“[Pauline] Oliveros’s compositions…can’t be disrupted. If anything, they are enriched by interference. I listen to them in an illusion of an apartment…within vomiting distance of six late-night bars. I’m not comfortable drowning out noise with louder noise; it makes me feel claustrophobic. A far better option is to play something…by Oliveros. Then something quite extraordinary occurs; the abrasive clanging and crashing…all around me isn’t obscured but rather miraculously incorporated into a mutating opus that makes no distinction between good sounds and bad ones. Dislodged from their mundane context, each pitch, each tone, every vibration, finds a new relation and contributes to a far-flung and evolving sonic universe.” — Claire-Louise Bennett
Mo Willems wrote a children’s book about Goldilocks trapped in a house with dinosaurs. He said the moral of this tale was that when you find yourself in the wrong story, you can leave. While some stories conveniently have exits, in others the only way out is to rewrite the whole damned thing. Easier said than done, although in fact we’re constantly writing and rewriting stories.
I read somewhere that “an estimated 70 percent of all continuous-loop thoughts running through our minds are negative, and 95 percent of our life activity originates in the subconscious, which was programmed by observing others.” And telling ourselves stories about them.
Which is why I found Ms. Bennett’s commentary so thought-provoking. Obtrusive noises surround her, creating disquiet. “Neutralizing” them by drowning them out with something louder makes her feel cut off from the world. So she plays a kind of music that, partly because it’s based on the sounds of everyday life, weaves the ambiance of the moment into itself, transmuting it from noise into music — simply another part of life’s ever-changing symphony, equal in worth to every other part.
Whenever I’m suffering, I wonder what I’m not seeing. My perspective narrows, and it’s often what’s left out of the frame that compounds the interest on pain, accumulating suffering. For example, I could tell the story of my persisting illness in many ways: as bad luck, as a blight on my life, as an object of unceasing curiosity, a challenge to grow in different directions, a Joseph Campbellian hero’s quest.
How I feel about my life will depend partly on which story I tell. And the story I choose will depend partly on how I feel; story and feeling are interdependent. Some might define a zen life as one freed of story — simply experience in a “pure” form without anything extra, such as interpretation or meaning, layered on. I don’t know if some people can live like that, but I’m pretty sure writers can’t.
So my question is, how can we consciously create an inner composition rich and open enough to enfold events usually experienced as discordant so they become part and parcel of life’s music, rather than disturbances of it? One friend said that this would be enlightenment.
There are many interpretations of enlightenment; one is seeing the world whole, embracing it as such, and acting from this awareness of the unity of all things. This reminds me of the final lines of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, which convey the proof of Siddhartha’s enlightenment to a doubting friend, who bends down to kiss him and is startled to see reflected in his face the infinite forms of life and death, the countless joys and sorrows, and arching over them all a smile that “reminded him of everything he had ever loved in his life, everything that had ever been of value and holy in his life.”
How do we see the world whole, and love it whole, now? How do we hear every sound as music?