La experiencia sonora de la visita al médico.

Hace más de 7 años que vivo en España, el país más ruidoso del mundo detrás de Japón, según la OMS.  Hoy por primera vez tuve la experiencia (que por mi propia sorpresa acabó siendo muy sonora) de ir al médico de cabecera en un hospital público. Comparto aquí las notas que tomé mientras esperaba mi turno para tener una simple revisión.

8 de junio, 2016. Cita al médico de cabecera, Dra D a las 12:11

Llego 10 minutos antes de tiempo – primer error.

No llevo ni cascos ni tapones – segundo error.

Me toca la puerta 16, la de la Dra. D, a las 12:11 (qué puntualidad, pensé al recibir la cita previa ).

Es la 13:07 y me encuentro en la sala de espera haciendo lo que se debe – esperando. Acaba de entrar por la puerta 16 la que supuestamente es la última paciente antes de mí. Sigo esperando. Por suerte ya se fue el señor de la otra esquina que yo no veía pero oía como si estuviera bien cerquita, encima de mi hombro, contándome como casi se había muerto, pero “gracias a San Pablo” se mantiene vivo. (Gracias, Pablo, por conservar tanto a él como mi vecino de 97 años que tiene tos crónica.) También oí a aquella señora vestida de blanco que parecía estar sinceramente agradecida por las historias pre-mortum de aquel señor de voz alta. Es la 13:15, oigo el personal de la recepción ubicada a 50 metros de aquí, detrás de dos esquinas, repitiendo las indicaciones “la prueba de orina se hace en ayunas,” o “para el análisis de sangre, seguir la línea roja”. Oigo el chico ruso hablando por teléfono, la adolescente de piel quemada quejándose delante sus padres. Oigo los médicos en su sala de descanso, hablando en un tono que, según mi opinión humilde, no corresponde al descanso. Oigo todo menos mis pensamientos, lo cuál estaría bien si no tuviera que estar preparando una clase. Mi cabeza va ¡buum! ¡buum! con la reverberación de un estadio no apto para el concierto de U2. ¡Boooooom! Joder, sólo necesito que me den cita para el análisis de sangre.

Es la 13:17, aquí sigo, esperando. Ya se marcharon mis compañeros de banco, una pareja maja de ancianos, de voz bajita. “Adéu, que vagi bé l’espera,” me desean, empujando su andadores hacia la salida. Hago otro intento de concentrarme en mi libro, pero no, de repente la altavoz del pasillo grita “Jordi Nena, truca al 222. Jordi Nena, truca al 222”. Susurro de la bolsa de plástico de la chica en frente de mí, golpes arrítmicos del bastón del señor sentado a mi lado. Leo “lowrider” en mi libro sobre la cultura sonora de la calle y empiezo a mover mi pie derecho en el ritmo de la canción de los War.  Me escondo en mi tiempo musicalizado.

Ya conozco  como suena cada puerta de esta sala. La 16 no suena hasta la 13:25 cuando, por fin, puedo entrar. Mi médico es maja, su ayudante que sigue interrumpiéndonos no tanto, habla muy alto. Después de 10 minutitos de charla salgo victoriosamente solo para sumergirme en otra batalla acústica en la recepción del hospital donde los niveles de ruido parecenen estar aún más altos. Pienso, desesperadamente, en un acto guerillero de llenar las paredes del hospital con pegatinas de “Ssssssh!” mientras espero que me den otra cita. “Com podeu treballar en aquests nivells de soroll,” le pregunto al recepcionista, proyectándo mis orejas hacia él para entender cuando es que me toca volver.

Pobres, pobres trabajadores de aquel hospital tan mal diseñado. ¿Será que el arquitecto no sabía que para los españoles se trata de un lugar de socialización en donde se comparte las historias de día a día? Otro ejemplo de los mil espacios públicos mal, muy mal concebidos, sin tener en cuenta la calidad acústica del espacio. Pobres, pobres trabajadores del hospital.

Free improvisation and Situationism

The wellspring of all culture, or at least all great culture, is the instinct for play  (Huizinga, 1938)

(Inspirational playback music for the reading : John Stevens’ – Bass Is (1975)

Some months ago my personal interest toward musical improvisation led me to Barcelona’s free improvisation scene, brought alive on a weekly basis in places such as Soda Acústic or Sala Fènix . These seemingly free-of-structure, often long sessions have made me thought of the role of spontaneity and play in collective creativity and conviviality.

At first look, free improvisation has no rules-no musical sheets are used, there isn’t a determined style and there doesn’t tend to be a leading musician-it is free of these limitations. However, there is a key element that should be followed by all participants-more than exhibiting individual virtuosity, the essence relies in the listening. All musicians evidently must have good musical hearing, nevertheless, in free group improvisation the listening must go beyond detecting semitones, chords and harmonies. In order to create a collective piece n situ, a free improviser’s listening must resemble to a sensing of what other musicians are performing, as well as of what they are not doing. (Here we could enter in detail on the importance of silence, yet that would most probably lead me to Eastern philosophy so I’ll better leave it for some other day).

The collective character of free improvisation was especially highlighted by John Stevens, originally a jazz drummer who became one of the main figures in the development of free jazz and free group improvisation in Britain. Apart from his active participation in the the free scene, Stevens spent a good time teaching and giving workshops to musicians and non-musicians after he’d become somewhat dissapointed by the professionals’ apathy towards his “collective” values. To him, playing freely together as a group, collectively, was one of the closest examples that human beings can get to nature, in the sense of the demands made by the situation that you’re in (Ref.1). I believe Stevens interprets nature as the unknown, as the opposite of antropomorphic environments; thus free group improvisation gains the significance of unpredictable situations where, in order to survive and proceed, man must know how to contemplate and respect its environment-fellow musicians. In his philosophy, listening to the interaction was the most essential thing musicians could give over to other people (Ref.2).

Another interesting part of fee improvisation is its seemingly strucureless character. As there are no musical scores to follow, one would expect the pieces to lack form. Yet this is another misconception. In free group improvisation form emerges from common desire and collective interaction as there are no predetermined structures, only a collective will of creating a musical situation. “Music is the art of the present and in no music is that more radically the case than in this form of improvisation,”(Ref.3) says Richard Scott in an article on Stevens’ contribution to the establishing of molecular improvisation (a term suggested by Scott).

Taking into account that free improvisation also emerged in the post-World War II context when musicians started seeking for a contrast to the language that had been dominating their field thus far, it is not that surprising that it shares some of its principles with other avant-garde movements. Collective creativity through improvisation and on the spot actions  were also salient amongst the Situationists who proposed implementing play and improvisation in the everyday in order to save man from complete automation. Their main concern already back in the late 50s and 60s was the reducing effect that the introduction of technology into people’s everydy life would have on their independence and creativity. Suggesting a distancing from the evermore mechanized quotidianity, the Situationists advocated for less work and more play, more creativity and less production.

One of their principle avant-gardist suggestions was the dérive-an urban drift through various ambiances, creating situations in the moment as ordinary, linear perception of time was to be forgotten. Wandering around the city without destination, neither going to work nor properly consuming, was a statement against the society and its temporal economy where “time is money”. As Sadler puts it (ref.4), the drift  was to alert people to their imprisonment by routine; but it was also a getaway from the realm of the automated everyday. The emphasis that Situationists put on the moment as a “chunk of time” distanced from its linear counting, is interesting for understanding creativity and improvisation. I would here extend Scott’s notion of improvised music being the art of the present by defining improvisation as the art born out of the beauty of the unpredictability of the moment as the ucontrolled chunk of time.

References:

Huizinga, J. (1938) Homo Ludens. A Study of the Play-Element in Culture

  1. Extracted from Richard Scott’s interview with John Stevens in 1987. http://richard-scott.net/interviews/334-2/
  2. Íbid. 
  3. Scott, R. (2011) “Imaginary Birds: John Stevens and Molecular Improvisation”  http://richard-scott.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Zero-Space-Sleevenotes-Imaginary-Birds-John-Stevens-and-Molecular-Improvisation.pdf
  4. Sadler, S. (1999) The Situationist City. London: The MIT Press. P. 94.

That rhythmanalysis thing

Henri Lefebvre’s last book, Éléments de rhythmanalyse, was published posthumously in 1992. It was only in the 1980s that Lefebvre explicitly dealt with the notion of rhythm – first in the third volume of Critique of Everyday Life, published in 1981, and then in two co-written shorter pieces which preceded the book on rhythmanalysis. However, he does mention the necessity of “completing the exposition of the production of space” already back in 1974, at the end of his most famous work, The Production of Space. There he suggests that an analysis of rhythms would contribute to the constructive critique of the production of space.

Lefebvre phrased the aim of the book as “taking the concept of rhythm and turning it into a science, a new field of knowledge with practical consequences” (Lefebvre 2004:VIII). In his vision, it was to be an interdisciplinary science that would simultaneously work with time and space, to get us think of both differently. 

The precedents of rhythmanalysis are Gaston Bachelard and Lucio Alberto Pinheiro dos Santos who had who first coined the term. It was Bachelard’s work that Lefebvre was well familiar with, especially the Dialectic of Duration (1981) provided him with ideas on rhythms in relation to time. There Bachelard suggests that the notion of duration is never as unitary and cohesive as it tends to be suggested, but rather fragmentary and made up of disparate and fragmentary elements. Lefebvre shared this critique of the supposed continuity of duration and follows the same line of thought throughout his book on rhythmanalysis, drawing attention on the domination of linear time counting over cyclical, natural temporalities.

Lefebvre dialectically divides time into linear and cyclical, the first one originating with social practices of human behavior (work and school hours, transportation timetables etc.); the latter having a cosmic origin (phases of the moon and the sun, the nature). Cosmic temporality has historically had a strong influence on human activities especially in agricultural societies where harvesting is in complete correlation with the phases of the moon. However, temporalities provided by the nature have progressively lost their importance owing to the increasing domination of linear time over cyclic time, established at its maximum efficiency during the industrialization.  As Lewis Mumford insisted, it’s the clock, not the steam-engine that we ought to consider as the key machine of the industrial age. (Ref.) The clock not only measures the time spent on work but it also counts our moments of leisure, turning the qualitative aspects of our social life into something quantitative. Indeed, as Lefebvre points out, leisure activities are also produced despite being proclaimed free time. Isn’t this freedom yet another capitalized product?

Going back to the main points of Lefebvre’s theory, it is important to keep in mind the essential role of repetition in the constitution of rhythms. If it weren’t for repetitive actions (such as waking up, going to work, having lunch at 2PM) the everyday would not have this feeling of day-to-day, that is to say, a sense of familiarity provided by an established succession of events. Repetition is also central in music where melody, harmony and rhythm are in correlation to time. However, the perception of each of these elements is facilitated by contrast. Therefore the question of rhythm raises issues of change and repetition, identity and difference, contrast and continuity. There is always something new and unforeseen that introduces itself into the repetitive: difference. Not only does repetition not exclude differences, it also gives birth to them; it produces them” (Lefebvre 2004:6). It is the fête, the out-of-the-ordinary that makes the everyday repetition more noticeable. It is the return from Sunday to Monday that makes us appreciate the off time of the weekend. Rhythmanalysis is thus a study of parallel rhythms and ruptures. Lefebvre actually defines the everyday as ‘polyrhytmia’, which in musical language stands for the simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms, that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another, or as simple manifestations of the same meter (listen to a simple aural example here here). Relying more on this musical vocabulary, Lefebvre follows on to describe the conviviality of different rhythms as eurhytmia, while a discomfort caused by the discordance of rhythms takes the definition of arrhytmia.

Now the question is how do we apply this charming line of thought in actual everyday life? Apart from his essay “Seen from the Window” where Lefebvre conducts a minuscular observation of the rhythms of rue Rambaud, his home street in Paris, he leaves no methodological legacy for future rhythmanalysts to follow. For that reason a fairly wide variety of approximations can be found in the academic literature. For me, perhaps the most interesting and exhaustive rhythmanalytical work has been carried out by Fillippa Wunderlich that conducted a year-long study of London’s Fitzroy Square. Among other methods, she converted recordings of the ambiance into sound spectrum diagrams and juxtaposed them with place-rhythm diagrams, turning them into this sexy image you can see below. Is it useful for anything? No idea, but it sure is damn appealing and worth more exploring…

fitzroy

One of the many diagrams F.Wunderlich uses in her study of Fitzroy Square.

 

Goonerwadena, G., Kipfer,S, Milgrom, R., Schmid, C. (Eds.) (2008) Space, Difference, Everyday Life. Reading Henri Lefebvre. London and New York: Routledge.

Lefebvre, H. (2004) Rhythmanalysis. Space, Time and Everyday Life. London: Continuum.

Mumford, L. (1934) Technics and Civilization. New York: Harcourt.

Action from within

After a three-day intensive course with Alejandro Tomás Rodriguez (from Grotowski workcenter) I am left with the semi-philosophical question of what is action? 

In Latin, actio stands for “a putting in motion; a performing, doing”, however, this etimological origin does not explain the communicative content of the noun that has a strongly motion-related significance. We are to ask “putting what in action?performing what? doing what?” Perhaps we ought to look into what is the singularity of the action, what is it that awards a doing with a significance?

I believe an action is constituted by the need of communicating something, whether an emotion, a knowledge, a doubt… It is the process of putting in motion an impulse that is born from within, it is the activation of an inner drive by providing it with a meaning that may be expressed verbally and non-verbally.

Yet I suspect that an action may as well be a non-action insofar as not doing can also be motivated by a decision of not expressing an inner impulse. Even though a non-action may be less expressive than its anthithesis, it may embody the desire of non-communication, in other words- executing an action only within oneself. As a way of illustration:

The clamor of silence

The sublimity of a void

The comfort of loneliness

The fulfilling sensation of nothingness

The discomfort of not feeling

The omnipresence of numbness

The existence of existentialism

 

 

Time and Rhythms I

It is beyond question that the peak of excitement of this working day – a Wednesday as any other that could just as well be a Tuesday or a Thursday – was the timeracing experiment between a microwave and a librarian. I namely decided to fetch two flies with one swat and heat up some tea water while I return books and  get the highly anticipated Genius Loci of Norberg-Schulz.

So that’s how the tea water timerace works: I excitedly get out of my rather comfortable office chair, go downstairs, set the microwave on 4 minutes, insert my new dotted XXL mug in it, close the white door and head downstairs, pretending as if I was paying a totally regular visit to the library. I stick the three useless books (Lynch and someone else) in the little hole, head to the librarian and ask him to hand me over the Genius Loci. “I believe a book is waiting for me,” I say, waving my red card. “Just a moment,” he replies, paying absolutely no attention to my TIMERACE WITH THE MICROWAVE. “Okay, play it cool,” I tell myself, “the water ain’t boiling yet.” 20 seconds later the guy takes my card and hands me the book. “Thanks,” I say, and head back upstairs, very much weary of the two feet beneath me firing up speed. “Hold them’ horses,” I whisper, and deliver a totally regular walk up until the microwave-room. I push the glassdoor and a glance from a distance brings me the biggest joy of the whole day (if not, of the entire week)  -the microwave is still on. I nearly jump out of happiness! But no, I get control of my emotions and pretend as if I was down for some casual water-heating business. I open up the teabag and fill the remaining 30 seconds. Yet deep inside I feel a profound sense of victory and glory for having won this battle.

Anecdotes apart, time and rhythms are fascinating. Haven’t we all felt the stagnation of time during the after-lunch hours of a Monday? Or how quickly it melts away on a date with a new loved-one? Best of them all is losing all notion of time – that is, becoming unaware of the minutes, hours, days, and above of all – the week that structures our life. Why does Tuesday  feel different from Friday? How come there are seven days a week, and not twelve? Why are suicide rates highest on Monday? These are some of the questions Eviatar Zerubavel tries to answer with his fascinating ‘sociology of time’, The Seven Day Circle (Ref.1)  that is a comprehensive look at the religious, political, and economic origins of the week, its cultural variations, and its impact on both society and the individual.

The second chapter of the book might result to be of special  interest for those who every now and then feel the urge (like me) of rebelling against the 24/7 system. Zerubavel elaborates rather well on what he calls the “Seven Day Wars”, first of them to take place in France during the French Revolution and the second in Soviet Russia back in the 1930s. In the first case, a new Age of Reason was supposed to be inaugurated with the Ten-Day Décade. The decimal system was conceived as a way of promoting clarity and precision; even though the real target of the reform campaign, was not the astrological but the Christian seven-day week that was abolished to stop traditions related to religion. The Ten-Day Décade did not withstand long against the seven-day week habit  -barely 12 years passed from it’s institutionalization in 1793 until the official Sunday rest – along with the Gregorian calendar — was legally reinstated in 1805.

The Soviet time experiment wasn’t much more successful. On August 26, 1929, the Council of People’s Commissaries of the Soviet Union announced that the transition of all productive enterprises as well as offices from the traditional interrupted workweek to a continuous production week would be put into effect. The first alternative time division was the five-day Nepreryvka that would soon be substituted by the six-day Chestidnevki. The introduction of a continuous working day, based on a multiple-shift system that allowed production to proceed 24 hours a week (be it 5 or 6 days long) also hid the aim of  destroying religious practices  that were not convenient for the Soviet rule and that were based on the seven-day week. However, as in France 140 years earlier, it was the essentially traditionalistic rural population who spearheaded the movement to preserve the seven-day week. The Soviet calendrical adventure finally came to an end on June 26, 1940, when the seven-day week was restored, once again, with the aim of increasing production.

1930

A calendar from the Russian Nepreryvka intent of turning common time measuring into an uninterrupted 5-day work week. Different colors stand for the day off for each individual; red background with white numbers marks national holidays-the only days when the whole country was off duty. The uninterrupted week was supposed to increase industrial production but quickly proved to have contrary results.

Two main ideas can thus be drawn from these intents of modifying time counting: firstly, that official time measuring has been strictly associated to productivity (and its growth) ever since the Industrial Revolution. Time is money, therefore every wasted second equals a loss in profit, equals little growth, equals stagnation. Secondly, both “Seven Day Wars” proved that time counting is very strongly connected to religion, hence to traditions, thus ignoring the ‘common sense’ of time means ignoring common habits and customs, possibly leading those who dare follow alternative rhythms to obtaining a certain reputation of an ‘outsider’. This reminds me of a beautiful observation Cameron makes in his article on jazzmen’s habits back in the 1950s.

We have seen that the jazzman is isolated from persons in general society in several important ways. His time is organized differently-he sleeps while they work, works while they play, and plays while they sleep. (Ref.2)

In one way or another, professionals who do not necessarily follow the 9 – 17 rhythm may become “isolated  from persons in general society”. Or adapting to that common rhtythm  may cause a sense of being smushed between the iron wheels of the mechanical clock that declares the most efficient periodicity. It is interesting to consider the effect of the pendulum clock whose loud second-counting stamps the rhythm into its listeners; or the role that church bells have in small towns, announcing the passing of each quarter of an hour. Time is all around us and despite its abstract character and individuality of perception, we often seem to be reminded of it ‘running out’, as if time were yet another product on the market.

To finish up, here’s a rather interesting cuckoo clock I found on youtube. Adolf Hitler announcing (whenever he pleases) that it’s two o ‘clock.

 

 

(Ref.1) Zerubavel, E. (1985) The Seven DayCircle. The History and Meaning of the Week. New York: The Free Press. 

(Ref.2) Cameron, W.B. (1954) Sociological Notes on the Jam Session. Social Forces, Vol.33, No.2. Pg.180.

 

 

Music and the altering of Time

Back in 1920 Basil de Selincourt wrote “Music is one of the forms of duration; it suspends ordinary time, and offers itself as an ideal substitue and equivalent.” Without a doubt, music offers a getaway to many of us. Only a quick look at the numerous metro passengers that nod their heads in the tempo of their tunes  is a clear example of it.  Headphone music not only isolates us from our aural surroundings-the one we might not want to hear-but it also transforms the space around us. This way the metro line we take every single day may become a resonant, Jame Blake-ish tube on a rainy Monday morning; or a disco warm-up hall on a Friday evening, accompanied by T.Rex’s greatest hits. Music alters time and space when we condition ourselved to be embedded in it.

As for the video posted below, I doubt the protagonists of this clip ever come to define it that way, however, music does seem to have the capacity of altering linear rhythms and soundtracking the great motion picture of the Everyday. It’s an ode to the now. It’s a getaway from the now. It’s a trip to yesterday, or a glance at tomorrow.

Sean Metelerkamp accidentally ended up making three different pieces of Urban Symphonies: one in New York, one in London and one in Cape Town. The photographer had been travelling back and forth to the three cities for various art projects. Every now and then he’d film whatever draw his attention on the streets, with a clear interest in the livelihoods of the homeless. The shots found their destiny in the shape of this audiovisual compilation of the Everydayness of those that most often remain invisible and unheard.

Assembling recordings done on the streets, Metelerkamp recreates his vision (or properly said, his perceptionof what Cape Town sounds like, if a representative sound of the city is what we were to look for. Street ‘noise’, out-of tune melodies, forgotten lyrics, repetitive talk looping through the clip -Eternal Street melodies is a somewhat diabolical mix of street folklore without any garnishment, in its very own juice.