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Reverberations of World Listening Day

Last Thursday was World Listening Day (WLD), an occasion to slow down and appreciate the complexity of listening. In the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, listeners withstood the heat and basked in refreshing sounds: fountain water, wind gusts, and conversations brimming with ideas being exchanged. Here are four of my take-aways from the Walker’s WLD2013: Tuning an […]

Last Thursday was World Listening Day (WLD), an occasion to slow down and appreciate the complexity of listening. In the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, listeners withstood the heat and basked in refreshing sounds: fountain water, wind gusts, and conversations brimming with ideas being exchanged. Here are four of my take-aways from the Walker’s WLD2013:

Tuning an instrument can be a metaphysical process.

Photo: Gene Pittman

Artist Philip Blackburn explains his Wind Harps to intern Katherine Lee. Photo: Gene Pittman

In beating sun and gusting winds, artist Philip Blackburn installed his Wind Harps. Throughout the evening, these five vertically oriented instruments provided subtle, eery sounds for the patient and attentive listener. In the process of assembling the instruments and tightening their fishing line harp strings, an intern asked exactly how they were tuned. Blackburn’s response was that it is more a metaphysical process than a strictly musical process. It involves adjusting the harps in response to the specific environment and conditions.

Listening is deeply personal.

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The Sculpture Garden on a summer evening, World Listening Day. Photo: Gene Pittman

As the sun neared the horizon and the heat relented, independent acts of listening were amplified by Soniferous Garden, a free leaflet created by artist Viv Corringham. Months earlier in the planning process, when I asked Corringham if she might prepare written instructions for listening, she replied that the instructions are really quite simple: resolve not to speak and open your ears to listening. From Corrinham’s perspective, what’s interesting about listening is not the “how to” but rather the “what then?” Corringhams’ contribution encouraged reflective listening and contemplation of sound’s role in memory, subjectivity, and experience.

Humans are not the only listeners.

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Participants at “The Ear of the Beholder” activity. Photo: Gene Pittman

What if you could try on another animal’s ears and listen to the world from that animal’s aural perspective? At World Listening Day, participants could do just that at “The Ear of the Beholder,” an activity led by biologists Mark Bee and Norman Lee. Using pop songs as a starting point, this activity led me to re-consider our sonic environment. Our soundscape is not inconsequential or purely incidental. Rather, embedded in the noise are abundant signals, many of which are inaudible or unintelligible to human ears. Imagine the diversity of organisms that, like humans, contribute to and depend on the soundscape for survival.

There are no limits to listening.

Participants at the “Mindful Soundwalk” activity. Photo: Gene Pittman

With gently closed eyes or a soft gaze, listeners opened themselves up to the full experience of receiving sonic information. Mark Nunberg, guiding teacher at the Common Ground Meditation Center, led listeners on a mindful soundwalk through the Sculpture Garden. Nunberg commented that there’s really no end to our capacity to explore and be receptive to our sonic environment. A listening practice is something one can return to again and again, at any point in time and in any setting.

Enjoy the listening.