There’s A Riot Goin’ On

There’s A Riot Goin’ On

I had a huge “wish I coulda been there” moment yesterday when I heard someone talk about a recent Indianapolis Symphony performance of The Rite of Spring. Actors were hired to sit in the audience and cause mayhem partway through in an attempt to recreate the riot at The Rite’s 1913 premiere. While such shenanigans are ultimately extra-musical, they are undeniably a significant part of why Stravinsky’s ballet score is a landmark in music history. Ditto Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique and many of Cage’s works.

But in the “I’ve heard it all before” malaise of the early 21st century, it is difficult to convey the one-time shock value of certain language and images, never mind certain harmonies, rhythms, or timbres. And while I certainly subscribe to the “anything goes” aesthetic, I yearn to be surprised, unsettled, startled, even offended in order to have my world view irrevocably altered and hopefully expanded. This seems to be the greatest power of art.

Perhaps those transformations are now the responsibility of the audience rather than the art itself. Perhaps unbridled reaction is the key to making an experience new. That said, I can’t imagine myself ever booing a performance, let alone throwing a punch at someone as several audience members are rumored to have done at The Rite’s premiere. (I’m a pacifist.)

Have you ever booed a performance, or worse? Or have you observed an event that completely disrupted a performance? What provoked it? If you booed, etc., what did you hope to accomplish by your actions? How did the rest of the audience react to your behavior?

In a truly “anything goes” audience environment—which I’m not sure anyone would find enjoyable—is listening possible? Of course, Deep Listening has taught us to always listen, but what is the (dare I use an evaluative word) quality of such listening?

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3 thoughts on “There’s A Riot Goin’ On

  1. rtanaka

    Maybe in classical music’s polite society an unrest amongst the audience might be considered unusual, but these sorts of things happen in the popular world all the time. A lot of the times popular bands will have opening acts to get the concert started, but if it doesn’t live up to the audience’s expectations (reagardless if it might be good or bad) the audience’s aren’t so timid as to express their dissatisfaction.

    During the last century or so (at least according to Alex Ross), classical music has developed a “shut up and listen to this” culture where the audiences have become subordinate to the stage. Not only is expression of dissatisfaction discouraged, but even appreciation, where applauses are carefully managed as to only exist at the end of every piece.

    This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing — different mediums just tend to operate under different social contexts and each provide different kinds of opportunities for modes of expression. Cage’s 4’33” would not have been possible without the classical concert tradition, for example, along with musics that rely on quiet and subtle gestures in order to get its ideas across.


    And, the point which the planners of this event seem to have missed completely… is that the riot was due to the choreography, and began before the music ever really got going, so nobody heard it. The ballet dancers twisting their bodies in such un-graceful ways and wearing such bizarre costumes was what caused the rioting. Now, you could say that such radical ballet would never have happened without Stravinsky’s score giving the choreographer ideas… but it seems bizarre to choose a spot in the middle of the music to start rioting, when that was not the point.

  3. William Osborne

    Of course, Deep Listening has taught us to always listen, but what is the (dare I use an evaluative word) quality of such listening?

    I studied Pauline Oliveros’ work for a couple years, and thought a good deal about Deep Listening, critical discernment, and non-judgmental perception in the creation of art. In Deep Listening, the idea that one should “always listen” is often expressed as global listening.

    I am not sure we can define the “quality” of global or focal listening, but at least we can analyze their forms and functions. A common form of listening might be referred to as “global-standby:” a continual subconscious monitoring of our environment which triggers into focal listening when sound appears that stimulates reaction. A while back, for example, I was taking a walk, lost in my thoughts, when the neighbor’s huge St. Bernard decided to suddenly start barking at me–something he usually doesn’t do. Without the least conscious effort on my part, my body said, “Large, four-legged, long-toothed, meat-eater, PANIC.” Then discernment set into motion, and I noticed the wagging tail and doggy-style blustering. The standby global listening, which became all-or-nothing-get-your-ass-out-of-here focal listening, used some discernment and returned to global-standby.

    I guess that illustrates how through discernment we formulate gradations and structures of globality in what we hear. We discern what’s important and what isn’t — which is “qualitative” in many respects. An orchestra musician, for example, will not only try to globally listen to about a hundred people, she further structures the orchestral globe into collectives of instruments, and those collectives are focused upon according to how they are interacting with her. The globality of listening constantly transforms and adapts according to the dictates of artistic discernment.

    We also see that the gradations and structures of global listening are determined by social, aesthetic, and cultural conditions. In short, the “quality” of our listening shapes our being and relationships to society. Frank, for example, has to apply a form of global listening in his work as an editor of a new music webzine. He has to provide factual reports about many different kinds of music, and remain an accepted member of many different new music communities. By necessity, he must apply a form of non-judgmental, global perception to the new music world – something that he says is his predilection by nature.

    (In terms of the new music world and the “quality” of listening,” I sometimes wonder if the reason I have to spend so much time alone is because I do not listen well enough, or if it is because I listen too well….)

    Composers can also use global listening in the creation of their works. Norman Lowrey, who is closely associated with Deep Listening, has made global and focal listening an important aspect of his work. He has produced a three CD set of compositions dealing with river environments in which he has tried to compose the sonic equivalent of deprioritized, global listening. He has taken numberless “everyday” sounds from around remote parts of the Delaware River and formed them into a three dimensional tapestry that allows us to hear them in a uniquely simultaneous and deprioritized way. The effect is very striking, something like the sonic equivalent of a Rousseau painting, a hyper-vivid unification of our teeming-with-life environment that gives sound an almost animistic quality.

    There seem to be many unconscious philosophical concepts behind the way we listen that strongly affect our perception of reality and thus the “quality” of our lives. Our existence, for example, is made of two globes, the inner and outer worlds, which exist like twin galaxies. Ironically, a non-prioritizing global focus on the outer world often calms the inner world, thus allowing us to hear the most quiet voices of both worlds. We sense how the inner and outer worlds shape each other and the dream-like rendering of reality their interplay produces.

    Listen to the infinite details of one sound while listening to the infinite world of sound surrounding you. A mysterious form of unity can be perceived. The “quality” of such listening can be very high. Some call it beauty.

    William Osborne


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