One line

Christian Mason: Invisible Threads

Performance installation for mobile voices, bass clarinet, accordion and string quartet on a text by Paul Griffiths.


I recently came across a little blue booklet by Pauline Oliveros called »Quantum Listening«. Her words immediately gave me the context I sought to think clearly about the piece thatat the time of writingI am still composing, and that you will soon hear:


»As you listen, the particles of sound decide to be heard. Listening affects what is sounding. It is a symbiotic relationship. As you listen, the environment is enlivened. This is the listening effect.«


»Sounds near one another influence each other. Listeners near one another affect or influence one another with active listening.«


»Listening involves a reciprocity of energy flow; exchange of energy; sympathetic vibration: tuning in to the web of mutually supportive interconnected thoughts, feelings, dreams, vital forces comprising our lives; empathy; the basis for compassion and love.«


[all quotes from »Quantum Listening« by Pauline Oliveros, Ignota Books, 2022]


I find great inspiration in the ideaand the experienceof spaces enlivened by the focus of attentive ears. In these moments of collective concentration it feels almost as though we grow invisible threads between us, connecting momentarily before we disperse back into the world. The ritual of performance is not only about the music being played, more fundamentally it is an excuse to spend time together in this special state of awareness.

During this »performance installation« listeners wander freely through the spaces of the gallery, whereas performers conform to a more formalised ritual of spatial-relationships which transform across the duration of the piece. This freedom of movement allows you to bring your attention to the sounds in unpredictable ways: maybe you want to focus for a while on the special sound of the accordion… then baritone or cello… bass clarinet or soprano… the interaction between voices and violins… and later, maybe, a more global balanced view of the whole. The possibility to vary our proximity to the sound sourcesto listen closely, or at a distanceis the essence of Invisible Threads.


Cohering this spatial sound-ritual is a remarkable »polyphonic« text composed by Paul Griffiths, who describes it thus:


»The text is a web of words, kind of subterranean, in that meaning is largely hidden as one word flows into another by connections of sound rather than syntax. Everything flows from the word «mycelium”, and especially from its three consonantal sounds, all of which can be extended. As in actual mycelium, there are multitudinous branchings out and back in, as well as meaningful phrases emerging here and there, like fruiting bodies. These often include new consonants: ‘t’, ‘r’ and ‘n’, for example, in ‘illuminates a measureless solemnity’. The generative word ‘mycelium’, however, is hardly used, and at no time does the text refer to the subject matter. The text preserves thereby an ignorance.”


The starting point for all of this was thinking about the mysterious world of fungi and mycelium, and the way in which their branching roots intertwine with tree roots to form immense, though unseen, communicative networks beneath the surface of the earth. But, as so often in creative processes, the piece grew away from its source and became this little portion of time and space in which I invite you to listenclosely or a distanceto the sounds that surround you.

Christian Mason, February 13th 2023