The listening self

Musicians do not play an instrument.  They are using instruments to play their body.  They resonate instruments in the echo chamber of their reverberating body.

In attending or watching live performances, I have learned to listen not to the interpretation, let alone the “work,” but to the resonating bodies of the musicians, whether they are soloists or an entire orchestra.  I am drawn to the music making of bodies, to bodies being musicalized in performance.  An eminent occasion of this musicalization is bodies resonating with percussion, as my six clips below (in chronological order of composition, all with soloists) illustrate.  While Jean-Luc Nancy (1940) in his Listening (Àl’écoute, 2002) discusses the “listening self” in general, in this post I want also to highlight the work of that most committed listener, the musician.

From the very beginning, my entire blog is predicated on the idea of a non-metaphysical open listening to sense, a listening that has not been neutralized by philosophical hearing for truth, to use Nancy’s distinction drawing on “a dynamic, resonant philosophy that subsists in the space of the renvoi; in sound that exists only as a resounding” (Sarah Hickmott:  “(En)corps sonore: Jean-Luc Nancy’s ‘Sonotropism’, French Studies69:4, 2015, 483).  If it is not truththat I am seeking to hear, what is the sensethat I am listening for?

Sense is not meaning but what makes signification possible.  It is itself  “meaning(ful) rather than havingmeaning that needs to be located ‘elsewhere'” (480), beyond music. Sense does not sound, it resonates – like Stimmung.

“Sense is first of all the rebound of sound, a rebound that is coextensive with the whole folding/unfolding of presence and of the present that makes or opens the perceptible as such, and that opens in it the sonorous exponent: … sense consists first of all, not in the signifying intention but rather in a listening, where only resonance comes to resound” (Nancy: Listening2007, 30).  Sense and sound share the “form, structure, or movement” (9) of resonance/renvoi.  “The resonance of sense as the vibration of a sonorous materiality” (Adrienne Janus: “Listening:  Jean-Luc Nancy and the ‘Anti-Ocular’ Turn in Continental Philosophy and Critical Theory,” Comparative Literature63:2, 2011, 192) is the foundation of my listening.

“The foundation … of all senses of resonance is the resonance of the listening body, the ‘corps sonore‘ (resonant body) that … ‘opens a simultaneous listening to a ‘self’ and to a ‘world’ that are both in resonance’ [Nancy]” (191).  By listening we open ourselves up to “being as resonance” (Nancy 21).  Nancy emphasizes “the sensory relationship between world and listener, a listening that begins not with the search for meaning but on the basis of the sensory qualities of sound” (Brian Kane:  “Jean-Luc Nancy and the Listening Subject,” Contemporary Music Review31:5-6, 2012, 443).

In his acoustemological study of Derridean difference as the sonorous, Nancy makes two key claims:  “firstly, sound is always already a resounding that folds into itself any distinction between subject/object and inside/outside.  Secondly, that sound subsists as a kind of opening or sharing, and in a privileged relation to all the resonances of sens(as perception, intelligibility, and direction)” (Hickmott 479-80).  We cannot talk about works as complete productions, not even about music as an actual separate being of sonorous form. “Musical objects don’t disclose truths, but only present themselves as the technique of the sonorous made into an active presencing” (Michael Gallope:  review of Nancy’s Listening, Current Musicology86, 2008, 162).

Rather than a philosophy of music, Nancy’s book proposes an otocentric thinking of listening and an ontology of the listening self as a resonant body/corps sonore, a sonorous subject listening to the infinite resonance/renvoiof meaning, sound, and self.  “Nancy privileges the body of the listening subject against the rational, seeing, determining and signifying intellect” (Martyn Hudson: “What, am I Hearing Light? Listening through Jean-Luc Nancy,” HJ Journal19, 2014, 3).  Nancy is suggesting “the conditions of possibility for … a philosophical style of thinking and writing based on listening as a mode of attending to the resonances that penetrate, reverberate between, compose and decompose self and world, the psychic and the bodily, the intellectual and the sensual” (Janus 185).  Furthermore, he “resists re-inscribing a listening subject and a listened-to object.  Instead, the audible appears affirmatively as the perpetual flux of a shared, sonorous world” (Hickmott 482).

I owe my aural disposition to pianist Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self” (pictured at the top in one of our joint recitals), who to me represents, as a musician, “the productivity of the self as an ongoing temporal or rhythmic pulse” (Kane 445).  Since I started listening to his listening, I have become increasingly aware of how a musician uses an instrument to activate his body as a “reverberation chamber” (Nancy 27).  Even before touching the piano, from the moment he gets ready to approach it, Pantelis begins to tune his body, preparing it for the sonic encounter.  While playing, he is listening to his pianistic resonance so intensely that I, his audience, in response, listen by resonating as well.  I cannot tell the piano from the music or his body as timbre “envelopes and penetrates communication itself” (Janus 191).  I do not hearinspiration or interpretation.  I listento Pantelis’ performative listening by reverberating his reverberation, which is literally making, that is, generating, sense of both self and world.  I have learned to listen by reverberating the sonorous body of my “other self” as it is musicalized in performance through composing/presencing a self/world.  As I wrote in my very first post, “Together we co-habit a resounding present, we achieve a presence in flux.”

I cannot tell what came first, our friendship or our collaborative music making.  They probably emerged together since friendship operates like listening, despite the absence of instruments.  When listening to each other, friends resonate and compose a reverberating world for themselves and for others.

October 10, 2017

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