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.