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  • 9.12.06

iLand: E.J. McAdams Notes (and Impressions) Day 2

iLAB Collaborative Residency

Movement Warm Up

Hope took the group through a warm up in Studio #1 at Trisha Brown Studios on West 55th Street. The room was infused with light despite the industrial windows and the shade of the surrounding buildings. Everyone was in a circle even Michelle who was nursing her son, Uta. As Hope calls out the exercises, it is hard not to notice how much the room echoes and reverberates. Every once in a while, a direction stood out: “create space in the spine,” “feel the heel connected to the earth,” and “the energetic connections between head and tail.” Throughout the warm up, sounds of breathing.

Sound Meditation

Michelle told a story of her journey to the studio today. She talked about the “assault” of noise in the subway station, about the people not noticing that she was a mother with her child, and about the anger this sparked in her. It brought her to a suggestion for a meditation: to listen for the “unnoticed sounds.” Without further introduction she left the group to their individual listenings.

(Because I could not document other participants’ experience I offer mine: I found it very difficult to search for unnoticed sounds since all the sounds seemed harshly noticeable. The neighborhood around the studio is a shipping node and a nexus of car dealerships and repairs places, and I couldn’t hear much beyond the street noises. All of a sudden I remembered the readings that Michelle and Hope gave the group as background for the residency, and in particular one reading saying that one should be able to hear his own body. I had never noticed body sounds before so I listened. My breath became distinct as a sound, and the cracking in my ear as it changed pressure. My knee popped. I tried to listen even closer to hear the air moving through the hairs of my arm, but I could not hear it. My attention moved from my body back to the street where I did not hear unnoticed sounds but unnoticed differences between sounds such as the distinctions between truck reversing signals. One was high-pitched and constant; one was like gulping laughter. The signals started to sound like birdcalls.)

Everyone had a chance to write down thoughts like the ones I wrote in the previous paragraph. Some chose not to write, some chose to draw.

Michelle introduced Pauline Oliveros, a composer, performer, and founder of the Deep Listening movement. Pauline was wearing a silver pendant with a hand, green t-shirt (illustrated with the bones of the torso and their names) and black pants. She has silver hair, a warm smile and a gentleness about her that was immediate when she started talking.

An Introduction to Deep Listening

Pauline said she has trouble with being inaudible. “We need to release our voices, speak up.”

Pauline wanted to address Michelle’s assault in the “sonic soup.” She said most people develop a coping mechanism to deal with noise – they tune out and desensitize themselves. For most people, she noted, “nothing matters but getting there.” Her prescription for noise is that when it assaults you, you should assault it back. You can make noise, shout, or hum. There is a biological reason for this: vocalizing makes the stipidius (?) muscle turn, and in its turning sound is cut down by 30%. She also encouraged us to write Mayor Bloomberg and ask him to change the soundscape. Pauline talked a little bit about the Deep Listening Retreats, the Deep Listening certificate program, and Michelle’s piece called “Voice Mommy.”

“We don’t have much language for inner listening,” Pauline said. So she taught us some new words:

• auralizing: It is like imagining but involves bringing up a sound or soundscape rather than an image. The word comes from architectural acoustics.

• acoustimology: a word coined by Steven Feld to describe the study of the universe of sound in a culture.

• sonosphere: The whole universe of sound. Starts at the center of the earth and radiates out.

• soniferous: The fact that human beings sound

Standing Sound Meditation

Pauline led the group through a standing meditation with eyes closed. The meditation began at the soles of our feet, two of the five ancient gateways in Chinese medicine. She had us feel the soles of our feet – the temperature, the electrical charge, and the magnetism. She asked us to imagine putting down roots into the earth and then auralize the sound of the earth. As she moved us up through the body she coached us through imagining and auralizing. At the end of the meditation she told us to release a sound from the inner to the outer via our final gateway – the crown of the head, blast it to a star, and wait for its return. Pauline took us out of the meditation and offered us time to write. Most of the dancers chose to move and stretch. Yves laid on his back with his knees to his chest, dangled his feet, and every so often he rocked so the top foot clapped on the bottom foot.

Slow Walk Preparation

Pauline gathered the group back into a circle and prepared us for the slow soundwalk. She showed us how to walk and encouraged us to experience every increment of the walk, while listening at the “cellular” level. We were supposed to find our “center in the sonosphere,”by looking where we’re going with our feet, not our eyes. Pauline remembered a line from one of her earliest pieces, Natives:

so the bottoms of your feet become ears

With that everyone changed clothes for the trip outside to the Park for the slow soundwalk.

(I was all ears. Every sound was very intense. I could hear my coat as I put it on, the sound of my shoes, and my papers. The wheels on Pauline’s suitcase rattled their own rhythm.)

Walk to the Hudson River Park

The group was loosely scattered and quiet. The sky was blue and there were a few wispy cirrus clouds. I struck up a small conversation with Yves. At the end of the street, the faintest bit of last night’s moon floated above the Palisades.

Slow Walk in the Park

The group immediately walked to an oak tree and put their belongings in its shade. The transition from walking to the park and starting the exercise was seamless. No one said anything and no one called out a direction for the walk, but everyone moved in a rather uniform way – true north, hands at sides, slight finger curl, with wind at their backs. Around the participants, a very large school group played and for the most part ignored the walk, although one girl could be heard asking her teacher, “What are they doing?” A man walked over and counted the group, following his count he nodded in approval. As the walk progressed there were the slightest of variations: some moved faster and some moved slower; Pauline reversed direction; Michelle circled Uta; Yves threw his arms out slightly, birdlike; Hope turned West; Pauline had one hand cupped out in front of her torso. A bell brought the group back together. There were trails in the thick lawn where we had walked.

Small Group Discussion

Participants talked about listening experiences. Michelle told about the three kinds of listening she experienced: inner, outer, baby. Yves talked about the experience of “hearing” the vibrations of the cars on the West Side Highway, what he called “visual sound.” Hope also talked about the things she could see and how she knew they were making a sound but a sound she couldn’t hear. Others also talked about wanting to hear sounds like the waves but not being able to. Biba said she listened for things she definitely couldn’t hear like the counting man’s thoughts or the sound of dog shit. Pauline with her wonderful sense of humor said, “Well, I guess something happened.” The group laughed. Hope talked about how she felt safe with the group and that safety inflects movement. In closing Pauline told us about other variations of the Slow Walk including walking backward, walking with eyes closed, and walking with music.

Instantaneous Reaction Time

In this exercise, everyone joined in a circle and held hands, palm to palm. The goal was to pass a pulse, hand to hand, as fast as possible. Other variations included a pulse with an exhalation and one with a “HA.” Pauline noted that the temptation is to put the pulse into a measure, but that attention is fractal, and the pulse can move instantaneously through the circle. That exercise ended Day 2.

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