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Deep Listening (prick up your ears)

August 15, 2007

Take a walk at night. Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.” — Pauline Oliveros


The lovely people at The Music Gallery, Toronto’s “centre for new and unusual music”, have arranged for Pauline Oliveros to visit and perform next month as part of the annual X Avant festival.

As a composer of ghostly electroacoustic music (her Ghostdance record is a night-time, haunted-electricity favourite of mine), and as the founder of the Deep Listening Institute, Oliveros is hugely important to me as sound-maker and sound-thinker. In fact, perhaps the most important idea suggested by Deep Listening is that sound-making and sound-thinking begin (and develop) as exactly the same activity. In a way it seems quite funny that she should be coming to Toronto to play a concert — although I don’t doubt Oliveros’s ability as a performer, Pauline Oliveros is probably most emphatically Pauline Oliveros when she is simply a listener. But then the technicalities of arts festival administration probably don’t allow the possibility of shipping an artist in just to sit and listen.

Anyway, with all of this in mind, today I took a daytime soundwalk, and then a night-time soundwalk, through the local streets.

(A note about the sound-walk as a pastime — if I say that it takes in the flânerie of Baudelaire (and then Walter Benjamin), and the drift of Debord (and then Michel de Certeau), and combines these different takes on the good old-fashioned idler’s constitutional with a whole lot of R. Murray Schafer Canadian New World nature-spirit-communing speculation, then you’ll understand that I mean simply that it combines the things I love about Old Europe, with the best we can hope for from the Americas, which are best considered as a ghost waiting to be spoken with. * Good grief!)

During both my sound-walks today it was necessary to get away from the houses with their huge added-on air-conditioning systems (soundwalking is one of the few outdoor activities that is actually more enjoyable in the dead of the Canadian winter, than in the summertime); this meant taking shortcuts through several of the charming mini-parks that Toronto does so well. In the afternoon I could hear the minute, dry crunch of sparrows pecking for food in the scorched straw-like grass. In the evening, the sound is more general and average, with crickets competing with the air-conditioners. Given a valid excuse to hang around outside a stranger’s front door, I also had the pleasure of eavesdropping on a lovers’ break-up, audible through a second-floor window. Ever since she’d made out with another man, she had no longer been sure about how right they were, and he knew it — but he didn’t blame her, and she still cried hard and rhythmically… Another of Oliveros’s recommendations is that we identify objectively the sound and tone that is most beneficient to each individual in a community, and then allow that individual “a special place in the environment where he or she may visit his or her special tone and color in a manifestation which is most satisfying to the individual to carry it with them whenever they need it”, by the way.

And all the time I did not have a recorder with me, by choice, because I wanted to listen with my body and through my own bones, rather than through the usual cyborg extensions. The cyborg extensions will be re-attached tomorrow, thankyou very much. Back home in my apartment I have the busy tinkle of an aquarium-under-construction as a suitable sound to dream to.

“… And from time to time I lie back and listen to the sound of my hair growing white.” — James Joyce
*Sometimes the ghost of the chance of America–the America that might have been–is the most mystical thing I can think of. I hear it a lot in Phil Spector, actually.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather permalink
    August 15, 2007 6:05 pm

    You love that quote from Joyce.


  1. Neither hearing nor seeing Pauline Oliveros: a review « The Ideal Tiger

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