Art And Practice As Listening

The late composer, Pauline Oliveros, came up with the idea of Deep Listening, which she defined as, 
“listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing.” 

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times        

Most of the listening we do is passive listening, where we just let the sounds come to us. Most of the time we are not paying attention to them, so they don't register in our minds. Deep listening is an active and selective process. But it's also a very important part of our life, which connects to all other parts. Sound/music has a deep connection with all of us. Whether it's the sound of waves on a beach, a baby's laugh, or our favorite song, there is a deep, emotional connection that we take personally.
“Listening properly becomes a kind of harmonizing of parts of our being—our intellectual center, our emotional center, and our moving center.” – Philip Glass, Listening to Philip Glass
Photo credit: Steve Pyke


Part of the problem with listening, especially in our modern environment, is that we are bombarded with sounds, so we learn to shut out sounds that we deem as noise or unpleasant. This causes us to ignore so much information that comes our way. This also means that we are judgmental towards the sounds around us: this is a good sound, this is a bad sound. 

“I love sounds. Just as they are. And I have no need for them to be anything more than what they are.” — John Cage


Like Cage, we need to get past the judgement or expectation of sounds around us. And like Oliveros suggested, we need to become more active in our listening.

Active listening exercises:

1) Sit in your house or apartment and just listen. Listen to the sounds you usually ignore, like the refrigerator, the AC/furnace, the coffee maker, etc. Actively focus on a single sound and listen to it. What are it's qualities? If it is pleasant or unpleasant to you, what makes it so? 

2) Go outside and sit on your porch, stoop, or in your yard. Listen to the sounds around you, like the birds, the wind in the trees, the train passing through the valley, building construction, etc. As before, actively focus on a single sound and really listen to it.

3) Change your environment. If you live in the city, go to the country or sea shore. If you live in the country, go to the heart of the city. Notice how the sounds are different, but also notice sounds that are the same.

Learn to pay more attention to your environment and bring it into you art, your practice. We are not disassociated from our environment, we are part of it. Use it to broaden yourself.

~ MB


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