Last Thursday, I attended “Oceans of Sound,” an event put on by the Deep Listeners of Lawrence University. The event took place in the racquetball courts in the Wellness Center. What is deep listening? This is a question that I’m still not entirely sure I have an answer to, despite having done deep listening almost every class period for a course called The Entrepreneurial Musician. Deep Listening.org gives the following blurb: “Deep Listening explores the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature – exclusive and inclusive – of listening. The practice includes bodywork, sonic meditations, interactive performance, listening to the sounds of daily life, nature, one’s own thoughts, imagination and dreams and listening to listening itself.”
The deep listening performed in “Oceans” was much more of a sonic meditation. Walking into the Wellness Center, classic gym mats were laid out in a giant square in the middle of the gym. I walked in moments before the performance, and to my surprise, around fifty people were comfortably laying down, getting ready to relax and hear some interesting sounds. The setup of “Oceans” was really quite interesting. The members of the deep listening crew, while initially walking in rotations around the mats with ringing bells, were playing various instruments and singing inside the racquetball courts. Inside the racquetball courts was a pair of microphones, which were hooked up to a sound system in the gym. The courts, for those who have never been inside them, are quite acoustically vibrant. As a result, the sounds coming from “Oceans” were incredibly reverberant and sweeping – which made the name even more suitable.
As I mentioned earlier, the start of the event was marked by the Deep Listeners ringing various bells and walking around the audience in circles. Sometime later, they wandered into the racquetball court and continued to play the bells, gradually transitioning to singing as other instruments started to come in. At some points, I heard the sound of a harp. Other times, there was an electric guitar and bass, or occasionally there was the low blow of a digeridoo. “Oceans of Sound” itself was a unique piece of music. Deep listeners often view their “performances” as compositions, yet it was also an auditory experience. Throughout the event, various sounds and textures washed in and out, much like the waves of an ocean. At some points there were vocal harmonies, at others the harp would play a groove while a digeridoo honked out a low note. The deep listeners were practiced enough at improvising and creating new compositions. This practice showed in the seamless transitions throughout the event. It is hard to describe everything I heard, especially when there was not a program or even more than one piece; sounds merely transitioned in and out. For me, the event was less musical and more meditative, and I heard a lot of simple and beautiful sounds coming from the racquetball court. By the time the ringing of the bells signaled that it was over, I was sad to leave.