saxist/composer ponders musical structure
interview by Daniel Barbiero
Ways & Sounds, a new book from alto saxophonist, composer and improviser patrick brennan (who prefers to spell his name with lower case letters), is a thought-provoking extended essay on the structures, of both musical forms and of the human relations that go into the forging of musical forms, underlying musical practice. Ways & Sounds is an inquiry that delves deeply into the questions of what constitutes musical structure, what comes into play in creating music with others, the roles of rhythm and hearing in musical practice, and much more. In the following conversation, which was conducted by email during the first week of December, 2021, patrick and I discuss some of the key points of his book.
Way & Sounds is available online here.
(Full disclosure: Arteidolia Press, the publisher of Ways & Sounds, is also the publisher of my own book of essays, As Within, So Without.)
PSF: The very first sentence of your book--"Most of what transforms sounds into 'music' are not the sounds by themselves, but the weave of human activities directed toward those sounds"--could be the opening line of a manifesto laying out a view into the basic nature of music-making. A view of music as praxis, as a practical activity respond-ing to human needs.
pb: Well, I don't believe this an especially unique emphasis, but rather an actuality so self-evident that it can often almost completely disappear from awareness. This non-utilitarian play with sounds that we call music seems a human universal. And besides, how often does a person think about breathing, or about the atmosphere?
A helpful parallel line of thought can be found in Christopher Small's writing, such as in his books Musicking and Music of the Common Tongue, where he simply transforms the term "music" from a noun into a verb.
That sound plays indispensable hinge amid musical action can easily invite an impres-sion that sound and music are one and the same, which they're not, however intertwined they may actually be. It is nevertheless true that sound constitutes the physical body we engage with. This is real.
But to conclude that a musical sound body is therefore an autonomous "sound-thing" somehow independent of its social relations, that it's no more than an inert object of con-sumption, whether frozen in recording, marketed as commodity or performed as an un-changing sonic monument is also to allege a pretty impoverished conception of what ac-tually goes on as music.
It's important to mention here that sounds don't really care whether they're heard or not. Music, however, absolutely depends on audience. Listening (and listening is as much attitude as action) transforms sounds into music. Music is first of all an act of relationship.
Anyone can "music" any sounds in this way anytime. But what about sounds that a lis-tener can't help but recognize as specifically musical? How do these distinguish them-selves as such? I think it's fair to say that they in some way indicate human activity, that the movement among sounds attracts attention with a consistency that indicates an in-tention to be heard as music, and that they somehow invite this kind of relationship.
With human agency involved this way, whatever characteristics sounds themselves might exhibit become inevitably inflected by the choices of these creative actors and demonstrate a narrative of discernment and decision, which is to say, drama. But a recognition of musical agency amid sound also draws attention to the impact of the in-teractions among these participants upon a sound body.
All of these inferences on the part of a listener, along with the musicians' choices among sounds, accomplish acts of imagination. To "music" sounds means to saturate them with imagination.
Sound is indeed "the music," but both the music and the sound are much more than that. Sound is also skin, only the audible surface of a larger abundance of other "silent" go-ings on that are also the music. Any music involves not only sound, but musical imagina-tion, dialogues, patterns of choice, varieties of social interaction and coordination as well as a theater of value. This is to say that the actuality of music is a complex network of re-lationships. So, music is much more than just "a pleasing arrangement of sounds" that one might like or dislike, embrace or dismiss. It's an exercise of imaginative empathy and exploration.
PSF: This last point you just mentioned--that music is an exercise of empathy and explo-ration--alludes to a key theme in your book. You suggest there, as you did just now, that we see musical structure as more than the formal sonic elements and their arrangement, but as the social relationships that go into the arrangement of sounds. In this connection you describe these relationships as taking the possible forms of monological or dialogi-cal structures. Could you tell us something about that?
pb: The literal meaning of com- (with) + pose (put) is "to put together." That's what we do with sounds. We put them together to assemble some sort of sonic image. In this sense, listeners themselves are composing music because they're putting them together, they're "making sense" in some way of what they hear. This is an active, creative process.
At the same time that a person may be imaginatively constructing an internal "mu-sic to one's own ears," one is also witnessing evidence of other people's actions. These sounds we hear become present to us because some other people have decided to put them there. That's a fact. These people are composing too. They're choosing among sounds. That's what it means to compose.
And just as music is indissolubly social, the act of composing likewise cannot help but nest itself within social context, effectively a compostional structure in itself that fundamentally determines the nature of the sonic event a listener encounters. This is where I came upon the distinction between monological and dialogical compositional structures.
'Monological,' as in monologue, indicates that one person is deciding the sounds we hear. That's the conventional, European derived notion of composition. But what about when more than one person is composing the sound, when each composer's de-cision stream is reciprocally affected by the others'? That's dialogical. In either setting, a composer chooses among sounds, but context and available options differ radically.
A monological structure allows a composer to maintain close to complete control over a sonic image because no one's interrupting the flow between compositional imag-ination and sound. It allows the construction of a sonic image that can sound almost ex-actly the same every time. This sonic result is what the Euroclassical tradition has dubbed "a composition." This "piece of music," once achieved, is sustained as an explic-itly demarcated event, in effect, a closed system that has been "composed from the out-side in."
Dialogical composition is more commonly known as collective improvisation, which is usually thought of as something completely other than composition. And early on, while encountering certain educational situations, music scenes and literature, I'd often be duly informed, whether directly or indirectly, that improvisation yields intrinsical-ly inferior music relative to genuinely "composed" monological, um... "serious" music. Now, it can be hard to verify to what extent this might have expressed provincial Euro-centric chauvinism, dog whistling or simply a lack of appropriate formal tools of analysis, but let's move on to what's formally distinctive about dialogical organization.
While monological composing can be achieved remotely, either through dictation, notation or electronic means, dialogical composing requires a composer to work directly with sounds, usually through an instrument, as they develop during performance. No single composer can be in a position to control the overall sound of the music, which op-erates like a thermostat for the ongoing negotiations among the players as it simultane-ously approaches its listeners. The music is probabilistic rather than deterministic, an open rather than closed system of relationships, composed moment to moment, projec-tively "from the inside out" where exact outcomes recede continuously like a horizon.
Contending with dialogical structure brings to the surface a compositional com-ponent that's so taken for granted in monological music that it's barely thought of, and that is the character of information flow within a music. By "information" here, I mean in-dications of which sounds to play when.
In monological music, directives issue lineally from composer to performers who then convey that sound and design to its audience. It's a unidirectional information flow that displays the decisions of the music's composer: a single narrator.
In dialogical music, composers' decisions are continually entangled with others'. The flow of information is complex and multidirectional. Homeostatically mutating sonic form emerges out of these interactions, and overall coherence comes to weigh more relevant than any specific formal consistency in sonic design.
For the listener, this means that monological and dialogical sound bodies corre-spond with very different internal events. The sounds mean differently.
This also means that social structure is an irremovable component of musical composition that should be taken seriously. It's not just about coordination of sounds, but of people as well.
And this reaches yet further into ethical creativity to the extent that even a provi-sional, temporary, experimental microsociety such as a musical ensemble, what we might also call a sonic community, can propose and enact models of being human, of what kinds of relations we may actually like to live.
PSF: Your description of the musical ensemble as a "sonic community" just now brings me to another one of the concepts in Ways & Sounds that I think is central--"metacomposition." In the book, you describe metacomposition in terms of the need for people acting together--I'm tempted to say "in concert!"--to operate on the basis of some common points of reference, or mutually intelligible ground. This seems to reach beyond the immediate musical given and into the deeper social and hermeneutic structure of musical practice "towards something like a tradition or a handed-down, interpretive hori-zon within which individual musical moves would be made, and would be made sense of. Perhaps we could think of metacomposition as the, or at least a, condition for the possibility of coherent information flow within an ensemble?
pb: I agree with that. We can also think of musical composition as social agreement, not only as to which sounds should happen and how they should happen, but about the roles of participants in relation with each other. That's compositional structure that's also social structure. And what's going on within any ensemble are weaves of com-munications (information flow) toward accomplishing and/or discovering the total sound they hope to project, which is also an inseparable constituent of any composition. During rehearsal and performance, participants will usually be giving special attention to what's being communicated: cues, directives, material to develop or otherwise respond to and so forth.
I was especially thinking about how people could so often put together wonderful music more or less on the spot with no rehearsal. How does that happen? For it to work out well, a lot of compositional decisions have to already be settled enough for this to even be possible. It's not random. And there's no single person who can be distinguished as the composer of these occasions.
We can see instances of the utility of metacomposition with the jam session in jazz or within free improvisation, the roles played by compas in flamenco, clave in Afro-Cuban music or the 12 bar blues, not to mention during sight reading gigs, traditional Irish music gatherings, freestyling, or regarding agreements about intonation or a musician's optimal comportment within an ensemble.
Metacomposition is "what everybody knows"--or is at least supposed to know. It's a com-positional commons (or convention in the very best sense of its cognate "convenience") which facilitates "coming together" of musical actors. These are shared assumptions about how music should be enacted, often unspoken, but everyone notices when it's not there. "Sonic community" also includes listeners and dancers. Concert hall etiquette is metacompositional but would be a put down if that were the response to a techno DJ.
Boundaries may be porous, but metacomposition is already finished, done and gone composition. It's not the current act of compos-ing but a default point of reference. It's vo-cabulary and syntax rather than statement. The symphony orchestra may be a meta-compositional structure, for example, but the person who writes for that is definitely mak-ing her own decisions compositionally.
Likewise, a standard "tune" like "All the Things You Are" is not functioning as composi-tion in a jazz ensemble, but as metacompositional framework, more like a timeline does in a lot of African music.The actual composing is happening in the improvisation and not in the adopted foil of its infrastructure. Likewise, free improvisation as methodology is only metacomposition, but the actual choices made in the playing exhibit composition.
And the diversity of possible shared assumptions and expectations is what facilitates the appearance of genres, styles and idioms. A composer (and no single person has invent-ed music as a whole) will always act in relationship with some span of metacomposi-tional assumptions, even if it's an oppositional position. There's no clean slate.
PSF: The question of how composition--as process as well as product--works in the con-text of free improvisation is a fascinating one, and probably one that every free improvis-er has to address at some point in his or her practice. I know that as a free improviser myself, I've had to give it quite a lot of consideration. Just a minute ago you pointed to the remarkable fact that an ensemble can somehow create good music spontaneously, without rehearsal and--and this has been my happy experience from time to time--even without ever having played together before. The shared metacompositional background certainly is one factor at work here, but there seems to be something else as well. In your book you raise the important point that there is, or perhaps at least should be, an eti-quette involved in free improvisation--that the permission the form grants has to be bal-anced by the improviser's willingness to accept self-imposed constraints. With freedom comes responsibility!
pb: The term "free" can deliver a whole lot of mixed messages, and an exclusive freedom for oneself doesn't necessarily open to freedom for everyone (which should be an important consideration), much less a sound worth listening to. Regardless of the form of social organization, the common musical concern would always seem the character of the composite sonic image, which by itself should orient one's compositional choices in that direction.
It's important to recognize that, during performance and preparation, we're nurturing reciprocity with an emergent sound body that also has a life, and a mind, of its own. We can therefore gauge our developing contributions in collaboration with that total sound while equally directing our choices toward clarifying the soundstreams of our compat-riots. It's paradoxical but true that one may play the entire orchestra from one's instru-ment.
PSF: The "mixed message" of free improvisation that you just mentioned, do you think that it's something, maybe a weakness even, that's just part of the form?
pb: Well, you know, every musical form is laced with liabilities and blind spots, but they're not all the same, and no single approach is comprehensive of the full scope of possibility. I think this is intrinsic to music and that its unresolvable contradictions con-tinually fuel potentially endless creative responses.
There's tension between what one wants to hear (imagination, or the music of one's dreams) and the sound one actually gets, and there's also tension between varying ways of coordinating people and both the actual and imagined sound. There are al-ways choices to make, for example to what extent does one prioritize qualities of social participation over the corresponding sound or vice versa? There's no single or correct possible answer, and all of them involve a component of ethical consideration. Every solution invites a new problem. None are perfect--just as complicated and contradictory as human beings.
I love the ethical model proposed by free improvisation in that it grants freedom of agency and self determination to each participant in a potential context of creative co-operation and mutual support, but arriving at a coherent, compelling, engaging sonic image is not at all guaranteed by this.
At the same time, it's also important to recognize that free improvisation fosters circum-stances most conducive to revelation. It can follow unclassifiable flows of conscious-ness more closely than any other relationship with musical sound. Its flexibility can re-spond to and incorporate the unpredictable nature and complexity of a moment-as-a-whole like nothing else. Sounds and stories one could never, ever anticipate, and might not even understand, can come through in this context. This also doesn't render it any less vulnerable to mediocrity and cliché than any other format, and while ensnared within one of those instances, some musicians may not feel very "free" at all.
Technically, free improvisation is the spontaneous composition of music without shared recurring reference grids such as harmonic cycles, melodic loops, rhythmic pat-terns or vamps. This leaves the construction of sonic design (or "form") undetermined and entirely up to what people come up with during performance.
But before we go on, let me make up terms for two different conditions within which free improvisation might operate. One I'll call "situated free improvisation" and the other "jam session free improvisation." By "situated," I mean that an ensemble already shares some compositional parameters before they even begin. It might be as simple as an id-iolect, particular shared understandings, recognitions and/or common musical lan-guage previously developed through having already played together and thereby al-ready having a sense of each other's proclivities, and sometimes it's just enough to know from having listened to another musicians' "way" how to orient one's playing. Common compositional agreements may also evolve out of conversation, critique, brainstorming or explicit concept. This is to say that participants can then gauge their spontaneous decisions during performance with a barometer of reasonably shared compositional goals or specifications at the ensemble level.
Jam session free improvisation, or what also might be called "blank slate" free improvi-sation, starts with nothing more than the basic metacomposition that everyone will make it all up as they go along. With the right combination of well prepared, experi-enced musicians, this can ignite surprising marvels, but this is also where the structur-al weaknesses of this metacomposition might most impose themselves.
In the absence of any collective decision, each player has to then make sense of the whole from within the limits of one's own perspective. While one's decisions might nevertheless contribute to a pluralist synergy, they could equally fall mute on unre-sponsive or uncomprehending ears toward a simultaneity of solipsisms. A lot of ques-tions regarding texture, density, propulsion, idiomatic interpretations and pacing can't be answered by oneself alone.
What role to take on also floats unmoored. Foreground? Background? Accompanyist? Soloist? Parallel? Contrary? Provocateur? Loyal minion? Saboteur? Fearless leader? Satirist? Interrogator? Trickster? Unifier? Devil-may-care roustabout? Commentator? Shadow? Chorus? Whisperer? Firebrand? Go along to get along? Dissenter? Echo? Imposter? Clown? Which sounds toward what projection--and for whom? Which, when, why, how?
Conversely, some of one's compatriots might be playing overly conciliatory or too over-bearing and one can only play around such doldrums. How does one decide? Are in-tuition, impulse or habit enough? Sometimes, this can all seem closer to roulette or therapy than art.
But then this is also why free improvisation is not the sole way to nurture or explore music. It's also true that most free improvisers engage in other modes of musical culti-vation. Free improvisation hasn't ever been happening in a vacuum.
PSF: Which brings up the question of rhythm as an element structuring the social or-ganization of sound. An idea that comes across emphatically in the book is that rhythm, as something inherent in the way the body responds to its environment, plays a fundamental, if sometimes overlooked, role in musical relationships. Even when it isn't expected, or even desired. You note the natural tendency of the human ear to want to group sounds into rhythmic patterns even where--as in your example of John Cage's deliberately arrhythmic music--none are intended to exist. How does rhythm get us from the individual's embodied sense of "musicking" to the reciprocally developing sonic image within the ensemble? Is there more to it than just metric coordination?
pb: You're referring to one of the two stand-alone chapters in the book (the others are all interdependent) The Sociality of Rhythm (which, by the way, has been fea-tured in The Book Cooks section of the December 2021 issue of Point of Depar-ture).
That you've mentioned John Cage suggests that I might elaborate just a bit on his im-portant role as foil to the thinking explored in Ways & Sounds. Like many, I ad-mire Cage the musician very much for his unorthodoxy, imagination and inventiveness and value his musical example. Cage the theorist (& one would have to be to get peo-ple to give serious consideration to an ensemble of drifting radio dials or a concert of 4 1/2 minutes of silence) is more problematic (of course, the two roles overlap). What's so attractive of about these problematics is that they reach so deeply into fundamental conceptions we might hold of music.
Cage pushed his rhetoric to the thresholds of contradiction. He advocated an inclusion of "sounds in themselves," disabused of any associations with human intention, within music, in effect, sounds without people but nevertheless for peo-ple, which is fine. But if we take him at his word, the most consistent response to this would be to suspend the generation of sounds as music altogether and instead take in the wonderful soundscape that already and always envelops us. This would essential-ly mean an abolition of music as activity, that is, with the exception of listening itself.
Except he didn't really mean that. To continue functioning as a musician, Cage couldn't abandon the role of inviting people to listen to the sounds he's presenting, which is to say, he's nevertheless initiating a specific social relationship. No matter how anonymous, aleatoric, plausibly deniable or indeterminate the sounds, there's still a who behind this presentation. They still correspond with decisions and therefore someone's perspective. Presenting sounds "without intention" then is really only a ruse, or maybe just some kind of oblique metaphor, because of course he intends these sounds or he wouldn't have been involved at all. The irony is that, in trying to desocialize musical sound in this way, he only more emphatically exposed music's core sociality.
"4'33"," his composition involving 3 movements within which a performer generates no sound whatsoever (except for perhaps page turns) presents a bare bones demonstration of the social metacomposition of Eurological concert music. Here we have a system of relationships where the composer draws up a contract which is complied with by a per-former and projected toward its audience. With all specifications of sounds here reduced to nothing, this is all that's left, or what we earlier discussed as a standard monological format, a unidirectional communication structure no different than Mozart's. And without this conventional framework, it's unlikely that anyone would have noticed these "un-trammeled" sounds as music.
What's distinctive about Cage's invitation of the unanticipated & unpredictable into music in this way is that this monological format prohibits any compositional response. Musicians are here committed to follow orders but not to go on and initiate new composi-tional decisions themselves based on these novel events.
This acts out an artifactual portrayal of indeterminacy, where the "out of control" (or unin-tended) is safely distanced behind glass as if some kind of museum display that may not be touched. I know this is supposed to evoke Zen-like detachment and contemplation beyond the limits of one's personal imagination, but, for all Cage's nice anarchist talk, this is still a hierarchical social relation being enacted, however friendly and consensual it may often be in practice.
Cage's ear-opening aesthetic fiction of anonymous sound untainted by human bias shifts weight where he also argues prescriptively that this should be how music is practiced, and in this regard, he seems no pluralist. But neither sound nor people are tru-ly anonymous. Sounds are not virgin born but undeniable symptoms of frictions coming from somewhere, and most of the time in music, from somebody. The two can't be totally disentangled. That, alongside his patronizing dismissals of fundamentally Black dialogical musics such as jazz, powerfully encouraged me to imagine more deeply than his conceptual framework was willing to reach.
Rhythm, in terms of physics, by the way, is no constituent of sound. Rhythm is biological and, for us, human. Cage's application of stopwatch organization in some of his scores seems oriented to render the intrinsic qualities of undomesticated sounds more evidently audible with fewer undue manipulations distorting them. This is an expansive and inclu-sive move that does quite well without the intervention of any rhythms exterior to these sound shapes.
However, people, even the most stiff and square of folk, music or no music, well beyond such in-your-face patterns as breathing, heart pulsing and walking, are intensely rhyth-mic. They're already popping with all kinds of responsorial, barely perceptible microges-tures, all temporally patterned. Any change indicates movement, and if there's ongoing consistency to that, the identifying pattern of that movement will be a rhythmic one. Like-wise, the processes of conception and perception themselves, from the synapse on up, form as time events.
It's been argued by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall that rhythms are fundamental even to the organization of personality and selfhood. Not only that, humans entrain rhythmical-ly with each other as part of their most basic interactions. Hall's also contended that 90% of human communication itself is non-verbal. Listeners are no less likely to imbue even random sounds with an unfolding sensation of phrase and phase. If there's no explicitly perceptible rhythm, they'll find one, or make up one to fit. Whatever's heard registers in relation to one's own rhythms.
Sound, in behaving so much like a still pond acutely sensitive to perturbations, ripples with human movement as it becomes music, and we can expect rhythmic ripples from such innately rhythmic organisms. Rhythm, then, is pretty hard to avoid, much less elimi-nate, but there have been people who've worked pretty hard at exactly that.
Much of the Europe that conquered Turtle Island imported a heritage of suspicion regard-ing the affective potentials of rhythm. That the drum or dance could be in any way es-teemed as vehicles of sacred action seemed impossibly beyond conception. The Catho-lic Church, a major employer of high end composers over there, already fretted that their rituals could be upstaged by far more marvelous music. Calvinists, in their war on life it-self, also regarded music as a prime suspect for its potential associations with dance, which might for them also connote sexuality--or even women!
Outside of religious prescription, there's also run an intellectual tendency to conceive and treat biosphere as machine, which has a blueprint parallel in the practice of notation with its necessary divisions of labor, all of which I suspect have encouraged an abstrac-tion of rhythm into quantity, into empty container for what's come to be considered far more valued sonic parameters. One end result of this is that in your average music theo-ry class, rhythm is often regarded as the "dumb" part of music--if it's even addressed at all--although it's pretty doubtful that Dou Dou Ndaye Rose, Charlie Parker or Milford Graves would ever have been likely to concur.
The etymology of the English word "rhythm" leads back to the Greek rhythmós, rooted in "to flow," which donates a reasonably apt characteri-zation. Meter, however, is not rhythm as such, but an adjunct organizational matrix. Rhythm pulls at attention as a proportioned topography of sequential presences, as groups exhibiting identifiable openings, middles and afterwards. The same metrical for-mation may be accented in a variety of ways, which effects a kind of aural chiaroscuro out of which a listener can construct an anticipatory, proprioceptive/kinetic identity for that sound shape, or phrase. And this is not exclusively relevant to sound, but also to how we may interpret body language, or perhaps differentiate visual and tactile experi-ence, or order our thinking.
I think rhythm can be best conceived as encapsulated motion code. This can apply to our seven second wide sense of "right now" as well as to our conception of longer pro-gressions through time. It engages not only recognition and entrainment, but memory and anticipation, and as such we literally shape ourselves as rhythm as we proportion our temporal attention. Attend (as in "attention"), by the way, literally means "to stretch toward."
So, even without metric coordination, our musical interactions are going to be intrinsical-ly rhythmic. We can also think about rhythm in wider temporal contexts: phrases, pro-gression of events, varieties of dialogue, and so forth. Our innate magnetic attraction to syncing with other people's patterns of movement, in this context mediated primarily through sound, elicits a kind of peripheral field of awareness, an intuitive compass that keeps us in touch, almost as touch, with the music as a whole, as a living body (which it is), recalling also in some way another specialty of the inner ear: equilibration. In music, as with standing or walking, we're constantly falling over, succumbing to gravity or diso-rientation, and reciprocally realigning ourselves.
I think Cage was perceptive in affirming duration as the most inclusive property of sound. Rhythm, however, is what infuses duration with becoming. The ubiquity of rhythm in our relationships is part of what renders it such an easily accessible medium of composi-tional communication, most especially within many aurally coordinated musics. This pervasiveness of rhythm in our presence to being also confirms its enormous capacity for nuanced and sophisticated articulations of musical thought.
A paradox is that consciously developing rhythm in this way, beyond autonomic thresh-olds of habit and reflex, as well as beyond coming up with abstractly interesting mathe-matical formulations--which is to say acting out, or embodying these expansions, actual-ly inhabiting these states--can make for some very, very demanding hard work, as the learning involved may need to go much deeper than one might, from the outside, expect. To really know where you are and what you're doing, to feel the multiple sensations of a rhythmic field and still be able to consciously change direction can be a lot like swim-ming in strong current.
PSF: Your remarks regarding Cage and listening prompt me to want to close the circle here and finish up by returning to the beginning and the idea of music as praxis. It seems clear that the human need for music as praxis responds to includes the need for listening as well as the need for creating. It's something you simply call "Hearing," in one of the last sections of your book. You distinguish there between listening and hearing, with hearing representing something like an active, engaged way of interpret-ing that involves a certain recognition or understanding of what is being heard--of what it signifies. I particularly like the idea you brought up in your answer to my first ques-tion--that an arrangement of sounds can indicate an intention that they be recognized as music, and that listeners will in fact recognize the intention. Which--and especially for some of the more challenging forms of music--requires a leap of good faith, in a way. Or, as you put in the book, "Hearing is empathy that fulfills the reach of listening."
pb: This emphasis on hearing, as do all the inquiries in Ways & Sounds, partici-pates in a countercurrent both to Cage's aesthetic of depersonalized musicking and the commodification of musical sound as consumer object in a cultural context that most extols and supports variations of buying, selling and policing as the most valua-ble modes of human relationship.
Listening is a caring act. It's no obligation. And, as we talked about at the start, it's lis-tening that can reframe sounds as music, thereby initiating this relationship between person and sound. A listener is an active creator, not a passive receptacle.
I also suggested in the opening section of Ways & Sounds that what musicians do is listen out loud. This is a projective listening that faces in two directions, an inward listening toward imagined and intended sound that gets concurrently checked against actual sounds during performance.
"Art can be product, but product can never be art." is a pretty apt declaration I once heard during a reading by Penny Arcade. Sound is the "product" of music, but music is, as you've put it, a praxis, a putting into action, an extended weave of interactions where we incarnate invisibles via an evanescent sensuous body and change accordingly.
Where listening is reach, hearing recognizes this peopling of sounds, which means that intentionality and motive reveal themselves here, inviting our speculation into whys and hows that we may ourselves play out. In this regard, in addition to whatever musical sound may evoke for oneself, as we take seriously the commitment people have already made to these sounds, it also portals us toward minds, dispositions, con-ceptions, relationships, experiences and sensations different than our own, hence music can network a potential theater of empathy, curiosity and discovery.
Also see our previous article on patrick brennan
And see Daniel Baribero's album for double bass & prerecorded electronics
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