Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Blind Listening

I have participated in blind listening walks in the past. The last time I walked, about 8 years ago, I was pregnant with my first child. The walk took place in Chelsea, on the far west side of Manhattan. It was terrifying. It was really, really difficult to trust my partner and let one foot follow the other. I wanted to just stand still, or curl up in a ball for safety. I certainly didn't want to be blindfolded!

My Bennington walk, on the other hand, was an extraordinary treat! We started outside in the bitter cold and wind. At first I was reluctant, having left my coat inside, but my guide led me thoughtfully across different ground surfaces, around corners, in and out of light and shadow, all of which I could sense with my other, non-visual senses. The repeating pattern of gamelan music emanating from a ground floor classroom was an orienting motif that came in and out of my awareness as we walked. When we came inside the building, we sat for a few moments in the library. I felt so warm and comforted by the quite whispers and small sounds of that enclosed space.

At the close of the walk I felt calm, enlivened, and happy. It had been a 10 minute break - a short stretch of time where I was able to be led by someone, to be in someone else's care, relying on my senses (rather then my intellect) to know and experience the world. As the parent of an infant, I am constantly on the lookout - listening for cries, looking for signs of illness or danger, supervising in every way possible. So to be the 'baby' for a few minutes, just moving in the flow of sensory experience, was really pleasurable!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Blind Sound Walk

For me, the blindfolded sound walk was a surprisingly enlightening experience. I didn't expect that removing my sight would be so frightening. I was unnerved by my dependence on my partner to guide me and my overall insecurity. At first it felt as if I was being overcome by sounds. When blindfolded, my hearing became more impartial. It seems that sometimes the eyes decide what we hear, or at least how we process sounds. My heightened sense of hearing was obviously compensating for my lack of vision, but my mind did not know how to process the influx of auditory information, at first, without sight.

For a while I would turn my head instinctually in the direction of a sound, to attempt to register its source visually. This was obviously pointless, but my sensory reactions were much quicker then my rational thinking. With time, though, this evolved into my forgetting sight and melting into the sound environment. The most distinct and interesting perceptual phenomenon I observed was how my heightened sense of hearing was directly correlated with a heightened sense of touch. It was as if in order to compensate for my lack of vision, I needed to make a sensory association with sound in another way. I found myself listening to the texture of different objects. I knew when I approached steps because there was a hollower wooden sound produced by the denser sound of the floor or carpet. When I walked outside, the first sound I heard was the wind- which of course was accompanied by my feeling the chill. This experience made me think about what sounds we usually associate with sight vs. touch or perhaps even taste. Can we ever listen without another sensory association?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blind Walk

My senses dominated by feelings of spatial uncertainty, my perception and engagement with the acoustic elements of space was discomfiting, producing a potent sense of disequilibria. I experienced the disconcerting sensation that everything I was not in direct contact with didn't exist, and the muffling of sounds behind doors and from other floors in the building made it difficult to use sound to orient myself in the space. The difficulty of spatial attribution profoundly impacted my experience, and I felt as thought sounds could've come from behind the 3" thick door a foot to my left, or emanated from some distant source. Coming from all sides, sound suggested an infinite, indefinite expanse of space, rather than confirming the reassuring presence of the fourfold and upper and lower planes. Ironically, it was my knowledge that there were walls, floors, and ceilings that produced tension when there was no spatial or physical confirmation of their presence. This absence, along with the formlessness and difficulty in sourcing sound, undermined my knowledge of the space.

It was outside, with no floor to give way or walls to disappear, that I felt at ease with the surroundings.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

V A P A Meditation

Several nights ago, I was in the architecture studio, having found myself in the familiar situation of an all-nighter. The space has a twenty-foot ceiling, and skylights interspersed at regular intervals. At night, VAPA has a subtle hum; the building is almost empty, the activity of the daytime has ceased, and the building has an underlying whirr from the heating system. At points, all that can be heard is the quiet scratch of pencil on paper, the patient erasing, the rustle of trace. 
On this particular night, however, the space was anything but quiet. Overhead, the snow had been accumulating steadily for several hours, and the wind had built in intensity. Now, the room resounded with the roar of the wind, as gusts rocked the building. The acoustics of the space and the slight muffle of the elements created the impression that I stood below-decks in a ship being tossed by the elements. More remarkable than the sound of the wind meeting the building, however, was the sound of the snow. As gusts came, the snow, loose and dry-sounding, skittered over the roof. The flurry of snow would rise in a crescendo as it moved overhead, then dissipate as the wind carried it away. The legato of the wind and the rush of the snow gave the impression of surf crashing against the shore, as successive waves broke overhead.

It’s a strange sensation to have something both protect you and yet amplify the very source that threatens. This relationship between the built and the elements serves to heighten the power of both, and raising your awareness and respect for both. Often, architecture is said to insulate its inhabitants from nature, and by this separation removing us from its gifts and importance. The power of this experience arose from the simultaneous experience of both sides of a supposed dichotomy, and through that experiencing a connection between both. Here, the room tone came from an outside actor on the space, yet brought to life the potential of the room.


listen to only the sounds inside the room

listen to only the sounds outside the room

listen to the room.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Real Vocorder Shebang

David Tudor interviewed about working premade and homemade electronics , devising aleatoric pieces, performance practices, and his work with the Merce Cunningham dance company.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Celeste Boursier and "One Word"

Posting this on behalf of Jake Saunders...


This installation by Celeste Boursier always fascinated me.  Not just because I love guitar sounds, but the random and breathing element of the piece is exciting. The sounds produced by the birds take on a truly organic and in the moment atmosphere.  This piece is another example of someone using a room as an instrument.  Much like the piece that Harlan and I are envisioning in which we turn a practice room into an instrument, this piece attempts to turn another space into a musical form of expression.  In Boursier's piece the birds become a music making variable which completely alter the space and it's function.  Harlan and I will be using rehearsing musicians as our external variable to add to the space's apparent function.  

I performed Pauline's simple piece from Sonic Meditations entitled "One Word":

Choose a word.  Listen to it mentally.  Slowly and gradually begin to voice this word by allowing each tiny part of it to sound extremely prolonged.  Repeat for a long time.

The piece's simplicity is what made performing it a unique experience.  I found it interesting that I was urged to synchronize my breathing with the word, as well as the habit to silently mouth the word.  As time went on the word began to sound different, and hold a different meaning.  My perception of the word changed in that I recognized the word more as a sound, an object, a simple blip in space rather than a symbol that holds an external meaning.  It reminded me of a poet's ability to change the shape of a word and the meaning it holds by putting it in a different context.  Something else I thought about after I performed the piece was that I am rarely every prompted to focus on the thoughts in my head so closely.  It seems as though that voice in my head can never be silenced as long as I'm awake, but when I narrowed my mental attention down to a single syllable my body became relaxed and I was able to come out of the experience with a feeling of calm serenity.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

For Annea Lockwood and Alison Knowles

Keep the next sound you hear
in mind
for at least the next half hour.



bird call. fast, short, and shrill. 
repeated 2x.


When I first read this meditation, it struck me as very simple and yet quite challenging. I was sitting in my room, with my window open. Once I began listening, the first sound I heard was a gentle rustling of my blanket I was wrapped around, followed by an unclear pattering sound from down the hall. Neither of these sounds stood out to me in a way that made it easy to remember them. So I tried, but other sounds kept getting in the way. 

Soon enough there was a loud, clear, and distinct bird call that must have come from right outside my window. The call was then repeated two times, after approximately three seconds of silence. This was very easy to keep inside of my head. My first tactic was to keep repeating the sound, exactly as I heard it, inside of my head. It required intense focus, and seemed too forced. This "sound" in my mind was no longer the sound as I heard it, but rather an imitation projected through my distinct head voice. Perhaps it is similar to reading, in that the voice you hear inside of your head it your own.

I then reevaluated the intentions of the piece. Keeping a sound "in mind" doesn't necessarily mean to "replay continuously" in my head. I felt foolish for assuming that. "In mind" means simply remembering the sound, allowing it to influence my thoughts, actions, and other perceptions (including listening) in whatever capacity. I allowed myself to drift into a listening meditation, allowing the now indistinct initial sound to mingle with the sound environment. I soon began noticing that the furnace, as it turned on, made a similar, but more drawn out rhythm of the call. A while later, a car honked and it seemed to me to be similar in pitch. My ears began making relationships in unexpected ways. Even when the half hour was over, I had a difficult time forgetting the bird call. It became an underlying thought, of sorts, that influenced my listening throughout the day.