I am trying to consider this space as separate, or at least parallel to my art practice, in that I resist the urge to document, to progress, to work towards an outcome, to do what is expected of me as an artist. However, I did want to note down some reflections on what has happened so far. To use the same rationale of the sessions, where I find myself in the process is in a space of both intimacy and spaciousness. Intimate because the sessions have been characterised by an uncommon openness that moves me every time, and spacious because they could develop in any direction. The beginning of the process was quite nerve-wracking, like any exploratory practice. Holding space for whatever emerges is not easy, especially the first time. As the sessions have gone on, I find it easier to let go, trying to become less like a facilitator. After the end of the second session, in which there was quite a bit of silence, my sense was that it hadn’t gone well. However, what followed when we closed the circle was an extremely rich conversation, in which I learned that silence does not equal disengagement. We decided in this conversation that sharing need not be in English, or even in verbal language. A sense of the process, I could even say ritual, carrying this loose collective of people who choose to be in this space, grows with each session.
I have been describing what we are doing as ‘deep listening as a transformative collective practice’ but inevitably this shortens to ‘deep listening’. For background, deep listening is a very well established practice initiated and developed by Pauline Oliveros until her death, and her work has been continued globally since. In May of this year, it would have been Pauline Oliveros’ 90th birthday, and to coincide, a new edition of her book ‘Quantum Listening’ was published. The book is described as a manifesto for listening as activism, foregrounding compassion and peace as the basis for our actions in the world, which resonates strongly with my own founding intentions for this space. I hope we can experiment with some of these exercises together in future sessions.
This is the second instalment of an irregular blog that I decided to keep to chart the progress of this year long process of deep listening as a transformative practice, in collaboration with Dancing on the Edge. An open group meets every month with the purpose of listening together and to each other.
We listen to each other speaking and we listen to each other refrain from speaking. We listen together to sounds from our individual environments that punctuate our shared silence: children playing in Amsterdam, birds in a tree in Alexandria, a coffee being delivered to a cafe table in Palermo, the dusk falling in Paris, a laptop overheating in Sheffield. We listen to the silences that we build together, which have something of a healing quality for the knowing that we have built them together.
We have now been developing this practice together for six months, with new and now familiar faces arriving each time, and what I have been most struck by as the sessions have progressed, is how each time is so markedly different. The rhythm and feel of each session are distinct, held by the growing experience within the group, and also invigorated by those experiencing it for the first time.
I have been learning from the writing and thinking of Pauline Oliveros, the founder of the deep listening movement, and noticed something that Pauline’s life partner Ione mentioned in her recollections about her experience of facilitating Pauline’s ‘Tuning meditation’, from her well-known work Sonic Meditations (1971). The instruction for the meditation is:
“Inhale deeply; exhale on the note of your choice; listen to the sounds around you, and match your next note to one of them; on your next breath make a note no one else is making; repeat. Call it listening out loud.”
Recalling facilitating this work with audiences, Ione recalls how, in the exercise of ‘listening to our listening’, as she describes it, ‘something special, something both old and new, occurred. Something healing’. Pauline herself once spoke about how practised listening continues to evolve, consistently yielding new information, and there is something of this beginning to emerge out of our sessions.
One recent session began to feel like a magical séance, as multiple synchronicities curiously wove themselves through the fabric of our shared space, so that all we could do was to laugh together. The last session took place over dusk for many of the localities on the call, and as our windows darkened, we listened to each other speak in shared and native languages. For some this meant casting words into the void, not knowing if they were being understood, and for others it meant listening beyond language to what else is held in the voice.
These are freeform sessions with no anticipated results, but which may offer participants space for deeper collective consideration. This generative and communal process underpins all of Ian’s work with DOTE throughout the year of listening and all are warmly invited to be present.
The sessions have been taking place online every month since April 2022. Each session takes about 1,5 hours from 19:00 – 20:30 CET (London 18:00 BST / Beirut 20:00 EET). You can register for free for the upcoming sessions by visiting the project page.