e109 being – how can we listen through art?

(bell and breath)

On December 19th, 2022 I read David Maggs’ Art and the Ouija Board? blog, as part of his Metcalf Foundation Fellow on Arts and Society. 

I was struck by this section in particular:

Like a Ouija board or a dowsing wand, art is the capacity to pay attention to the world in unusual ways, a capacity to attend to the world in terms of the aesthetic. To make sense of life through lines, shapes, patterns, forms, colours, textures, rhythms, harmonies, imagery, and more. As Canadian poet Don McKay puts it, “Poetry returns from the business of naming with listening folded inside of it.” If we only speak with our arts, and do not listen with them first, revelation is replaced by dictation, and we can expect our audiences to engage with us as pamphlets or punditry. While not without purpose (no doubt didactic art can inform), information engages at the level of knowledge, whereas transformation requires engagement at the level of being, giving art a value proposition few can rival in this age of unprecedented need…

(3 minute ‘A Soundwalk in the Rain of St. John’s, NFLD’ 1992 by Claude Schryer)

Thank you David. Thank you David for your series of blogs on the relationship between art and transformation. Now David is from Newfoundland, which reminded me of a piece I recorded on July 2nd, 1992, at 2.20pm called A Soundwalk in the Rain of St. John’s, NFLD where I was a radio artist in residence at Sound Symposium 6. 

Of course, an interesting debate is whether the sounds of the environment are music or whether they’re noise. And I guess that depends principally on your interest in hearing them as music or not. What we hear now is a combination of traffic sounds and water falling on concrete and grass and falling through trees. And once in a while a drop falls directly on the microphone. It’s quite loud and quite noisy, but I find it quite beautiful to listen to. And as I listen more and more, I hear little differences in how the rain sounds as it falls and different kinds of materials, how the traffic changes, how this space, Memorial University, is in fact an acoustic space with a lot of activity, a lot of different kinds of sound activity. And so we’ll try to hear it. The rain, of course, is a problem because it really is dominant and it’s a powerful natural phenomenon that we basically can’t avoid. So we’re probably better off listening to it and enjoying it. Of course, that’s from my perspective as a person from another part of the country, Montreal, where it probably rains less than here in St. John’s but I’m particularly interested in discovering this part of the world, this province, and seeing how it sounds. So rain is a part of your life here and it’s quite fascinating. It’s quiet though, and, and it’s a little gray here….

How can we listen through art?


Thanks to David Maggs and the Metcalf Foundation for your important work. David and I were co-founders of the Sectoral Climate Arts Leadership for the Emergency (SCALE) and have had many fruitful exchanges over the years. I admire his courage and encourage you to subscribe to his Dispatches (at the bottom of the page)

I am grateful and accountable to the earth and the human labour that provided me with the privilege of producing this episode. (including all the toxic materials and extractive processes behind the computers, recorders, transportation and infrastructure that make this podcast possible).

My gesture of reciprocity for this episode is a donation to the First Light St-John’s Friendship Centre.





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Responses to “e109 being – how can we listen through art?”

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  2. […] David Maggs, e109: ’If we only speak with our arts, and do not listen with them first, revelation is replaced by dictation…’ […]

  3. […] David Maggs, e109: ’If we only speak with our arts, and do not listen with them first, revelation is replaced by dictation…’ […]