Exercise no. 3

Phil Ford

I’m counting this (the walking soundscape meditation) and this (game piece no. 1 for seminar) as my first two exercises. I’m really liking this idea of creating ritual/game exercises and applying them to lived situations. I’ve made up a few this week and have been running them.

So earlier this week I did a lecture on Harry Partch and spent a lot of time on his lecture “The Ancient Magic,” which is published in Bitter Music. I was pointing out stuff about how Partch wanted musicians to get back to the “art magic” that has been lost in an age of scientific materialism. A telling quote:

The loss of values through the magic of science is at least lessened when we are aware of, and try to make contact with, simpler ancient sources. The miracle button, the airplane, the automobile, have all taken their toll. I have walked through a section of country with a pack on my back, preoccupied constantly with all manner of petty personal problems, yet now and then I was aware of the magic of small growing things, the magic of a running stream where I threw down my pack, the magic of a fire by its side.

The pianist who has never studied the tuning of his instrument, and learned to achieve it, has never experienced the parallel of a fire of twigs by a running stream. He is already removed from that value by the analogy of a faucet in a sink and a button on a stove, because the miracle of tonal relationships comes to him already piped. (Bitter Music 185)

This is all somewhat relevant to the point of my “exercises,” which exist primarily to break perceptual and cognitive habit. When you break a habitual reflex you get a fresh encounter with something real.

So here’s exercise no. 3:

Travel a well-worn path, like the route you take most often to go to work or to go home. It should be tiresomely familiar. The means of travel is fairly unimportant, though walking is easiest, since it’s simpler to do this exercise if you’re traveling slowly and can stop without holding up traffic. As always, pay attention to your physical safety while performing this exercise. (Don’t walk out into traffic or drive into the oncoming lane!)

Find some detail along your route that you’ve never paid conscious attention to before—something which, if you had to visualize the route, you would not have remembered. It can be as small or large as you like: a shrub, a wall, a streak of rust running down from a rivet on a mailbox. It can also be a previously unacknowledged aspect of something obvious—the way the sun hits a certain shopfront at a certain hour in the afternoon, for instance. For that matter, is can be a repeatable and predictable process, like the timing of a motion-detector light in relation to your movement past it.

Look at your detail with open attention. Don’t think about it, evaluate it, intellectualize it, etc., and be careful not to let extraneous thoughts intrude on your contemplation. (When a distracting thought comes, redirect your attention back to your detail in the same manner as in exercise no. 1.) Just let the detail register on your senses; and when you can visualize the detail with some accuracy, you have properly noticed it.

At various points throughout the day, take a moment to recollect your detail, and be careful to note the detail again next chance you get. It is now a part of your collection. Every day, add another item to your collection. The exercise is over when your route is no longer tiresome.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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6 Responses to Exercise no. 3

  1. pds says:

    great topic! at first, it reminds me of something ginger baker said when he said he used to pee with his left hand to develop his technique. But then again, partch’s whole point was to get beyond the fetishization of instrumental technique in the west, and its efficient – albeit predictable – manners. Developing a closer, more intimate relationship with the world around us shouldnt mean objectify it, or using it for what it can provide us. music is not technological. i learned long ago that the best performers are simply a “medium.” They also straddle the divide between a slight recklessness of action and a willingness to believe in and submit to the material, to be possessed by it….”the magic of fire by its side.”

  2. Daniel Wolf says:

    Jon Barlow, now-Emeritus Professor at Wesleyan, used exercises or pieces very much in this spirit throughout his teaching (which extended far beyond the music department). His PhD student Kenneth Maue worked in a similar vein and Maue’s anthology of prose scores or instructions for such exercises, _Water in the Lake_ (Harper & Row, 1979) became widely used in educational and therapeutic contexts.ow, now-Emeritus Professor at Wesleyan, used exercises or pieces very much in this spirit throughout his teaching (which extended far beyond the music department). His PhD student Kenneth Maue worked in a similar vein and Maue’s anthology of prose scores or instructions for such exercises, _Water in the Lake_ (Harper & Row, 1979) became widely used in educational and therapeutic contexts.

  3. Lyle Sanford says:

    Just a terrific bunch of ideas. Especially like, “When you break a habitual reflex you get a fresh encounter with something real”. That works on all kinds of levels, and seems a handy key to understanding and unlocking performances that really connect with the audience. If the performer is having a fresh encounter with the music, the audience probably will as well. Also, thanks for the info on Partch. Hadn’t heard of the text “Bitter Music”, and it sounds more accessible than a book I encountered way back about his tuning systems and instruments.

  4. Elissa Milne says:

    I LOVE the idea that that an exercise should *break* a perceptual/cognitive habit. Many, many instrumental teachers would assign an exercise for the purpose of *developing* a habit, not breaking one. I love it.

  5. Phil Ford says:

    Dear Daniel — Thanks so much for the recommendation. I just ordered a copy (used, of course!) of Maue’s book from Albris, having found a copy in the IU library system and gotten very excited about it. Maue’s exercises are very much in line with what I’ve been writing about.

  6. analiesebr says:

    seen land project influence

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