Christian Mason: Invisible Threads
Performance installation for mobile voices, bass clarinet, accordion and string quartet on a text by Paul Griffiths.(2022–2023)
I recently came across a little blue booklet by composer and »listening artist« Pauline Oliveros. In »Quantum Listening« I found words that helped me think about my own piece, which–as I write these lines–I am still composing. Oliveros writes, »when you listen, the particles of sound decide to be heard. Listening influences what is sounded. It is a symbiotic relationship. As one listens, the environment becomes animated. That’s the effect of listening.« I find the idea–and the experience–of spaces enlivened by the focus of attentive ears very inspiring. In such moments of collective concentration, it almost feels as if invisible threads grow between us, connecting us for a moment before we disperse back into the world. The ritual of performance is not just about the music being played, but more importantly about spending time together in this special state of consciousness.
During this »performance-installation« the listeners move freely through the spaces of the museum, while the performers follow a more formalized ritual of spatial relationships that change during the duration of the piece. This freedom of movement allows you to focus your attention on the sounds in unpredictable ways: you may want to concentrate for a while on the particular sound of the accordion … then baritone or cello … bass clarinet or soprano … the interaction between voices and violins … and later perhaps a more global, balanced view of the whole. The ability to vary our proximity to sound sources–to listen up close or from a distance–is the essence of Invisible Threads. This spatial ritual of sound is held together by a remarkable »polyphonic« text written by Paul Griffiths. The starting point for all of this was thinking about the mysterious world of fungi and mycelium, and the way their branching roots intertwine with the roots of trees to form vast, if invisible, communicative networks beneath the earth’s surface. But as so often happens in creative processes, the piece moved away from its origins and became this little slice of time and space where I invite you to listen to the sounds that surround you–up close or from afar.
Sounds that are close to each other influence each other.
Listeners who are close to each other influence each other through active listening.
The text is a web of words, a kind of subterranean tissue in which meaning is largely hidden, as one word flows into another, through sound connections rather than syntax. Everything starts from the word »mycelium,« in particular its three consonantal sounds, all of which are extensible. As in a true mycelium, there are numerous branches outward and back inward, as well as meaningful phrases that arise here and there, like fruiting bodies. These often include new consonants: t, r, and n, for example, in »illuminates an immoderate solemnity.« However, the generative word »mycelium« is rarely used, and the text does not refer to the counterpart at any point. The text thus preserves an ignorance.
Listening involves a mutuality of energy flow; energy exchange; sympathetic vibration; attunement to the web of mutually supportive, interconnected thoughts, feelings, dreams, life forces that make up our lives; empathy; the basis for compassion and love.
‘ e r o t i c ‘ m u s h r o o m (+v +r)––––––
line 3 joins line 1 before ‘mimulus’
a lass lay low, slowly loom a male ally, leave, evolve, oh live!, olive, svelt ever, reversely emulous, mimulus,
a mess, messy essay, assay source, ‘Esau, say yes!’, sesame, same ass meme
sis, some similar simile, ascesis asocial?, awe, awesome!, mallow, lo, molossus!
missile silo assail?, aim massy mace, mame, limb loss, lame, moil else lie low, allow asylum?, malice,
Commissioned by the city of Witten
World premiere, April 22, 2023, Witten Days for New Chamber Music