Everything is connected – sammenfiltrede sanseopplevelser

syn og hørselBlant Berlins mangefasetterte spisetilbud finner du restauranten Unsicht-Bar, et sted hvor gjestene sitter i stummende mørke og serveres av blinde kelnere.

Her skal jeg ikke gå inn i rollen som matkritiker (noe som heller ikke ville gavne restauranten noe videre) men opplevelsen satte i gang noen tanker rundt de forbindelsene som finnes mellom hørsel og syn. For det er interessant å oppleve på kroppen hvor sammenvevde sansene våre er og hvilke uventede relasjoner de kan stå i til hverandre.

Et nettverk av sanser

Sansene våre fungerer i et intrikat samarbeid; det vanligste eksemplet på det er hvordan tapet av én kan styrke en annen. Det er for eksempel et velkjent faktum at blinde ofte har en særdeles skjerpet hørsel, noe som også gjøre dem til eminente pianostemmere. Men tapet av synet gir ikke bare en generell økt styrke av hørselssansen. I visse tilfeller kan det også avsløre en forbindelse mellom hørsel og syn som de færreste er seg bevisst.

Den Amerikanske tenåringen Ben Underwood mistet tidlig begge øynene i kreft men var likevel i stand til å gjøre tilsynelatende umulige ting som å spille basketball, sykle og virre i sikksakk mellom parkerte biler på rolerblades. Han var i stand til dette ved å benytte seg av ekko-lokalisering, en teknikk hvor skarpe lyder som tungeklikk eller klapp brukes for å orientere seg. Lydbølgene fra klikkene treffer objekter i omgivelsene, reflekteres tilbake til senderens hørsel og videre til hjernens synsområde hvor det skapes et øyeblikksbilde. Teknikken er den samme som danner grunnlag for sonar-teknologien ombord i ubåter eller som benyttes av flaggermus som jakter i mørket.

flaggermus

Selv om syns-sanseorganene (les: øynene) til Ben ikke fungerte var altså synsområdet i hjernen fortsatt aktivt og skapte et indre bilde av omgivelsene som det var mulig for ham å forholde seg til. Veien til dette synssentret gikk via hørselen. Mange opplever ofte at å lytte til musikk kan skape mentale bilder men i tillegg til de rent assosiative bildene vi kan oppleve eksisterer det altså også en direkte fysiologiske forbindelse mellom lyd og “syns”-opplevelser. Det er vel forøvrig et fascinerende faktum at man faktisk ikke er avhengig av å ha øyne for å kunne “se”.

You talkin’ to me?

unsichtbarMan trenger imidlertid ikke å ha mistet en sans permanent for å erfare hvordan syn og hørsel er flettet sammen. Restaurantbesøket i Berlin kan brukes til å påpeke en annen interessant forbindelse mellom hørsel og syn.

Spisestedets konsept fungerte slik at man bestilte mat ute i baren og deretter fikk tildelt en kelner som ledet en inn i spisesalen, et stummende mørkt rom, i jenka-stil dog uten dansebevegelsene. Her servertes og fortærtes så måltidet i stummende mørke før man etter tre eller fire retter ble ledet ut igjen til baren.

Det mest interessante ved denne opplevelsen (noe som kanskje sier litt om nivået på maten) var at selv om hørselen ble skjerpet i den stummende mørke spisesalen ble det raskt tydelig hvilken viktig støtterolle synet spilte til hørselen i formingen av daglige lyd-opplevelser. Dét å kunne se opphavet til lyder og dermed også til en viss grad forutse dem gjør det mulig å sette alle de ulike lydene i et slags tredimensjonalt perspektiv – de relevante forrest og de mindre viktige bak i bevisstheten. Med andre ord nettopp den typen siling av lydinntrykk de fleste av oss benytter seg av ubevisst når vi sitter på en offentlig kafé og snakker med en venn. For hvis du sitter i et stupmørkt rom og noen slenger ut et spørsmål er det ikke alltid opplagt hvem det er rettet til hvis de ikke legger til navnet ditt på slutten.

I restaurantens stummende mørke fylt av et kakofoni av stemmer fra usynlige medgjester og kelnere og uten synet som tilgjengelig støttende sans opplevde jeg derimot at alle lydene snart gled sammen i et endimensjonalt teppe; støyende, forvirrende og en smule overveldende, spesielt famlende over en tallerken med ukjent innhold.

Det er mulig en lenger eksponering hadde endret opplevelsen. Uansett var erfaringen verdt ubehaget.

Fargerike bokstaver og velduftende toner

Forbindelsene mellom sansene våre kan altså inneholde muligheter for evner som kan hende ligger latent i oss alle eller som vi benytter oss av mer eller mindre ubevisst. Det er flere blinde enn Ben som benytter seg av ekkolokalisering selv om få gjør det med samme nonchalante og ungdommelige letthet som han hadde. Noen ganger kan derimot den nevrologiske linken mellom de ulike sansene våre være unormalt sterk, i den grad at den karakteriseres som et avvik, og gi seg interessante resultater.

Synestesi er navnet på et fenomen der stimulering av én sans, for eksempel hørsel, ufrivillig trigger andre sanser og skaper parallelle sanseopplevelser som ikke lar seg kontrollere: synet av en farge kan frembringe opplevelsen av en smak, bestemte lyder kan gi skape lukt-opplevelser og (den vanligste varianten) ulike tall og bokstaver sees i farger selv om de rent objektivt er skrevet i svart-hvitt. Det er fortsatt uklart hvorfor dette fenomenet oppstår hos enkelte men tilstanden karakteriseres snarere som et nevrologisk basert fenomen enn som en sykdom.

Scriabin-Color-Circle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexander Scriabin og hans fargede toner

Musikkens verden er full av synestetikere som i ulik grad har benyttet seg av denne tilstanden og latt den påvirke sin musisering og sin kreativitet med varierende hell. Blant de store klassiske komponistene har flere stått frem og beskrevet tilstander hvor bestemte toner eller akkorder trigget en opplevelse av en bestemt farge. Den russiske komponisten Aleksandr Skrjabin forsøkte endog å gjenskape sine indre opplevelser for publikum og gikk så langt som til å komponere verk som skulle fremføres delvis på et “fargeorgel” hvor hver tone var et farget lys som skulle lyse opp konsertsalen. Olivier Messiaen og Franz Liszt er andre klassiske komponister som alle er kjente “synestetikere” men også artister som Duke Ellington og Elvin Jones har beskrevet lignende opplevelser hvor medspillere eller egne instrumenter oppleves simultant som farger eller teksturer.

I mange tilfeller er denne tilstanden en berikelse for den som har den og for enkelte synestetikere kan det sågar komme som en overraskelse at ikke alle andre opplever det samme i møte med musikk. Tross alt så kan det virke som vi i dagens store rockekonserter søker å skape noe av synestetikerens multi-sanselige total-opplevelse med en miks av lysshow, lyd, film og pyroteknikk. Og dette ønsket om å skape opplevelser som stimulerte flere sanser samtidig er heller ikke noe nytt fenomen.

Den multi-sanselige lytteropplevelsen

Et kjernebegrep i perioden som kalles Romantikken er “Gesamtkunstwerk” hvor målet til komponisten var å skape en form hvor alle de ulike kunstformene smeltet sammen til én helhet eller et all-kunstverk. Richard Wagner var den store fanebæreren her. Kunsten med stor K var, i følge Wagner, i en bedrøvelig fragmentert tilstand, noe den hadde vært siden antikken, og han satte i gang med å revolusjonere operasjangeren. Resultatet ble som vi vet, gigantiske verk hvor musikken ikke lenger skulle være et fremkomstmiddel for teksten men hvor melodier, akkorder, harmonier og rytmer ble brukt som et meningsbærende språk i seg selv og hvor drama og musikk ble integrert på en, for den tiden, helt ny måte.

Ringen-syklusen var den største realiseringen av denne tanken. I den spektakulære oppsetningen til Robert Lepage på The Met i 2010-2012 (forøvrig tilgjengelig på Blu-Ray så løp og kjøp!) forenes film, bevegelige scenekonstruksjoner, musikk, farger og drama i en helhet som ville få enhver synestetiker til å nikke gjenkjennende. Forestillingen gir oss nettopp en miks av lyd, lys og bilder som virker sjeldent stimulerende. Har vi kan hende alle en instinktiv lengsel etter synestetikerens automatisk fler-sanselige opplevelse?Ringen

Dog kan det muligens bli for mye av det gode: den tidligere nevnte Aleksandr Skrjabin (han med farge-orgelet, forøvrig også en romantiker) planla i sin tid et enormt syv dager langt verk hvor selv publikums luktesans skulle stimuleres med velvalgte parfymer som skulle skifte i tråd med musikken. Om dette var et forsøk på å gjenskape hans egne synestetiske opplevelser “in real life” eller bare et utslag av helt normal galskap er ikke godt å si. Siden lukt har en tendens til å henge igjen i klær og hår er det vel tvilsomt hvor vellykket opplevelsen hadde blitt.

Nevrologi versus persepsjon

Hørselen vår er med andre ord del av et nevrologisk sansekonglomerat mer underfundig enn vi ofte er klar over. I tillegg kommer mulighetene vi har til ulike persepsjonsmessige reaksjoner, altså den evnen hjernen vår har til å organisere de lydinntrykkene den mottar på en myriade av ulike måter som kan la oss oppleve et musikkverk på stadig nye måter.

Selv om det er ulike meninger om hva vi kan gjøre med det genetiske utgangspunktet vårt (de fleste synestetikere har gjerne minst én slektning som har samme tilstand så her mener man det er gener ute å går) er evnen til å trene opp persepsjonsevnen vår i forbindelse med lytting noe vi kan gjøre. Blue Ray – boksen med Lepage´s oppsetning av Ringen kommer forøvrig med en hel ekstramateriale – plate hvor du, av medlemmer av the Met´s orkester, ledes inn i musikkens mange underliggende betydninger og symboler, noe som garanterte vil skape nye spenstige forbindelser i hjernen ved neste gjennomhøring.

Artikkelen ble publisert i Audiophile.no 12.08.2014

Jakten på filteret

Uansett hvor minutiøs gjengivelse av lydbildet du klarer å skaffe deg gjennom kvalitetsanlegg, kabler og høytalere: det største filteret mellom deg og musikken bærer du alltid med deg.

“Hvis et tre faller i skogen og ingen er i nærheten til å høre det, lager det da en lyd?”Stort tre

Dette er et gammelt filosofisk tankeeksperiment hvor poenget ikke nødvendigvis er å komme frem til et svar men å hensette mottakeren i en bestemt bevissthetstilstand, evt. påpeke finurligheter rundt emner som persepsjon og kvantefysikk. Her vil jeg imidlertid prøve meg på et svar av en litt mer jordnær karakter: Svaret er nei, det vil ikke skape noen lyd, det vil derimot skape lydbølger.

Lydbølger kan skapes uavhengig av lyttere men lyd (fysiologisk og psykologisk sett) er et fenomen som skapes i møtet mellom lydbølger og mottaker med et egnet “mottaksapparat”. Derfor er det verdt å vite litt om dette mottaksapparatet siden vi gjerne har en tendens til å ta denne siden av lyttesituasjonen for gitt.

Når vi lytter til musikk fokuserer vi gjerne på avsender-siden: vi snakker om utøvere og artister eller avspillingsanlegg, høytalere og kabler. Alle disse instansene vil ha en innvirkning på det vi hører og i vår søken etter den perfekte lydopplevelse prøver vi gjerne å fjerne flest mulig filtre mellom oss og musikken.

Men det største filtret bærer vi alltid med oss.

 Indre filtre

The Soundscape

På 1970-tallet kom boken “The Soundscape – our sonic environment and the tuning of the world” av den canadiske komponisten og forfatteren R. Murray Schaefer. “Soundscape” (et ord Schaefer har skapt basert på “landscape “) spiller på summen av de lydlige omgivelsene som omgir oss og som vi lever våre liv i. Schaefers forskningsområde er disse soniske omgivelsene og hvordan lydene som omgir oss til hverdags har endret seg gjennom tidene ettersom samfunnet vårt og omgivelsene våre har endret seg (den største avgjørende faktoren her var den industrielle revolusjonen med sin enorme omrokkering av samfunnet og innføring av vår moderne maskin- og teknologialder).

Beboere i dagens moderne bysamfunn utsettes for et bombardement av lyder som ikke fantes tidligere (trafikk, maskiner, kommunikasjonsteknologi og reklame), lyder som bidrar til å skape et helt nytt “soundscape”. Som komponist og lydforsker var Murray Schaefer interessert i hvordan dette moderne “lyd-landskapet” påvirker oss som lever i det og han var ikke nådig i sin dom: allerede på 1970-tallet gikk han så langt som til å snakke om “lydforurensning” når han omtalte effekten av sin tids “soundscape”.

I dagens lydmettede samfunn vil nok flere være enig med ham. Sov-i-ro´en er blitt fast reisefølge ved storbyferier og på T-banereiser er det omtrent umulig å ikke dele vogn med minst 5 sett med hodetelefoner som med sine små kokonger av lyd skjermer brukeren for omgivelsesstøy og den halvkvalte musikken fra alle de andre hodetelefonene.

 earphones

Ytre og indre filtre

I tillegg til å skjerme oss med slike ytre filtre av ulike slag er vi mennesker fra naturens side utstyrt med naturlige, innebygde filtre for å skjerme oss mot mental overbelastning.

Når vi sitter på en kafé og snakker med en venn, bombarderes vi med lyd fra en mengde ulike kilder. Bakgrunnsmusikk, klirring av skåler, radiomusikk, barneskrik, trafikkstøy utenfra og mennesker rundt oss som samtaler. I denne kakofonien forsøker vi å sjalte ut stemmen til vår venn som best vi kan. Ørene våre fanger opp mye mer enn det vi benytter oss av i samtalen, men vi velger oss bare ut det vi har behov for i øyeblikket. Den evnen som vi bruker til å plukke ut stemmen til vår venn er den samme som vi benytter til å sjalte ut de delene av våre lydomgivelser vi ikke umiddelbart har bruk for. Uten denne evnen ville de fleste av oss raskt overveldes av mental overbelastning. Selve prosessen med å sjalte ut de delene vi trenger går mer eller mindre ubevisst men interessante ting kan oppstå når vi prøver å utfordre denne naturlige silingsprosessen i oss selv.

 

crowded cafeOg hvorfor skulle vi det?

Grunnen er enkel: i de fleste tilfeller benytter vi oss av filtreringsevnen vår for å beskytte oss mot et daglig lydlandskap som utgjør en meget konkret fare for mental overbelastning men denne konstante filtreringen påvirker også vår evne til å lytte.

 Lytting

Hvorfor er dét å lytte til musikk, en fysiologisk prosess som de fleste benytter seg av, noe de færreste tenker over? Selve den fysiske prosessen å lytte er noe vi sjeldent ofrer en tanke fordi det jo går “av seg selv”. Dermed er vi heller ikke klar over at den prosessen som former vår lydopplevelse ikke er statisk og gitt engang for alle: den kan styres og dermed gi oss økt tilgang til musikken men dette krever en egen innsats, ikke minst i form av fokus.

Hvis vi tar en titt på dagens reklamer for den ideelle livsstil er det påfallende hvor mange som handler om å være tilgjengelig og gjøre flere ting på én gang. Det er ikke tilfeldig at fenomener som Mindfullness øker i popularitet parallelt med et samfunn hvor distraksjoner står i høysetet. Det faktum at flere og flere mennesker oppsøker hjelp for å lære hvordan de skal fokusere sier noe om at det ikke er mange arenaer igjen i samfunnet hvor denne evnen er påkrevd og dermed trenes naturlig.

L1020341

Dét faktum at lytting i dag er en mer eller mindre ubevisst prosess for mange er også et resultat av den rollen musikk spiller i samfunnet vårt i dag. Musikk er gradvis gått over fra å være noe vi fokuserer til å bli ett skjermbrett som tillater oss å fokusere på noe annet. Den er blitt ett av våre mange ytre filtre som gjør det mulig for oss å ignorere de lydene i våre omgivelser som vi ikke umiddelbart har bruk for eller ønsker å ta inn. Men denne rollen som filter gjør også at vi forholder oss mer ubevisst til selve lyttesituasjonen. Det er tross alt en situasjon vi har lært oss å forbinde med distraksjon. Dette er hva den amerikanske filosofen Jerrold Levinson snakket om når han sa:

For the listener who wears earplugs a very LOUD performance is the best.

For én som har utviklet gode interne ørepropper skal det gjerne litt sterk skyts til for å trenge gjennom og på veien har de finere detaljene en tendens til å forsvinne. God musikk krever derimot at vi går den i møte i lyttesituasjonen men for å gjøre det trenger vi å kunne fokusere.

Så som et oppfordring: oppdater gjerne anlegget men vær samtidig klar over det indre filteret.

Artikkel ble publisert i Audiophile.no 29.06.2014

Masterthesis concerning listening and listening intentions

master-frontpageFor any hard-core listeners out there: I said I would post more about listening intentions.

My initial interest in listening and listening intentions started while writing my master thesis at the Conservatory of music in Oslo where I was introduced to the subject Aural Sonology, developed and taught by the two composers Lasse Thoresen and Olav Anton Tommesen.

This masterthesis focuses on form-awareness and investigates why this is an important skill for students aiming at a career as performing musicians. The world-famous composer Wilhelm Fürtwängler once emphasised the importance for any performer to be completely aware of what he or she is “saying” when trying to communicate a message, whether it be music or language.

The core term of this thesis is “organic form”. In short, organic form is a form concept where each musical work is seen as an integrated, organic whole. This means that all the parts of the composition needs to relate to the other parts as the parts of a living organism would relate to each other: changing one effects all the others. This has far-reaching consequences in the field of performative choices as each musical work is a unique universe where we as performers are constantly invoking a multitude of butterfly-effects for each new musical choice we make.

The thesis is based on an analytical system known as aural sonology, a system where the object of the analysis is the aural aspect of the music as opposed to the written score. Therefore a large part of the thesis is concerned with the topic of listening and different kind of theories concerning listening intentions. These subjects can be found under the heading 1.2 Concerning Sonology and Aural Sonology.

The main part of the thesis is given over to a detailed analysis of three compositions: Black Angels by George Crumb, The Lady of Shalott by Bent Sørensen and Solve et Coagula by Rolf wallin.

Towards the end, in the appendix there is also an interview with each of the three composers.

 ………

 Denne Masteroppgaven tar for seg begrepet form-forståelse og ser spesielt på hvorfor dette er en viktig type forståelse for studenter som studerer til å bli utøvende musikere. Den verdensberømte dirigenten Wilhelm Furtwängler fremhevet at det å videreformidle mening kun var mulig når dét man formidlet stemte overens med ens egen forståelse. For å kunne formidle noe må vi selv som formidlere vite hva det er vi sier og forstå det til bunns.

Hvert musikalske verk er et unikt univers hvor vi som utøvere konstant setter i gang sommerfugleffekter for hvert musikalske valg vi tar. Velger vi å dra ut starten på en musikalsk frase må vi hente inn energien vi har brukt fra et annet sted senere. Dette er hva vi kaller Organisk form i musikk. Det medfører at vi betrakter et hvert musikkverk som en integrert enhet hvor hver del forholder seg til hverandre som delene i en levende organism. Hver enkelt del har sin klart definerte rolle og står i et spesielt forhold til de andre delene. Dette skaper et logisk forhold mellom de enkelte delene og gjør at musikken får et mer helhetlig preg over seg.

I oppgaven min benytter jeg meg av et analysesystem basert på emnet aural sonologi som har med musikkforståelse basert på musikk slik den klinger i motsetning til musikkanalyse basert på det musikalske notebildet. Oppgaven inneholder også intervjuer med komponistene George Crumb, Bent Sørensen og Rolf Wallin og er sentrert rundt tre verk av disse komponistene: G. Crumbs Black Angels, B. Sørensens The lady of Shalott og R. Wallins Solve et Coagula.

Read the thesis here  / Les oppgaven her:

The development of formawareness by means of aural sonology

Listening intentions part 1: It is all about attitude

Nameless sounds
In the last post I promise to talk a little bit about listening intentions. The background for this term is found in the development of the electroacoustic music in the late 1940s. With the electroacoustic music composers and musicians were faced with a brand-new sound-world, the world of recorded sounds, which, for the time being, lacked a terminology.

In order to talk about music you need words to name the different parts of it. In traditional music there is a wealth of terminology for elements such as pitch, rhythm, timbre, dynamics and tone which can all be used in order to put our experience of the music into words. But what happens when you are suddenly given a new set of toys which gives you the possibility to create sounds that does not fit into the previous models of what we consider “music”? What terms do you use for the sound of ice being crunched under a boot? Or a keychain hitting a sement floor? Or the drumming of train wheels hitting iron rails?

Have a try yourself: what words would you use to describe what you have just heard?

The clip you have (maybe) just heard were made by Pierre Schaeffer, creator of the phenomenon Musique Concrete, you can read more about that here .P schaeffer In addition to composing with recorded sounds Schaeffer also sought a way to analyze and talk about this strange new sound-world. The noise-loving Composer s approach to the music was a typical phenomenological one, meaning that he sought to describe and reflect upon the sound-experiences rather than to explain them. The main focus was: how to name the new nameless sounds within the music. In Norway this approach was continued within the Aural Sonology Project at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo led by the two composers Lasse Thoresen (a great Norwegian composer whom I was lucky enough to have as my mentor when I wrote my Master thesis at the conservatory) and Olav Anton Thommesen.

The Frenchman François Delalande took this research a step further. While Schaeffer’s main interest was the musical objects themselves and how to name them, Delalande was more interested in music appreciation in general. Through interviews with listeners he identified six types of reception behaviour or what we might call listening intentions. Through his research he found evidence that a listener might favour a specific listening intention regardless of the type of music he or she listens to. At the same time through experiments it became obvious that a person’s listening intentions might be “open for negotiations”, in other words: we ourselves have the ability to change them.

So what is needed in order to make a conscious choice in the way we listen?

Change your perception – change your world
Two things.

One: that we have knowledge of the fact that there are different listening intentions available,
and two: that we are able to make a specific change in our everyday way of perception. Now this change is concerned with how we perceive things in general, not only music.

Every day we experience the world through our senses, from the touch of a door handle and the sight of a view to the scent of a flower. These experiences are a natural result of having functional senses and living in the world of today. We respond to these experiences in different ways: speaking of them, acting or reacting upon them. They might trigger emotional responses of different kinds in us (some things might appear attractive, others things repellent) and the reasons for these different responses might be more or less subconscious.

Within the subject of phenomenology this way of perception is called the Natural Attitude. It might seem strange that this natural way of experiencing the world might be called an “attitude” but the reason is that there exists another way, another “attitude” towards reality.

As humans we have the possibility of not only having a sensory experience, but at the same time to take a “step back” and watch ourselves have the experience and reflect upon how the experience affects us. Instead of simply smelling the flower I observe myself smelling the flower and at the same time I observe how “I” react to the smell.blomster This is called the Phenomenological Attitude and when moving into this attitude we become philosophers and mystics reflecting upon everything that presents itself to us instead of merely acting upon it (be it the smell of a flower, our own stream of thoughts during meditation or a piece of music).

Fascinating!

Yes, but I don’t like that kind of music
A subject´s way of listening is a highly personal and individual matter. 100 people might be listening to the same performance and each of them might experience a unique reaction towards what they have just heard. Each of these experiences are equally valid and important to the person experiencing it.

The point of listening intentions is not to enable us to give the “correct” interpretation of a piece of music but rather to open up different routes into the music. Either consciously or subconsciously a lot of people might have a tendency to think: “the music has to be in a particular way for me to be able to enjoy it“. A more uncommon idea is that maybe “I” as a listener have to listen in a certain way in order to be able to fully experience music of this particular kind.

As I mentioned earlier: listening is not a natural gift that follows the ability to hear, but rather an acquired skill that must be honed in order to be developed. So, as we have just talked about: what is needed is the right attitude (the phenomenological one) and a wee bit of knowledge concerning listening intentions. So here goes:

Selected listening intentions according to Delalande
Lastly in this blog post we are going to look at one of Mr Delalande’s listening intentions. The others will follow in a later post. I’m going to present you with a specific type of listening intention that is very common among musicians.

#Taxonomic listening
Taxonomic listening is concerned with form and analysis. In this type of listening intention we focus on the abstract music itself and the architecture within it. For musicians the knowledge of musical form (i.e. the structure or plan along which a piece of music is constructed) is essential both in analysis and in performance.

sonataform

When we adopt a taxonomic listening intention we recognise and subtract parts of the music, we compare it to other parts and we look for an overall shape or logical form.

How do you convey meaning through music? In the beginning the meaning of music was mainly conveyed through its text but from around 1700 instrumental music had developed to a great degree and musical forms was beginning to replace text as the meaning conveyor. The concert audiences at this time in history were mainly from the upper classes of European society as concerts at this time were not yet a public spectacle. People from the upper classes were often given a general tuition by house-teachers which consisted among other things of knowledge of literature and music.

Today taxonomic listening is not that normal among listeners except by those who have had a musical education. During the classical period however, (a musical period primarily associated with the names of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven) the taxonomic listening perspective was somewhat of a standard as audiences discussed and took delight in discovering and observing a comprehensible musical landscape organised according to general musical forms; forms which were recognised by everybody at the time who listened seriously to music.

Natural limits
Of course, in order for this type of listening to be possible it is often necessary that the music fulfil certain criteria. The composer Arnold Schoenberg once said:

“To be concerned with form is taking into account man’s limited powers of understanding; as he is unable to keep in mind very long time stretches, the musical discourse must be subdivided into manageable segments. However, these shorter segments must again be joined to the others in such a way that one segment presupposes the other and vice versa (…).”

For those of you who got stuck in the part about “man’s limited powers of understanding” no, this is not meant as an insult, it merely points to the fact that all of us are in the possession of a short-term memory which, being short-term, has certain limitations: it has an upper limit of 7 objects at a time, give or take a few (this is why we always memorize 0ur phone number like this: 122 33 455 instead of like this: 1 2 2 3 3 4 5 5 ).

When using a taxonomic listening intention our short-term memory is actively at work. In the standard diagram of the sonata form shown above the principal subject is repeated in the recapitulation. In order for me to experience that I need to be able to remember the principal subject, and it is the composer’s responsibility to make sure that I do. How does he do this? By making sure that it is, in the words of Schoenberg, “manageable” (i.e. short enough) and by repeating it.

Just look at the beginning of Beethoves 5th Symphony and you get the picture. That motif and that theme sticks

5th_symphony

It is however are also possible to use a taxonomic listening intention in the encounter of more modern music.

In the 1960s composers like Penderecki and Ligeti came up with a kind of music unlike anything ever heard before. This was music as mass, as process, as development. All ideas of motif and themes were discarded in favour of gigantic constructions of sound, often built by adding layer upon layer of voices a quarter tone apart.

But still, even if we don’t have any recognisable themes or motifs it is still possible to listen to this kind of music with a taxonomic intention. We will take a quick tour through this great and terrible piece of music. Keep an eye on the timer and look at the points below:

  • From the beginning at 00:07 – a static layer is developed by adding more and more voices.
  • At 00:23 the intensity receides and the layer is given a more flexible and moving texture as the strings start playing tremolos instead of repeated static pitches.
  • At 00:43 there is a sharp break as the middle part of the mass is drawn back and we are left with a thin sliver of sound in the upper and lower register forming a shimmering frame.
  • Then, at 00:55 a new layer slowly developes within this frame, one whose texture is more chaotic, uneven and rough, consisting of percussive sounds and sliding. squeeking noises. Gradually these noises are increased by adding more and more voices from the thin static frames until they form a complete tapestry of writhing mass which increases until it abruptly ends at 01:57.
  • 01:57 Now we are left with a static ribbon of sound which is slowly streached in both directions like a piece of wet cloth before it recedes again.
  • At 02:08 a new ribbon is introduced, this one also spreading out like aquarell paint diluted in water. And so on and so on….

I do not know how this works in writing but I have used this sort of guided listening at lectures and it seemed to give people a sense of this kind of form-and-structure-listening that taxonomic listening intention is all about. Personally this is one of my favourite ways of listening but then I am a bit of a structure-maniac who always loved geometry in school…

Interested in more? The next post will be about Emphatic and Figurative listening intentions.

Listening intentions, sound-pollution and singing tapestries

The SoundscapeIn an earlier post on this blog I mentioned the book “The Soundscape” by Canadian composer and writer R. Murray Schafer. The word “soundscape”, one of Schafer’s designs, is used to describe our sonic environment, all of the everyday sounds which surrounds us in our lives. Schafer talks about how these soundscapes have changed as a result of our ever-changing society. The sonic onslaught of the Industrial Revolution, and the ever-spreading urbanisation of the world forever altered our natural sonic surroundings, filling them up with ever more sounds, both pleasurable and otherwise.

Schafer looks at how these soundscapes have become ever more denser, no longer linked to the natural rhythms of day and night but stretching our borders of consciousness along with our waking hours. Last but not least the author investigates how these our soundscapes affect us and how we adapt to them by different means. It should come as no surprise that Schafer bears no love for our current sonic environment, in fact, the term he uses is “ sound-pollution”.

I dare say many will agree with him. People of today, at least those living in an urban environment, have come to depend on different kinds of filters. From the simple earplugs which we use in order to get a good night sleep dispite the screaming todler next door øreproppto the kind we use to lock ourselves into our own private bubble of sound:earphones

(often used on the subways and buses in order to shield ourselves from other people’s attempt to shield themselves from other people´s attempt to….)

Musical tapestries
Music has gradually changed from being an object of focus to being a screen which allows us to focus on something else. In the year 1917 the composer Erik Satie coined the term furniture music (a slightly more literal translation would be furnishing music ) which at the time were background music meant to be played by live performers. Satie only used this term on four smal pieces of Music, as in: 1. Tapisserie en fer forgé (“Tapestry in forged iron” – for the arrival of the guests (grand reception) – to be played in a vestibule – Movement: Very rich) but the term has since stayed, evolving into our present-day “beloved” shopping mall- phenomenon: Muzak

Eric Satie Yuri Khanon Vospominania zadnim cislom
I’m not sure that Satie really knew what he was unleashing with these humorous notions. But what is certainly true is that music has gradually become one of our most readily available filters shielding us from the steadily increasing chaos of our present sonic environments.

Earplugs – for better or for worse?

“For the listener who wears earplugs are very LOUD performance is the best” – J. Levinson

The American philosopher J. Levinson gives here his rather humorous contribution to the topic of filters. Levinson addresses the notion of “inner” earplugs, the sort of conscious and unconscious filtering which we all make use of during our day. Chatting with a good friend in a cafe on a Saturday afternoon would be a completely hopeless task unless we were able to effectively sift out and ignore parts of the surrounding mayhem of hissing coffee machines, loud chattering, background music, screaming babies, revving cars and blaring cellphones.

Our ability to pick out the voice of our friend from all of these surrounding sounds is part of the same ability our brain uses when it filters away the parts of our reality which it deems not strictly necessary for us at the moment. Without this ability we would all quickly die of mental overload. This is more or less an unconscious act on our brains part. However, interesting things might happen when we try to challenge this natural inclination in ourselves.

The reason for doing this is simple: most of the time this filtering ability protects us from a very real danger of mental overload but just as many times a filter might have been created for a specific reason: as protection against a situation long gone. It might have been a reaction to a situation which we once found threatening or invasive but even if the situation now has changed the filter might still be in place.

The standard word for this mechanism is prejudice.

Today we are however following a different trail: that of Listening. There is a very important difference between hearing something and listening to something. Hearing is a purely physical process which happens automatically provided that we have the necessary physiological components. Listening, on the other hand, demands a change of attitude from passive receptor to active observer.

Hearing versus Listening

“To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also”         – Igor Stravinsky

The most important ingredient when turning from hearing to listening is intent. Intent is the tool with which we are made masters of ourselves. With it we reach into the world around us with a clear purpose.

At this point it is tempting to diverging into a long philosophical discussion but to keep (at least a little bit) in line with the topic of this blog I will instead turn to Listening Intentions, a term used to denote the kind of intent or different attitudes with which we might approach a piece of music.

L1020411The ever-changing experience
The famous proverb about not being able to step into the same river twice could apply just as easily to music: it is never possible to listen to the same piece of music twice. Of course a work of music can never be performed identically twice but the point here is that even listening to a recorded piece of music will yield two different experiences as we as listeners will be at different mental stages or in different places when we hear them.

Our attitude towards what we hear changes what we hear. Therefore by changing our listening attitude or our listening intent we can change our experience of the Music.

Still with me? In the next post I will take you by the ear and we will enter the wonderous land of listening intensions. It is well worth a visit..

“Understanding” music. The paradox of the musical experience

I don´t understand it!

I once interviewed the Danish composer Bent Sørensen about his music during the Bergen International Festival in 2007. While talking about the effect of music Sørensen was quite firm on the fact that music was not necessarily to be understood, but first and foremost to be experienced.   It is not difficult to agree with this, but at the same time it is something of a paradox that one of the standard responses to contemporary or “difficult” music of any kind quite often is the phrase  “I don´t understand it”. So I thought I´d write a little bit about why “understanding” so often is experienced as something vital to our experience of the music.

This is in fact very logical as we are, by nature, equipped with a perception that is based on organization and “pattern-seeking”. We organize our perception of the world around us in order to be able to perceive it, and this act of organizing is what gives most people a sense of “meaning” and “understanding”.

In other words “understanding” is not strictly about getting an intellectual grip on something with our minds but more about sensing a sort of inner structure and coherence within what we are presented with. This is especially true when it comes to our experience with music and with language.

The element of temporalityklokke bern

Music is, along with language, a temporal art, meaning that it manifests itself along a timeline and we experience it as successive sound-manifestations. In contrast to this a painted picture can be experienced in the flash of a glance, although maybe not in its every detail. Music and verbal language share the fact that both of them are temporal expressions, we might call them temporal objects. So how do we humans experience temporal objects? What happens in our minds when we encounter them?

The “then”, the “now” and the “soon to come”

The key to the experience of something temporal is the sense of duration that it creates in us. We do not experience a temporal object as a series of “nows” one after the other. If that was the case then nothing would seem to endure through time; everything would be experienced as unrelated momentary flashes that would be wiped from our minds the moment they were replaced by something else.

When we experience temporality through our perception it comes with a primary sense of past and future given from the very beginning together with the “now” of the situation itself.  In phenomenology the full and immediate experience of temporality is called The living present. This is the name of the temporal whole so to speak, and as a whole it is composed of three moments called primal impression, retention and protention. These three moments are inseparable.

I´ll illustrate: Look at how we experience a sentence spoken to us. When we listen to someone speaking we are in a way in three different places at the same time. One part of our mind focus on the words at the very moment we perceive their sound (primal impression), one part retains the by-gone beginning of the sentence in the back of our mind, creating coherence between the by-gone and the present (retention) and the third part senses what is to come, making it possible for us to mentally anticipate the conclusion of what is being said (protention) and at the same time shedding additional light on what has gone before (this is also what makes it possible for people to interrupt each other during a conversation as they anticipate – correctly or incorrectly – the end of the other persons sentence)

In other words: Primal impression, retention, and protention refers to the way in which our consciousness structures its experience of temporal objects, both objects that are present and before us, and inner objects experienced in our mind.

With these three aspects we build our understanding of the world.

Do you know what you are saying?

Ever heard the joke about the millipede who one day started to ponder in which sequence to move his legs and from then on were unable to move ever again? Millipede

Every expression we make consists of a myriad of details (like the myriad of legs on the millipede) which have their natural place and relation to each other. When we speak we use words, pronunciation, stress and tone of voice consciously to impart meaning and as listeners all of these elements contribute to our understanding of what is said.

In music phrasing and a logical relation between the different parts of the music together creates an organic whole where every part is logically related to the other like the parts of a living organism. When we speak or play we seldom focus on all of these details as that would be a sure way to go mad quite quickly or end up paralyzed like our poor millipede. Instead we focus on the expression and the meaning which we wish to convey and then the details naturally fall into place all by them self.

The German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler describes this as he says that the only indispensable condition for an audience to be able to understand a speaker is that the speaker himself knows what he is saying, that he understands the meaning of what he is speaking of; Only when what is communicated is in accordance with one’s own understanding can it be given the right sound which leads to others understanding it as well. Furtwängler were of course speaking of conductors as well as speakers using verbal language.

Yet again the quote of the great conductor Celibidache becomes relevant “When do I know that a piece has come to its end? I know it when the end is in the beginning. When the end keeps what the beginning promised.”

The importance of memory

In order to know that the end has kept what the beginning promised I need to be able to remember the beginning (retention-work) and my memory works best when confronted with something familiar, something regular.

The language of contemporary music often (not always) consists of irregularities; irregular rhythms, irregular keys, irregular harmonic changes, irregular instrumental combinations, irregular instrumental techniques (etc etc) giving our retention a hard time retaining what has gone before. At about the same time our protention gives up trying to anticipate what is to come since it is having trouble finding a match in our database of previous musical experiences.  So after a while all that  is left is a constant stream of primal impressions which gives us the sense of being lost in a foreign musical landscape with a vague sense of confusion and the feeling of not “understanding” where we are.

For some people this can actually be a blast as it triggers their curiosity, but most people don´t like to be lost.

So we turn of the music.

There are of course several ways in getting acquainted with this strange and sometimes beautiful  foreign world, for it can be beautiful, but that is for a later blog text.
karel 1

Beauty is in the eyes (and ears) of the beholder

Look closely

Have you ever had the time lately to really look at something or someone? Not the quick glance or the romantic eye-gazing but looking as an act of true curiosity and wonder. As children we often indulged in this activity, becoming completely absorbed by the wings of a shiny, black beetle trudging slowly across the ground, or a drop of rain trailing down the window.

As grownups there are as far as I know only two professions which encourages this kind of activity: the meditation-teacher and the artist. Some meditational techniques uses a visual point of focus, often the flame of a candle, as a means to enter certain states of consciousness. The artist painting a live model enters into a similar state of consciousness but an infinitely more active one.

Several years ago I was an avid amateur painter and attended several courses in figure painting at Olav Mosebekks Tegneskole in Oslo with the great teachers Dang van Ty and Hans Norman Dahl. We  started off with still lives and copies and then moved on to painting live models. After getting over the initial embarrassment of staring openly at a naked complete stranger the process gradually took on a totally different flavour. As my fascination grew the models started to change. What had initially been a mixture of individuals gradually turned into something else and as their personalities seemed to vanish their features and shapes came sharper into my focus. My mind was forced off its usual labelling- activity (fat man, thin girl with no chin, woman with too long arms) by the task of trying to capture what I saw and reproduce it on paper. As my mind craved more and more details in order to accomplish the task the models, without exception, grew more and more beautiful in my eyes.

I do not believe that it was some sense of altruism that was at work here (“see the beauty in every person”) although such a phrase, trite and worn thin as it is, might in its time initially have been created by an experience much like mine.

My experience was rather “colder” in that I felt no bond to the persons who happened to inhabit the bodies I was looking at, nor no wish to get to know them personally or desire to fall in love with them. Rather what I felt was a detached form of wonder and awe at the beauty that was gradually growing before my eyes. And maybe this is the clue to the experience: this kind of focus is solely occupied with observing, by the act of focusing.

sittende,bakfra beskåretThe art of mindful focus

This blog centres around the art of mindful focus, mostly in music although this is far from the only place it exists of course, but no matter the setting or topic; the result of such a focus seems always to be the same: a sense of wonder. We lose ourselves in the experience and at the same time are more present than ever before, maybe because what we are experiencing is our perceptive capacity at its highest potential. Not filtered through layers of expectations or thoughts around how to best put this information to good use but just as a very quite form of perception.

Some years later: I am a student at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, in my second year. Tendinitis in both arms threatens my studies and my student loan is worn thin. As every other Norwegian student I need an extra job to make ends meet but any job involving the use of my hands will be the last drop that tips the tendinitis-scales and shuts the lid on my piano studies. I need a job that doesn´t involve the use of my hands.

Well….

This, admittingly, was not the only reason that I chose to start working as an art model. One very strong reason was my memory of that experience when painting models myself. My thought was: if I am not the only one who has this experience of beauty when looking at and painting a model (which I doubt) then this is something that most models are experiencing, probably without knowing it in some cases.

And I wanted very much to experience what that was like. So I did.

I found out from the other side of the easels that ever so often during a painting session (more often with a professional artist but also quite often in art classes) there would come these long stretches of silence with a very particular form of energy in them. I believe these to be somewhat related to the moments of connection that a performer on stage and an audience sometimes experiences, when the listening involves more than recognising the parts of the music that one “likes” and where the listening on both sides switches to something deeper.

In the last lines of his beautiful poem Allegro, the Swedish poet Thomas Tranströmer describes something that gives me this same experience of ringing, present stillness:

(…)

The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;

rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.

The rocks roll straight through the house

but every pane of glass is still whole.

The painting above was done by the Norwegian painter and artist Roar Kjærnstad. Check out his other Works here: http://www.kjernstad.com/index.htm

Oh, and by the way did you know that Tranströmer also have influenced and inspired several Composers and musicians? This great website tells of some of them: http://wp.me/16OAX