Messages from the WoW

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The latest signs from the Wave of Wonder (the WoW) are pointing me toward hangups. Attending to my hangup of the moment is easily avoided – except for those little reminders: the tug as my shirt gets caught on a knob, my jacket snagged in the closed car door, jerked back by the garden hose wrapped round a tree root.  Everytime I get one of these reminders from the WoW, I stop and ask myself : “What am I resisting?”

Often I am resisting THE MOMENT. I engage in distracted thinking about someone I love who is ignoring me or some activity I would rather be doing than the one at hand. I engage in stories of disapproval from others, resentment over perceived slights,  and general feelings of not mattering and not being important.

When I entertain these thoughts – and their good buddy, painful feelings – I am lured out of this moment of being by my mind and my story. The actual physical manifestation of the hangup jerks me back into the moment. 

I appreciate the very pointed choreography, and will continue to ride my awareness toward presence in the Now.

Thanks, WoW!

Carried Wisdom

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I have a friend whom I have not seen in many decades. We now communicate on Facebook. We shared a connection in high school, then I moved away sophomore year. I am not good at maintaining long distance relationships – being a right here, right now kinda girl! The present moment is very full, but I want to expand my awareness to include those I love who are not in my immediate proximity.

My friend had a difficult and painful 2016. She surrendered much, participated in great healing and is moving through the experience with much love and gratitude. She is in my thoughts alot these days. We have shared jokes and love memes on Facebook. She has listened to some of my soundscapes and is open to the vibrations. I wanted to create a soundscape for her journey.

I have not heard from her in a while and I am sending waves of loving vibrations her way via the soundscape entitled Carried Wisdom.

An Essential Thread in the Fabric of Music

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My lovely cohort, Jim Kellough, sent me a link to a very intriguing radio show from WNYC on the pervasive presence of the Phrygian Diatonic Tetrachord in all manner and forms of music. David Garland, the host of Spinning on Air, makes quite a case for this group of four notes as an artifact of the collective unconscious, a sonic version of Platonic forms, a kind of musical DNA. Spinning on Air is an engaging hour full of snippets of songs that use this tetrachord as their centerpiece. I encourage you to listen – here is the link.

http://www.wnyc.org/story/worlds-most-used-musical-sequence/

Lets break down Phrygian Diatonic Tetrachord into its component parts to get a better understanding of what Mr. Garland and friends have identified. A tetrachord is a four note sequence with interval relationships that generally fall a half or whole step from one note to the next. On a piano this means the notes are side-by-side (half step) or have one note between them (whole step). Diatonic refers to a scale type from which tetrachords are built.  Diatonic is from the Latin “dia” meaning “through” and “tonic” referring to the tonal center to which the remaining notes refer. The most familiar diatonic scale is the solfege do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. This scale, made so familiar by the song “Doe a deer” from The Sound of Music, contains two tetrachords: do-re-mi-fa with intervals whole-whole-half and so-la-ti-do also whole-whole-half with a whole step between the two tetrachords.

So far we have a basic template – four notes that are in some step interval relationship. Phrygian is where things get spicy and specific! Phrygian is one of seven diatonic modes. Michael Hewitt in his book Musical Scales of the World makes a distinction between scales and modes: scales are the pattern of scale steps, while modes emphasize the tonal relationship of the notes to a central tone usually referred to as the tonic. The Phrygian mode consists of two tetrachords with intervals half-whole-whole separated by a whole step. The Phrygian tetrachord is the mirror image of the tetrachord that makes up the familiar solfege scale.

Perhaps that is part of the reason this four note phrase has been so popular with songwrIters. It takes the common major scale tetrachord we are all so familiar with and stands it on its head. Another possible reason is its versatility. The phrase can sound dark and mournful or sassy and sexy depending on the overall context of the song. Whatever the reason, the Phrygian Diatonic Tetrachord has been the centerpiece for a wide variety of wonderful music for over 500 years (if not longer).

And I am not immune to its charms. I realized that this was the centerpiece for my most recent soundscape composition for December’s Prompt at The Carrack. Listen and enjoy:

“Surrender Nothing” (Nested Soundscape @ The Carrack Gallery)

(photo by Leah Rutchik)

(photo by Leah Rutchick)

The Prompts event on December 11th was a fantastic mix of dance, readings, music and performance art. All the artists were so fully present and engaged with their material. It was a riveting evening!

My cohorts and I set up facing the one brick wall at The Carrack with the windows to our right. (Last post I mis-remembered the interior of the gallery as having two brick walls.) I explained the idea of the Nested Soundscape as containing all the sounds that occur in the environment when we play a scape. I invited the audience to engage with the scape as they were moved, and to allow whatever happens to happen. Then me and my cohorts proceeded to completely fill the sonic environment, leaving NO ROOM for any environmental sounds!  The soundscape was sooo loud. WoW! I had the thought to turn it down, and then decided to surrender to what was happening. The room was full of roiling harmonics, bells, brass, flutterings, sirens, wailing and great turmoil. Susanne, Eleanor, Jim, Linda and I moved closer to each other or to a microphone. One intrepid audience member added some vocals. Inside all the loudness, I felt engaged with the scape and my cohorts, so I was satisfied with what we had manifested in the moment.

(photo by Leah Rutchik)

(photo by Leah Rutchick)

Later in my studio, I was thrilled when I listened to what we had created. My thought was, “That sounds like us.” There was interplay, lots of swirling harmonics, and all the players came forth and receded at times. With 4 pairs of stereo tracks capturing the sound, I could listen to each track and find where certain voices stood out and emphasize that in the mix. Linda plays the uke, and I feared she would be hard to find. There was a place on one track where she is nicely audible, so I gave it some space of its own and amplified it a bit so she is there!

So here is

Surrender Nothing (Nested @ The Carrack) December 2015

PROMPTS – “Surrender” The Carrack 12/11/15

My first thought was  “If I want to make this Prompts response a complete surrender, I will create a 3-5 minute soundscape, bring the scape and my cohorts to The Carrack, turn on the mics, and let it happen.” Then the part of me that has no intention of surrendering stepped in, and a less haphazard approach was settled upon. I will create a 3-5 minute soundscape, the cohorts and I will explore and play with the scape on our own, then get together the day before (Dec 10) to play with the scape. Friday evening, we will show up, turn on the mics, and let it happen. Whatever sound experience occurs in that room, the microphones will capture the event, which becomes a Nested Soundscape.

A Nested Soundscape is an artistic practice in undermining my own authority as creator in a particular circumstance. In the beginning, the soundscape is crafted by me in the cauldron of my studio. I spend hours listening for the song of the moment, the many melodies and harmonics swirling around in the cosmos. The circumstance is isolated and centered and very beautiful. Then I tap into a larger space, where I long for the tones I cannot hear or play. My cohorts arrive and fill in the spaces with their soulful elaborations on the original soundscape. The clip below is a very good example of this phenomenon from Spring 2015. Captured in the Sun(Ra) Room, this soundscape is called “Some kinda Waltz” and is a soundtrack for Jody Cassell’s solo dance work which will be featured as part of Tobacco Road Production’s Spring Showcase in March 2016.

I write about the Nested Soundscape alot in order to get it clear in my mind’s ear. Creating a Nested Soundscape is where “surrender” truly comes into play. Opening up the original scape to the ears and voices of other beings (by inviting cohorts to play within the soundscape) does ask for a small surrender. This is an embraceable surrender. I am happy to do it. But to then take the insular seed of our group interplay outside into some other acoustic space with all the sounds, ears and voices therein- that REQUIRES surrender, DEMANDS surrender. It is surrender or death. And even though these two choices feel somewhat the same to me, surrender carries the possibility of resurfacing. The potential for an alchemy where the constraints become a new kind of freedom. Surrender shakes some filters from your senses. So, my band of merry harmonics stirrers goes forth into unknown accoustic territory with big ears and open hearts.

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(Photo by Bill Romey)

If we are going to venture into this foreign arena, it is helpful to look for a location, a place; might as well call it a nest. We open up quantum doors as we expect the best out of our experience. We actively look for “hospitable ” environments like a space with interesting acoustics, deep listeners, a reverance for harmonics and the unexpected. Every articulated sound becomes a part of the Nested Soundscape. I invite audiences to engage with the scape in whatever way they are moved. So each space we play in becomes the home of this particular iteration of a soundscape. I set up a couple of Zoom H2n mics in surround sound capture and a Nested Soundscape happens!

So this Friday, Jim Kellough, Susanne Romey, Eleanor Ann Mills and I will set up a Nested Soundscape for Prompts. The four minute scape will be amplified through a stereo speaker located close to and facing away from the windows. The Carrack is an interesting acoustic space with wood floors, a full wall of windows and 2 brick walls. Bricks absorb and reflect sound. People absorb, glass reflects. I will position the microphones between the soundscape, the players and the larger group space. We will hear what happens a few days later, when I post the soundtrack on Soundcloud.

And here is the rub, I get to mix the whole thing together into the final sound of the scape, re-asserting my authority! Oh, well…

“Carnatic Water Music” Nested Soundscape @ Won Buddhist Temple Bazaar (Outdoors) October 10, 2015

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:

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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!