The Lost Art of Listening (TLAoL) is a major research, development and composition project. It uses research investigating how people experience and value music in an age of 24-hour connectedness and distraction to inform the composition of a 60min performance piece for prepared piano – played by Erik Griswold - and 32-part audience-played smartphone choir.
For this project I am working with artist and creative coder Steve Berrick on the development and creation of a purpose-built smartphone choir app UNiTE to enable audiences to use their own phone to select and play the choir parts in sync for the performance.
The idea for The Lost Art of Listening began after reading an article by Anna Goldsworthy of the same name and a desire being born to investigate how being connected 24/7 has affected the place of music in our lives and the performer/audience relationship today.
Through TLAoL I want to use the thing that often distracts us and stops us from being present in the moment (our smart devices) to play an active part in a shared sonic experience. This piece seeks to bring people together to meditate communally on sound, music and listening and its place in human existence, framed by a stillness that is rare today.
The Lost Art of Listening has audience engagement and participation at the forefront of its creative rationale. It seeks to channel current social and cultural thoughts into a performance piece that speaks for and to many people, not just myself, around a certain topic.
In final work the audience will be seated in concentric circles around the central prepared grand piano. They will be invited to play an active and choreographed part in the performance by downloading my app UNiTE, to allow their own personal smart device to play an allocated part in the smartphone choir. All smart devices will begin playback together, creating an in sync low-fi multi-channel speaker system which can be spatially and rhythmically controlled by my pre-composed parts.
Images from Creative Development with Chamber Made
The story so far...
TLAoL began life at a Vitalstatistix Adhocracy Residency (Vitalstatistix’s experimental interdisciplinary hothouse lab) in September 2016 where I worked together with theatre maker Emma Beech to engage Adhocracy’s audience in conversation around these questions:
What place does your smart device have in your life?
What have we gained and what have we lost in being connected constantly?
What music/sounds make you really listen?
When have you been really moved, to tears perhaps, by music or another sonic experience – what, where, why?
What excites you about going to see live music & why?
When have you felt disengaged and/or distracted listening to a live music performance & why?
Following Adhocracy I received the 2017 Arts South Australia Fellowship which allowed me to undertake my community-based research through conversations & an online survey. This research is informing the content of the smartphone choir parts, the structure and choreography of the music and performance, and also the thinking and philosophies underlying the piece. I also began technology development on the app with technology/arts company Sandpit.
I received an Adelaide Festival Centre inSpace Creative Development which enabled me to undertake the first stage development of TLAoL in October 2017. For this, and in association with the Adelaide University Sonic Arts Unit, I worked with Erik Griswold (pianist) to create a prepared piano, which I then sampled to be able to use to compose to final work. We tested the app in early stages of development, and ran a couple of trial performances with students and public audiences.
In 2018 I was invited by Chamber Made (Vic) to participate in their Little Ops Development program. I was mentored by their Artistic Director Tamara Saulwick throughout the year and undertook a week-long Creative Development at Arts Centre Melbourne in October with Erik and Tamara. This resulted in a successful public showing where we tested the sound balance using suite of borrowed phones using a different technology as my app was not ready. We also worked through the dramaturgical and conceptual ideas and gained feedback from the audience.
Through this association with CM I met, and got to know the work of, creative coder / artist Steve Berrick whom Tamara has worked with on projects with similar technical needs. Although I didn’t have the financial resources to undergo technological development with Steve during this time it became clear that he would be a good partner moving forward to help solve the technical problems encountered so far.
COVID19 halted my plans to finish this project off in 2020 but I'm looking forward (fingers crossed!) to being able to complete TLAoL in 2021 through undertaking a
OzCo / Ukaria Residency in May and an inSpace development in September and then premiering the piece in 2022.