Thursday, September 8, 2016

Choosing Oomph

Sometimes it’s a push to find New Things in your life. It’s Friday and you didn’t sleep well and it’s been a long week; how about we just veg out? Or you got yourself out, and it’s First Friday and the block party on D Street is fun and sunny so why would you leave to hear a lecture? A music lecture no less. Indoors.

But you’ve already “made plans” and so you’re stuck. You have to go hear John Luther Adams at the Anchorage Museum, and you know he’s really, really highly regarded, but still. It’s a lecture. Maybe it will be short. You plod on over to the Museum.

Sometimes, it takes a lot of oomph to keep yourself growing and exploring in your Third Third, but the plus side is you make incredible discoveries. John Luther Adams is my discovery of the week. Maybe of the month. (Hmmm, there was QuickSplit….)

It’s not my usual music. It’s not the Rolling Stones; there’s no regular beat. Not even lyrics. But the electrifying thing is his reasons, the why of his music and how that’s changed the how. I think – just like I discovered with the Defiant Requiem – that I appreciate the art, the artist, and their why more than music itself. I like what music can do.

Adams’ music is inspired by the landscape of Alaska; I knew that before. But I didn’t know he’d realized that while his music began outdoors, it was almost always heard indoors. So now, he was taking his music outside, having it performed in new and different ways outdoors. That means a different experience for the listener.
Adams wants the listener to be a partner in the creation of the musical experience so he invites “the listener to find their way into the music. … Few things make me happier than when a listener hears something, experiences something, discovers something in the music that the composer didn’t know was there. It’s only through the presence, awareness, and creative engagement of the listener that the music is complete.”

How many communication workshops have I given where I emphasize that the ideal of communication – of interaction, period – is dialog, the active participation of both parties, where both people co-create the conversation? Where both people actively listen. And it can happen with music?

Adams showed video of his outdoor performances. For Inuksuit, 99 percussionists played while dispersed throughout Morningside Park in New York City. There was no conductor, but each musician had a score and followed the cues of music they could hear. The audience just sort of wandered around, some actively listening, some doing what you do outside in parks. “You may choose to root yourself in one specific location and let the music move all around you or you may choose to wander freely throughout the performance, following your own ears, actively shaping your own experience, creating your own mix of the music.”
And because it’s happening outside, there are sounds from the world, too. For Adams, “every point … is a potential point of interest, a call to listen.”

Does this sound as startling, as revolutionary, to you as it did to me? When afterwards, in conversation, Adams described how he creates his music from natural harmonic series because the piano keyboard isn’t a requirement in nature, that clinched it. I’d thought composers had to sit down in front of pianos and work out their pieces. I’d really thought that. Like it was a rule.

This was just mind-blowing.

Adams gave this same lecture – with the same video – at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity so you can see it on YouTube. Near the end, the video shows a performance of Sila: The Breath of the World outdoors at Lincoln Center. For me, that was the knock-your-socks-off part.
Okay, even sock-less, I may not become a music person. I’m probably not going to start going to concerts – my stereo broke and I can’t figure out how to get it fixed – I don’t have an iPod or other listening doodad – but I now have “music awe.”

Lesson for my Third Third: it takes oomph to find awe.

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