Friday, 28 October 2011

a field student of killing times in Primrose Hill

Killing Time in Primrose Hill

Recently, while working around London’s very affluent Primrose Hill, I heard a voice I recognized as Will Self’s. I may have been mistaken. Whoever the voice belonged to declared, ‘we’ve still got half an hour to kill’. I turned around and saw a man I recognized as Will Self. I may have been mistaken. I started to approach the stranger to speculatively congratulate him on his broadcasts for the ‘A Point of View’ series on BBC Radio 4. I hesitated. Fawning genuflecting attention (idolatry even) would not be welcome, I reckoned, to a man of his class of intellect and creativity.
I imagined this encounter.
“Begging your pardon, Mr Self, sir. If it is indeed you, Mr Self, sir? (He appears not to deny it). I may have presumed, Mr Self, sir. Presumed sir, to congratulate you, sir, for your most recent wireless disquisition, sir. ‘Gawd’ bless you, Mr Self, sir”.
“Ah, er, yes, quite, er, good point, Mr Self, sir”.
I carried on with the very repetitive work, checking the time frequently, willing it and the work to pass quickly. It seemed as if the gentleman I heard had thought better of the malice aforethought and decided not to kill any time. I looked around for an exquisite corpse of time, the cadaver of half an hour outlined in chalk on the pavement at the loose end of Regent’s Park Road. My watch stayed reassuringly solid; it did not, as I feared, melt and drip from my wrist. Time, that sunny Friday afternoon along Regent’s Park Road continued uninterrupted and paradoxically at a leisurely or leisured pace for some. The air of Primrose Hill alfresco was replete with 24 claret laced chat, some of it possibly about Mr Self’s points of view.
How does Will Self’s recent point of view, (21st Oct') about race, class and social mobility take in the cultural vista of that well heeled locale? Who lives and works in Primrose Hill and what are its identity politics? The BBC had yet to broadcast Self’s race/class reflection when I was traipsing around the hill in my nearly new white £29.99 Nike trainers with bright red trim and laces; yes, bright red laces, which set off alarms and winces as I stepped over the thresholds of the assorted boutiques and posh eateries to beg a favour of the proprietors. Heck! St George’s trainers. What was I thinking when I bought them after nearly two years of saving 40p a week? Ra Quel faux pax Rodders! I thought it was the malodor of my rotting gums and crumbling teeth or the miasma of my plebeian underarms that elicited polite grimaces accompanied by terse dismissals including the occasional waft of the hand; the latter meaning, I think, please leave quickly you ‘oik’. To be fair to the more egalitarian contingent of Primrose Hill, not all the responses were as dismissive. I considered going into every outlet to make the polite request; including outlets I know from experience would say no. Why? I could, if I were not in such a hurry to get out of there, to get the job over and done with, enjoy the proprietorial expressions of violation and trespass. Ha ha! Did you seriously think I thought you would say yes, you stuck up ******? Sometimes, following a “no”, I have retorted, politely and with good humour, “oh, why not?” “Because we don’t”, has been the usual perfunctory and dead-end response. Their honesty would be refreshing.
I have to make it clear, I am not at liberty to disclose the full details and nature of my work because it is regarded as commercially sensitive. There may be a fantastic 'psychogeographical' trace of my placing around and about Primrose Hill and St John's Wood about which I can say little more. Like many, I do find my work something of a drudge at times, although I certainly value having a job and don’t wish to compromise this good fortune. I think it is fair and safe to say the work is low paid and does not require a great deal of technical skill. Returning to Will Self’s provocation, I’m wondering about the complexities of that Primrose Hill afternoon. What was I, in relation to others, as I went about my work? How baffling is the societal maze of Primrose Hill or any other district? May be this is just a very middle class, chatty question and dilemma except that working people tend to live where their pay affords. I doubt I could afford how and where I live in Walthamstow transposed to Primrose Hill.
Social status or class is a very gendered and complicated matter especially when various identity factors, such as race, are considered in relation. Will Self discussed the issue of status in relation to race (especially dual heritage) and class. He forthrightly cited the identification of youths, on his home-turf of Stockwell, with President Barack Obama. Plummeting from such stratospheric realms of power, what sort of reception would they get if given (or when getting) the work I did that afternoon?  In response to Self’s critique I thought about George Bernard Shaw’s, Pygmalion, and the central character, Eliza Doolittle, who is supposedly transformed from a lowly Cockney flower girl to a high society lady by elocution lessons. Then there is the comic and tragic appropriation of a racial stereotype by Gene Wilder, with Richard Pryor’s ironic tuition, in StirCrazy. Closer to home, in the way of Sue Townsend’s, The Queen and I, ‘Her Majesty’, along with many others from over-priced public subsidy is, in the craziest of my dreams, upping sticks to move into a council house in E17 and is very generously insisting on the London Living Wage for her right royal services.
Will Self opined ‘the reasons for being at the bottom of the heap are manifold’. He listed class, family, education, money and race. What about adding sex, age, and free will? If two people are each earning the same low wage (below or at e.g. the 2011 London Living Wage of £8.30 per hour) can one of them make a claim for living in poverty (more than the other) e.g. on the basis of having a different (more difficult) family background? Might a good education and positive family relations alleviate the effects of a subsistence income? This may have been the point of the emphasis on the mediating 'and' rather than 'or' when presenting his point of view.
What was that? I have just finished reading, timequake, (Kurt Vonnegut) or so I thought for I seem to be back at the beginning. Holy Kilgore Trout! Has there been a timequake? Is this a rerun? Was I writing this before? I blame the free will of Mr Self for tinkering with time. Only kidding! The BBC will be broadcasting repeats (reruns!) a lot more in the foreseeable and ‘forehearable’ future. Get this; I’m imagining Will Self’s hand rolled smoky tones beaming out from the rerunning parallel universe of the BBC while in fact (fiction) he is down at the job centre.
“Ah, Mr Self, I see you have put ‘psychogeographer’ in your work experience. We’ve got just the job for you”. 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Sunday, 23 October 2011

a field student of cinesthetics

As Field Study's Man in E17 I present another blurred and fuzzy highlight in the gripping (I wish) nostalgia of my E17 Art Trail 2011- a visit to the open house of Sarah Nicolls for a Sunday afternoon of 'cinesthetics'; a fantastic multi media meld of contemporary, classical and jazz music in the packed to capacity venue which was Sarah Nicolls' Ritchings Avenue sitting room. Sarah Nicolls played piano to a film projection, as well as another performance on her inside out piano. There were also performances by Lucy Russell on violin, and jazz duo, Tribunal on drums and saxophone. If I heard correctly, Sarah Nicolls and her partner were about to move out of the area so alas there may not be another musical intervention with a remade piano on any future E17 art trail. This post is, in part, another comment on or observation of how artists adapted places, physically and otherwise, in order to participate in the E17 Art Trail and in a sense the state of being 'inside-out' is a fitting metaphor.

Sarah Nicolls' E17 Art Trail listing is here, with a picture of the inside out piano and a link to her web site.

A ceiling eye view of Sarah on the 'inside out', courtesy of Mark Burton, can be viewed here

 Sarah Nicolls

Lucy Russell


Lucy Russell played the Chaconne (or Ciaconna) from J S Bach's, Partita No.2 for Solo Violin in D minor. Here are some quick links to just a few of You Tube's library of Ciaconnas; Isaac Stern, Sigiswald Kuijken and Arthur Grumiaux. The latter is my favourite. I think Lucy played the piece at quite a fast tempo, though it might sound very different as a recording given the acoustic nature of the venue and event - the space, all the bodies, furnishings, pianos and drums and so on, let alone the particular qualities of the instrument she played.   There was some mention of a recording being made. The performance was very visceral and the same can be said of Sarah Nicolls' performance at her inside out piano. Playing the piano keys with her left hand, she plucked, rubbed and tapped at the exposed strings of the eviscerated upright to create an eerie and plaintive ambience. Jazz dudes, Tribunal stomped in with a few up beat numbers to lighten the mood adding a bit of tonic to the gin very hospitably and generously plied at the start.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

a field student of controlled disappointment

A highlight of my E17 Art Trail was a visit to The Makers Yard. The recently reclaimed site is hidden from view from nearby Shernhall Street and access is via a narrow passageway from which I, along with an art trail expedition, emerged into the earthly delight of the yard with its open studio sheds, raised vegetable beds, greenhouse, garden benches and other communal spaces. Despite the bustle of the occasion there was still a sense of tranquillity and peaceful purpose about the place - a self contained retreat. I wondered if The Makers Yard is an artist run space and how it fits into the patchwork of other artist’s spaces in the area. Sometimes the living/working spaces artists create can be as creative as the art produced in them. As quaint as it may be I am in favour of a more whole approach to art - e.g. making things and growing food in close proximity.
One of the creative relationships the art trail explores is that of the production and consumption of art; who makes art, where, how and why, with who consumes it and so on. Seeing art works in progress in studio spaces and communicating directly with the artist(s) may demystify creative processes and also be counter to the modern industrial phenomenon of deskilling and alienation from making. While the distinction between the producer and consumer remains, the latter can be better informed about, and aware of, the values of the work in the product. The open studio conflation of art and artist with ‘art-lover’ is, however, performative and participatory; all most a performance art form or practice in its own right. The performances can detract from and diminish the allure and mystique of an art work. Explanation akin to a well rehearsed script can imbue an art work with a disappointing personal sense of artlessness. This was not my experience of the artful surrounds of The Makers Yard partly because I limited how I participated in the visit.
I am not quite as sure about a recent virtual visit to the studio of Grayson Perry somewhere in Walthamstow. Grayson Perry spoke, via podcast, about his experience of making art as ‘an exercise in controlled disappointment’. Perhaps on the day of filming this very busy and eminent artist was very anxious that his potentially most beautiful pot might explode in the kiln. He paused poetically from a weary and slightly dismissive exposition and interpretation of his art as a kiln clicked ominously in the background.
He said, ‘I think there is a desperation for people with art, they look at art and they find it very hard to just enjoy it. They have to kind of interpret it and understand it. They don’t just sort of ask themselves, you know, do I think it’s beautiful? I think there should be more of that’. He didn’t have to utter or mutter this critique; he could have just got on with his pottery for the duration of the podcast.
Fair enough; a balance of just enjoyment (sans spiel), and interpretation and understanding is likely to be more sustaining. Is there, however, no measure or scale of beauty? I wonder about the sublime enjoyment at the beauty of e.g. a pot decorated with photographic transfers of images of rancid butter yellow crime/accident scene signs, some of the paraphernalia of the seamy side of urban life? I thought I might find such a sign on or near Cedars Avenue, E17 where someone was stabbed while walking to work one morning last week. If there is a sign I missed it. The comments following online local newspaper reports declare there is a lot of violent crime in Walthamstow - something which may or not be backed up by statistical evidence. What sort of correlation might there be between crime and the progress of economic development in an area? Perry’s colourfully glazed pots, artfully inscribed with brutish images of the malaise he perceives while walking about town, culminate in an attempt at a beautiful contemporary polemic but a polemic against who or what precisely? Of what consequence to Walthamstow is Grayson Perry’s pantomimic progress to the hallowed galleries of the British Museum? Is there or might there be a ‘Grayson Perry School of ‘Tranny’ Pottery’ to cultivate locally misused cutting edge arts and crafts skills. Might we have local artistry in the service of the worship of Alan Measles?      
There is a connection between artists and less developed and less gentrified areas in that the latter are more affordable to a contingent that tends to be lower paid. Rents (including studio rents) can be much lower and housing/mortgages more affordable. Grayson Perry, with all due credit to his hard work, creativity and success, probably does not need to worry as much about the cost of studios in Walthamstow. What is the story of his studio? Perry’s slightly wry comment about retaining artistic authenticity due to having his studio here may be disingenuous. I think it is suspect when an artist uses the deprivation of the area in which their studio is as some sort of credibility for their art.  On the trail there were many instances of people being creative with space and other limited resources in order to create studios, workshops and exhibition spaces, perhaps as a way pursuing a more amateur passion. Some of the people I met on the trail, particularly on the guided walk, were using the trail as a way of looking into the area with a view to moving in. The very desirability garnered by the E17 Art Trail, and other community events, may contribute to pressure on the cost of living here. Of course there are other circumstances which can affect the cost (and quality) of living and/or working in Walthamstow but how do you judge the authenticity of the needs and motivations for being somewhere? I’m happy for Grayson Perry to continue reacting to the area surrounding his outpost of artistic authenticity; it may help keep my rent down. The Makers Yard shared some of what can be made of a place rather than superficially what can be made about it.            

a field student of ambulations, amputations and negotiations

Photographing these subjects at night with auto flash has not been sympathetic to some of the subtleties of their forms and for this insensitivity I, as Field Study's Man in E17, apologize. A recent evening jaunt took me to several places around Walthamstow where the capacity of plants to adapt to difficult environments can be viewed. I have reported on this phenomenon before - here - where trees are growing in er, harmony?, with the increasingly derelict dog stadium. I may be contributing a trivial point of view to or on the fiasco of the dogs, which the Archipelago of Truth has reported on more pertinently. Of course my perambulations have a purpose in that they serve as reconnaissance (field studies) and warnings for extra terrestrial trees; those that might be visiting from other planets. This my friends is what might happen should you get stuck in a fence. 

Piffle indeed. A recent contretemps concerning a laurel hedge and fencing (of the wooden sort) might give the images some more edgy suburban context. A neighbour to an allotment I share complained very angrily about the cutting back of his hedge which had grown over into the allotment and over some adjacent raised beds. What ****** planet do you think you are on? was one of the 'questions' he bellowed. I think it was an unusual instance of good sense and diplomacy which prevented me from answering, quite matter of factly, Earth. 



Wednesday, 19 October 2011

a field student of the makers yard

Saturday 10th September
E17 Art Trail Guided Walk
Visit to The Makers Yard, Shernhall St.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

a field student of f & f & f & f & f & f & f & f & f & f & f & f & f & f & f & f & ...........

field studies in progress

installation at The Hornbeam Centre
as part of
Here Local Further Afield
E17 Art Trail 2011

Why did I include a paperback copy of Ariel amidst the beekeeping paraphernalia making up the installation ‘field studies in progress’. This volume of poetry by Sylvia Plath was first published by faber & faber in 1965 and I’ve had a 1983 edition for nearly 28 years. In all that time, still just one of the tulips on the cover has wilted; bent double and drooping over the rim of the vase. A mass of faber & faber trademarks (‘Redcoats, everyone’?) surrounds the image of the flowers, SYLVIA PLATH and Ariel in a pattern which has the regimentation or uniformity of the printed wax sheets used by some beekeepers as foundation for the requisite honeycomb; the hanging walls of hexagonal cells in which the worker bees (Plath’s ‘honey-drudgers’) must deposit their honey. Of the 40 poems within the volume there are 4 specifically from Sylvia Plath, the apiarist; ‘The Bee Meeting’, ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’, ‘Stings’ and ‘Wintering’.
In ‘The Bee Meeting’ the poet is a neophyte witnessing the arcane practices of village beekeepers. The poetry, from her initiation in the circle of their hives, is fraught yet lyrical; the bees are characterised as ‘outriders, on their hysterical elastics’.
In ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’ the poet receives a nucleus of bees - a queen bee and her cohort of workers, ‘a box of maniacs’ which is the core of a new bee colony. As a new beekeeper, Plath shares her trepidation at her nurturing role and the barely tameable force of her newly acquired ‘mob’.
‘Stings’ sees us witness to the poet’s awkward identification with the worker bees, ‘these women who only scurry’ and, in a lost queen and ailing hive, ‘a self to recover’. The last stanza reveals a morbid and supernatural ascendance.
Plath shares her honey harvest following the whirl of her ‘midwife’s extractor’ in, ‘Wintering’. The poet’s relationship with the bees has transformed and faltered in the hiatus and hibernation of winter leaving the reader with a difficult meditation on a precarious yet hopeful incubation.
Ariel was accompanied by another book in the installation, The BEE COMMUNITY, by F H Metcalf, published by Beecraft in 1948. The book, for laypeople and beekeepers, is intended as an account of the scientific knowledge of beekeeping and a response to the ‘mass of fantasy and mystery’ that has grown around the honeybee. Chapter VII, Unsolved Problems and Mysteries, examines the issue of collective and individual consciousness in particular the subordination of the individual or individuality. Metcalf comments on the possibility of a fault in the ‘community mind’ wherein the worker bees in winter ball around the queen to insulate her (it?); many of them die in the process. They can ‘ball’ so tightly they kill the queen. Scientific research since 1948 may have revealed or generated other interpretations of this phenomenon however the observation is pertinent to an understanding of Plath’s poem ‘Wintering’ and more fundamentally the dialectic of individual and collective expression.
Plath’s poetry may anthropomorphize bees via verse which can be morose and fragile and in the bitter sweetness of her metaphors there is much that can be regarded as a mass of fantasy and mystery. Dismissing the fantasy and mystery may be characteristic of what John Berger, in ‘Why Look at Animals’ regards as a corporate capitalist process which ruptures ‘every tradition which has previously mediated between man and nature’. Berger’s thesis begins with animals more sentient and doe-eyed (cows/livestock) however Plath’s totemism does not present so much of a digression or transgression. Bees are magical, tameable/containable and their honey intensely alimentary and in their habits, proximity and ‘invitation’ (Berger) a means to metaphoric connections with nature as a more encompassing whole; the first metaphor was animal.
There is little in the way of doe-eyed sentimentalism in Plath’s poetry - that disneyfication and cultural marginalization of animals Berger rails against. Plath's sentiments are often raw evocations of sex, birth and death.
In ‘Wintering’,
            The Bees are all women,
            Maids and the long royal lady.
            They have got rid of the men,
            The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
These primordial relations are quite exquisitely expressed in the compelling meter and sentiment of this song accompanied fittingly by a confused image of a bee - Billy Bee.
Since I started keeping bees some of Sylvia Plath’s poetry has become less obscure and esoteric - particularly the beekeeping poems. Until then the poetry verged on being hermetic. The esoteric affinities of the poetry may be a response to a desperate sense of loneliness born of a loss of ancient values, myths and primordial ideals. What certitude did Sylvia Plath seek? The installation was a memento mori consisting as it did mostly of objects and materials which had perished in various ways e.g. a worn out smoker - the leather bellows holed, dry and cracked. It can be repaired and revived.
The multi sensory installation invited visitors to consider how such a sensibility contributes to the tasks and actions deemed necessary to address social and environmental dilemmas. How does writing, reading and appreciating poetry about bees deal with the dire consequences of declining bee populations? Those actions are a way to understanding some of the conditions which hinder creative and sustainable participation. Sociability is not necessarily in itself the solution to all problems - what people do (and how well) is important. Also in Here Local Further Afield was Sian Collins’ ‘The Meeting Room 2011’, a document representing a gathering which took place in The Hornbeam Centre’s meeting room. I imagine the meeting being warm, lively, and loud, buzzing (if you’ll excuse the obvious allusion) and perhaps reassuring. We could compare or allude to it in the encounters in ‘The Bee Meeting’.
These art and craft works may be akin to social tools in a convivial space within an expansive egalitarian context that is the E17 Art Trail. The presence of outstandingly unique talent expressing and founded upon psychological disorder is awkward to say the least. The autonomy of individualism may equate with liberation from rules and restraints and from conformity but to what consequence? Suzi Gablik asserts the consequence and meaning is ‘alienation from the social dimension itself’. Counter to arch individuality bereft of social significance and social obligation (a social vacuum) is a desire for a ‘more circumspect state of mind’ perceiving ‘the need to strengthen art against the present conditions of arbitrariness and fragility’. Was Hornbeam’s meeting room a rejection of a modernist bell jar and if so to what consequence?

Has Modernism Failed (Revised Edition), Suzi Gablik.
Why Look at Animals, John Berger.

Monday, 3 October 2011

a field student of craft processes pt3

Listening Loops

Susan Sontag, in ‘The Aesthetics of Silence’, wrote of art noisy with appeals for silence. While studying for a PGCE in Secondary Art and Design, I was asked to present a mock lesson introduction to fellow Institute of Education student teachers and our tutor. On reflection the content of my presentation may have been foolish. It began with an overhead projection comprising a video of a ‘teacherly’ attired bloke (me) asking, inaudibly, with various signs (including British Sign Language) for quiet and silence. The lamentable and unfunny silent movie, fraught with contradictions, ended with the fool hysterically gesticulating for the noise to stop. I was graciously thanked by a hitherto quietly appreciative class for my performance.
I have observed art and other subject teachers noisily, even violently, appealing for silence or quiet. The often flagrant disobedience towards the appeals shocked me initially. My student and supply teacher placements took me to some 'learning cultures' quite different to those of my schooling and some of my expectations as a beginning teacher had to change. Settling a class down to achieve a quiet deemed suitable for learning could, I observed, take some experienced and qualified teachers more than 5 minutes. That ten minute mock lesson intro’ back at ‘the Institute’ seemed remote and out of context.
The cacophony of some classrooms was not just due to youthful ebullience and loss/lack of control due to teachers’ poor classroom management. The very architecture and design of some schools conspires against the imperative of quietude or quiet behaviour for learning. Of course such a monastic rhetoric represents a didacticism which may not cultivate creative learning in some subjects. It was this issue, the relationship between noise and power in public institutions which I put to members of the In-Between Two Sounds discussion panel. In particular, I asked the panellists to share some of their awareness of how architects, designers, technologists and others create acoustically appropriate environments; buildings fit for their purpose. I wondered about the capacity of the meeting room for classroom like noise.

In-Between Two Sounds - Walthamstow Quaker Meeting House
installation detail. 

In-Between Two Sounds - view from listening bench

In-Between Two Sounds was an installation and series of events which took place at Walthamstow Quaker Meeting House, as part of the E17 Art Trail 2011. The installation, curated by Rebecca Stapleford, immersed visitors in the serene setting of the upstairs meeting room. Sound artist, Alyssa Moxley offered visitors the experience of ‘Sounds Move Through You’, a soundscape composed for listening to via headphones, anchored to a bench within the space. An audience gathered in the same space to participate in the panel discussion. The panellists, David Toop, Salome Voeglin and Stuart Sim talked about silence, noise and listening. Their treatises (some with sound/musical effects) prompted further discussion and audience participation all characterised by a sense of sobriety. David Toop spoke softly about the speculative history and futurology of listening and why listening may need a radical rethink. Stuart Sim spoke about the divine nature of silence, specifically in the context and practices of a Quaker meeting house, and about the social problems of noise further afield. Salome Voeglin told of a distinction to be made between silence and quietude. Having set up the distinction, silence was explained as being generated in her auditory imagination from the smallest speck of sound; conjuring in me a metaphorical pearl. Around Voeglin’s “structured space of nothingness” there could be quietude enabling reflection and careful listening. The panel’s response to my request for comment on acoustic design included SV proposing listening as a learning activity; a discipline or practice to abate noise and thus enhance the creativity of ear drumming pupils and teachers alike. This response emphasized behaviour as a key to enhanced listening.
Listening is taught directly and indirectly in schools as one of the key skills implicit in competent communication and is one of the fundamental cognitive faculties in many subjects. The panel’s concern was more the overloading of our sense of hearing, the auditory canals. The overloading might be epitomised by consumerism and its unrelenting drive for novelty or newness by which listening can be impaired; the din of proverbial shopping trolleys blocking the fluid hearing ways. There is a lot of information available about  many aspects of listening and how it is taught in schools.
What discipline and creativity in listening had I brought to In Between Two Sounds? Did I listen to and/or hear Alyssa Moxley’s, ‘Sounds Move Through You’? How can I, 3 weeks or more, after the experience, recall in it some expressive detail so as to convince you I did so skilfully and creatively? If not ‘I’, then who and how have they done so or will they do so? In installation art there is a ‘problem’ of the space between the creativity of the work itself and the creative responses it elicits.
I recall an intimate journey through an everyday and extraordinary ambience, domestic and urban, adrift in interior and exterior spaces, crossing enigmatic thresholds accompanied by glimpses of conversation fading and gently interplaying amidst a stream of hums, whispers, rubs, creaks, steps and breaths. It was difficult to tell what was where in the stereophonic layering of the surround experience as whole soundscape or encounter. There were sounds of my own body, pulsing for example; those of the playback and those of the meeting house and our Walthamstow situation. Were the subtleties and sophistication of the vibrations and waves lost in me; a hearing machine, an aspiring listener fettered by reason? What sensibility did the installation require ideally? 

In the corner of the meeting room Jean Luc Nancy (or Venus, courtesy of Titian) reclined in bookish proxy, saying, ‘isn’t the philosopher someone who always hears (and who hears everything) but cannot listen, or who, more precisely neutralises listening within himself so that he can philosophize?’ The statement was just audible above the rest of my inner verbiage which was the din and knell of my hope of listening - diving for pearls; the specks of sound which might become silence. I could try and reassure myself (if not convince you) of my listening abilities, by recourse to Susan Sontag, who said, transcendence is without realization. What would be evidence?
Listening as a craft may have an orthopraxis which has a learned knowledge. According to Mary Carruthers, the knowledge ‘can only be learned by the painstaking practical imitation and complete familiarization of exemplary masters (sic) techniques and experiences’. Of course it would be foolish to say my lesson introduction involved painstaking practical imitation.
Can we read ‘and experiences’ as disciplined cognitive activity or “silence” - “silentium”, the term for it in monastic rhetoric. Carruthers’ “competens silentium” suggests ‘the competency of those adept in a craft or spirit or attitude of mind towards what one is doing, the fitness of the craftsman, craft or work’. In the panel discussion there was debate about the fitness of people’s ability to listen in a world so afflicted by noise. Craftspeople often cite the meditative qualities of their handiwork, and the various beneficial effects, including healing, which craft practice brings. Perhaps I needed to be knitting to genuinely appreciate In Between Two Sounds as a well listened piece and so personally demystify the religious myth of listening as a craft.