Seeing the Paper

A few weeks ago I led another listening workshop with teenagers, the final episode in a series of weekly inputs before the 40 kids will begin working on projects with professional artists as part of the second Irritationen initiative. Earlier on we had performed Max Neuhaus’ seminal sound walk, Listen, and this time I presented Akio Suzuki’s Oto-date and we then created our own adaptation inside and around the school building.

Now, the benefits of listening are very hard to sell to teenagers. The idea that focussed listening is something worth doing – whether music is playing or not, whether someone is talking or not – seems at first to be very alien to them. And not just that, of course: even the idea that it’s worth listening when music is playing, when someone is speaking, is hard to sell. That’s why we approached this idea from various angles over the weeks: listening to silence, noise, music created from accidental sounds, music as ambience, ambience as music, and so on. Quite a few students were curious to try this out and to experience everyday sound in new ways. And yet it felt as if I hadn’t quite found a way to really make a plausible argument for pure listening from where teenagers are perceiving the world around them.

Returning to the third floor class room after Oto-date for the final discussion, a new thought occurred to me. And so when everyone was seated and attentive and I had just two minutes left before the school bell, this is what I asked: How many of you have ever painted a painting? Of course everybody raised their hands. And what did you need to start painting? Brushes. Pencils. Colours. Light. Yes! And what else – what did you see just before you started?

A blank canvas.

When working with sound, we don’t use paper, but we too begin with what is there. And to work with what is there we need the ability to perceive it. And for that we need to be able to pay attention with our ears – we need the ability to listen. In music, and everywhere else, the quality of our attention is of the biggest importance to the quality of what we aspire to create.

My wish for your in 2016 is that you may see the paper in front of you, and that you may hear the sounds already present, so that you can add your own.

Happy New Year!



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