"I have nothing to say / and I am saying it": process, fragments, listening
Like many things, this month’s offering began as a note on a scrap of paper. That first note, a small tap, echoed through voice memos, freewrites, rants to self. Something distinctly sonic drove the process; it truly felt like air rushing, colliding, vibrating. Which sounds thrilling, but we’re talking about air here—something you can’t see or hold. Something hard to trust.
In many ways, assembling this month’s newsletter wasn’t a lush or supported process. Ideas came in spurts, trickling out during commutes and breaks at work. It ran through the cracks of job tasks and exhaustion. All the while, though, I told myself that something would happen. I just had to be committed and sensitive. I just had to listen to the material.
This felt like falling into vast space. It was here that I experienced listening as bracing. A response to sharp shifts in direction. The way that muscles grip when I slip, dancing in socks— What is my footing? Where is it? Am I my own center of gravity? Or will I be carried along by something else. On the surface, I’m okay with this. On deeper levels, maybe not so much.
A bodily sense of centeredness plays a huge role in histories of Western concert music. Some seek it defensively (as did the “concert reformers” of early twentieth-century Germany). Others, like John Cage, sought something that wasn’t disorientation, exactly, but finding ground in wandering, slipping or falling rather than standing or sitting. “Give any one thought a push,” he says in his Lecture on Nothing; “it falls down easily[.]”
Right now, I’m thinking about the (probably apocryphal) practice of musicians removing their shoes when auditioning for seats in an orchestra. Just by sensing where I am in space and time, I ready myself for relation. I learn something about what Toni Morrison meant when she wrote, “if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”
This month’s newsletter is an audition. It’s a space where I can try with ideas, rather than stating them authoritatively. In that way, it is both the result and the pursuit of intentional listening. It’s what happens (or happened, in this specific case) when I let practice guide me. It’s not easy, but I’ll let myself be witnessed in the act of trying.
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