Stumbling around google this afternoon, slow work day, confronted with an offer for one's own blog, thought OK, maybe a place to post thoughts as they occur.
Today thinking about a discussion ongoing at Bagatellen.com on how one might listen to music. We're talking very, very quiet music (the disc in question, "Going Fragile" by Mattin and Radu Malfatti) that, on its own, might well merge with the ambient environment. I think that's fine, of course, and might hasten the merge by reducing the volume on the stereo so that I end up "not listening" to the disc any more than I'm listening to the hum of my PC, the traffic going by outside, etc. Not a new idea, of course. I recall first encountering it with Brian Eno's "Discreet Music" back around 1977 wherein he specifically advised playing his piece at a volume level low enough that it occassionally sank out of the range of one's hearing. Thought the idea was cool then; still do.
I've taken to, over the last several years, putting this idea into practice (when possible) in live performance settings. About three years ago, I attended a couple of outdoor events put on by a trio of Sean Meehan (snare drum), Greg Kelley (trumpet) and Zack ...arggh, I always forget his last name! (bass). Their first set took place in an underpass beneath the FDR Drive around 38th St. around 8PM. The traffic was a non-stop dull roar overhead and the musicians, as was their normal routine, played very quietly. I chose a spot against one of the walls fairly distant from the band, about 60-70 feet away, so that I could just barely hear them poking through the general din. Loved it. Later, they trekked crosstown to a pier on the Hudson in the 40s. Here they were a good 500 feet from the West Side Highway. It seemed pretty quiet though, of course, you could hear the traffic, the passing ferries, the wind etc. At one point an empty Coke can was being blown softly from side to side at Kelley's feet and he improvised along with it.
Since then, if the space provides a reasonable opportunity, I often situate myself at some point between the performers and, say, an exit door where the sound issuing from each is approximately equal. Works quite well, as a rule.
To me, this sort of "aggressive listening" has been tacitly approved at least since Cage's 4'33". In theory, at least. In practice, if known by others including (maybe) the performers, it raises what I think are likely ego-driven hackles. "What you're hearing is not what the artist meant!" Well, 1) Why not? and 2) So what?
More later. Maybe.