The Art of Listening
I was sat with my eyes closed when I found myself listening to the sounds of the world.
And all of a sudden I was at the zoo. It was made of the noises I was surrounded buy on the tube, resembling all sorts of animals and characters in my mind: the breaks of the train had so many tones! And each tunnel hosted a different community of creatures, who sang and complained and whispered one another imaginary thoughts.
It was the day after I attended a workshop with Ansuman Biswas, The Art of Listening. I realised how much information we have to ignore, every second of our lives, in order to avoid going crazy with all this talking of the world!
I recently heard that most accidents that involve cyclists happen because they are not visible. Well, of course they are visible! But for the driver they don’t stand out enough in the hierarchic scale of things to see in the street. If there is a situation where a truck is maneuvering, a pedestrian is crossing, a car is over-taking and the cyclist runs beside the driver, in order of importance the big fat truck will prevail and the bike will get squashed.
This is to say that the cyclist is the peripheral sound, which we unconsciously decide not to take into account! The cyclist is a sound? Erm, it is information which we perceive but do not pay attention to because it does not demand it. So how many cyclists do we kill each day by ignoring the sounds of the world? Food for thought.
I came out of the workshop thinking how small did I feel compared to the cultural heritage that belongs to some eastern countries and at the same time how great I felt being able to receive and being moved by what I had just attended. ‘I am lucky’ I thought, and I went to find a little corner to spend some time with myself and digest the flux of information circulating inside my body after the intense 90 minutes of listening.
Recently I had tried to read books about music as a dancer, and what was so fantastic to me was that I found in most cases I could swap the word “dance” to the word “music” and make complete sense of what I was reading. Sound and movement are unconditionally linked one another.
That evening it was said that listening is the core skill. It directly communicates with feeling. It is a state of contemplation.
I could see the excitement at what Ansuman was telling his listeners and this was what made his words so reachable. He said “listening is something one does. You can’t listen to someone else’s listening!” and I thought to myself “that’s it!”
In the workshop it was encouraged to have one’s own experience with the self (without looking for the expert’s reading key for the performance/concert one had gone to and even more so for any personal experience one may encounter). Why was this so clear and “obvious” when talking about sound, that we can’t experience it with someone else’s hearing, but we can instead read a critic beforehand and experience that expectation when choosing to attend a performance?
I might be wrong making this distinction but this is how it appeared to me. We can’t sense through somebody else’s senses.
It was relieving was to hear about the concept of “Raag” as ‘the act of coloring or dyeing’ (the mind and mood/emotions in this context) metaphorically any feeling or passion.
My image has been that in our society (and I was most definitely thinking about western societies) we are so used to having everything we may desire, it is all available, and since it is so we are brought to create even more to add to this range of availability. More!
I came to think that the role of the Artist was to take what was already there and look at it. Looking at it with ones own eyes. Allowing it to be seen from a different perspective. No need of creating / producing. Just discovering as a ‘self’ and letting it pass through and perhaps undergo transformation during the passage.
Well, in my understanding of Raag in indian culture, this is exactly it: when applied to the sounds of the world, this is the sound of the wind, this vibration that is there and moves and exists no matter what and no matter who. Until we decide to control it. Until we decide to take ownership of it, and so merit and pride for it, to sell it and make it a product. To me this is killing it! or at least caging the animal by putting it into a zoo (not the same zoo I heard in the tube) and teaching it how to behave in order to please me… But I haven’t invented the source! It was there! (this rings a bell, recalling the talk on “The future of cultural industries” at QEH last Friday the 13th, touching on the topic of copyright and branding in eastern countries as well as the issue of intellectual property).
So all there is to do is to “open ourselves up to the intentions of the world”, read them, listen to them, embody them and allow them to speak, not only to us and for us, but “through us” and lead us to experiencing ourselves with no pressure of impressing or doing it right.
What probably ruins us in consciousness.
Ansuman read a line from a book BECOMING ANIMAL: AN EARTHLY COSMOLOGY by David Abram, which expressed that a child, as a spontaneous and curious human being, is aware of selves. It only later, through experiences, emerges into consciousness as a new medium.
We must then be active in making the world alive, and for it to speak to us, we must listen, with our whole body. To receive we must give. In this case we must give availability. I don’t think it is a very expensive gift! but it might require some commitment. What is it then? I believe it is dropping of all the artificial relationships and conventional behavioural patterns which we passively acquire over our lifetime if we don’t pay attention to them. Once there, we’d find ourselves in a place we don’t control. What surrounds us could get into us and we’d allow an exchange to happen.
This concept of gift is very well illustrated in a book I am reading for the third? or fourth time by Lewis Hyde, “The Gift, how the creative spirit transforms the world”, where it is explained how we are easily putting ourselves in danger of ignoring our most precious commodity, our cultural gifts and our responsibilities to them.
If I look at what I just wrote through the point of view of performance, which is the field I am coming from, I see that this is the focal thing: finding a tuning point between my world and that of the audience, where I can only “be” if it allows me to be, and to know that I must listen, feel and receive what is there as well as giving it through my presence in the space. There is one last thing I would like to quote from what Ansuman said in the workshop: “The finest music is the music of what happens. Just listening creates the world around us. It is by being active that we ‘make’ it.”
This is an invitation.