The Takers and Sound

Reading some articles in this book recently has made me more thoughtful about the way we perceive sound. I recall watching a TED talk by Evelyn Glennie some years ago, in which she speaks about how our ears are simply one way through which we perceive sound – in actual fact our entire body can be developed to become a natural resonator, allowing us a more full experience of sound. This approach is used with Deaf and hearing-impaired children as described in the book, with very encouraging and positive results. Just the simple act of being able to listen opens the door to so many other areas of development: self-awareness, self-perception, physical awareness, communication, acquisition of language, etc.

 

I also recently read this book:

Put two seemingly unrelated books together, and this thought emerged:

Even our culture of sound has become overridden by Taker Culture!

 

What used to be was that music and sound was part of everyday life. If people wanted music, they simply made music. No wait – they did not have the need to WANT music. Sound was simply part of their landscape, their living, their breathing. They took part in the creation of it, as natural as their breathing was a part of them.There was no divide between performers and audiences, players and listeners. Music was Life. For example, we know that many native African tribal cultures (example of leaver cultures) do not have a separate word for Music. To them, it is in inseparable from life and living.

But taker culture has taken it apart, like all other things thought as unrelated to production. In taker culture, sound and music has been transformed into a commodity, an industry, a product, and in some instances, a tool. And to gain full control over this tool and resource, technology has been developed so that takers can use sound at their whim and fancy.

Soundbites to win votes. Hypnotic beats to lure people into clubs. Catchy choruses to entice shoppers to buy more things in the malls. Jingles to make a product look attractive.

There is a positive side, yes. With the technology of recording, availability of speakers and music players, sound has definitely become more accessible. Popular music can connect people, even if they live halfway across the world from each other. Classical music lives on in CDs and box sets. Even the music of leaver cultures can become immortalized through recordings. And everything becomes so convenient – unlike our leaver ancestors, we do not need to physically produce the music – we can simply press a button and our devices do the work for us.

But… at what price?

I can’t help but feel that this convenience, this ready availability of sound and music around us… has dulled our senses.

We are so used to hearing music through speakers and headphones that we are less sensitive to the vibration of an acoustic instrument, less likely to become immersed in those subtle vibrations. We have forgotten the depth of connection possible when we sing or dance in a group, as we are so used to directing our attention to the performer on stage. We have become so convinced by Mother Culture that to make music needs “specialized training”, that we cannot imagine what it is like to live otherwise. To sing and dance uninhibitedly would be considered barbaric, a reminder of our leaver ancestors, and we don’t want to go down that road again, do we? So we shut ourselves in on this side of the divide, and continue to deny ourselves the full experience of sound, content to let our machines and devices do the job.

Ironically, it may be those who are denied the normal function of their ears who get to really experience the full subtlety and beauty of sound and all its layers of acoustics and vibrations.

I Dreamed I Was Normal

Almost a decade ago, Ginger Clarkson, teacher and music therapist at a special school in the USA, decided to adopt the Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) approach to interact with her students with autism. The results were unbelievable. The conversations she had with these non-verbal individuals, prone to seemingly unreasonable meltdowns and tantrums and tempers, turned out to be full of depth, ranging from emotions, to spirituality, to discussions about following one’s dreams and intuitions, and much more. All of which would not have been unlocked had the students not been given the chance to express themselves through facilitated communication and GIM.

Reading her accounts with Jerry, Twyla and Scott has made me see people with autism in a newfound light of respect. They are not as “shut off” as we presume them to be. Their world is accessible – we just need to make the effort to access it. And what they have to teach us definitely makes the effort worth it.

The Finkler Question // Jewish Museum

A novel which explores the idea of being a Jew, including what it means to be a Jew, what it implies to be known as a Jew, Anti-semitism, self-hatred among Jews, past and present.

“Everything has a cause, I know that. But he says he understands. What does understand mean here? Is he simply saying he can see why people are driven to do appalling and terrible things? Or is he saying something else? Is he saying that there is a justice in it, that my grandson’s blindness is justified by Gaza? Or that Gaza vindicates in advance whatever crimes are committed in its name? Can no wickedness now be done to any Jew of any age living anywhere that doesn’t have Gaza as its reasoning? This isn’t tracing an effect back to its cause, Libor, this is applauding the effect. I understand why people hate Jews today, he says, this man of culture. From which it must follow that I understand whatever actions they take in expression of their hatred. Dear God, will we now understand the Shoah as justified by German abhorrance of the Jews? Or worse, as retrospective justice for what the Jews were going to do in Gaza? Where does it end, this understanding?”

Underlying all the Jewish terms, connotations, humor and perspectives, some of which I did not fully comprehend, it feels that the author is also tackling the theme of innate desire within a person to identify, to belong, to seek the comfort and company of his “own kind”. The writing is introspective and thoughtful, tastefully combining humor and tragedy, melancholy and sarcasm. If anything, it was an eye-opening read for me, expanding my knowledge on a group of people I would otherwise have no significant contact with.

Coincidentally, I visited the Jewish Museum shortly after finishing this novel, and in present day news, history continues.

Expression and Interaction

MQ is one of the new clients I saw for the first time this recent Tuesday. She has Tuberous Sclerosis – a condition I honestly have never heard of until last week. As there is no cure for this condition, the main therapeutic goals for her are simply expression and interaction.

At the start of the session and up till slightly after the mid-way point, MQ was showing apprehension about my presence, being resistant to changes and unfamiliar people. She refused to sit in the chair next to the piano when I was there, and at one point she even took my arm and gestured for me to stand further away so that she could have more physical space. While we complied with all these, E was constantly trying to re-introduce the physical proximity between us, trying to make MQ comfortable with me being near her.

At the start, while E and MQ improvised on the woodblocks, I was tapping on the xylophone, 2 meters away. Then E tried to introduce the wind chimes.

Picture Source

MQ resisted greatly to this, presumably because it sounded too clashing for her. But when E started to play a gentle piano accompaniment, and I softly tinkled the high notes, MQ stopped resisting and seemed to pause to listen.

Halfway into this exchange, E whispered to me to get the hand chimes, while she continued the piano accompaniment so as not to break MQ’s focus.

Picture Source

This was the instrument which MQ seemed to really identify with. I held 2 in my hands at first and played to her. She seemed to enjoy the sound and started swaying from side to side in wider motions. When E suggested to her that she take one and play it herself, MQ allowed me to hand her one, and allowed me to stand closer to her in the process. That was when things really started to take off. It was as if the instrument allowed MQ to unleash all the musical expression within her. With E still playing the comforting accompaniment on the piano, MQ was swaying more vigorously than ever, smiling, laughing, vocalizing. And… She had finally allowed me to stand face to face in front of her, without pushing me away!

We remained like this for the rest of the session – the 2 of us with a hand chime each, swaying together, smiling.. and E supporting with the piano.

E later commented that it is unusual for MQ to allow a totally new and unfamiliar person to stand that close to her within the time span of 1 session. No doubt the music helped to make her feel less threatened when confronted with change and unfamiliarity.

Expression and interaction – achieved – at least for this session.

Everything in its Time

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