Early this year the idea of nesting soundscapes began to take shape. When Susanne Romey and I played at Open Eye Cafe in February, the recording of our session revealed an interesting interplay amongst the amplified digital soundscape, the added acoustic textures that Susanne and I mixed into the scape, AND the ambient noise in the room. (See post at this link http://wp.me/p5yJTY-1N.) Since then I have recorded this phenomenon in the Sun(Ra) Room, in our backyard, and at the Won Buddhist Temple Bazaar that occurred in October.
I like the term “nested” because it suggests a swaddling, an outer layer, a container that holds the soundscape performance. A nest is a “home” as well, at least for that recorded moment in time. My last blog post offered avenues of accessibility for folks who want to hear soundscape performances more deeply. (See post at this link http://wp.me/p5yJTY-7D) I describe the soundscape itself as a container in which my deeply listening cohorts improvise. Then add the “nest” as the specific space/time of the performance which becomes yet another container. All of this taken together can be seen like this:
Now we have something like nested dolls with containers within containers! Another aspect of this process is the recording of the soundscape in the space. I am still experimenting with how to record the nested soundscape. Currently, I use 1 to 2 Zoom H2n microphones. These portable digital recorders can record in stereo or surround sound. Recording settings and mic placement are the areas of exploration at the moment.
The process of nesting a soundscape allows me to address one of my frustrations in co-creating music with others: the way authority/leadership shuts down expansiveness and breadth of creation. I am saddened by all the beautiful possibilities that get snuffed out due to the limitations of a single creative ear, and the sense of right/wrong this brings to the creative moment. (Once a friend described this process of the singular ear guiding the creative process as the path to “excellence”. I now see “excellence” as the bully stick to keep creation small, controlled, safe and popular.) And yet, my singular ear sculpts the digital soundscape to have a certain sound and movement. There is conceptual intention at work here from my own singular ear. The digital soundscape is where I play with, test, implement and discard sound ideas based on my ear alone. So, how do I get past my own authority?
In the creative process, authority can transform into a more fluid vision through surrender. An important element in the creation of a Nested Soundscape is surrendering control over the outcome, the final sound of the piece as a whole. Surrender opens up more possibilites/opportunities for sonic play and exploration. The first step in getting past my own authority is to invite people to improvise over my creations. This approach allows new and different sonic potentials to emerge. I confess I do exercise some control as I direct myself and other players in relation to the scape. However, the soundscape in performance now becomes a collaboration with the creative sensibilities of other players, not just me. I can suggest and point out things after we play, but, in the moment, each player is responsible for the sounds and statements they bring up during the performance.
The nest brings in a whole new level of surrender. The nest is the contextual “now”, the ambient environment in which the performed soundscape unfolds. The nest brings acoustics, other voices, and other sounds that come with this new container: the space/time where the scape is performed. This is the realm of nearly complete surrender for me. I determine the placement of microphones for recording. I may make some suggestions to people who are present in the environment, but this is not always possible in a public space where people are coming and going. Creating a Nested Soundscape makes me put on my “yes” ears, and challenges me to go with whatever happens: to surrender to all the potentials and possibilities that manifest during the performance in the nest.
In the end, I do exert my authority again as I take the recording of the Nested Soundscape and give it shape through audio processing. So, the surrender is incomplete and conditional, as I work to understand how to implement personal creative vision with surrender in the moment.
Here is an example of the Nested Soundscape that occurred at the Won Buddhist Temple Bazaar on October 10, 2015. You will hear the vast out of doors container, voices, the rain on my raincoat draped protectively over the recording microphone, and my cohorts improvising within the digital soundscape.
The next Nested Soundscape will be created at The Carrack Gallery in Durham as part of Justin Tornow’s Prompts series. Prompts is a quarterly performance event where artists bring work in response to a one word prompt. For the December 11th event, the prompt is “surrender.” The prompt came through as I was finishing this post.
You can see why I had to respond!