Archives for posts with tag: John Cage

I always like it when something opens up my ears in ways I hadn’t considered.

That’s exactly what happened this week when I listened to a new piece by Gordon Monahan called A Piano Listening to Itself.

Monahan’s been creating compositions for years that force us to think about how we listen – he’s swung speakers around and he’s strung super-long piano wires in unexpected places, for example. I first encountered his work when I was producing the doc series, The Wire: the Impact of Electricity on Music.  He had a lot of interesting things to say about how we interact with the sounds around us and about the influence of the composer John Cage.

This time around, Monahan has strung six piano wires from the roof of the Royal Castle Bell Tower in Warsaw, Poland, and attached motors to them to make them vibrate with an acoustic signal of piano music by Chopin. You can sort of see the setup in the photo he sent me.

The impression you get is of listening to the ghost of Chopin.

Now, that’s the impression I got just listening to a recording. I’m imagining that’s what it must have been like to walk through that square in Warsaw and come upon that piano by chance – to feel as though you’d stumbled on Chopin’s ghost.

I didn’t get to go to Warsaw, but I did have a chance to speak with Monahan for this Sunday’s edition of In Concert, a weekly classical music program on CBC Radio 2 that I guest-host every once in a while.

The thing that struck me most about his new piece is that it’s the amplification of an electronic signal by acoustic means (piano strings playing back an  mp3 file via the motors attached to them).  If you think about it, that’s exactly the reverse of how we usually experience music these days – well, at least, music that isn’t electronic itself in the first place.

My ears also got opened this week listening to the miraculous playing of Austrian pianist Till Fellner, who plays Beethoven piano concerti exactly the way I like to hear them. He is a master of precision, and listening to him is like drinking some kind of mind-clarifying elixir. On Sunday’s program, he plays Beethoven’s 1st along with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Kent Nagano. Just absolutely glorious.

I first started suffering from tinnitus about seven years ago. I’ve learned how to live with it, mostly. It usually affects me the most when I’m in a very silent environment, like somewhere in the wilderness.

Gordon Hempton is someone who knows all about very quiet places and so I thought he might have some insight into how I might learn to listen to them again despite my tinnitus. He’s a Grammy-award winning sound recordist and acoustic ecologist based in Port Angeles, WA, and he’s also the founder and caretaker of One Square Inch of silence in Washington’s Olympic National Park – the quietest place in the USA.

When we spoke, he said some very interesting things about how society is sort of suffering from a collective temporary hearing loss – and how he believes that learning how to listen again could help us take better care of the planet we live on. I mixed his words from that conversation together with some of my recordings of human and environmental sounds to create this short radio piece.

This piece originally ran on CBC Radio’s excellent 2010 summer series The Bottom Line with David Suzuki.

These days my tinnitus is pretty bad.  It’s a ringing in my ear that I notice most frequently at night, when all else is quiet.  It used to be just in my left ear, but lately my right ear has been acting up.

Recently I wrote about how tinnitus has altered the way I think about noise, and about silence.  You can read my thoughts in Issue # 2 of BoulderPavement, the Banff Centre’s new online literary journal.