March 2016 / Sharon Renee Stewart, USA / NL
ART, RESEARCH, THEORY: In the March column we are pleased to feature Sharon Stewart, who studied piano at the Utrecht School of the Arts, Faculty of Music, and later completed a Masters in Music Pedagogy at the Royal Conservatoire, The Hague. She has a private piano practice in Arnhem, has collaborated as sound artist with various dancers, and serves as Associate Editor of the Journal of Sonic Studies. Works with dancers have been performed at festivals and other venues in Arnhem, Amsterdam, Nijmegen and The Hague in the Netherlands. A composition of hers involving whale sounds was nominated for a national composition prize for female composers (MCN Compositieopdracht Prijs). She publishes poetry in a collaboration with Amanda Judd on shandastudd.com. Sharon became certified in Deep Listening, with Pauline Oliveros, IONE and Heloise Gold in 2011 and is currently a teacher, with Jennifer Wilsey and Ximena Alarcón, for the online international Deep Listening Certificate Program.
LISTENING TO THE MOTHER(BEING)
i suggest that the following be read while listening to the soundscape for LIGHT – DARK – LIGHT – HEAVY, a dance performance for one dancer, light and sound.
Light–Dark–Light–Heavy is a cross-arts collaboration between
Ellen Kilsgaard (dance)
Chris Crickmay (visual art)
Sharon Stewart (sound)
Performed by Ellen Kilsgaard
. how my heart crept in bed with me
in the black
in the cool
in the quiet
first, as always, the smell
rising from the heat
blood, down and flesh
then, touch, quivering and vital
tenacious to the pull
clenching and releasing
can one follow without fixing
hold without strangling
tracing fine bones and pulses
the narrowness of the ribs
feel the swell, the burst
eyes open, always mirroring
in dark pools
the moment has gone by
like a butterfly, unsettled
it draws itself away.
published on shandastudd.com
perhaps this poem, written in response to a moment with my son, says it all. perhaps it says nothing.
it’s always about finding the right medium (isn’t it?): minimal words, a plethora of words, no words. how can you convey that which you would like to convey efficiently (or not) and effectively (or not)?
this vast subject: my (art)work, my mother(being). i will use some poetic text and metaphor. i will romanticise things, because that is what inevitably happens when i use words. i will weave sound, listening, improvising, motherbeing.
my medium/s are sound and words. my mediums are my body, the space around me and the variety of electronic and mechanical, synthesized and acoustic instruments that i control and that control me.
but here you are as well! you, the reader. i feel you. your presence washes through my heart and into my belly as i write, and this sensation brings hot tears to my eyes. every act i do as an artist, as a human being, as a mother is filled (also) with a longing to bring us to ourselves, to open space for what you feel and hear, smell and taste, wish and sigh: your breath, your being. with this text, i communicate me, but i (also) want to communicate you. it’s complicated. maybe you don’t want this. maybe you don’t want this level of intimacy. maybe when you listen to music you don’t want the silences that reveal your stomach growling or the empty moments that drop into pain. maybe we cannot help but push each other away.
our mediums here are sound and words. our mediums are our bodies, the space around us and the variety of electronic and mechanical, synthesized and acoustic instruments that we control and that control us.
i have written poetry for more than 30 years. i have written music for more than 20 years. i have been a mother for more than 13 years. you have done so much more.
this foreign body that i do not reject, thanks to some quirk of evolution, roots itself in every aspect of my life. i am stunned by the level of interpenetration, conflict and collaboration. we both want desperately to live, and this primal intent weaves its way into my eating, sleeping, shitting. every priority becomes a pact, a deal, a concession.
i have never experienced interdependency like this.
i open to the soft skin of my newborn that operates like nothingness. i can slip through with my energies and intents as if s/he is soft butter. but that slipping engulfs me in an undulating sea of warm silk. thought ceases. there is only sensing.
i hear the sound of breathing like i have never heard it before. tiny modulations of speed and intensity that convey meaning: i am hungry, i am excited, i am disturbed, i am famished, i am sleepy. meaning that triggers time-based action to the listening mother: food, attention, comfort, stimulation, bath, reduction of stimulation, sleeping rituals. there is no verbal entry to the communication of disturbance or excitement. you can respond verbally or with a physical action response. i respond with as much attention and awareness that i can muster. i try not to judge myself.
i hearfeel the vibration of the heartbeat as never before. tiny modulations of speed and intensity. i had never understood how delicate and responsive the heart is, fluttering like a threatened bird, lapping on the shore of the bodylake, unfailing in its expressiveness.
do you remember the feel of your father’s hand?
i understand how sound penetrates me and leaves its traces on my bodymemory. i listen through the imagined hearing of my newborn. i listen to the most vulnerable of sounds, and they rock me to the core with their intensity.
where does song exist outside of the breath? what propels any rhythm but the moving body? the physicality of the vibrating world washes our bodymind, coming and going.
even with electronic music, we rely on the impulses of the governing hu/ma/n/chine and flow of data through electromagnetic impulses, control voltage through physical or digital channels, the vibrating impulse pumped and revealed through membranes.
sound is continually being born and dying, leaving it’s ephemeral or indelible traces in our sense memory, just as we are marked by the rapid slipping away of our baby, our toddler, our child, our teenager. each day holds a small ritual of mourning as they shed themselves, disappearing forever in this rapid flame of time. we cannot hold on, yet it holds us, inescapably molds us as it shreds us bare.
do you remember the sound of your mother’s voice?
even this compulsive documentation, this archiving of an endless flood of photos, films, sound files, only temporarily saves me from the confrontation with loss. each digital echo or shadow forms a consolation that buffers me, like gathering seeds for the winter of presence. i disappear and am revealed in this documentation. who am i in the consolidation of the artifacts of my children? where am i in this desperate need to re/member them?
no experience had prepared me for the deep exhaustion i would face trying to live my personal ambitions while mothering one, and then two, children. moments of collapsing on the sofa, mentally begging for mercy, bones aching, dizziness, a hazy wash of indifference and deep panic, dropping into a few minutes of coma-like sleep.
you receive absolutely no mercy from a growing child who wants to pull things apart, rearrange your furniture, smash their heads, eat, wail their dissatisfaction, eat more and then vehemently refuse to eat, pinch your body and pull strands of your hair.
internal voices moan (remember, sleep deprivation is a recognised form of torture): please go away, disappear, put yourself on pause while i recover. while at the same time i bury these thoughts under the earthy layers of touch, kisses, (fake) smiles and songs, a sort of gardening in which rotting things feed the most exquisite flowers.
recovery and genuine bliss and fake attentiveness walk hand-in-hand in our mutual stroll into the future. do we grow up together?
where are you sinking from tiredness? where does it pull on you?
perhaps there is music there as well.
...glitches and noise aesthetics...
glitch is the unexpected result of a malfunction, when a machine receives corrupt data or when a machine is pushed beyond its signal-processing capacity; signal/s can no longer be processed in the way that the machine is designed to process them. glitch music adheres to an “aesthetic of failure”: malfunctioning or abused devices, distortion, skipping, hums, bugs, scratches, and fatal system errors.
noise arises when an instrument is stretched beyond its capacity to make a regular sound wave: too much pressure, too hard of a hit, too much air, excessive friction, leaking stops, cracked reeds and squeaking pedals. noise is that which is set in opposition to and measured against the desired signal. noise is the random error that makes your statistical model perform poorly. noise can be described in ratios and in sensory overloads that no numbers can properly represent.
forgotten tennis lessons, lost shoes, lost scarves, lost gloves, pure physical shouting, slamming doors, breaking windows, missed trains, bloodied noses, bloodied elbows, bloody cursing, screaming, crying, broken toys, lost games, small hurts and discomforts, vanishing keys, shit squirting out of diapers, puke gushing from mouths, fevers, collapses, blatant refusals, endless papers, junked devices, trash, streams of unwanted gifts, broken promises, broken friendships, flooding, nearly burning down and barely scraping by...
are you still breathing?
notice the ambient sounds around you. breathe into those sounds.
an almost reverent devotion to quiet seeps into the room.
transitory technical failure becomes “domesticated glitch” (Rosa Menkman's Sunshine in My Throat, glitches vs glitch art and Vernacular of File Formats) once it is appreciated, made controllable, and reproduced in an art context.
enter into an expanse of time
allow time to stretch into countless rubatos of perfected synchronisations
explore the pervasive sunshine of the presence of the other
punctuate this experience of presence with absolute bliss in layered fugue
add looks, touches, kisses, laughs and cuddles ad libitum
you have exactly 30 minutes before your train leaves the station
you need 15 minutes to bike your child to their caretaker
you need 2 minutes to politely hand over child
you need 7 minutes to bike further and catch train
if you do not catch this train, your career will end or... something worse
choose two of the following:
· child pukes on their clothing
· child pukes on your clothing
· you cannot find your keys
· you cannot find your bike keys
· you cannot find your train card
· you cannot find your wallet
· child refuses to put on their coat
· child knocks your breakfast smoothie on the floor
· you knock your breakfast smoothie on the floor
you have 6 minutes to get out of the door
discover your favorite position
invite someone to join you
connect to your heartbeat
press your spine against another
close your eyes
breathe with your whole body
fall asleep with another
John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings (1961) Wesleyan University Press
Luce Irigaray, “When Our Lips Speak Together” in Vol. 6, No. 1, Women: Sex and Sexuality, Part 2 (1980), translated by Carolyn Burke
Jean-Luc Nancy, Listening (2007) Fordham University Press
Pauline Oliveros, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice (2005) Deep Listening Publications