Where is your own true north?


We set out from midtown in the first of two vans. No traffic in sight and the sun shining hotly even though it was supposed to be cloudy. About an hour and a half later, at the urgent request of some bladders, we took an exit that promised a gas station. Moments after we pulled up, the other van did too—clear evidence of dancer gravity. One rider had overdressed and was too hot and got re-wrapped in a friend’s sarong. The tire pressure was checked, Bergamot essential oil was sprayed, and we took off.


We arrived into summertime paradise: Mount Tremper: tables of exquisite food and shade and a garden, countless trees visible on the facing mountainside. More cars arrived. I wonder who would come and who wouldn’t. Soon it was time to enter the studio for Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening workshop.


You are at the center and the sound widens out.


It was cool in there, with the high, open ceiling. We sat on the floor in a circle. Pauline and her partner Ione, a beautiful butch-femme elder couple, stood to greet us, Pauline’s violet button-down setting off her handsome silver-white hair and Ione’s deep plum blouse accenting her piled-up dark hair. We began with an exercise to awaken our listening bodies. Pauline then led us in a listening meditation. I laid down and listened to birds, cars, the shots from a nearby shooting range, breath, rustling fabric, stomach rumblings, and diving planes that seemed on the verge of entering the room.


Something catches you and you follow.


Next we were asked to choose a song. A simple one that we knew very well. We walked around the space, dragging out each note to the length of a breath. It felt and sounded like we were making church. Our voices became unfamiliar, beautiful, sonorous—we walked slowly, shuffling like sleepwalkers. Passing to different points in the room, between bodies, my voice changed to my own ears, adjusted to adjoining voices and refracting through corners.


It’s hard for me to sing since I transitioned, my vocal cords have never quite caught up and they get strained easily. I wouldn’t have been able to sing my song outside of my mind except like this—unrecognizable, each note stretched to its limit and joined to so many others.


you are my sunshine

my only sunshine

you make me happy

when skies are grey

you’ll never know, dear

how much I love you

please don’t take

my sunshine away


This was the song that came to me, a song my mother sang to me as a baby. As I sang it, I felt a release taking place. It’s not always easy between my mother and I—but over the progression of the song, I could feel the beginnings of love she bore for me, her new-mother pureness of feeling. A few weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. She was so dear to me. She called me her treasure. The last time I was in a building like this was the chapel at her funeral.


When I went outside, I felt myself in a whirl of feeling. I sat down alone to write, and then joined the curators and a few others on the grass.


It’s so simple.


The curators spoke of filling and clearing—the whole week of events generating and sustaining and then this final day: the journey north, the release.


Throughout the week, it was said, and especially now, the impact of place on the experience of the work was so apparent. Someone else said that the whole week allowed them to pay attention to what they gravitate towards and what they don’t and to be curious about that.


Jaamil asked us if we had moved our heads during Bonnie Kim’s score at Triskalion on Friday night. He described turning his head to experience the sound from different points in space, using his body as a tuning instrument. Most of us hadn’t thought to move in our seats, but Jaamil found movement in sound.


Relating this back to the workshop we’d just taken, and the singing score’s powerful simplicity, Layla wondered out loud: How do you get to the place where you can lead that sort of simplicity? Another person noted that the exercise reminded them of the importance of slowing down before you get to the next thing.


We talked about our songs and their distortion in relation to the festival’s theme of legible/illegible. Making something that is legible to yourself illegible is a way of expanding your perception—defamiliarization as a step towards new knowledge.


Locating one’s own true north.


Samita told us that in Chinese medicine, north is associated with water, death, and the sexual center. It is also associated with winter and the color black. I know that major personal losses were experienced during the planning of the festival and over the duration of the festival itself. Healing had always been an instrumental part of the vision, and perhaps became even more so.


Final Clearing


After the performances, the curators invited us to walk up the trail to a large clearing. Everyone arranged themselves loosely in a circle, perhaps in an echo of the earlier workshop. No direction was given and gradually none was anticipated. Eyes drifted skyward and sideways to the green. Breath slowed. Jaamil passed around the bundle of sage he’d been holding and we dusted ourselves with smoke. Reluctantly, I returned down the path and prepared to leave. The voice of Ione came back to me: Remember, you can experience this feeling again whenever you like. I took comfort in the thought that the reverberations of this day, this week, this work, would continue to course through us.


The best dream you ever had, ever…


— Jaime Shearn Coan

  • May 21st, 2015
  • Spring Festival

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