By Ellen Söderhult on Linda Blomqvist
To listen with all senses
In a piece of writing on listening, the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy asks what it means for a being to “be immersed entirely in listening, formed by listening or in listening, listening with all his being?” Later he continues: ”What secret is at stake when one truly listens, that is, when one tries to capture or surprise the sonority rather than the message?” […] “What does to be listening, to be all ears, as one would say “to be in the world”, mean? What does it mean to exist according to listening, for it and through it, what part of experience and truth is put into play?” Maybe The Sound by Linda Blomqvist together with Madeleine Lindh and Sandra Lolax could be considered a form of answer to Nancy’s questions. An answer in the sense of a response, an echo or a proposition. Or, it could be considered a different, embodied and materialized way of asking these questions.
The Sound engages the audience with sound and dance, with perception and sensory information. Crafted phrases meet acoustic sounds, voice and prerecorded music. This has me noticing the differences between perceiving and understanding, differences between listening or watching and sense-making. In this way, the dance is allowed to be dance, the sounds sounds and the music music, more than being material for interpretation, material to be read or understood. As Nancy writes about listening as a way of stretching the ear: “to be listening is to be on the edge of meaning”.
The Sound in this way becomes a soft, calm, sincere and dedicated reminder of the differences between looking for something, and a state I would describe as, allowing oneself to listen with one’s whole body and all of its senses and all of its abilities to perceive. To be listening with one’s whole being.
The Sound makes space for a different world, where my eye doesn’t look for a narrative but rather rests from interpretation and the search for symbols or signs.
The piece makes space for other ways of relating to known materials and directs my attention to different qualities. Sound is foregrounded and the listening proposes a different way of seeing. Tonality, force, direction, weight and momentum become a form of starting point for experiencing the performance. The sound of something juicy, the sound of stone against stone and a soft foot reaching, falling towards and pushing against a hard floor. Sometimes the smell of a cigar pushes towards me, sometimes I long for more dances because it is so pleasurable to see shapes passing by. To watch the bodies, hard but rounded, spiraling skeletal bones giving direction to an arm, whilst strong leg muscles push against the floor, taking off for a jump. The danced phrases are executed and choreographed with precision and hold a feeling of dance being precious.
The Sound captures me in a pleasant experience in which I see dance as a form of sound. All my senses are listening for, and are sensitive to, the timbre, density and other such qualities that I, in the moment, don’t feel any need to name in order to experience, but relate to listening. When I listen to sound and music, the sounds surround my ears, I allow the impressions to hit me, the experience to enter my body through the eyes, skin and bones, as much as through understanding.
The movement material is carefully choreographed, as a well written piece of music; measured and complex (but not in order to live up to, or agree with predetermined ways of using dance). The Sound is a piece of dance art that shows how contemporary dance can be critical without being oppositional. It is not a counter move against technique, history and narrative but a serious proposition with weight, without irony and without anxiety over the low status of dance as an art form.
In that sense the piece is exactly a contemporary piece of dance, it develops or implicates, it continues, influences and takes part of an ongoing, collective innovation within the dance field, but simultaneously relates to the forces that are of our time. It simultaneously relates to what dance can be, or could be, it proposes a way to be with dance that is both anchored backwards and into a potential future. It negotiates dance into the present.
The shift of focus from understanding to listening is interesting in relation to ideas of the binary opposition of active and passive, as well as to definitions such as entertainment and art. Without judging either or, it would be interesting to consider how they respond to, or are responsive towards different needs, how they name and underline different aspects or functions? Such distinctions or reflections around what one is expected to be responsive towards, in what context, genre, style or form seems ideologically interesting in a capitalistic consumerism. This can be considered to promote recognition over reconsideration, understanding before perceiving, calming or entertaining before wondering, investigating or un-grounding.
In the same way that art and entertainment can exist within the same experience, genre or artistry, maybe the differences between listening and understanding are floating and overlapping. Or it is simply not the one or the other, but sometimes what a situation proposes us to be attentive towards? As Timothy Morten puts it, “allowing things to affect us is the minimum unit of acting”, proposing a shifted understanding of passive-active or actant-object. As I sit through the show, I think I notice the experience of having the material inform me, affect me and pass through me. Making a distinction between the binary couples none the less makes me aware of how my understanding of the world forms and informs my experience of it. It also reminds me of our inevitable participation in the world, as the future approaches and becomes present again and again.
The Sound activates my senses and makes conscious the activity or perceiving, in listening and in the steps between sensory input and understanding or meaning-making. It brings out how habit, expectation, recognition and mirroring are present in, and affects perception of the external world. In a way, it brings out our complicity and participation in that reality. That reality which we every day reconstitute through our convictions, habits, dreams, relations and material being. In that sense it is a subtle testimony of the arbitrary aspect of the notions of active and passive, as in the idea that the audience need to be activated. As a member of the audience I for sure felt very active. So active that I approximately 80 min later exited the theatre calm, tired and happy for having had the opportunity to be all ears and eyes for a while. Happy to have attended to the slightest change of direction or variation in tension in a hand movement whilst listening to the sound of hairspray or to the three voices joining in a song and to the feet and legs meeting and leaving the floor in a well coordinated big jump. There I was, feeling more like an alertly attentive body then a determined head, more ears and skin than brain. It was a beautiful experience to listen with the eyes and with the skin as well.