Week 1

Select a plant. (Not a kind of plant, but a specific plant – indoor or outdoor.)

Part I:  Listen to the plant.

Part II:  Talk/sing/sound to the plant.

Part III:  Listen/sound with the plant.

Part IV:  Listen/sound as the plant.

Performance notes
– Listening, here, is receptive attention:  you can listen with your ears, eyes, skin, or imagination.
– Move from each part of the score to the next at whatever pace feels natural. However, the full performance of the score (including parts I through IV) should last a total of at least 20 minutes.
– Perform at least once, and as many times as you like, throughout the week.

I am beginning an art/research project in which I want to explore the boundaries between human and non-human worlds and the possibilities of cross-species communication (through sound, listening, and performance).  How rigid are these boundaries, and how elastic can they become?   Can I open myself up to the experiences of, and cultivate relationships with, the non-human life around me?   Could such a practice lead to ethical/empathetic coexistence?

Variation I (optional)
– Replace “plant” with “animal.”

Variation II (optional)
-Replace “animal” with “insect.”

Week 1 score by Stephanie Loveless

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18 Responses to Week 1

  1. Chris Galanis says:

    duets for voice and ocean

  2. Fionnuala says:

    Leaning far too much forward on my toes and feeling the tension in my body. What sound can you hear?
    Flutter again and make the sounds of plastic bells that don’t chime or resonate but, if you listen really carefully, can barely suggest a melody. Moving hands over harp strings that are loose and dull.
    Wind blows all around me and I feel cold. You can’t see it but I am tense.

    You are attentive; warm; away from home.
    This is soothing. I need it more than you do.
    Nice exercise Stephanie. Some beautiful sounds and wishing I had a sensitive microphone at hand. The structure led me on an interesting sound journey. Thanks!

  3. stephanie says:

    As I mentioned in my notes, this score was intended as a sort of a meditation on human-nonhuman relations, and performing it this week was revealing for me (and I plan to keep this exercise as an experiential research tool!)

    Here are some of my experiences with the different parts of the score (over two performances):

    Part 1: Here I listen mostly with my eyes. I let them graze across the surface of the plant, absorbing receptively. I feel awe and wonder at the plant’s tiny curves and ridges, as I do at the form of my 8-month old nephew. I admire how the plant thrives so beautifully despite being constricted in an indoor pot, and I seem to feel its dignity very strongly.

    Part 2: The transition from listening to sounding is tricky (maybe I am trying to force it?), but once I make the shift, I hum or sing lullabies, invented seemingly in collaboration with the plant. Because I am focusing paying my respects to, or feeding, the plant with my song (and don’t imagine that the plant is judging it!), my attention is off of myself, and I am unusually free in my improvisation.

    Part 3: Difficult. Such a stretch. But sometimes I seem to feel the particular cool pulsations that emanate from the plant, and then I move (tiny movements of the spine), breath and hum with those.

    Part 4: I like this section immensely, as I listen within the field that I somehow feel the preceding movements have created between the plant and I.

    Like Fionnuala, I feel like I need this more than the plant. I also feel grateful, like the plant has shared something with me.

  4. Andrew Smith says:

    I went out snowshoeing earlier this week in search of a plant to listen to/with. I headed toward one of my favorite locations, the Thomas Point Salt Marsh, in Brunswick ME. Here I found a long, narrow, oddly curved and very wind-worn branch sticking up out of the snow. My performance with this plant was interesting, leisurely and enjoyable.

    At first listen I felt that the plant was simply not sounding; that the focus then was just on my act. The material sounding being absent, I thought about listening – about the generosity of giving attention, of willingness to receive. At this point I didn’t feel connected to the plant.

    Then I moved to listen with my ear very close to the branch. This changed the shape of my aural cavity, and thus colored the timbre of the background noise at the marsh. Of course any object would have similar effect, but this is when I first felt I could hear this plant. I could hear the particular woody quality, its dry light weight and hollowness. More specifically, the background noise was colored by the distinct crevices and knots of this unique plant.

    I didn’t approach sounding with premeditation, and was unsure of what to sing/sound to the plant. I did a spontaneous soundpoem. I felt that it was just part of the abstract soundscape, and again did not feel connected to the plant.

    The soundscape itself is exquisite here. One hears distances. The breeze in the forest which edges the marsh. Automobiles pass every few minutes, sounding from far away and travel again into the distance. Various sea-birds – gulls, crows, osprey, and other seasonal birds – each with different calls, heard at various distances in many directions. So in listening-with I enjoyed a familiar pleasure in listening here. But additionally I felt comfortable being the unique being that I am, and knowing that the plant beside me was something else. The plant and I were together, though retaining what each is.

    Listening as was difficult. I understand human hearing to be very selective; certain sounds are interesting and meaningful, while others go unnoticed. If plants listen, I wonder what they select. I was aware of my lack of knowledge, and felt I couldn’t really listen as the plant.

    In sum, the area of boundaries between human and nonhuman worlds was explored. Also I think the boundaries could become less rigid, with further experiments and more practice. The plant and I became close, physically, through the act of listening. Differences, and impossibilities, became palpable.

    • stephanie says:

      Your description of the the plant’s shape, density and surface coloring the surrounding sounds makes me think about how this sonic filtering might be considered, finally, the voice of the plant.

      (the way moving your body closer changed the shape of your listening field, and thus the timbre of what you heard, also seems like a nice metaphor for relationships with others in general…)

  5. DavidH says:

    I have a (too) short video of me going through the score and me watching myself going through the score. Since I just recorded it with my computer, the sound environment is poor and doesn’t represent the hundreds of Brussels sounds which occurred during the exercise.

    I did it several times, but not 10, so I never reached the 20 minutes. (Therefor I spent ages getting quicktime giving me a dubblescreen image…).

    I have to say, part 1-3 were much easier, than part 4. Maybe, because it gets totally koan-like and therefor doesn’t ask interpretation anymore, but simple acceptance. That a bit to far for me.

    I liked part 3. The plant felt like a pet suddenly. Anyway, making sound with your ear is quite direct, isn’t it? (this is a bit a reference to my following score.)

    In general, I was meditating about the relation between instructions and scores: is this a score? Are these really 4 parts? Parts of the same? What about performance notes, if they are very open? Is it part of the piece, that I should do it at least once and that I may do it as much as I like? The second yes, the first somehow not. (‘do what you want’: would that be an anti-performance note?)

    Also about the importance of the execution of a score in relation to its purely poetic value. (An nice Fluxus discussion.)

    About the difference between action notation on the one hand and result notation on the other: in this case I could very well imagine what happens, what the result would be. Or is it the real-time-experience only, which counts as the result? But this would be a ‘second’ result, or more an effect: action-result-effect.

    http://vimeo.com/18851583 (still uploading right now)

    • stephanie says:

      I’m very interested in that Fluxus discussion about the “poetic value” of a score (what I think of as performing a piece “in your mind” — but then I have a very expanded relationship to the term performance, and also score.)
      Questions about your last paragraph: are you asking about the difference between notating action and notating to induce experience/result? Did I understand that correctly? And in your last formulation, “action-result-effect,” does action = sounding or listening, result = what is sounded or heard, and effect = the impact of the experience?
      Thinking of what gets to count as a “score,” I do think the direction to do something between one and an infinite number of times is a valid performance direction. But I also agree that picking more solid numbers could have added to the concreteness of the score. For example, “between 1-7 times throughout the week.”
      While I tend to want to give the performer every freedom, maybe concrete directions could be useful to anchor the somewhat esoteric, or speculative, content of this particular score… I think maybe so!

  6. margaret schedel says:

    I only have one plant in my house – a lucky bamboo which is always on the edge of dying. Yep I can’t even keep the lucky bamboo alive.

    Part I: Listen to the plant.

    This was easy, but I felt a bit guilty because it was telling me how ill it is. The voice was not very strong.

    Part II: Talk/sing/sound to the plant.

    Again, pretty easy because I wanted to soothe the plant.

    Part III: Listen/sound with the plant.

    I had trouble because the plant was so weak – it was hard to work with, but I finally let myself be soft as well.

    Part IV: Listen/sound as the plant.

    I think Part III led nicely to this because I had to become so soft in Part III it was easy to stay in the character.

  7. my partner had just received a plant for his birthday, a vital, dark-green philodendron, and i decided to use that plant for the piece. i was thinking, ‘in this way, we can welcome the plant’, but immediately perceiving the idea of making something welcome as a specifically (human) animal construct. will that have ‘meaning’ for the plant, or, even, increase the vitality of the plant in its new environment?
    my partner wanted to join, and it became a trio. i recorded the resulting ‘dialogue’, or would it be ‘triologue’?
    my experience:
    listening to the plant involved, in the first instance, looking, but moved quickly to smelling. very light chlorophyll smell that carries the connotation ‘green’. searching for more smell, resisting the impulse to crush a leaf (the, very human, desire to penetrate secrets or extract more sensual input – can this only result in damage to the other?) noticing the connective points, the shifts from one type of tissue structure to another, transitions from roots to stem, stem to leaf… so exquisite the architecture of cells and purpose. my eyes lit upon the thin, full, veins, which said to me ‘water’. i also let my eyes dwell on the organic patterns, the curves of each leaf, unique, but with recognizable, repeated, shapes.
    talking/singing/sounding to the plant. i had in my head ‘communicate to’ the plant. i wanted to blow on the plant, as i thought it might miss some wind or air movement (at the same time realizing this is, once again, a very human thought). plus thinking it might appreciate the carbon dioxide. and, the plant had said ‘water’, to me, so i thought i could best get up, fill a spray bottle and give it a nice shower. drawing on very stereotypical ways of communicating to a plant, but well, the impulse was to speak its ‘needs’ language. my partner had switched over much more quickly to the sounding part, so i enjoyed his communication while spraying the plant, but i didn’t feel so much that the plant needed me to talk or sing to it. just little bits and breaths here and there.
    listening/sounding with the plant. here i made a vague shift from the previous part of the score. interaction was a bit difficult. for some reasons of my own personality, i did not want to irritate the plant, and it seemed to happy to just be. to be, peacefully, still. the plant brought me more to stillness, rather than stimulating me to become very emotive or expressive.
    listening/sounding as the plant. here i made a clear shift. hmmm… how can i describe it? perhaps it is that the forms of the plant made an impact on how i felt my body. the strength of the stalks, the upward movement, the stretching of the roots into the soil, the entwining of the leaves, the molding of a leaf to another stalk (growing so that it fits around the form of an object in ‘the way’ of growth), the opening of the leaves to the light. this all made an impact on how i experienced my own body. feeling the structure of my own veins, the stability of my skeleton, the power of my muscles to counteract gravity? sounding ‘organically’? which means, for me, now, without unhealthy effort.
    my partner experienced the 4 parts in a more cyclical pattern, throughout the (almost exactly 20 mins, we noticed later in the recording) performance (can you call this a performance?) of the piece.
    part of my attention was (music teacher habit) devoted to paying attention to the fact that my partner did not ‘do’ it in the way i ‘did’ it, and then letting go of the idea that we would interpret it the same way.
    i do think that my empathy for the plant and the other plants who share our home did increase in that i became more tuned into the possible needs the plant might have. and yes, i was inspired to experience myself, sound or express myself in a fresh way, a re-freshing way, through this attentive interaction with the plant.

  8. Chris Galanis says:

    Image Here:

    Soundfile 1 Here:

    Soundfile 2 Here:

    The week of this assignment i was on the florida coast for the last leg of my xmas travels. at the end of the week i would return to my home in the new mexico desert, from where the nearest coast is at least a 12 hour drive. Based on these geographic realities I chose to alter the assignment and commune with the ocean and its accessories (in this case, a gaggle of surfers, strong winds, choppy waves and flocks of sea birds). I captured some of my improvisations as sound files, these representing the later stages of the score as I would find it difficult to enter into the proper state of mind while knowing I was recording myself.

    I don’t have that much to analyze in the pieces, I followed the instructions and allowed the process to evolve at the pace it needed to. I tried to keep my range of inputs very large, to be listening/feeling the ocean, the birds, the waves, the wind, and the surfers all as one entity rather than as discrete events in linear time. This is one current interest in my deep listening experiences, which is not to always listen in a linear time-based sequence, but rather also try to leave myself open to moments that have already passed, as well as open to anticipating moments which have yet to unfold. I don’t know how best to explain this yet…i don’t want to conjure up anything supernatural in my explanation – I could say that I’m listening to/experiencing the whole event as a process in which I am intertwined throughout the existence of the universe, but that sounds kinda floofy too…

    the idea of sounding *as* the focus of attention I found problematic, as I’m not sure it’s possible to separate one’s perception of something from your projection of it from a human perspective, at least while standing apart from it and observing it from a distance. I’m reminded of some writings on animal tracking, and how a hunter would actually lay on the forest floor covered in dirt and foliage, and over hours would actually *think* as a dead branch laying on the forest floor, taking hours to enter this state of mind, after which passing animals did in fact become oblivious to the hunter’s presence.

    I think there’s an inescapable need for full embodiment in the attempt to “embody” another being, and I feel that at least for myself it is not an act of mental or intellectual willpower, but rather one of giving in to one’s animal body over a long period of time and allowing one’s body to itself become the being of focus, which in turn transforms one’s consciousness. For example, to fully embody the ocean in this exercise, I would love to experiment by floating face down in the ocean for at least an hour with my eyes closed, breathing through a snorkel and allowing my body and limbs to simply be a part of the shifting waters, removing any and all intentions or responses, but just physically *being* the water itself. Perhaps after an hour of this, the soundings I would make might successfully capture the idea of sounding *as* the ocean.

    I’m curious for others’ experiences of attempting to embody another entity and the methods they use/imagine?

    • thanks, chris, for your writings and soundings.
      about 1 1/2 years ago i went to the forest (large park) and lay down, curled in a ball, naked, between the ferns, for about one hour at sunset and later two times, for sunrise. also, at this period, i was involved with trying to perceive like a spider, which involved me trying to do things with my eyes shut, although i realized that there would be no real way for me to perceive things as a spider does. i can’t even perceive things like my children, who i have ‘known’ all my life. all my sensory information comes through specifically human channels that then are mediated through specifically human neural activity. however, i do know that in many cultures (i think specifically of chinese traditions) animals and nature are closely observed, imitated, for the wisdom they can impart. this is maybe a source of wisdom that has been somewhat lost to me as a westerner living now.
      the ‘floofy’ bits 😉 triggered me to look up something in the book Yoga Spandakarika, sacred texts at the origins of tantra, with comment by Daniel Odier:
      “One of the great intuition of Kashmiri Tantrism was to replace linear logic with spherical, or nondual, logic… The Tantric masters introduced the sphere into their system of thought so that things could no longer be defined in a particular manner or represent a point of spatial fixedness; each point thus remains in contact with the whole sphere in which it is navigating and ends up merging itself into the One.”
      so, rather than floofy, i think you are touching upon one of the (thousands of years old) basic practices of Kashmiri Tantrikas…

  9. DavidH says:

    ah, sorry, I forgot to give the password for my video. its: week1

    stephany, I will answer next week. now still to busy. only very little online. much fun with the earpieces! 🙂

  10. The score responses are fascinating to read. Thanks to everyone and to Stephanie for this very intriguing DL Study Group!

  11. sound file. david and sharon and the plant.
    [audio src="http://shandastudd.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/plant-dl-text-score-ensembl.mp3" /]

  12. Marcello says:

    Sorry for the late, I write my experience just now.

    The plant is a little bonsai fig tree, I received as a present one year and a half ago.

    Part I: I listen to the plant, and I listen to her silence, her still green leaves and the even more still dried leaves. I clean away the hanging dried leaves and I try to listen/feel what plant listen/feel, loosing a part of her life.
    Listening to the plant is hearing what she has to say

    Part II: I repeat the little noises that I did touching the plant, caressing, removing the old leaves. I repeat her silence and listen to it.
    I cannot sing or talk, it’s just too far from the plat; I prefere to communicate feeling her life, feeling her sap circulating in the wood and nourishing the old and new leaves.
    I get in touch with the plant on an energy level, and I feel her more and more.

    Part III: after Part II I’m connected with the plant and I feel what she feels. I try not to move as she does. I’m one with plant.

    Part IV: The plant is thirsty and so am I: I give water to the plant and I take some water. I go on, using the same water, pouring a little on the old dried leaves and the soil and a little in my mouth. I move slowly like a qigong form.
    The sound of the water on the dried leaves is more and more like the sound of the water in my dry mouth.

  13. stephanie says:

    Thanks all, for engaging with the piece so thoughtfully, and for your descriptions, reflections, sounds (!) and videos (!!)

    It’s been extremely fun for me to take in….

  14. lindaokeeffe says:

    I had an unusual reaction to performing this piece. Instead of just dealing with one plant I sung, listened and talked to a park. I felt strange concentrating on one organism in a space filled with the green life form. So I ended up seeing it as one large life form. Even when I walked through singing and talking to various plants, news of my coming was being sent forward. What happened over time was that the park seemed to become more real to me, more vibrant and alive. I was also telling the nature that spring was coming, as if it needed reminding, I think it ended up being me that was reminded that spring was coming, and thats when I started to notice the tiny buds, new leaves and berries. It was wonderful…

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