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Listening to Improvised Music
Zazie, for example, preferred that her field recordings remained recognisable to her
audience,17 and Andrea Neumann occasionally performed in a project, in which:
We do this movie, and we make a little bit fun about this - we were pretending
to be women from the 30s who listen with two-metre-long hearing aids to
the nature. [...] Then we pretend to sound like water, or like the tree, or
like herbs, or like the sky.
However, despite its scarcity among practitioners, this mode of listening was more
common, and often the first point of reference, among (non-expert) listeners, and there
was not one musician I interviewed who hadn’t experienced an audience member coming
to them after a performance with tales of a ‘film’, visual analogy or narrative that they
had imagined during the concert.
Whilst this was, of course, quite acceptable for musicians who encouraged an ‘open’
interpretation of their work, even for these performers such imagery was rarely their
intention, and, as Matthias Müller explained:
I don’t hear things like this. I don’t hear raindrops when you play [makes
popping air sounds noises]. [...] Sometimes people come after concerts and
say “Oh yeah, when you played this... I really saw a wood... I saw a forest
in front of me and the winds coming through the trees”, and... I accept it...
they take something. But I don’t think about it at all really, and I never,
when I’m listening to someone... think about things like this.
Instead, Müller asserted that, for him, “Sound is Sound”, and implied that such musical
materials should be heard free of any association, somewhat in the manner of John
Cage. Cage, as in the 1960s, was important to today’s improvisers on two main levels:
in accepting any sound as musical material and proposing that these sounds (if not
all sounds) should be heard and appreciated free of their everyday context, source
and meaning.18 And, as Andrea Neumann explained, aside from the film project
I’m definitely influenced by Cage’s philosophy - especially that any sound is
an interesting thing to listen to, [and] that [there’s] not ‘Music’... and that
the other things are just noises... but that everything can be included and
can be an interesting thing.
And Klaus Kürvers described how:
Our ear is only trained to recognise what it knows, and the main role of our
ears is to shut out disturbing sounds and to focus instead on what one wants
to hear. I always say that there’s a secretary in the ear who says “No, we’re
See p. 174.
See p. 42, and footnote, p. 70.