Listener as Operator
'I do not write experimental music...my experimenting is done before I make my music. Afterwards it is the listener who must experiment.'
In any discussions on the reception of music there are two common
and interrelated assumptions: music is seen as an art form
that is responded to physically and if it is granted any 'intelligence'
it is as a spiritual or mystical consciousness. The difficulty
of talking about music leads to an apprehension of the listening
experience manifested by the media's promotion of music makers
as personalities. This advances a cultural mechanism whereby the
producers of, say, a record, are held in higher esteem than its
consumers. But beyond the production/consumption dichotomy and
the cultural inaction this creates there lies a social arena that
enables the interpenetration of this apparent division. The listener
as operator. The dancer as engineer.
Meaning is generated socially. Without dialogue there can be no
meaning. Without interaction there can be no communication. The
production/consumption dichotomy intends to regard listening to
a record as an activity devoid of creative interaction, as passive.
But this negates the experience of listening as a social activity.
Leaving aside notions of consciousness itself being formed in
a process of social interaction and concentrating on the record
maker, even on this side of the dichotomy we see not the
work of individual genius but someone in creative interaction
with music technology (a process of fusion, development and adaptation),
with the whole history of a given genre, with an assumed audience
and context for the record. Factors such as experiencing a record,
through anticipation and expectation, and hence of gathering meaning
from the record, let alone dancing to it, are hardly even talked
about by the producer/consumer dichotomy.
Look at another form of audible communication, language. Rather
than perceiving language as a stable edifice that speakers inhabit
as a readymade system, language is more accurately apprehended
as a continuous generative process implemented in the socialverbal
interaction of speakers. Rather than dealing with 'signs' that
are abstracted out from the process of their generation, language
operates between speaker and addressee with both parties informed
by the other: the speaker can only speak with an addressee in
mind, the addressee too, can respond and be the speaker-both sides
are impregnated with each other. Language is perceived as socialinteraction,
and there is still to take into account the context of the exchange,
the notion of 'inner voice' etc.
Following on from this it is possible to speak of a 'space between'
when we talk of communication as dialogue. Being intangible this
'space between' gives little concrete evidence of its existence
and so theories of communication can fall back on one of two poles:
the individual communicating (psyche) or the system of language
(signs)-the first yields 'stars' and 'personalities', the second,
musical notation. Furthermore, with music it is possible for this
'space between' to be materialised as the record. So the record
becomes a conceptual space, a machine that the listener operates.
The record is not simply a communication that must be interpreted
and fixed down but a place of interaction where meaning is generated
by both the music maker and the listener.
The listener is involved in a silent production that never ends
and becomes engaged in a creativity that flourishes at the very
point where practice ceases to have its own language (a knowhow
without discourse). This practice of the listener, this operating
the record, can relate to its manifold uses: mixing, scratching,
sampling, slowing up, speeding down, burning, smashing, lockgrooving;
using it to dance to, as a psychophysical energiser. Whatever
its use the record cannot exist without the response of its audience,
without the active perception and inner responsiveness of the
listener that is just as able to take something different from
the record, to invent and experiment anew, to make connections.
The record does not say it all, its sounds generate a different
movement in the paths of the conceptual operation of the listener
than they had in those of the producer.
This is a wider sensorium than the delineation of producer and
consumer suggests. For listening simultaneously demands openness
to a surrounding world. Even at its most private, listening
is about being socially connected, about making meanings. Listening
is an activity that anticipates and expects. Being far from passive,
it actively follows the desires it unleashes, opening itself up
to communication and allowing subjectivity to mutate and merge.
By being opened and joined, by desiring the sounds, by being engulfed
by them, means that listening, once it occupies the 'space between',
can no longer be satisfied with reproducing models but can change
minds. Listening is socialinspiration.