Listening Techniques

Listening Techniques

During the development of Study #4, we found ourselves confronting habits, assumptions, and questions about the relationship between the dancer and musician, as well as the dance/choreography, and music/composition. An important aspect of our overall project as collaborators is the design of interactive frameworks that operate through a fluid distribution of agency between performers, human and nonhuman. We are trying to avoid reductive identifications of leader and follower between performers, and with the media. While we learned a great deal from Study #4, we realized that we were struggling to articulate and actualize the quality of listening between performers that we have conceptualized. We felt the need to develop a pedagogical process by which to cultivate what we understand to be a relational or peripheral quality of listening.

We decided to investigate one very specific task: listening to and relating with a click-track. We developed a progressive series of listening exercises, in which dancers and musicians listened to a variable metronome, generated by computer software. Each time the participants listened to the 6-minute progression of the click-rack, we gave them a new directive. For example:

  • Observe the quality and behavior of your own awareness. If your awareness drifts, bring it back. How did you bring it back?
  • Observe the behavior of your breath as you listen to the click track, without intentionally altering it.
  • Breathe in time with the click track, initiating each inhale and exhale on a pulse. Make choices about the duration of each inhale and exhale, i.e. how many clicks occur per breath. You can also introduce breath holds, at the peak of the inhale or bottom of the exhale, to make a four part breath.
  • Repeat the above step, paying attention to moments when your initiation of a breath accidently falls before or after a click, due to the variability in the click track. Observe how you react in these moments, without intentionally changing your behavior.
  • Repeat the above step. During moments of surprise, exaggerate your reaction. How does this shift the tone or rhythm of your breath?

We experimented with the above steps while lying down, sitting, and standing, and with eyes open and closed, all of which made a difference in the quality of listening and focus. We also repeated directives, and moved forwards and backwards through the progression to refine the process. We questioned how much information to provide performers, versus what to leave open for experimentation.

In addition to breathing with the click-track, we explored shifting body weight in time with the click track. We provided directives such as:

  • Shift your weight from one foot to the other, arriving on one leg on a pulse. Make choices about the duration of each weight shift, i.e. how many clicks occur per weight transfer.
  • Repeat the above step, paying attention to moments when your shift of weight accidently falls before or after a click, due to the variability in the click track. Observe how you react in these moments, without intentionally changing your behavior.
  • Repeat the above step. During moments of surprise, exaggerate your reaction. How does this shift the tone or rhythm of your body? How does it change your relationship with gravity?

We then repeated the above series, with breath and weight shifts together. Additional steps in the progression that we touched on, but that we would like to explore further include:

  • Observing the coupling or decoupling between inhales and exhales with suspension and falling
  • Exploring different types of weight shifts, for example in isolated body parts, or travelling in the space
  • Having the musicians play their instruments with the click track
  • Having the dancers improvise movement with the click track

Eventually, the computer generated click-track will be replaced with the click track generated in real-time from the ECG. This will provide a unique type of unpredictable variability for the musicians. It will also provide a form of biofeedback for the dancers, and potential for a feedback loop, as they relate to the music.

What we are trying to emphasize is a relationship between the performer and click track in which there is not a follower and leader, nor a right or wrong event. Rather, we aspire to a relational awareness regarding the behavior of the performer and click-track. This requires directing attention in multiple directions, simultaneously inwards and outwards, but mostly, in between the many performers, within a context. The question for each performer is not is not: are you before or after the click track. The click track itself, whether generated by the computer software or the ECG, is not so special. Perfection in this scenario, i.e. the performer matching the click track exactly, would likely be uninteresting as a temporal texture. Cultivating this relational listening is a step towards building dynamic rhythmic textures, between the multiple performers, and between the movement and music. 

The majority of our exploration of this progression was done ourselves, in collaboration with dancer Laura Boudou. We also facilitated a daylong workshop with five musicians, who gave us a lot of valuable feedback. We plan to continue along this trajectory through future workshops with dancers and musicians. It is interesting to us to bring dancers and musicians together for this exploration, to examine ways in which our disciplinary training informs our approaches to listening.

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