the power of my memory, the strength of my analytical brain; rather, the sounds emanate from me, yet surprise me with their own will and direction. I would say: try it.
The CD catches my ear again, or my writing catches up to the music. I hear that the performers are performing their listening, in those subtle messages of timing, in the give and take of thematic material, energetic impulses, and, as stated previously, the sensitivity to the sounding space. I hear this in the same way that I hear when my students who are improvising together are not listening to each other. Two decades of experience tuning me into sensing where the attention of the becoming-musician lies. But I hear something else, also as a result of two decades of giving instrumental lessons.(43) I hear that the performers are listening to/aware of their bodies as they are playing. I hear the body awareness/listening of the performers, just as I can hear (not always infallibly, but often even if I am looking away to write or in a different room) if my piano students are breathing, if they are releasing the weight of their arms into the keys, if they are tightening the upper muscles of their legs or constricting their shoulders or rib muscles. Just as I can hear the blockage of flows of energy related to muscular constriction, related to jumpy or incomplete breathing, related to tension of the diaphragm, related to a lack of release of the muscles into the gravitational pull, related to a fear of falling. Each teacher of voice or an instrument is trained to detect the audible cues for deep or hidden body tension, the voice being perhaps the most susceptible to tension of all sorts, immediately apparent in the quality of the tone, the richness of the partials, the breadth of resonance and the ease of transitions. To put it baldly, I might say I hear the “Yoga” of Stuart Dempster and the “black belt in karate” of Pauline Oliveros. Power without force, expansion within the moment, seamless emptying and filling, effortless effort and unwavering lightness of concentration, catching sound, curving it in the reception of their body/mind/ear and sending it soaring back to the other players. The way of the Qi made audible. Performing a listening to, an awareness, a deep understanding of the body, the kinesthetic language of the body, especially as related to the perceptual, bodily and compositional paradoxes that one engages with in meditation, Yoga, T’ai Chi, Qigong and other forms of attentive movement.
What about the sounds around us? I could perform my listening to the environment.
“Environmental Dialogue” (1996 Revision) by Pauline Oliveros (1975/1996).
Each person finds a place to be, either near to or distant from the others, either indoors or out-of-doors. The meditation begins by each person observing his or her own breathing. As each person becomes aware of the field of sounds from the environment, each person individually and gradually begins to reinforce the pitch of any one of the sound sources that has attracted their attention. The sound source is reinforced vocally, mentally or with an instrument. If one loses touch with the sound source, then wait quietly for another. Reinforce means to strengthen or to sustain by merging one’s own pitch with the sound source. If the pitch of the sound source is out of vocal or instrumental range, then it is to be reinforced mentally. The result of this meditation will probably produce a resonance of the environment. Some of the sounds will be too short to reinforce. Some will disappear as soon as the reinforcement begins. It is fine to wait and listen (Oliveros 2005: 35).
Once again, I trace the echoes of Buddhist principles in the scores. There are no menial tasks. There are no (un)important moments. There are no (un)important sounds.(44) As neurologist James Austin says of zazen at Ryoko-in: “Working outside on the temple grounds, I pull weeds, split kindling, sweep, and keep the place clean. Is this menial work necessary? Or, like kinhin, is it Zen in motion? It takes longer to appreciate that no kind of work is ‘menial’ unless I judge it to be, that any work takes place in the ongoing now, and is to be fully entered into as an integral part of my daily practice” (Austin 1999: 68). This revelation of the illusion of (un)importance is also a working of the (non)sense of Cage’s lectures and writings, performative and interspersed with (ir)relevant stories: to dismantle the hierarchical, reason-based constructs of properness, worth, belongingness, genius, that held together the fabric of musical society and discourse, in which he moved, and to reveal them, also, in their “unreasonableness.”(45) Like the non-answers of mondo and koan, his lectures reveal the limitations of logical concepts.(46)
The effect of performing this work is that I feel myself centered in a vibrating, fecund field of sonic material. I, in my search to reinforce the sounds around, discover a source for inspiration in the expansion of my sounding vocabulary. As I sit quietly, listening, translating and responding, I am touched and reach out with vibrations. In my silence, my listening, the vibratory world recreates itself in me, and I become aware of the balance between my bodily sounds, my imagination and the sounds entering my perception from the world around me. Even when I engage in that rarefied activity termed ‘playing piano’, my awareness and attentive perception are able, if desired, to expand to include the reception of even subtle triggers from my environment. Not always and not dogmatically, but more and more accessibly.
In my experience at three international Deep Listening Retreats, besides movement, performance of text scores and dream work,(47) we were engaged from the very first day in creating: creating scores, creating interpretations on the fly with small groups, creating and preparing performances over a period of a few days. We engaged with each other, with our environment, with ourselves, in the struggle to give form to a sounding event with the materials at hand, while applying the principles of Deep Listening we were assimilating. As one works, it becomes clear that this act of creation is always imbedded in preconceived notions, expectations, habits. Dialogues (sometimes heated) arise with sentences such as: “I find this too emotive,” “this is too dry and mathematical for me,” “where is the form?,” “how do we end?,” “you can’t do that in a performance,” “what are we SAYING?” or “why in the world would we want to do that?” The act of listening and creating and performing becomes an act that reveals our expectations, reveals our aesthetic judgments and choices and those of communities in which we function. Alongside the interactivity of participating in one of the scores of Oliveros herself, participants also take part in creating works that follow the same possibilities of interaction:
My music is interactive music. It is interactive in the sense that participants take a share in creating the work rather than being limited to expressively interpreting pitches and rhythms. I have composed the outside forms, the guidelines for ways of listening and ways of responding. These forms and guidelines with appropriate application give the participants a creative opportunity to compose and perform simultaneously in collaboration with me and to expand their musicianship (Oliveros 1998: 5).
The possibility arises, of course, that this way of creating, for oneself and others, becomes a part of a person’s lifestyle, becomes incorporated in their own work and doings. In the Appendix to Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice (2005), one can find examples of reflections, research, explanations of shifts in perspectives, creative processes written by those touched by Deep Listening. And this is absolutely an effect understood and desired by Oliveros. In an interview by Mockus, Pauline Oliveros says:
Well, it’s very important to me to help facilitate creative process in others, to empower people to understand and use sound as a force in their lives and in their realization of who they are, creatively and spiritually. And in this way, you build community. You build a community of understanding based on sounding and listening, but it’s not about controlling and regulating. It’s a different approach. Very different. It’s very important to me, and it’s also fairly recent that I can even articulate that, in the way that I just have (Mockus 2005: 165).
I could perform my listening-to the society in which I move and find my being.(48) The Deep Listening Anthology I and Anthology II contain examples of the creative works of around 90 ‘musicians and artists from around the world who have embraced the ideas of Deep Listening in their own ways.’(49) To close this section, I present three more hearable and/or viewable examples of such generative, exploratory creative processes: first, the final film of the Masterclass given by Pauline Oliveros on the 23rd of February 2012 during the Sonic Acts Festival XIV, in which the participants improvise with each other; second, an excerpt of the improvisation Chaos and Control , recorded during a session of the Migratory Band, sent to me by Ximena Alarcón, and, finally, film material of MiniBo - an occupation of the Norwegian National Opera lobby - a performance installation dealing with sustainability, sent to me by Kristin Norderval.