Listening Experience #16

a rock expends no effort in being still, but a person does


This episode of Listening Experience is titled “a rock expends no effort in being still, but a person does”. This title comes from page 29 of a book by Jennie Gottschalk titled “experimental music since 1970”.

This phrase jumped out at me when I read it, and immediately crystallised several ideas floating around in the back of my mind. One of these ideas was an ongoing interest in a challenge presented by the work 4’33” by John Cage, namely: What do we do as listeners once we have found the Silence that Cage’s piece seeks to illustrate? Do we simply sit in its presence, or are we called to act? If we are called on to act, how should we do that? What is the relationship between this Silence and the act of listening?

This piece seeks to illustrate the boundary between Silence (sometimes construed as an absence of will or action) and listening (sometimes construed as an individual act or embodiment of purpose/will).

A rock has no will; it simply exists. A listener, on the other hand, has a will and can’t help but assign meaning to things and events. A listener can’t help but act.

This piece is an attempt to identify the boundary between non-action and action in the context of sound-making. It is organised into what are called Sittings. A Sitting can be considered a version or a performance of the piece. This recording is of the sixth Sitting, for which I made use of an instrument created by Derek Holzer called the “Macumbista Sound Box”.

This Sitting was created by placing a small rock on one Sound Box and setting the volume to a point where feedback began to emerge. I used a second sound box, also with a rock placed on it at the verge of feedback, and attempted to hold perfectly still. It quickly became apparent that holding perfectly still was not possible.

The resulting recording is a document of the dynamic between an absence of effort expended by a rock and the presence of effort expended by a person.

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