VOLUME, live broadcast on KCHUNG Radio, Honor Fraser Gallery, April 10, 2014: notes by Geoff Tuck
To help me understand my experience of James Allen’s ambient noise set at Honor Fraser Gallery, I googled “listen vs. hear,” thinking that while I might have been “listening” to Allen’s set with intent (as might I look with intent when considering visual art), it is also true that I was hearing more than I could possibly understand.
For what it’s worth, from the website of Waseda University professor Victoria Muehleisen, I found that “Many students use listen and hear interchangeably. However, there is an important difference between them. Listening describes an intentional activity. When you are listening, you are actively trying to hear something. In contrast, hearing is something that happens without any intentional effort. You can hear something even when you don’t want to hear it and don’t try to hear it.”
This distinction of Muehleisen’s encapsulates my experience. I heard shifting, digital sounds. I heard tones that brought to mind pictures of knobs turning and switches making (and breaking) connections. I heard eternity in each moment; and then, when that noise altered abruptly, I thought that the new sound had been in my head forever, too. I listened for organization, for purpose I could discern. I watched Allen for clues, and I suspected I could relate his movements to the sounds I heard; but I doubt the truth of this, knowing that delay and modification are tools of his craft.
Still, as always when I listen and hear, my body found rhythms, and my head bobbed in time; not a steady beat, as in music, but a mutable one that may have been based as much on my own heartbeat as on anything that Allen made.
VOLUME’s participation in curator Laura Watts’ Have At It festival was organized by Jared Baxter, Robert Crouch and Yann Novak. Performers at the VOLUME event included James Allen, Mark Taylor, Virons (Nicholas Rossi) and Richard Chartier. An intimate conversation with audience members took place in another corner of the large gallery space. This opportunity to exchange information included Robert Crouch and Sean Nye (from VOLUME), Richard Chartier, Ed Patuto (co-founder of VOLUME and current Broad Foundation Director of Audience Engagement), Joanna Demers (Associate Professor of Musicology at USC and author of Listening Through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music), and Dont Rhine (co-founder of sound art collective Ultra Red).