Moving Listening: a Poetic Cycle – Antonia Pont

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Can moving enhance listening? Through a series of research sessions that used movement in order to note its relationship to, and effect upon, her capacity to listen, Antonia Pont attempts to answer this question… through poetic means.

At the beginning of 2002, I embarked on an experiential study inspired by a very simple query:
 
Can moving enhance listening?
 
I decided to engage in series of research sessions, in which I would use movement in order to note its relationship to, and effect upon, my capacity to listen. In these studies, ‘I’ would be – to some degree – both the inquirer and observed object of my own inquiry. Slippery, to say the least.
 
But perhaps what I’ve described just now is misleading. Let me put it another way…
 
On a whim, (with the moving/listening question hovering in my mind all the while) I placed myself in a context which would permit and encourage my body to engage in movement. I endeavoured to notice any intensified perception with regard to sound arising from this juxtaposition. Subsequently, and based on this initial template, other theoretical whims were attended to, indulged in. Afterwards, relying on memory, I documented the experiences since – for the artist – to evoke in another medium the trace of an experience is the essence of craft.
 
No, upon reflection, to describe the mechanics of documentation in such a way now appears problematic… Let me rephrase.
 
After performing within the parameters set-up by the initial inquiry, I set about introducing paper to pen (or on occasion, it may have been paper to a fine, mechanical pencil). While intentionally calling up both mentally and kinaesthetically the traces left by the studies – the studies whereby there was an engaging with both movement and sound simultaneously, and a present body – I wrote on the paper.
 
The presentation which follows is a typed and tidied version of the sentences that I wrote/ that arrived/ that were generated following the incidents described above. There are four separate pieces to the cycle.
 

At this point, I would like to direct your attention back to the original query –
Can moving enhance listening ?
– and then to state and clarify the essential terms of this query, (as I did for myself before embarking on the studies).
 
Beginning with the following equation, which I derived after consulting numerous dictionary definitions, the terms of my inquiry unfolded.

LISTENING = HEARING + INTENTION

So, listening can understood to be a form of enhanced ‘hearing’. It is ‘hearing’ occurring in the presence of consciousness, or with a consciousness of presence. ‘To listen’, therefore would appear to suggest a ‘hearing with effort’. But is the effort the intrusion of the ‘I’? And who ‘hears’, if there is no effort, no intention?
 
I turned to finding a clear definition of ‘hearing’.
Hearing.
1. The act or power of perceiving sound; perception of sound;
the faculty or sense by which sound is perceived.
 
Based on this definition, two things make themselves apparent.

  • Firstly, no organ is specified to be the definitive site of the faculty or sense of hearing. This detail was crucial to my inquiry.
  • Secondly and more obviously, the definition reminds us that the capacity to hear requires a sound that can be heard. Therefore to understand hearing, one needs to have an explanation of ‘sound’.

I settled upon the following, brief definition:
Sound is a periodic disturbance in fluids density, or in the elastic strain of a solid, generated by a vibrating object.
 
Even within this definition, the central terms – ‘periodic’, ‘disturbance’ and ‘vibrating’ – intimate on some level a notion of movement.
 
So we have assembled:

  • A space
  • A body
  • Sound
  • A consciousness
  • An interaction… or many.

 
These elements are the tools of the research. (And very pleasant tools they are too.)
 

 
Before reading to you the pieces of documentation – to which I loosely refer as The Moving/Listening Poetic Cycle, I will describe more precisely the research sessions.

  • The first and second sessions took place in a small, domestic space. I worked alone with an electronic sound source.
  • The third session was in the form of a conversational interview with a musician.
  • The final, ‘studio’ session took place in a large, professional movement space. I worked alone with a digital video camera and again with an electronic sound source.

 
I will now read to you the four documents generated from the research sessions. They came about in free verse form rather than prose, which considering their content, makes quite a bit of sense.


RESEARCH SESSION ONE

on the tatami mats
dark room
floorboards reflecting scant sun
from beneath the curtain-gathers
i stretch out
after placing a disk in a disk shaped place
and then my fingers do the rest automatically
pressing ‘play’, somehow sound begins

then i am making my skin
and all the generic groupings of places on my body
(of parts, cells, sinews, regions)
like –
knees; chest; breasts; cheeks; palms; feet
etc. available as a surface for the
PERCEPTION OF SOUND
 
i experiment with changing their contours
to permit (perhaps?) a clearer resonance
within the vessel
– the vessel of a palm stretched (almost a disk) or a
palm curved and rounded (almost a dish) or
knees bending a limb of leg into a soft corner
or face pressed up into a pond of floating sound
brushed by the moistness of notes hovering and
colliding with heights
 
the sun shines so gently
and the constellations of limbs and digits against a
pale straw setting (the limbs too are pale – the colour of straw)
mesmerize me and i forget
to listen

my mind begins forming sentences about what has
happened, is
happening, so all the while my
body is deaf and only the dumb ears
perceive sound unnoticing
 
this is a dismal effort
(and so the mind classifies)
but this is the first day and so i see
i must work at this

some sentences stick, despite their
inappropriate intrusion
(not now! trying to unravel language and not knit straight-jackets with it)
inappropriate these intrusions for it is
not the point of the work
of being here
of lying and moving and
trying to listen with and
inside

and so i persevere…
persevere with opening the pores
to absorb a kind of light that they
have never felt before
– a luminous secretion from the humming air
– a quivering, inconsistent light
because to some degree
inconsistency is music

i forget where to place my attention
the pure shapes of skin over muscle
distract me and they move silently
caught outside all the generous structure
offered by the sound
but at times, when i manage…
it seems the sound may be creating tunnels
within the air?
for the limbs to hollow a pathway through,
not an arbitrary and lax trajectory though,
rather one laid
loosely
by the sound
 
no…
i disagree
again
 
there is no specific anything with this
this movement was added as an
aid to concentration, an aid
to intention (the difference between
hearing and listening, remember!)
you see, just like breath in meditation,
– that simple, visceral metronome – can
lull us into the presence of
WHERE WE ARE and
out of our constant fear
(i call it that: anxiety)
that makes us leave ourselves and
venture into
prediction and regret

RESEARCH SESSION TWO

started today with my shoes off
white feet against the pale again
and kept them together almost
and parallel definitely
then worked like this
Kotlowy’s CD on track four
 
thoughts kept coming and i
didn’t want them to go unsieved
but had to let them through,
through to pass and move on
to keep (on every level) with the moving which
is the point of this
…and trying to hear better
to make from hearing, listening
 

i found considerable pleasure in the
arcs and curves my body wound into
according to the whim of
track four –
a female voice with no audible
syllables and yet telling a story of a
welcome relief from cognition
i realised my body was arching and
yielding itself in specific places in the attempt to
CATCH the sound in its cavities more easily,
more fully so that the quality of the resonance was
not bruised
 

sometimes i anticipated well the twisting caprice of
these slow notes as they rose like hot-air
balloons from the throat
of the woman with her voice on
track four – it kept going and going and
i found myself feeling thankful –
all the more time to guess the mood
of each languorous note
not guessing with my head but
anticipating with responsive
angles and hollows
 
i pondered:
THE IMPORTANCE OF MEMORY
for the facilitation of hearing
for the possibility of listening
 
for
if we return to our equation:
listening equals hearing plus intention
yes.
yes.
yes.
could it be that hearing equals
sound plus memory?
that hearing is the memory of sound?
for there must be a linear connection
between the notes/sounds/pulses/frequencies
for there to be a trace of it left
that is:
it must move through time
and whatever IS NOT HAPPENING
right now
can only be happening in memory
and forms an entity when that memory is played
back against what is actually happening
a duet between past present perhaps…
 

to make sound one must make movement
(statement i think)
i can assert this to be universally true
for example: a trumpet player
who must move:
lungs,
lips,
fingers – at the very least
and then more
the playing induces other movements
the tapping of a foot
the lifting of eyebrows
the walzing of elbows
the bouncing of thighs
this is both definite, likely and possible on a
macroscopic level
and on a microscopic one
to make any sound (but the sound of a trumpet in this case)
PARTICLES OF AIR MUST VIBRATE
that is to say
they must dance
 
and if the world might be a
synchronous place
i must move when i hear sound and
this may be called dancing
 

i liked the shapes too
(are my preferences relevant?)
with the emphasis removed from the
aesthetics of dance, and
displaced onto the
intensity of hearing
– each vital note
– each unpredictable pause
the shapes reconstitute themselves into
things i have never seen or
formed before.
 

MEMORY OF A CONVERSATION

i brought up the topic
said i was interested in [….]
and he was quite responsive
so we talked.
he mentioned many things
that unfortunately (i fear)
i won’t be able to recall
i wish i could have preserved them
they were pretty interesting
 
such as:
his discussion of limb lengths
the way each limb
depending on its length has
to some extent
a frequency all of its own
(amazing!) although i’d heard
something similar a
long time before (wine glasses and that stuff
– you know) and therefore
since the lower limbs are longer
like the way guitar strings
work then
they have a lower, floppier
frequency – one that lopes along
instead of springing
and the
shorter upper limbs
sing thinner and
occupy the realms of
tighter wave forms
 
i asked too about cavities, hollows and
the way sound seems to
follow contours and seek out
(ambitiously)
its own amplification
 
he said:
‘yes, interestingly enough
this is dancing’
and we both agreed
 
 
i thought more then about dancing
and how often one dances
with feet (or larger torso)
to the bass line as it wallows like
waves across treacle
and how one follows along
the lighter, skippier, tinkling sounds
with shoulders, fingers and even hair follicles
at which point he went on to
consider the phenomenon
of raves and
dancing to electronic sounds which i
have never particularly loved
claiming a staid preference
for the persistent myth of ‘live’ sounds
but i listened because he knows this stuff
inside out, said:
people dance because vibrations come
up through the ground and get into their
feet like an infection
making them move
and need
to make patterns with their body
(which is powerless to something benevolent
but engulfing
– a rare opportunity really)
this means the body is listening
with, not just the
little structures of ears
(otherwise perhaps
just they would move…)
but everywhere.
 
Then a politically incorrect sentence galloped across my brain:
Remember heavy bass, and its sexy fist to your stomach .
 
and he said:
there must be something in it all
all the rave dancing and electronic music
something about the context and the
lack of human content
makes it different, allows for
vast possibilities of
interpretation for each dancer
each person experiencing music in a
physical but abstract way
 
music across their membranes
tympanic or otherwise

STUDIO

the space was lit with long stretched
rectangles on the blond wood
i drew the window shutters right back
i wanted lots of light for the film
then after playing with the machine
(they are silver and shiny, some with legs

  • these machines and so beautiful!

lighter than my limbs…)
i made it all ready and pressed
a tiny button on the side

  • the red word came up

REC
 
i began.
 
i worked very hard but it was
all happening at once!
– all alone with only the walls as
witnesses was easier than
this: machine with a lens-eye and a
devastating memory
made me feel like a strange object and so how could i
play the role of listener (by definition a non-object,
an actor-out of things, an enactor of processes)
funny: the camera is doing to me what
i am doing to the music…
 
i touched that button many times over
REC
STANDBY
REC STANDBY
and there are pictures of legs and a body
walking towards and away from it.
 
the temptation was
– in such a magnificent space – to
get very distracted by the movement of limbs
and their potential to fly and
hit against floor and themselves
and this began to worry me
again because i was trying to
listen. I WAS TRYING TO LISTEN
TO THE SOUND OF THE MUSIC
 
I(subject)
WAS TRYING (verb and auxilliary)
TO LISTEN (infinitive verb)
TO (preposition)
THE SOUND OF THE MUSIC (object)
 
in this breakdown we can see that
from within my previous understanding of
listening (or acting out the verb ‘to listen’)
i was attempting to play the role of
subject to the music which became my
object and therefore had to be separate from me.
 
for the verb to function in this superficial way
requires a splitting of music-sound from listener
but by ‘moving and listening’ it had been proposed:
the creation of a new verb (in the first place)
– a verbal experience that precluded
this original splitting
 
impossible probably
at least from within language but
very interesting
and so i kept moving
and stopped worrying
 
this calmed the concern that
was rising like scales to my surface
i returned to the sounds that were coming
from the square black voice in the corner
and stopped the controlling of everything and the
‘might get it wrong’ stuff
 
so much nicer like that
reams of space and waterfalls of
possibility everywhere
 
perhaps listening (as a verb with
subject and object) is a fantasy
and it is more realistic to
just be in the same space with
sound and then you are in it
….are it, perhaps.
it may be the same thing.
 
the less you are verbal subject
and thinking about that
the more you listen
but the more ‘listening’ (v.)
becomes something
unnameable and
not that far from the
moving.
 
which isn’t ‘being done’ and
isn’t ‘doing to’.
– lovely thing when it happens.