We are a music that longs to be free and set others free. What happens when we listen to music and just after? Music mixes and becomes part of our waiting and opening to improvisation. Listening was central to Rumi's practice.That is Coleman Barks' introduction to the section Music: Patience and Improvisation in his poetry anthology The Soul of Rumi. Classical music's biggest current problem is undoubtedly a lack of listeners. Yet in the frenzied search for a new audience very little attention is paid to the practice of listening. Which is perverse: because if you want bums on seats you need listeners. Rumi's poetry has reached that elusive mass market, and listening was central to Rumi's practice. More recently the much missed Pauline Oliveros developed 'Deep Listening', a powerful practice that hones listening skills. Neither Rumi nor Pauline Oliveros mandated acoustically perfect designer concert halls such as the much-lauded Elbphilharmonie for the practice of listening. In fact Deep Listening is a plural practice involving bodywork, sonic meditations, interactive performance, listening to the sounds of daily life, nature, one’s own thoughts, imagination and dreams, and listening to listening itself which cultivates a heightened awareness of the sonic environment, both external and internal.
There's an inner patience that allows inspiration. We wait to learn the timing of art. I have a friend who as a child when she took piano lessons would sometimes go back and add a note she hadn't played. "The time for that note is over," said the teacher.
Was it a New Yorker cartoon? There's a kid in the subway listening to a man noodling on the sax. His mother is pulling on him. "Come on honey. That's not real music. He's just making it up."Following inspiration and the nudges of intuition sets the vitality of our music in motion.
It is conveniently overlooked that the elusive new audience does an awful lot of listening, but not in concert halls. In David Sax's book Reveng of Analog record industry executive Tom Grover, who has worked extensively with new delivery platforms, is quoted as explaining the unprecedented vinyl revival in these words: "As iPods and Facebook became the parent's stuff, kids began searching for something different, because it wasn't cool once your parents did it". Is the uncool concert hall doomed irrespective of dress, applause between movements, etc etc simply because that's where parents go?
We may or may not believe that concert halls are uncool and therefore doomed. However it is a fact that headphone listening is now the de facto standard for consuming music in an increasingly mobile world. I have listened in many of the world's great concert halls; but in recent years headphones have become a more and more important part of my listening practice. And my listening experience has not suffered as a result. In fact I am convinced it has benefitted. Following the practice outlined in Pauline Oliveros' eponymous book I have explored Deep Listening recently in diverse locations including a Benedictine monastery in France and the roof terrace of a riad in Morocco. Via headphones this deep and very rewarding listening has ranged widely, including Eliane Radique's explorations of the inner analogue, John Luther Adams' aching suspension of D-sharp against an E-major triad, Nawab Khan's answer to the growing cry for help, and Brian Jones' psychedelic vision of the Master Musicians of Jajouka.
Another book that has influenced my listening is Ben Ratliff's Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now which explores listening practices in the era of Spotify and other streaming services. Ben Ratliff is jazz critic of the New York Times, and as Michel Legrand explained, there should be no demarcation lines between jazz and classical music, because both have the same goal - good music. So it is not surprising that my recent deep listening has included a jazz album. Haz'art Trio comprises Fadhel Boubaker oud, Jonathan Sell double bass and Dominik Fürstberger drums. Their new debut album* Infinite Chase is worth seeking out not least because their syncretic improvisations are as good as the cover art. Now just deep listen...
* Infinite Chase is produced by Vladimir Ivanoff, founder of the syncretic early ensemble Sarband which has made several appearances on An Overgrown Path. No review samples used. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.