below the surface of the ordinary

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

unpolished thoughts 1/14/2019

What happens when you listen to the way you move?

Each movement you make creates a new relationship to your environment.

This is crystal clear if you spend some time in the Dream House in New York City, an ongoing installation created by experimental composer LaMonte Young.

You walk up a flight of stairs from the street, round a corner and enter a room with strange colored lights. There are several speakers throughout the room, each one playing a different tone.

The differing  frequencies create a variety of sonic beating patterns throughout the room. For each millimeter that you move, you will experience something new. Or you can just stay in one place and listen, and you will hear something different again, something that grows inside you in a way that you might not have known was possible.

I first learned about LaMonte Young as a student at Wesleyan University (in the same period when I was studying with Anthony Braxton, who I recently wrote about). The students of an experimental music class led by the composer Alvin Lucier performed one of his compositions in the World Music Hall while he was visiting and lecturing.

It was an experience I’ve never forgotten.

First I will tell you what it looked like.

There were 5 or 6 large tables on the polished wood floor of the performance space, each surrounded by several performers. When the piece began, they began to push all the tables around the room, keeping them in constant motion. This continued for probably thirty minutes, and then stopped.

That was it.

But if you are imagining the sounds that you might hear when a room is being rearranged, generally an unappetizing sonic palette, I can assure you that this didn’t sound anything like the way it looked.

Because Young had purposefully placed enough people around each table that the effort to move them was very little, and the instructions of the score were such that the tables never halted.

To be sure, there were moments where the movement of some of the tables was inconsistent, but for the most part, the performers did an excellent job of achieving constant motion.

So instead of a ruckus, the result was a beautiful extended drone, the combination of all of the table legs rubbing the floor in constant motion, with an unpredictable shifts.

I think of it often as a reminder of the magic that lies so close below the surface of what we assume to be ordinary.

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to listen to the way we move.


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