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Investigations: Eavesdropping Polythinking Ritual Community Music Why Listen?
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EAVES­DROP­PING
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Lis­ten­ing to the Manus Record­ing Project Col­lec­tive

Fri, 19. Oct 2018
Ian Potter Museum of Art

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Pauline Oliveros In The Arms Of Reynols:
Alan Courtis remembers an unlikely collaboration

The Argentinian guitarist talks about telematic improvisations and Reynols’s noisy collaboration with the late composer

Anla Courtis

Microtonal Drifts, Anla Courtis 2014.

April 1994, Pauline Oliveros was in Buenos Aires making her only visit to Argentina. Her Deep Listening workshop took place over a whole weekend exploring diverse techniques for listening and producing sound. I remember an exercise called “Angels And Demons”, in which all the participants walked around casting out demons and angels through their voices. The room was full of sounding presences. This inspiring experience was the starting point of a friendship that has been going on ever since.

In her book Sounding The Margins Pauline described in detail her encounter with “a couple of intense and punkish looking young men”. That unusual confluence was followed some years later by the release of the remix album Pauline Oliveros In The Arms Of Reynols (White Tapes, 1999).

Somewhere on the inserts of its first edition – which included a spraypainted tape and a small bag of sand – you could read: “The Heavy Deep Listening Metal Band”. The phrase sounds somewhat funny but reading it now it set my mind wondering. How could this gentle lady be interested in collaborating with 20 year old guys coming from a totally different background? Why did she allow us to use bootleg cassette recordings of her solo concerts and process them with a bunch of distortion pedals? How, being a well-known meditation music figure, did she embrace all those noisy sounds?

The possible answer is: Pauline was one of the most open-minded persons I’ve ever had contact with. Mircotonalist? Electronic musician? Accordionist? Composer? No, she was actually beyond categories. I mean she was always searching for new horizons and very curious about everything. Intense and gentle, precise and creative, sometimes she’d come up with something happily unexpected:

“I have dropped the d! Can you hear the sound of the d dropping?
dddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd!”

But at the same time she was truly coherent and extremely active, not only playing and composing but also teaching, writing, publishing and coordinating many activities at her Deep Listening Space or somewhere on the worldwide network of deep listeners she helped to create.

Furthermore, we shouldn’t forget Pauline’s innovating approach to technology. She has always been interested in the new possibilities opened up by computers and new media. Some examples: she developed her own Expanded Instrument System (EIS); contributed to the development of music software for people with disabilities (AUMI); and worked with diverse collective music projects through the internet like The Avatar Orchestra Metaverse or The Telematic Circle. In the last field we both had a singular experience, playing a duo show via the internet which came to be called “Between Dreams: A Telematic Exchange”. That was in October 2009 for Pauline’s partner Ione’s Dream Festival, with Pauline playing at The Shirt Factory in Kingston, New York, while I was at my home studio in Buenos Aires, with the strange results being streamed live. After the netcast, we were thinking and joking together via email about the oneiric and phantasmatic qualities involved in telematic improvisation, especially when it comprises several seconds of latency between the improvisors.

However, digital technology wasn’t everything for her. In fact she was also very connected to acoustic sounds, often employing acoustic instruments as a seashell horn, a just intonation accordion and of course the wonderful overtone singing of her own voice. In addition she also composed instrumental pieces for many different instrumental line-ups, revealing the the full breadth of her musical range.

I was obviously shocked when I received the sad news. During this year we’d been in touch quite frequently since I was translating – along with Ximena Alarcón – some of her texts into Spanish. She was always kind, enthusiastic and supportive about this project, replying to every single mail which, considering her age, was in itself remarkable. During the last few days many images of Pauline have come to mind: I remembered her playing... calmly driving along the beautiful landscapes next to the Hudson River... slowly swinging in her garden’s hammock... or just breathing.

“Have you heard the sound of atoms dreaming in a new orbit?” Honestly, Pauline, I’m still trying to hear it, but wherever you are now I’m sure you’re tuned to that sound.

Info

Why Listen?

We listen, all the time, whether we like it or not. Sounds come unbid­den to our ears; we (gen­er­ally) have no say in hear­ing. We feel the beat in feet and cheeks and skull and trunk and ster­num, and heart. We can’t unhear.

So we are aware that we listen, and we — more or less — under­stand how. But can we take a moment or two to con­sider other impor­tant ques­tions about lis­ten­ing — namely, to whom do we listen, and why?

This pro­gram, Why Listen, pro­ceeds from these ques­tions as it attempts to open up the act of lis­ten­ing in social, sci­en­tific and polit­i­cal space. It is an inquiry into both the con­sen­sus con­struct­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion — and, indeed, cre­at­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tors — and an atten­tive­ness to the vital­ity of voices beyond the con­cep­tual.

In asking us to pay atten­tion to voices beyond the human, it sug­gests we might need to do some­thing we fun­da­men­tally cannot — to de-centre our human selves as the lis­ten­ing sub­ject, in order to allow others the agency to sound and to be heard. 

Why Listen is an umbrella for a suite of other inves­ti­ga­tions, includ­ing Why Listen to Ani­mals? (2016; 2019); 2018’s major inves­ti­ga­tion, Why Listen to Plants?, and more to come.

why listen to plants?

Are plants con­scious? We know that plants sense danger, threats, nutri­ents, light, insects, us — and each other. We know that some plants use sound­waves to sense their sur­round­ings — iden­ti­fy­ing poten­tial stakes, water sources and preda­tors. Does this mean they listen? If they can listen, can they also some­how speak’ — and if so, what might they be saying?

Whether or not plant com­mu­ni­ca­tion can — or should — be regarded as intel­li­gence” is a ques­tion that has occu­pied philoso­phers since ancient Greece. Fol­low­ing on from cen­turies of botan­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion, recent debates in the con­tro­ver­sial field of plant neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy” have brought the heated, appar­ently irrec­on­cil­able dis­agree­ment in the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity about very notions of plant sen­tience”, intel­li­gence” and con­scious­ness” to the fore.

As our acoustic and polit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity evolves, so do artis­tic modes of sound­ing and lis­ten­ing — which is why we think that to listen to plants is a pow­er­ful way to rad­i­cally decen­tre the human, in favour of a much more gen­er­ous, but poten­tially desta­bil­is­ing, con­cep­tion of the world.

The pro­posal that we listen to plants con­tin­ues a line of think­ing begun in 2016’s pro­gram Why Listen to Ani­mals? Why Listen to Plants? presents a slightly more chal­leng­ing propo­si­tion. As sci­en­tific thought expands to incor­po­rate con­sid­er­a­tion for non-human sen­tience, eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions arise as to the human use of, and regard for, the many forms of plantlife. It seems we can no longer regard plants merely as self-repli­cat­ing machines that con­vert sun­light and min­er­als into food for us — rather, we need to chal­lenge our think­ing to regard plants as actors and manip­u­la­tors of their envi­ron­ments; in other words, as sub­jects.

As an enquiry into lis­ten­ing, this project offers a plat­form for reflect­ing veg­e­tal thought — or as philoso­pher Michael Marder puts it, the ways in which human think­ing is, to some extent, de-human­ised and ren­dered plant-like, altered by its encounter with the veg­e­tal world”.

For this pro­gram, we are col­lab­o­rat­ing with artists who work at the inter­sec­tion of theory and live per­for­mance. These artists use var­i­ous strate­gies to extend veg­e­tal think­ing into sound and lis­ten­ing, from guided walks, talks, read­ings and lec­ture per­for­mances to exper­i­men­tal music, instal­la­tion, herbal­ist ped­a­gogy, and folk songs.

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