Listening to the Environment
FRANK J. OTERI: This has got to be the most stunning physical environment that we’ve ever been in for a NewMusicBox conversation. It’s sort of fitting because your music is all about the environment.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: A lot of it is. Not all of it, but a lot of it.
FRANK J. OTERI: It leads me to ask you, what is the best environment to hear music in?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: There’s a mixed grab bag of parts to the answer… I like resonant spaces. I love listening to music and sound in resonant spaces. Sometimes it works; of course, sometimes it doesn’t work at all. You know, I like doing installations-it’s not the only thing I do by any means. I do quite a lot of concert music. But I love doing installations because those are spaces, essentially, in which the audience can come and go at will. So there is real freedom of movement, freedom of choice for the people who come to look and listen. Those are favorite setups. The best place to hear music though… Not in my car. [laughs]
FRANK J. OTERI: Do you think the process of listening to music is different from the process of listening to other things?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Yes. There are a lot of differences, right? When I’m listening to music there’s direct emotional input, sometimes very strong. I’m always scanning for textural ideas, structural ideas, neat little transitions, just nice line shaping—all of these things of course. And evaluating, unless I catch myself doing it and pull back and get myself to just listen. Music is very clearly human-to-human communication for me.
Listening to other things, environmental things, is a very different experience. I don’t know what to expect. I’m often surprised. When I’m listening to those sorts of sounds, I’m trying to listen my way into the nature of the phenomenon that’s sounding. That’s something other than myself and I’m curious about its being. This goes back to the very early years. When I was a student doing basically postgraduate work in Germany, studying electronic music, I remember one summer, everyday for awhile just picking up a particular stone and trying to figure out what that stone felt like, what it felt like to be that stone, what it feels like to be something other than human with a complete belief that there’s an inherent being in all of those other phenomena. So when I’m working with rivers—and I’m once again working with a river—I’m trying to hear and sense and think my way into what the nature of a river is.
FRANK J. OTERI: In our world today we’re surrounded by sound. Some people would almost say that we’re polluted by sound, by sound we don’t necessarily choose or want to hear. We’re losing the ability to listen because we’re so busy tuning things out instead of tuning in. This became a big part of the conversation I had a couple of years ago with Pauline Oliveros for NewMusicBox. Her music is all about the listening experience and what listening means. I feel in some way your work shares that aspect, but takes it in another direction in terms of just letting the sounds be.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Yes, because if you don’t let them be then you’re—well, you can’t help doing it, but you’re superimposing human shaping and I’m superimposing my own understanding of what it is I’m listening to on it and I can no longer experience it directly. I can no longer enable other people to experience it directly. It’s will o’ the wisp because of course as soon as I start taping—as we all know the gear that I’m using shapes and filters the sound, and where I put the mic, and which sound excites me versus which sound seems less interesting to me—I’m making choices all the time. So I’m already filtering but as much as possible I like to get myself out of the way so that the phenomenon is coming directly to whoever is listening.
FRANK J. OTERI: I thought it was interesting that you said that when you’re working on music versus an environmental thing, you’ll shape it and then sometimes you’ll find yourself shaping something and then you realize you’re doing it, and then you stop doing it. I thought that was a very interesting comment about the creative process.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Letting a sound world be produces all sorts of really vibrant, wonderful sounds. In fact, they just emerge.
FRANK J. OTERI: In that sense then, is it music or is it something else?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: You know I sort of settled that one decades ago [laughs]…when I first read Silence and it’s never bothered me since! [laughs] It’s all sound to me. I don’t think I make too much of the evaluative difference between music that is for designated players and an environmental/ambient sound world.