[Disclaimer : this is part 2 of a series of personal musings on the subject of transmission as a volunteer at IPC. If you are promptly confused then I invite you to read part 1 which serves as an introduction to the bunch of reflections that are about to follow]
So ‘‘Soon’’ has been oddly kind. It has been 2 months since last time. Now I write shortly after the end of the IPC Spring term since the community has all but vanished. In theory, I should have all my reflecting straight eh ? On the contrary. In some odd way I have reflected a lot, too much even, internalised everything, and now I am grieving after everybody has left. Okay maybe I’m being theatrical. Nevertheless it is hard for me to grasp useful pragmatic knowledge out of all the projects dear to my heart that I have put together at IPC. Feels like burning the witch. I do get a feeling of pride and joy from my work ; I do see things that I did that didn’t go as well ; and I do feel that I have learnt tremendously in the process. But the idea of sharing all of that does feel intimate. Nevertheless I did say I would talk about it so I’ll stop fussing about now, get my bits straight, and commit words to some tips & ethics about the transmission of what I love (reminder : sound, music & noise or, to make it simple, listening in general). Lets just remember that things are still gestating in my brain yes ?
Thus we’ll start today by dissecting and make a quick list of the different projects I organised around my passion. In order of appearance as follows :
– ‘‘I Hate Party Music’’ Listening Sessions
– Storytelling Club
– Music in the Dark
– Radio Recording & Editing Workshop
– Acoustic Concert
– Sleeping Music (part of the Alternative Altenative Sleepover)
– Music From Nothing Jam Session
– One Album, One Canvas, One-Hundred Doodlers
– A Movie With No Eyes
– 100 minutes of Music Counter Revolutions lecture : Noise Music
What will be interesting for us is not so much what these projects are (most can even be guessed) but how they translate into different ways of transmitting, different postures for me as a mediator who organised / co-organised them. One way we can make sense of them is by loosely identifying trends in these projects and how I communicate in them.
Indeed some projects are ‘‘experiments’’ like the wild free-form audio discoveries of ‘‘I Hate Party Music’’, the object jam session of Music From Nothing or the concept idea exploration A Movie With No Eyes where we only have sound left to guide us in the flicks narrative. The idea of these projects is to help people construct themselves a different relationship to the act listening. This through the experience of new ways, new contexts of being around sound. In these I, the mediator, am usually discovering & experiencing the project just as much as the other participants. By sharing the discovery (and possibly the confusion) of the project I avoid in part the top-down relationship that transmission may have, such as that we can all discuss about it together on a similar level. Also this shifts the focus and starting point of the project less on the more intimidating task of ‘‘learning’’ in the formal sense, and more on a sense of playfulness to said learning. After all we’re here starting by talking to the participants own feelings : How do I feel after this weird experience ? To me this question is the ‘‘first step’’ and one that I should not answer as the mediator. My task is for the person to reach the point where he/she’s asking him/herself the question. The burden of this decomplexed approach is that the learning can be very limited. The other burden also being that if after the project there is no first-step from the participant it is not likely that there will be another chance anytime soon. A great deal of care has to be put in the presentation and surroundings of the project so as to avoid that this experimental approach to transmission becomes meaningless weird fun at best and a silly idea in the worst case scenario. Play, fun or not let me add, to help discovery as well as rethinking the participants prenotions (ways of thinking about things we have internalized within ourselves without realizing) of listening is great but has its limits by its own. One way of countering this limit is to remember that we are doing this experiment with other people. Sharing each-others interpretations is a good way of learning from each other and maybe get closer. In a sense this whole approach is very close to the heart of many systems at IPC. Especially from the other activities.
On the other end some of my projects belong more to a sort of ‘‘teaching’’ or ‘‘theoretical’’ category. The aim of these are to educate and make people learn about sound, musics, etc. Projects in this vein are obviously those such as the Radio-Workshop or the lecture on Noise Music (although its more contrasted than that). Here the approach is top-down : I have special knowledge that you probably don’t have and I wish to share this knowledge with you. These projects can be fantastic to give a lot of good in-depth information (as you would in a classroom) but they may seem more exclusive to most, demand a lot of work from mediator for him to be legitimate to speak on such things, and simply risk to be boring in a society where commitment and attention span shortages have to be taken into account. I believe that first off participants will react well if you are a good orator, so some dimension of narrative and storytelling (rhythm) are always indispensable to what you are talking about. But also I feel that should be emphasized the importance of work put into the actual lesson you want to deliver. If you master your subject, have researched it and are giving a knowledge that the participant can not easily obtain by googling it (better yet if you show a personal approach to it) then this will be communicated tremendously in the hearts of those you transmit to. This is what I learnt from the Radio Workshops that I feel were underprepared, and that I then reajusted the lecture. But another notion is that participants must not feel like they are in front of a wall of information. Knowledge must never be a ‘‘cold’’ thing and thus a space for educated confusion and debate must be orchestrated by the mediator for the participants to be able to, well, participate in your lecture. The presence of you character, the mediator, must also of course not be cast away. This reminds me of the debates one the place of the director inside documentaries, said to be ‘‘objective’’ pieces of film. Figures such as Van Der Keuken in the 60’s have shown that a documentary should not try to make the director invisible, as not matter what a documentary is made from a specific point of vue. Once you stop pretending that you are the objective truth then you may, oddly enough, go deeper into your subjects and make it resonate with people more. I feel this approach resonates to that of Claus to some extent.
The last loose category is actually the in-between separating the playful ‘‘experimental’’ approach and the dense ‘‘teaching’’ approach. A lot of the projects I worked on (heck even the Noise Music lecture) actually mix both of these to varying degrees. If you take One Album, One Canvas, One-Hundred Doodlers for instance, which consists on a big group of people all painting on the same canvas to the beat of one entire ambient album by Tim Hecker, then I’ll open the project with an introduction to ambient music and to the artist we’ll be listening to, onwards follows the actual experiment, and finally the project is continued for those interested through access to more information, to the record, and what happens to the giant canvas after the event is over. This project is a great example because it is a true balancing act between play, learning and meaning (a notion that matters a lot to me for what I do). And, even if this project was regarded as a success, to some extent the playfulness took over a bit much as our experimental painters were half-listening to the music, half disconnecting from it. It could have been interesting to refocus the attention to the record periodically (through tracks or artwork for instance), propose cues or even eventually lay down a few ground rules and limitations for the experience to have more direction. Direction that is great for people to search inward how to get there. We needed an extra bridge for the record and the painters to communicate with in my opinion. Thus in that sense the frame of the canvas (read, the project) is everything and I feel it could have been a little bit tighter. But you can only realize that through trial & error and in the end beauty remained. This is a question of flow and friction. How can you ever completely control that ? You can’t. But you mustn’t avoid it either
We now have a better overview of all the different projects that I led and how they function internally. The conclusion is nothing new for the moment : in transmission and mediation there is an opposition between learning through playing / experiencing ; learning through theoretical knowledge / teaching ; learning through the everything in between these two worlds which are anything but separate. The art is to find the balance that can only be tied by the mediator and his personal, emotional even, connection to the moment that he is trying to create. I would say though that even though I am here blowing the posture of the mediator outside of proportion (since I choose this space to talk about him especially), it should not be forgotten that the central point of all mediation is for two sides, here in most cases people and art, to meet and share. Just a healthy reminder that the mediator is, ultimately, secondary as a friend can be. I’ll let myself debate with that idea and analogy as a deeper part of me disagrees wholly that that is secondary but still.
An interesting side observation arises then : But what am I trying to create for the listening event to appear ? Are there other ethical patterns to how I do what I do at IPC ? Through my projects I realized that my natural aim has been for people to learn by leaving their already existing habits and prenotions, often by taking something away in the process that they previously took for granted such as lights, movement, consciousness, etc… ; also by tackling subjects outside of any potential comfort zones ; or ideally by confronting opposite opinions to arrive to the point where none of them constitute the ‘‘truth’’. This is just an observation on my part. In a way it reflects an ideal formulated by the thinker Epictetus, that of taking a step back from matter and seeing things as they are according to nature & logic (or aesthetic if we take older british translations). This is how we may act on them with our own ‘‘logos’’, our own ‘‘intelligence’’ or ‘‘style’’ you could stay. That which is us. Again the participants answers to how they feel can only be theirs, but it is an active position to enter that train of thought. I’d like them to reach that point and then ideally find something that can echo within them in sound.
I took pleasure in asking myself these questions about mediation. Thank you for your patience. After this whirlwind tour of what my projects were and how they function I’d like to explore hardships and difficulties that arouse from them at IPC in my next post. With your consent I invite you to read more and to grab another mug.
See you soon.