Music for Spaces

By Leanne Zacharias


The 2011 BRiC workshop brought scholars and artists together to discuss and explore ways of being in common. I presented to the group on the first day and instead of speaking about commonality, I attempted to create it. Using sound, text, recitation and movement, I led a twenty-minute experiential lecture in which all present became participants. Through the collective actions of listening together, moving together, speaking and singing together, a new unique and inimitable common space was created. The lecture was treated as a performance, one which was dependant upon and shaped by its audience. The personal—individuality—was acknowledged as we each spoke our names in turn. Everyone was given the opportunity to speak, to read aloud, to add their voice to an impromptu choir. Our readings— excerpts from a poem by one of our members, written as a collage of numbered sentence fragments culled from our residency’s introductory day and randomly pulled from a hat—transformed the poem. Our single sung pitch became a drone on which new layers of music were added one by one; a pre-recorded piano loop, a simple melody played on cello. Three distinct musical elements revealed themselves to belong together as we sat around a circle, each playing our part.


1. I’m nervous. you’re not
1.1. applauding.
4. JPL 204 2:00pm
18. what will happen there

I don’t sing in public, as a rule. A very firm rule. So when Leanne asked us to hold a note together, my trusty self-consciousness came in full speed—am I on the right note? Close enough? Am I too loud? Is anyone else singing? Am I overthinking this very simple request? OK, stop then. But if I’m thinking about stopping thinking, am I still thinking? But after a dozen anxious seconds or so, I looked around at the way people were sitting in a circle on whatever they could find in the studio space Leanne had brought us into, and realized the note wasn’t coming from anywhere specific. I opened my ears to the noise we were making together, and my self-consciousness just melted away. It was a terrific feeling, and all too brief. (EM)

21. this is a great place
23.1. communication
26. wild animals have particular ways
50. test social structures which
51. reflect on contemporary
51.1. structures

Any interrogation of the common needs to be critical of what powers permit one’s entry into it and what kinds of comfort are required for individuals to feel like they belong. In this sense, some might be quite protective of their contribution to the ‘academic’ common because of the many barriers to participation that might need to be overcome in order to contribute. In this sense, I think Leanne’s performance was a subtle and brilliant intervention into the entitlements that had been performed up to that point in our common-formation. (CS)

52. shared between ourselves
93. and eat and swipe your card
105. there are hazards associated
109. we’ve had a cool spring
147. it was supposed to be
154. so what’s your project here

I found the experience rather special as our time spent together was often very structured and coded with talking and theoretical discourse within formal environments. There was an interesting switch when we were asked to not talk and rather sing a tone together. Initially, it was a bit awkward as of course people tend to be slightly self-conscious of their own voice and whether others were participating as well, or simply following the group. One becomes aware of others and attempts to gauge what the others are doing as well. The unknowingness of where we were being lead and what was to happen created a different dynamic and language amongst us in communication beyond speech. Once seated in the studio we were arranged around in a circle – all facing each other. Still no words in a direct expression of a personal idea or opinion from the self. Slips of paper were passed around. It was curious what we were to do with them. We all recognized them as fragments of Adam’s poem. I was slightly perplexed at the use of them until later. The words we all recognized, but they were scrambled, fragmented in a sense that we were using each others’ own words at random. We were speaking for and through each other in a poetic sense. The performance gave the poem new life and meaning as it was experienced individually through email and now reinterpreted into a space together through spoken word. It provided a third dimension, bringing the work out into a time and a space and out of a private or personal space. (AW)

178. geography remains a problem
208. communicate your ideas

At the time, we were still getting to know each others’ names, and the naming became not only useful practically, but an interesting way of becoming aware of your own subjectivity and within a group of subjective individuals. It was an identifier that gave everyone a face that collectively formed the group. The playing of music shifted again our attentions to the sound and the space and the person playing. The notes resonated in the studio as we glanced at each other for reactions, which were like slight glimpses of smiles in the corner of peoples’ mouths. The group of individuals was brought together through the harmonies of the cello in a collective experience of the performance. We were brought back down into another space once the music finished and were allow to speak of our experiences. We became once again speaking individuals, but somehow closer and as one sharing this experience. It was a different rhythm and experience of time which felt longer than it actually was. Everyone has a different experience of the event and the ability to extract and interpret abstractions in life. Together these singular perspectives create a unified point in time of being together and one that will likely continue to resonate within all of us. (AW)

216. touchstones
217. opportunity to exchange
220. so my sense is that
221. we’re going to stay in touch
222. by email
229. something not on the schedule
244. I don’t like talking but I’m here to talk (AK)

but what i remember most
is the resonance
of our own words sung
in harmonic pitch
and an offer to recognize
the source and tone
of others’ sounds
as not just common ground
but the differences that make us ring in concert