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Listening and the Piano Explosion

Listening and the Piano Explosion

April 4, 2013
National

"When we attend any sort of concert, listening is automatically assumed. That’s what we go for — to listen. But the question can be asked — how do we listen? What happens to our attention while the musicians on stage are busily engaged in their performance? Do we watch their body movements, analyze the audience around us, listen to the thoughts inside the music, or wonder about what we’ll do after the concert? What do those sounds we are hearing have to do with the actual soundscape we are experiencing? How do we distinguish between hearing and listening?

One composer who has spent her lifetime creating and reflecting on the question of listening is Pauline Oliveros. She sought a balanced approach that includes both attention and awareness. Think of a circle with a dot in the middle. “Attention is narrow, pointed and selective — that’s the dot in the middle. Awareness is broad, diffuse and inclusive — that’s the circle. Both have a tunable range: attention can be honed to a finer and finer point. Awareness can be expanded until it seems all-inclusive.” [Pauline Oliveros “On Sonic Meditation” in Software for People, 1984, Smith Publications, p. 139]

It is a heightened and pure experience when suddenly attention and awareness meld together in concert. That is what comes to mind when I think of the music of Ann Southam, a pioneering soul who was passionately committed to creating music that opened up the listening ear, creating that wide expansive field of both inner and outer reality of which Oliveros speaks. Southam’s aesthetic was influenced by the minimalist ideas of drawing the listener’s attention to a gradual unfolding process of change, which allows space for the perception of subtle modulations and alterations in the music..."

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