Listening Session I
Veiled Conversation No. 9. An Irreverent Listening Engagement with John Cage's Empty Words

Pedro Lasch (MEX / USA)

Curated by Lucia Farinati and Daniela Cascella with the assistance of Marialaura Ghidini

The Showroom, London, 24 March 2010

...

The compositions of John Cage are talked about so often that they have become canonical.
Paradoxically, they are rarely physically experienced, especially in collective settings. For this special Listening Session on the social production of sound, Pedro Lasch invited us to remedy this situation by listening together to a recording of Cage's Empty Words (1977).

Originally performed for a large Italian audience and lasting two and a half hours, Cage's musical reading of manipulated words and syllables begins with the conventionally solemn silence of classical music halls. The work's simplicity and iconoclasm, however, eventually causes a riot to break out. This crescendo of support and resistance to the artist, as well as the audible manifestation of the social tensions produced by the formalism of the work, are beautifully registered in the recording.

Some of the social and perceptual modalities we have used to listen to Cage's work belong to Lasch's Veiled Conversations, an ongoing project that creates unusual conditions for both formal and casual conversations as it limits the visibility of those who speak and those who listen.

The event was structured in three parts and mostly determined by the event's participants. Empty Words by John Cage played throughout the evening continuously, functioning as an ever-present 'durational' material to listen and react to. After we had listened silently to Cage for some time at the beginning, the second part of the event consisted in the overlapping presentation of audio recordings, texts or 'sound gestures' brought by specifically invited individuals, and materials that would make our listening or non-listening visible or, in any non-harmful way, alter the social conditions of our listening.

As part of the third layer of the session, everyone in the audience was invited to bring their own sound-generating devices (e.g. CD players or props) and voices, to add another uncontrolled aural level to the recorded composition. The event ended with improvised performances and sound interventions by the participants playing various handheld electronic devices, while Empty Words continued to play out to its climatic conclusion.

A second session of Veiled Conversation No. 9 was hosted by the Wysing Arts Centre, in the countryside of Bourn (Cambridge), and was part of the Escalator Retreat 4, In Flux (24th-27th May 2010).
While keeping the three-part structure and almost the same sound programme, participants and listeners contributed to this session with improvised sound devices gathered on the lawn outside the room.

Veiled Conversation at the Wysing Arts Centre was led by Lucia Farinati with the assistance of Gareth Bell-Jones.

Sound Programme of Veiled Conversation No. 9 - Collective Listening Under the Veil

FIRST SOUND LAYER

Pedro Lasch presented:
John Cage, Empy Words, Parte III – I & II (2'30")
A rare 1977 performance of a solo vocal work based on the writing of Henry David Thoreau
This version contains previously unpublished photographs of the event and liner notes by Allen S. Weiss, 1991, Ampersand / IODA

SECOND SOUND LAYER

Lucia Farinati and Richard Crow presented:
Luc Ferrari, Presque rien no. I – le lever du jour ou bord de la mer (1967-70), 20'43"
William Furlong, Uhms & Aghs (1986), 4'33"
Cuncordu de Orosei, Miserere (1998), 3'55"

Daniela Cascella presented:
Finite Bees, from Coil, The Angelic Conversation, music from the 1985 film by Derek Jarman, 2'14"
MacLeod's Controversy, from Masters of Piobaireachd (Greentrax 2003), 5'20"
Moonshiner's Dance, from Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (Smithsonian Folkways 1952), 2'40"
Bella Ciao (1965), selection ca. 2'
Cuncordu De Orosei, Libera Me Domine, 1998, 3'54"
Domine & Militanz (live), from CCCP, Socialismo e Barbarie (1987) & Live in Pankow, 2'03", 3'01"

Lawrence Abu Hamdan presented:
Selection from Aural Contract
www.theshowroom.org/programme.html?id=138

THIRD SOUND LAYER

With organized and random conversations and contributions by all listeners attending this session.

www.pedrolasch.com
www.theshowroom.org
www.wysingartscentre.org

 

Excerpt from Veiled Conversation No. 9 by Pedro Lasch
The Showroom, 24 March 2010
Recorded and edited by Mark Peter Wright

 

Pedro Lasch and Lucia Farinati in conversation, London, June 2010

  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9' by Pedro Lasch, installation view, The Showroom, 24 March 2009
  • Pedro Lasch introducing the 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', The Showroom, 24 March 2009
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', The Showroom, 24 March 2009, collective listening under the veil (audience)
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', The Showroom, 24 March 2009, collective listening under the veil
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', postcard action in response to Luc Ferrari's recording, The Showroom, 24 March 2009
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', The Showroom, 24 March 2009, the third layer of sound / collective performance
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', The Showroom, 24 March 2009, the third layer of sound / collective performance
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', The Showroom, 24 March 2009, the third layer of sound / collective performance
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', Wysing Center, May 2010, collective listening under the veiled
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', Wysing Center, May 2010, collective listening under the veiled
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', Wysing Center, May 2010, the third layer of sound / collective performance
  • 'Veiled Conversation No. 9', Wysing Center, May 2010, detail of the programme