Last year, I was working on a piece for superball and bongos. The score was presented as a cartoon. (Perform these actions. Who knows what the resulting pitches and rhythms will be?) As I was finishing a draft of it, a 7-year-old arrived at the house, and it was only natural to show him what I had written and to demonstrate the piece. When I finished, he said, “Can I try the last one?” Of course he could. That “last one” is the most difficult action, and the most surprising sound in the piece. He balanced the larger bongo between his knees as instructed, his feet not reaching the ground, and worked at chasing the ball with the head of the smaller bongo. After a couple minutes, he got it. I couldn’t have been more pleased.
What thrilled me was that he had become interested enough to want to make that sound himself, and that then there was no barrier to his ability to make it. He didn’t need to know musical notation. It was a cartoon. He didn’t need to have mastery of an instrument. (Who in the world has mastered playing bongos with superballs? I wrote actions that I could perform myself, and I’m no percussionist.)
Active engagement with sound is crucial, especially in experimental music. (There may be exceptions, but I’m not going to talk about them now.) When people find opportunities for that engagement, they prepare themselves for future experiences of experimental music. Larger and readier audiences are all to the good, in my thinking. Based on a number of recent conversations, I really think that I can start to build these audiences among the people I already know.
I’ve hatched a scheme and named it: Sound Playground. Here’s how it goes.
1) Collect scores that meet these criteria:
- Self-explanatory text or graphic score: no prior ability to play or read music required.
- ‘Instruments’ are common, inexpensive, or not required at all.
- Can be performed in solitude
- Promises some unexpected or engaging results.
2) Pick a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to open up the house to friends and neighbors. Invite them over.
3) Gather all materials needed for the chosen pieces.
4) Set up the scores and materials for one piece in each room of the house. The front and back yard are also available for appropriate pieces.
5) On the day of the event, one person can go into each room at a time. Someone may be in the hall to explain anything in the piece, but the visitor gets to play in solitude. These are not performances.
Starting and ending events of similar ensemble pieces, proper performances, or food are possible, but not crucial. I just want people to be able to come and play, in both senses of the word.
I’d love to build a collection of pieces that match these criteria. So far I’ve found appropriate pieces by Christian Wolff, David Dunn, Alvin Lucier, Michael Pisaro, and myself. There must be many more. If you know of others, or plan on writing one, let me know. If you’d like to try making this kind of event yourself, stay tuned for reports of success or failure. Or just do it and bring back your own report.
I don’t see any obstacle.