Tag Archives: Deep Listening

Willow

Willow
for vocal or instrumental choir

This was one of numerous graphic scores that I had originally planned to dispose of, but saved after meeting John Cage.

At the time, I had created a series of what I referred to as “image” scores, which resembled sparse paintings; this was the only one to have survived. These scores were often created with very clear methods of performance. The strokes in the upper left of the score were inspired by shakuhachi and Tibetan dungchen notation. These strokes were created first, and once in place over a few days I added the other elements as a contrast. I saw three directions of gestures, an oblique movement in the upper left, a subtle horizontal movement on the bottom left, and a crowd of horizontals and rising verticals on the lower right. These directions were important to the score at the time. Any additional layers of meaning as a result of viewing the score as a painting are welcome yet parallel to the work.

I have an interest in vocal and instrumental choirs and the way instruments of a similar timbre interact with each other, especially when they are not bound by melody or harmony.

Below are additional comments on my notes to the score.

The Notes to the Score:

  1. Written for any number of performers, this score can be performed in any manner the performer wishes, including aurally, visually. kinesthetically, synesthetically, interactively, literally, symbolically, or philosophically. 

This is a statement I included in many of my scores and is one that is fundamental to my philosophy of performing them. I consider the reaction a person may have in approaching my scores as a type of performance. How they then express such a reaction, or any long-term results of this reaction are continuations of the performance.

As a performer myself I engage many aspects of my being in playing music. Those mentioned above are just a few, and they often tend to function simultaneously. I am often amazed that this is not more commonly discussed as I find an awareness of how all these manners of expressing music combine is important, as is the balance between them.

A performer may wish to express the score in any manner including all those listed above, exclusively or inclusively. However the performance may also be more intimate and introspective. Many musicians hear scores upon encountering them, and I consider this an aural performance, and as some elements of this performance may never make it to a stage, it is unique and special. An aural performance may also include hearing wind in a willow’s leaves, or grass, upon encountering the score. It could also include hearing a suspension of sound, or a sustained silence simultaneous to the sound upon encountering the score, or at any time when recalling the score.

A visual performance is any reaction generated from observing the score, and both kinaesthetic and synesthetic performances function in the same manner. Any visual image, such as imagining the colour green or a willow tree is part of a performance. As is any movement or physical reaction such as a tingling, an emptiness, a sense of confusion, or a blankness are all performances.

Any reaction to the score could be construed as an interaction. I see that as a person reacts to a score, the score starts to transform. The score initially observed is no longer the same once it has been reacted to. As the score changes, the reactions of the observer again change, creating an interactive feedback chain. Any discussions of objectivity or subjectivity are further performances.

For some a literal performance is interpreting the written gestures as pitch low to high and duration left to right, with dynamics from soft to full. For others a literal performance is a sonic recreation of the image. I will leave symbolically and philosophically for those that are inclined to interpret.

  1. It can also be read from right to left or left to right, and pitch may or may not be interpreted vertically.

This may be construed as a restatement of one form of a literal performance. However, the term “read” can be taken quite literally and the score can be put into words or thoughts in either direction, with or without pitch.

  1. A deep understanding of willows may be helpful. 

Willow trees hold symbolic meaning in many cultures, and an understanding of these might be useful. Understanding the tree itself is also useful.

  1. The performer may wish to sit close to or under a willow, or give a willow branch to a parting friend.

An extended time sitting with a willow tree may provide a rich palette of subtle experiences, emotions and associations with which to perform this work. In sitting under or with a willow tree, the score is being performed.

The score was inspired by a traditional, but no longer practiced, Chinese custom of giving a willow branch to a departing friend. The willow signified the bonds of friendship and unwillingness to part ways. It also represented new life as the willow could be replanted anywhere forming new roots. The willow also provided protection against ghosts. The symbol of the willow therefore conveyed a melancholic sadness for a departed friend and the longing to see them again.

  1. A deep awareness of the performer’s surroundings and the soundscape is suggested.

I feel this is essential to all performances. This is an awareness, a sensing, of everything in the surrounds, and accepting them without judging if they are good or bad, wanted or unwanted. To be aware of all sounds and everything else in the surrounds equally, with each object holding the same importance – to simultaneously remain consciously aware of everything throughout the performance.

  1. This score can be performed in all manners simultaneously.

Windows of opportunity may be created to experience individual forms of performance as well.

  1. This score is performed by being regarded, and does not need to be performed to be performed.

You have been performing this score all this time. This score does not need any further action from you other than you encounter it. In fact it does not need you at all.

r3willow

Randy Raine-Reusch
15/09/91

The Linfield Cello Ensemble, a group of seven cellists led by Diane Chaplin, performed Willow on April 24th, 2016. The score was printed on the cover of the program and the notes included within. Diane wrote: “It turns out that in the lobby of the music building resides a large vase of long curly willow branches. We placed that vase on a stool near the performers, and added a good amount of recently-live willow branches. We did…three interpretations of Willow. The first was one where we all played the same image at the same time; in the 2nd one we chose our own order of images (and in that one I was inspired to get a willow branch and gently run down the cello strings – very evocative). For the 3rd interpretation, we were contemplative and didn’t play, just admired the willow…”

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Noh 1

Noh1
for ichigenkin, Noh actor
or any other performer

The ichigenkin is a one string Japanese zither, which I have studied for many years. Ichigenkin philosophy reflects both those of Zen and Shinto. Noh is a form of Japanese drama.

The Japanese concept ma is an underlying element of this score, and both the practice of ichigenkin and Noh make extensive use of ma. Ma is emptiness that is full. It is the white space around a Japanese painting. It is the empty space in a flower arrangement. Ma is an extended pause in Japanese music that is full of tension or anticipation. Ma is the small recessed section of a traditional Japanese room used for hanging a scroll, or placing a plant.

The Notes to the Score:

1. Express one sound, one step, of any duration in one second, minute, hour, day, week, month, or year.

  • The score displays the number one written in traditional script. One is the second theme of this score and forms a paradox with ma. Ma needs two opposing elements, a duality: something and nothing, sound and silence, form and formlessness. One is singular. In Taoism and Zen, dualities form a pair linked in their opposition, and together become one. Hence there are two participants indicated and one action. There are further dualities in the suggested participants: one who sits – one who steps, one that is silent – one that creates sound, etc.
  • Time is of no consequence in this score, although it is an integral element. The suspension of time carries the ma in movement and music. Yet the duration of the ma is not specified and can in essence be held indefinitely.

2. No essence of being or the absence of being should be left unexplored.

  • The score incorporates everything, and nothing, combined.

3. No aspect of sound and silence, nor the absence of sound and silence should be left unrealized. 

  • The duality of sound and silence create a pair, in mathematics a set. If we can define a set, then there is an absence of the set that defines it. That absence can be full of ma.

4. One is exclusive, inclusive, both, and neither.

  • One is exclusive: there is only one. One is inclusive: all is one. They can integrate, or negate each other, or both.

5. Existence should be neither regarded nor disregarded.

  • This might be self-evident. Whether or not the score, participants, this discussion or this world exists or not is inconsequential. However keep an eye on it nonetheless.

Randy Raine-Reusch
02/13/2013

R3NOH1

Premiered Aug. 10, 2014
by Redshift Music, Vancouver, Canada
Colin MacDonald – Baritone sax

 

 

Tanso Afternoon

I sit playing my tanso, small thin hard hollow bamboo, with a small notch on the end to blow into. A clear sound is produced with care. With time an ephemeral complexity of small notes flit around the melody. At first it seems to have a light expression, but I sense something deep here. This is a modern instrument that has more holes to play more notes. Yet it awakens something ancient, timeless.

My breath must be precise as the notch is small; a miniscule change produces something unexpected. I strive to perceive the imperceptible, to embrace the microscopic in my expression.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The high tones cry, the lower tones sigh. A murmur appears. Another voice arises between notes. An inner landscape of peaks and valleys, irregular surfaces, twists and turns – all within a nuance. A pitch drops slightly with a forgotten despair, and then rises with a fragile hope.

My soul rises from my lips and fingers, as my mind is helpless but to just listen. So much pain, so much joy, so much life. Then a train in the distance answers, and my soul responds unhindered. A crow comments as the wind in the trees and my breath ebb in unison. My soul and the world around me interconnect in the music. My mind is quiet.

The notes disappear yet my lips and fingers continue to move. The sounds outside disappear yet nothing has changed. All that is left is a vast yet intimate connectedness…an infinite oneness. I am playing, listening, being and not being, all at the same time. This depth of being and not being is both peaceful yet unnerving. It is so powerful that I stop.

My mind returns, objects in the room reappear; the sounds outside have names again. I am holding my flute. I am still feeling the connectedness, but am now in the world again as well. The wind and crows are calling for me to return. I want to feel this world some more before I go back into infinite oneness. I make some tea.

Leaves Budding

Many years ago I met an amazing visual artist named En Burk, who at the time worked with leaves, branches and other natural objects. She patiently waited for them to fall from their respective trees or plants, and then fashioned them into stunningly beautiful sculptures, sometimes quickly shaping them before they dried and hardened. She knew the flora of the city as if it were her garden, and often went to visit a certain tree on a certain day, talking to it, as she harvested it’s gifts. She used her whole apartment as her gallery, and to enter it was like entering a temple devoted to life and nature. Visiting En was always the most peaceful and grounding experience.

Inspired by her art, one day I decided to take her a copy of my score Leaves (1) which I had written for the Japanese ichigenkin. We sat drinking tea as she quietly read the score. After reading it, she sat for a long time in silence, and then looked at me and asked, “How did you do this?” “How did I do what “, I replied. “I just heard this!” she exclaimed, “I’ve just heard leaves budding! And wilting! And … and I just heard shadows of leaves! I’ve always known what they look like, and felt like…. but now I know what they sound like!” “How did you do this?”

A year later, I showed the same score to a number of musicians at the prestigious if sometimes stuffy Banff Centre for Fine Arts, in Alberta, Canada. One of them asked mockingly, “How can you hear leaves budding?”

I replied “You could try listening slower, perhaps you listen too quickly.”

leaves

Listening Beyond Boundaries

I just finished playing my xiao again and am still listening.

Before I play my Chinese xiao, I stand and listen, I open myself wide, so that all sounds close and far away, inside of me and outside, obvious and barely perceived enter. I don’t try to label them as a car or a bird, I don’t try to categorize them, or sort them as good or bad. It becomes a strange sensation, as it is like I have to stretch part of myself out to as far as the sounds come from.

Yet there is a timelessness to this, as I listen, time stops, as past, present, and future blend. So the beginning and ending of a sound blur. Yet I am still aware of normal time. It feels like I am listening in more than one manner, or dimension at the same time. The sensation of listening is not just from my ears, it is from my whole body. As I expand my listening all my body feels like it extends, not just my skin but even deep inside of me. This sense of listening in another dimension is intensified by my body’s sensations, as is the timelessness of it. It is as if time and space no longer apply.

Then I play. This also is a strange practice, as I add the sound of my playing to the other sounds on an equal basis. I don’t try to play, to match the sounds, to choose a note or to guide my playing in any way. Instead I just let go. I somehow let the music out. Often a long sustained note happens first but sometimes it is a number of short notes. The structure of the sounds that come out is often very unlike the way I normally play, sometimes it is very orderly, sometimes not at all, long and short sounds, fast runs, and wild intervals. I can observe the interaction of what I play and what I hear, as I am both inside the music and yet outside at the same time. What I play melds with all the rest of the sounds that I sense as it all becomes music.

What happens is amazing to me, every time I do this. Everything works as if I composed all the sounds to be played together. black and blueThere is an order and even a harmony. I will play and stop just as a car door closes, and start to play on the same pitch as a car going by even changing tones to match the shifting Doppler effect unconsciously. The note I play will anticipate an environmental sound. I will play a note and the environment matches it or plays something that is in perfect harmony with it. I will play a rhythm the environment matches and then it shifts exactly as I shift. Somehow I sense what is going to happen, I can sense large and small patterns in the environment and start to play them even before they appear. Even a person walking by talking has been incorporated within the sounds my flute makes and is integrated. Nothing is out of place. Nothing is random.

The more I listen and play like this, the more the environment around me seems to start to work together with itself. Maybe this is my mind trying to find order in chaos, but it feels more like the chaos is not chaos but instead part of a much more expansive order that only very large wide extensive listening can perceive.

I find myself playing more in extremely noisy environments and still finding a harmony in them. This intrigues me. After playing I feel like I am still very big, like there is a large space within me, like I still have no time, like air is moving through my being, like my skin and cells are sparkling. Like I am many places at the same time, and all of them are connected and working together. These feelings sometimes well up in my daily life, while I am at the computer, or while at the store. They are beautiful yet, a bit unsettling as they are redefining what reality is. I am not sure if this is a real experience or a quirk of brain function, but either way I will explore it more.

Pauline Oliveros

Sometime in the 1980s, composer/performer Pauline Oliveros and I had overlapping residencies at Art Park, in upstate New York. Although mainly designed to assist and showcase visual artists and their work, Art Park also has a couple of small performance spaces and occasionally presents music as well.

Pauline’s stage was a small concrete platform at the end of a meandering path in the woods, and she was joined in her performance by a dancer as well as a visual artist drawing throughout the performance.

Pauline started the performance by simply lifting her accordion to her lap, tilting her head to her side and listening.

r3poAfter about five minutes she started to play one very high note, held it for a long time, and then slowly added another, then another. As the music progressed, Pauline began punctuating the these long tones by ever increasing short rapid passages of flurried notes.

Listening carefully, I was gently being lulled into the music, when suddenly something changed. It was as if someone had just focused my ears. Everything that I was hearing was interacting in a clearly organized manner. I don’t just mean Pauline’s music, but all the sounds: the wind in the trees, the birds, peoples voices in the distance, everything made musically sense! When the birds sang, they sang in perfect tune with Pauline, entering at exactly the right moment, and sometimes paralleling Pauline in long intricate passages. In the same manner, the wind in the trees would shift and rustle, dogs would bark, squirrels would chatter, all in perfect time to Pauline’s music!

I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. Somehow whatever Pauline was doing had such a perfect foundation, that every other sound fit together with it as if finely orchestrated by a master composer. Even the cars passing by sounded like finely tuned instruments rather than their usual obnoxious clamor.

I was so stunned that I held my breath, fearing that this would be only a momentary occurrence, but it wasn’t. It lasted for the twenty or thirty minutes that Pauline played. I had plenty of time to revel in this amazing experience. I had of course philosophically believed that “all sounds are part of the symphony of life”, but this was the first time that I was actually experiencing it! Every time I started to doubt the experience another group of random sounds would occur in perfect order! It was like a dream come true, I was filled with a an overwhelming sense of the order of life.

As the piece came to a close, the sounds of the birds and wind progressively became more random again. I tried to hold on to the experience, to somehow keep this way of hearing, but the more I tried, the faster it slipped away. It was replaced instead by the excited sounds of the audience: “Did you hear that?”, “That was amazing!”, “Everything was in tune!”, “Was that real?”, “Amazing how everything was in synch, what do you want for lunch?”

Amazed and excited by this experience, I went up to the stage as Pauline was packing up to leave, and told her of my experience. She listened politely, smiled and then said “Good…it worked……that’s the way it should be”.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014