Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Album leaves

I’d like to think of a performance as an album of stories, poems and images that we browse through, encountering a whole new imaginary world with every new piece played. The album then is an invitation to the listener to draw on his or her imagination to make sense of the music heard. 

Listeners to popular music do this intuitively. They express how the music effects them through dancing to, and singing along with, songs of their favourite artists and bands. The dancing and singing can literally be seen as a bodily expression of the memories and imagined worlds conjured up by the music. John Lennon actively invites his listeners to engage in such a process:

 Imagine all the people,
Living life in peace.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you will join us
And the world will live as one.

The metaphor of a performance as an album of stories, poetry and images is an invitation to listen creatively. As a form of active listening in which the listener imagines worlds and ideas that are original and meaningful to him or her, creative listening can be transformative. The creative listener doesn’t necessarily have to be able to express the outcomes of his listening clearly, it may also entail a deep-felt experience. If the listener wishes to express the ideas and feelings conjured up by the music, he or she may do so in music, poetry or drawings. My own composition A Different World started out in this way as a response to Bach’s Two-Part Invention no 9. 

Can a performer in any way help audiences to listen creatively? I believe so. The performer can explicitly invite the listener to do so, but also create a context that triggers the listener’s imagination. Rather than a set-up that juxtaposes the performer and passive listener, listeners may gather around the performer in a venue full of poetry and paintings. A performer could even invite the listener to turn the pages of an album of stories, poems and images whilst listening to the music and ask the listener to contribute his or her own album leaves.

Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst

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