Conference Call

Contact Quarterly 1985English
Contact Quarterly Vol. 10 No. 1 (Winter, 1985): 18.

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LISA (in Vermont): Hi Deborah. Hi Pauline. Can you describe how you work with sound and movement in your collaboration, what the essence of that work is.

DEBORAH (in Austin): It has to do with listening. And that both Pauline and myself have a long history of practicing listening. Both of us have a long history with martial arts, with tai-chi and karate. I think that there's a parallel too in the nature of the listening, a total kind of listening. Not just ear listening. It is a kind of attention that is almost warrior-like without the added aggressive characteristics of the warrior. I feel like it's a really strong and grounded kind of listening.

LISA: I'm thinking about the word 'listening' because I use it a lot and I wonder why, in a way, we don't say 'sensing'. How is the word 'listening' defined?

DEBORAH: I think it's freer than 'sensing'. For myself, when I think of sensing I think of the limitations of sight, smell, taste, touch, and when I think about 'listening', I'm really talking about a perceptual mode outside of, or in addition to 'sensing,'-a sensing mode that certainly includes perception beyond the three dimensions. I feel that for myself. It includes an extra-sensory perception, it includes a belief that all knowledge is present always and that in listening you can hear anything.

LISA: Is the term ever used in the training in martial arts?

DEBORAH: It wasn't with my teacher. He only spoke Manchurian Chinese. I never learned martial arts from the verbal language. I really had to learn it from listening. With my eyes.

LISA: Pauline, do you have an idea about listening?

PAULINE (in Houston), First of all, 'listening' in the way that Deborah is presenting it, is very much the same as the way I use the term. It means total presence, total, an inclusive kind of presence in whatever one is doing. The warrior way in the martial arts required that to stay alive. It's a life or death reality. And I think that in order to work with sound in the way that Deborah and I are working is nothing less than a life and death reality. That the moment you leave, in the sense of a lapse in attention, then you've lost, you've died. In that moment, you lose everyone; it's that crucial, that critical.

LISA: Does it change things for you to have witnesses, others who are listening?

PAULINE: Just the fact of participation from those who are attending in this mode is greatly enhancing. The listening space expands. That expansion continues to the capacity of those who are present. That makes it very very exciting. The challenge is to trigger that in the audience, to trigger that kind of participation and to maintain it in the collaboration and in oneself. For myself, I would say, there are differences in modes of attention. One can turn one's attention completely inward so that there is no knowledge of the outside, the external world. And that is a kind of practice. It's also a form of habituation that is not necessarily voluntary. It can also be completely turned to the external world with no awareness of the inner world which is also a practice, and also has a habitual pattern. What I'm interested in in my work is a balance of understanding attention to the inside and attention to the outside. Being able to witness that at the same time is a very heightened state, a heightened perceptual mode. It's a direction that's not always achieved, but it's a direction.

LISA: Maybe that's what makes the word 'listening' work in this context. It's more inclusive than the word 'sensing'. Sensing seems to imply what happens from the skin in. And listening seems to imply what's happening from the environment in. Once it gets to the skin it becomes sensing. Listening includes sensing.

PAULINE: To come back to the martial arts question, my teacher spoke in English, but balanced verbal instruction with demonstration, which seemed to be integrating an Eastern way with a Western way. And I took the attentional state that I learned that was directly translatable to working with sound, and to working with others. It is an interaction, an exchange of energy that can work with any disciplines, any mediums.

DEBORAH HAY was one of the original members of the Judson Dance Theatre in NYC in the early '60s. Her choreography in the 60's expressed an interest in the exposure of non-trained dancers performing works of a complex structural nature. Her work with large groups continues, now expressive of the inherent beauty of each individual's performance of choreographed movement sequences.

PAULINE OLIVEROS was a pioneer in the field of modern electronic music. Her work changed direction in the 60's toward meditational and attentional concerns in composing and performing.