I bought a CD of Inuksuit. I haven't listened to it yet. Oddly, when the CD arrived, my interest in listening turned toward disinclination rather than anticipation I am sure that will change with time. At the moment I am still thinking about Big Ears in general, about the music of John Luther Adams, and how it shaped the flow of music across the weekend, even though in many ways there was no obviously evident theme or genre dominating the schedule. I am still thinking about that closing concert, and the ways it has sharpened my perceptions of the sounds around me.
I also think about my own experience of that music, of the sharp contrast, dichotomy almost, in the music as heard. Just as I mentioned that the musicians were part of an ensemble, playing a prescribed piece of music, and also soloists, reacting to their environment, so too was the listener. This listener in particular, a listener prone to introspection, a listener prone to philosophizing, is still processing some of the implications of that experience. I mentioned that contrast between parts of the music, at times gentle and caressing, at times terrifying, as experienced sitting still with eyes closed, but also the contrasting experience of listening as part of a crowd, a crowd of families, of people joyously following the music around the grounds, of children laughing, of mothers blowing bubbles with their infants. This contrast, of the music as an experience in and of itself, and of the experience of listening to the music in this specific setting, is still settling in with me. I am not saying there is a right way, or a wrong way to listen. In fact, probably all ways are necessary. There is always more to what is going on in life than what we see or experience, there is always more to see or hear if we are willing to open our eyes or ears. And yet, there is also almost always less as well. And this too is part of the human story. We float through life, blowing bubbles, crying, walking, sometimes listening, sometimes not, sometimes preoccupied, at other time open, sometimes growing, sometimes resting. And the story the world has to tell, the music, will be different each time. I am sure, had my grandson been able to join me at Ijams last Sunday, my experience of Inuksuit would have been very different, and yet every bit as enjoyable, filled with a different kind of excitement.
And in some ways that sense of contrast, of adventure and of balance flowed through the weekend as well. Adams was the composer in residence and in many ways the experience of the weekend flowed outward from, and around that music, in overlapping waves, waves that sometimes flowed together into broader patterns and at other times came crashing into each other, almost cancelling each other out. So too my experience of Big Ears. I attended both more and less than I had anticipated. I missed what were probably some of the most interesting, perhaps the most challenging or avant-garde performances, and yet I saw and heard what I needed to see and hear, and am content.
Something changed before I attended any concerts, something that altered how I experienced the weekend, and for that I am grateful, But all change brings with it some break down of structures and the safety of routines, and I am still processing the aftermath of that change, and how the music played into it. The change was simple. I could stand for a concert. I could stand for an hour or two without back pain, and this allowed me to go to different concerts than I had been able to attend the previous year. I could also walk. I had been walking, had been pushing myself to walk, taking two medium to longish walks a day. But until just a few days before Big Ears Weekend, last week really, my walking has always been shaped by low back pain. I would walk until I had to push through the pain, then I would walk a little further, and then I would have to stop. When I would hit that wall of pain I would still have to pause, to remind myself how to swing my hips when I walked, how to roll through the stride, because my body would freeze up, and despite 22 months of practice, granted not as focused as it could have been, without concentrated attention I would revert to marionette-like movement, movement that would actually make me worse rather than better. Then I would collapse in pain induced exhaustion until I was ready to push forward again.
Then, suddenly, I could walk. Suddenly I could stand. I was simultaneously more energetic and more exhausted. Muscles I apparently hadn't used properly in years would rise up in protest even after short walks, but tired muscles recover fast, faster than I ever recovered from bouts of sciatic pain. I can't actually explain the repercussions of this change, but they have been profound, and all encompassing. With better movement, with less pain, I have greater energy, greater focus. At the same time all my routines have been up-ended. Yes, I still have bits of back pain. Yes, planting is still hard. But pain has lost some of its control over my mind, over my body, over my energy, frankly a control I am not even sure I was aware of until it was gone.
And all of this change, all of this energy, and exhaustion hit me at the same time as this fabulous music festival. There were things I missed because I was too tired to come downtown. And yet I heard more than I would have been able to hear a mere week earlier. And this excitement also filled the weekend and undoubtedly altered my perceptions. My choices were no longer limited by pain. My personal landscape had altered, and in a way this altered my perceptions of the landscape of the festival, a festival that was in some ways shaped by the landscapes John Luther Adams creates with his music. But that is one of the really cool things about Big Ears. There is so much, and you can make of it what you will, fall into rabbit holes of your own making, and let your ears grow as big as you wish, or not.
I intended to write about Saturday's concerts today. But alas this post is already far to long. I hope you will bear with me.