“Nobody, I think, ought to read poetry, or look at pictures or statues, who cannot find a great deal more in them than the poet or artist has actually expressed. Their highest merit is suggestiveness”, wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1860. “Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you that music has boundaries. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art”, proclaimed Charlie Parker in 1949. Akin to free-form improvisation, situational exploration with the ear is informed by skill and experience.
Situation music is not ideas or products based on music making or actual performance in traditional terms. Instead, it suggests situations or activities, even if it makes no reference to sound at all. Whether truly experienced on site or just imagined, such a piece of situation music can be unusually suggestive, somewhat symbolic or palpably aphoristic, suggesting, symbolising or embodying a sense of connection or affinity between the inner self and the physical surroundings through a situational or phenomenological context that induces contemplation, discovery or epiphany, of a general truth or resolution.
Situation music can therefore be an intention, evocation or allusion that is triggered, guided or tuned by instinct, intuition, imagination, contemplation, natural feeling and phenomenological reflection. In one sense, this paramusical genre may be regarded as concept music where the musical products, encounters or “ideas [are] borne of the mind and not of actual performance in traditional terms” insofar as the actual context in which a musical situation is experienced is not limited to the traditional idea, format or expectation of what a musical performance usually constitutes. Instead, the context in which the (real or imaginary) experience takes place is framed, designed or dictated by the very concept that defines the musical situation.
If the concept requires that a situation (or) music be experienced aphoristically at a seaside, then that experience (even the mere thought of the situation) constitutes the musical product for which the concept provides a necessary foundation, instruction, catalyst, context, idea or starting point. The conceptual message itself, however indirectly connected to music in the conventional sense, supersedes any role or significance that may be attached to the sounds that one may feasibly encounter or generate in the situation.
The contextual or conceptual orientation further contributes to the indeterminate outcome resulting from a given situation in which the listener, to a great extent, determines his or her own environmental experience. Cognitive or emotional elements, triggered by sensory stimuli as well as memory, imagination and association, come into play and intermingle with the situation, making the composition of the situation different for every participant.
However, the more primitive, pre-cognitive and pre-emotive auditory process of hearing within the deeper components of human cerebral morphology may perhaps be situationally encouraged and environmentally tuned to transcend these differences in ideology and sentiment that often form the basis for disagreement. Through situation music and activity, this non-acculturated hearing process might be able to shift the emphasis from ego and self-expression to contemplative connection with Nature without rational or irrational control — a situation in which music is about observing sounds as they enter the hearing space.
Properly cultivated, this process could lead to unadulterated perception and observation that are sharp, focused, and acute, uncluttered and undistorted by emotions and preconceptions. This is the essence of phenomenological ecology in situation music, where sounds are experienced and related in the contexts of their surroundings, and of their connections and interests with the participant. In The Findhorn Book of Connecting with Nature, John R Stowe of Decatur, Georgia, recounts the revelatory nature of the personal feelings and affective resonance that flow through a person deeply tuned into the ambience of a situation:
Sitting in a grove of hemlocks in the north Georgia woods, [a woman named Patty] said: “I felt as if I were listening to music, just beneath the level of my hearing. It seemed like the trees were playing the deepest notes, like the bass pipes on an organ. I couldn’t really hear them, but I could feel them all through my body. I felt like I was melting.”
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