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2 Prelude

2.1 In a Room .. .

One

I walk into a room. A large, empty room, with a wooden floor.

Nobody is there. I can hear the sound of my footsteps, even my breath.

I go out to grab a chair, walk back in and sit down.

Now I shut my eyes and listen to the sounds coming from the open window. Bird songs: of different pitches and from varying distances. I can mentally visualize one coming from my right: a blackbird. Another, further away: a magpie. And a seagull crying and moving to the left, as its cry gradually fades in the distance.

In the background I hear the traffic, from which emerge different sounds and different speeds. Here a car. There, on the other side of the street, a slow, heavy and noisy truck. Suddenly, the jarring noise of carpenter's saw. Then I hear the sound of a metal plate. And the steps of people passing by in the street, and their more and or less comprehensible words ... This quiet observation, free from worries and judgements, gives me a good feeling about ... About what? Nothing special. Or better: about living. I would say: this quiet awareness gives me the energy of life, for life.

Two

Four people come into the room. I open my eyes. They are carrying a low wooden stage. They put it near the wall opposite the door. Then they bring many chairs and set them in ordered, parallel rows, facing the stage. There is a distance of about five meters between the first row of chairs and the stage. The guys shut the window and leave the room. Silence.

A bell rings. People come into the room and take a seat. They do so with respect, quietly, almost shyly and religiously. With a few exceptions, they are dressed as for a special occasion. They are waiting.

A girl dressed in black, carrying a cello, enters and walks quickly towards the stage, accompanied by a great applause. She begins to play the Suites by J. S. Bach. We all listen with attention. We all enjoy this wonderful music: each according to her/his own ability to listen. Someone responds to the rhythm with a slight movement of the head, one reads the score that she/he had brought.

The concert is over and we are all under the beneficial spell of this music, which has enriched us with an inner song we can mentally repeat: almost an inner breathing which make us freer.

Three

People leave the room, except for myself and some other people. These are, incidentally, the ones casually dressed. We know each other. We create a space— we do not care for the stage—bringing some chairs in a circle. I take the trumpet that I held under my chair during the concert; the others take the instruments they had brought with them: an alto sax, two electric guitars, a keyboard, a double bass, a drum set.[1]

We start playing. We begin with a piece that is somewhat of an exercise in playing by listening. It is a composition by Pauline Oliveros called The Tuning

Meditation. The drummer makes sounds by moving his fingers across the skin of the tom and the cymbals, the double bass player uses the bow. We play different pitches and timbres. Then we converge to one pitch; after that, we diverge again and find another point of convergence. Nothing is written, only this simple rule was given in advance: everyone can choose the pitch, the timbre, the time to enter or stop playing. A cloud of sounds takes shape with no hierarchy of timbres and pitches.

Then we play a second composition by Pauline Oliveros, The Hearth of Tones. It

consists in playing on a D4. Everyone can enter or leave when she/he likes. We can change timbre, move very slightly away from the pitch, over or under it, in order to produce different superimposed frequencies (beats) and to control their pace: quicker or slower ... Our listening changes: what at the beginning seemed to be only one tone—D4—is now a universe of sounds, a texture of timbres, microrhythms, breathings. Marvel and interest grow.

Now that we have cleansed our ears and minds, we are ready to improvise in another way. What are we going to play? Nobody knows. We play in circle. One begins. Perhaps the performer has an idea and wants to do something she/he has in mind, longs to perform well, to be appreciated, and tries to do her/his best. The music comes into being. Good, bad? In this context, we do not judge it with the usual parameters for pre-composed music. The audience and even ourselves, the musicians, are listening to something we have never heard before. Everyone is focused on what she/he is doing; everyone is driven by the music, even beyond the intention of giving a brilliant performance. We can all experience this form of listening, which in itself makes the music interesting. Maybe, in a moment something might not sound too 'correct' to our own ears or the player's: e.g. a lack of intonation ... There follows a moment of hesitation. Is the music going nowhere? Or is it taking an unexpected turn? A second player grasps this new direction. She/he switches to the new timbres or new rhythm. What seemed to be an “error”, now, in this context, becomes an opportunity. A third musician listens to the second, takes something from her/his music, develops it for a certain time, then leads it in another direction ... When the circle is complete, we play together, listening to each other, not too loud, not too continuously, carefully avoiding overwhelming each other, and leaving enough time and space: everyone can hear what is happening in every detail, with the utmost clarity. We get a good mood, an open and happy feeling from one another. At the end we breathe

better, we are full of energy. Aristotle described this as energheia [2]; Plato as enthousiasmos.[3] Nothing is abrupt—everything takes place quietly. We experience a quiet passion. We are relaxed. This is a kind of happiness. We can praise life through a very simple rite. And this is nothing special: anyone can do it any day in many normal places.

Four

Meanwhile, some people come into the room. They are silent, but with a very different attitude compared to the audience of the previous concert. They show no shyness. They feel at home, because the music they are listening to now does not place them on the other side, does not cause any separation, but includes them. Inclusion begins right from our practice, from the circle, from our way of placing ourselves and listening to each other. We ask the audience to participate more actively. Then, we perform The Tuning Meditation by Oliveros again with our voices, along with them. And this is beautiful. It is touching.[4]

  • [1] These are now the instruments of the Elettrofoscari group, sprung from a permanent workshop for “all-round improvisation” (jazz, free improvisation and contemporary music) organized by the Cá Foscari University of Venice.
  • [2] Aristotle, Metaphysics XII, 1072 b 16–18. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1170 a 16–1170 b 8.
  • [3] Plato, Phaedrus, 249 e.
  • [4] Something similar happened at the end of a music concert by Pauline Oliveros performed, with the composer present, by the Elettrofoscari ensemble in “Santa Margherita” auditorium in Venice on January 27, 2012.
 
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