Opposites do not exist alone. The propagation of any sound wave is the compression and rarefraction of displaced air molecules. The periodic collective excitation of these molecules in vibrational motion through space in entirely proportional and opposite directions until the force of power driving the sound wave decays creates what we hear. The smallest fibers, nerves and membranes that make up our hearing apparatus sympathetically vibrate in phase with the displacement cycles of air molecules as do membranes of loudspeakers and microphones although, depending upon whether there is sound generation or audio reception, the phase of the vibrations may be inverted. In music, we abstract and transliterate the frequency of this molecular displacement as musical notes and formally arrange those notes into specific groupings known as scales. By doing so, the performance of music is a physical intervention to define the oppositional states of sound waves in an intentional manner, translating human expression in a dialog between cognition and physical laws of sound. The Listening Garden - Sound Installation for Two Speakers is such an intentional intervention and a dialog between myself, the space in which it is presented and the listener filtered by a singular conceit. By utilizing only two esoteric pentatonic scales dating back to the 11th century AD, Ryo and Ritsu, found in Shomyo chanting among the Tendai and Shingon Buddhist sects, I created a series of musical works that attempt to define the oppositional tension of both the physical phenomena these scales create in the listener and the metaphysical suggestive qualities they possess as they are observed in a space that is itself an abstracted representation of something as equally present and non-existent, the Listening Garden. Named for the rivers that circumnavigate the mountain containing the monastery where these scales where first used, the Ryo and Ritsu rivers themselves are inversions of each other with one being calm and gentle while the other rushing and full of rapids. The Ryo and Ritsu scales are identical except for one note. In Shomyo chanting, this one pivotal note creates a plethora of philosophical conceits that involve contrary states. The duality of Yin and Yang are directly associated with the Ryo and Ritsu scales, with Ryo identified as Yin and Ritsu Yang. One can extrapolate vast ranges of dualities associated with these scales within the scope of Yin and Yang dichotomies to encompass the entirety of this philosophical approach, but, in working with these scales, I found myself instinctively drawn to their inherent sense of oneness. The scales do not exist alone but are inverted reflections. A coherency does not arise without an in-coherency. And while I almost exclusively compose music without any tonal restrictions, not from scales, and approach the entire spectrum of audible and inaudible frequencies as a means of shaping an instinct into a form of musical expression, finding myself "restricted" in this manner to five notes I atypically engaged less in the physics of sound as an approach to music creation and instead was drawn to explore the metaphysical history of these scales. In doing so, I began to associate each note with a mental state, an emotion or philosophical concept in an attempt to discovery why these scales have been so codified. The conclusions that are presented in this installation do not arrive at the same corollaries I read about in my research upon these scales and the chanting practices that utilizes them. In a sense they can easily be considered in opposition to them because of their appropriated, abstracted and transliterated genesis. Perhaps only in the exclusive use these five note scales did I touch upon their known histories. And yet, while these pentatonic sales correlate to the principles of the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) of East Asian philosophies as does the length of the Listening Garden installation (five weeks) and the five new sound works presented each week over the course of the show, these musical works are an engagement that extends beyond this context. Hear them as conversations in the Listening Garden developing between its visitors.
released April 16, 2017
Listening // Garden 천지에 귀를 기울이다
A curated art environment & installation by Natalie Mik
In collaboration with composer Gregory Lenczycki and artists Kiyomi Fukui, Shea Vititow, Seek Ceramics
At Show+Tell Projects, Downtown (Little Tokyo) Los Angeles
January 14th - February 15th, 2017
Listening Garden presents a contemporary translation of the ancient gardens in East Asia, where artists, scholars, and poets met over tea to meditate on life, art and nature. For more than two thousand years, these gardens were a physical extension of the people’s outlook on the world and a microcosm that was not to be merely a reproduction of the universe in miniature but a poetic, lyrical and artistic interpretation of it with its own vital spirit.
In its imagery, the installation cultivates an air of romantic mysticism and intimacy in today’s fast-paced culture. It is much of a living art form in itself that is activated by the imaginative force of the visual works of art, the sound installation, the growing and fading plants, and ultimately by the visitors who will locate their thoughts and energy inside this installation. Every Saturday, Natalie Mik will be present at the gallery and perform the role of the ‘gardener' by grooming and watering the plants, sweeping the floor, writing poems, meditating, and leading visitors to a contemplative viewing and listening experience. Visitors are invited to have a seat, drink tea and engage in conversations.
In the Listening Garden, ‘listening’ means ‘paying true attention’ to ourselves and our surroundings. The environment will allow new ideas and connections to develop and raise questions of what is nature and art. Listening Garden is a transformation of the art gallery into a place for rest without typical gallery limitations. The garden requires some attention and delicacy from the audience. In this respect, Listening Garden is also an indicator of social connection and codes of public behavior.
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