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Creating Spaces Where People Can Respond To Music…

February 27th, 2015 | 4 Comments | Categories: Musing on Music |

[big gig update blog-post coming later, but this was bubbling in my head so needed writing first… 😉 ]

Right, this was inspired by a couple of brilliant thinker-friends. Partly it was this blog post by Corey Mwamba (an exceptional musician, thinker, doer and advocate for music) about The Family Album, and his audience-focussed rethink of jazz/improvised music programming, and partly by the work of a theatre company called Coney, particularly their co-director Annette Mees, whose thinking on pretty much everything has been of immense value to me over the last while… Their amazing work on new ways of experiencing theatre, of devising experiential work for audiences is truly remarkable (their upcoming show, Early Days (Of A Better Nation) is touring in the run-up to the election, and is unmissable)

Anyway, here’s today’s brain-ramble, on which I welcome your thoughts and input…

…disappearing down a wikipedia wormhole of synonyms for outmoded terminology that appears to have no analog in the useful terminology world, I stumbled on Cymatics – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cymatics

cymatics by evan grant.

And I’m now thinking about how it works as a metaphorical space for thinking about visible human/audience responses to music… obviously the predictability/science-y bit isn’t helpful, (I’m not into trying to force/coerce people into particular responses to things – that’s pretty much the formulation behind most big rock gigs…) but I’m exploring the idea that music creates patterns of response in us, and the need to create conditions where those latent responses can be experienced, expressed and …encouraged? It’s a really interesting one. How do we get people to leave behind preconceived notions of ‘programmed response’ – sitting, standing, looking, clapping, cheering, and leave a more open field of response, that will hopefully be taken on in some way by the performers, so that it becomes an exchange of energy… This happens already in a way at house concerts (one of Annette’s most useful interruptions to my normal thinking about this so far has been to suggest an alternative to my usual metaphysical positioning of sharing food at a house concert as sacramental, by talking about high and low status ‘props’ – a plate of food is a low status object, so alters the transaction from when I’m holding an instrument – a high status prop… SO much to explore there!) Likewise, Corey’s thoughtful and wise repositioning of the role of programmer/booker/curator in jazz/improv as being the custodian of not only the audiences experience, but the accessibility of the event to the latent audience, the degree to which it is inviting, contextual and undermining of so much of the clumsy paraphernalia that keeps people away from otherwise vital art…

Back to cymatics – sound creates those patterns, but they’re only visible/experienced when the conditions are set up for it. Changing the conditions changes the response, but the patterns are inherent in the sound. We have cultural/personal baggage, and physical phenomena here – as well as layer upon layer of expectation and prior experience – that adds a whole other magnitude of complexity (if not strictly chance/aleatoric, at least sufficiently complex to be largely reliant on serendipity) to the analogy, but the focus on creating safe spaces for response, of encouraging responses but not necessarily directing them (clap here, wave your hands in the air here) could change the way we play music.

One of the things I love about doing the improv shows at Tower Of Song in Birmingham is that we get to mess with people’s expectations of what happens in a space like that. The Tower is such a lovely venue, a warm space where music can happen that wouldn’t happen elsewhere, where listening is deeply encouraged. But what’s next? Where do we go with this?

Addendum – I’m so deeply grateful to those thinkers and ideas people from so many worlds who mess with my assumptions on a daily basis. The same day I first talked to Annette, I caught up with Pat Kane for the first time in ages, and in 10 minutes he gave me a years’ worth of stuff to ponder and wrestle with. A truly brilliant mind, and one I’m so grateful to get to tap into on occasion.

Find the people who pull you out of your comfort zone, out of the familiar, who stretch you and test your thinking in useful ways. And spend time talking to them, and applying it to your work and life. We all need it :)

Addendum 2 – it’s worth pointing out just how far ahead of the music world theatre people are on this stuff. If you have any friends who work in theatre, go talk to them about the role of the audience in their planning and devising of work… Within TORYCORE, we’ve been talking about this a LOT – what is it, who needs to see it, how do we make it available to the right people to respond in whatever way they want to… Important stuff, and I’m so indebted to Lucy, Chris and Luke for their work on this…

So, thoughts? useful? Please take it and run with it if it resonates… make a new pattern 😉 

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Corey Mwamba

    Hello Steve! Thanks for your kind words about The Family Album – interesting analogy with cymatics too… I think it’s always worth thinking of the environment when planning things; as you say, these things are only experienced when the conditions are set up for it. I have more thoughts, but they are slow in forming this morning!

  • Qua Veda

    Wonderfully provoking! I suppose the Kyma sound design platform is named from Cymatics. Kyma.symbolicsound.com. For decades I’ve envisioned transformative spaces (temples) where participants’ movements in the room affect the ambience of the space, as well as the sound and lighting for both or pre-recorded music/sound. Along with other forms of (non-drug) influences, transformation of consciousness could occur. Thanks for the depth of insight and ideas you are providing us with !! ps: I’ve hosted some living room concerts – its a wonderful experience for everyone and can sometimes provide more income for the artists that they might get otherwise.