michael j. morris


Listening

Tonight I am thinking about listening. This is a recurring concept in my creative outlook, one that arises from my experiences with Butoh, various somatic forms, and an aesthetic that is continually fixated with subtlety. It finds resonance with the work and words of Pauline Oliveros and her practice of “deep listening”, an almost meditative practice of heightening sensory awareness as a method for creating, where creating (in her case music, in my case dance) comes out of absorbing, processing, responding, approaching an environment with an open mode of consciousness and letting the creative act arise from that form of engagement. This concept of listening is finding new echoes in subjects I am experiencing here in grad school: the concept of “emergent taxonomy” from Applied Technologies in Dance, the idea of an organization of material (which is what creating is all about) arising out of what is there rather than imposing an organizational structure hierarchically; also, the practice of “post-positivist research”, a way of looking as a subject without defining absolutely what it is you are observing, without deciding what form your findings will take, allowing the direction of the research to evolve from the practice of observation; in reading/reporting an article on Pauline Oliveros and the construction of gendered identity in her music. The author (Timothy D. Taylor) writes about Oliveros’ invocation of “feminine” characteristics in music such as intuition and sensitivity, as opposed to the “masculine” qualities of notation, prescription, and order. Gender politics aside, reading about the investigation of these approaches (intuition, sensitivity, listening) in the creative process was invigorating.

So, what I’m curious about is what this looks like in dance. There is certainly precedence, especially in areas such as improvisation, contact improvisation, Butoh, etc. Even in other choreographers’ creative process, the idea of a choreography emerging from the process/experience of dancing (such as appropriating/structuring improv experiences into choreography) is not unheard of. That is not typical of my choreographic approach. Typically, find myself fixated with a subject. I steep myself in that subject matter, then generate movement material as a metaphorical exploration of the subject. This material is given to dancers, structured, rehearsed, and eventually performed.

I am wondering what would happen if I deepen my research/understanding of these “listening”/awareness based practices (Butoh, somatic techniques, Oliveros’ “deep listening”, etc.), then direct dancers through experiences in these processes of listening with the body, and eventually allow choreography to surface from this practice of listening, even through to the point of performance, maintain a constant approach of dance and movement as listening rather than expressing. What would that experience look like? How would it feel for the dancers? For the audience?

More and more my aesthetic is drawn towards details/subtlety/nuance. I connect these propensities to this quality of awareness, or listening.

I have a sense that this might be the starting point of what might evolve into my MFA research project. I am interested in exploring other ways of listening. . . even this blog is an experiment in both speaking/authoring, but also listening, paying attention to what is emerging, what responses there are, and allowing that awareness to shape the content. That is part of how this blog is a creative activity for me, and how it is playing a role in the way I am thinking right now, especially in how I am thinking about my art. It’s very circular: something is set into motion, that motion is observed/listened to, that awareness loops back into the creative process to shape the direction of that which is being set into motion, more feedback, more response in the way in which information (movement, writing, graphic, etc.) is generated, etc.

What do you think?
How do you listen with your body, or in your own creative media? How can the act of creating also be an act of listening?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

-M

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