Monday, April 30, 2012

Drumming, Sound and information - it's in our DNA

I had the distinct pleasure of co-facilitating a drum play shop (because let's face it, drumming is too much fun to call a workshop). My co-creator, Alphonsus, is an amazing, organic, intuitive drummer and musician. He's one of those rare individuals that sees, hears, smells and tastes music long before it ever moves through his body to his hands. While we were planning this class, we talked extensively about sound, music, consciousness and dreaming.

Our human ancestors understood that sound carried information and that information, learned over a hundred thousand years ago, is still encoded into our DNA. "Louder" and "Closer" might mean danger. Animal sounds that were repetitive, like frog song or bird song, might signal calmness and an "all is well" message. An interruption in that repetition sent updated information that could be acted upon, and action meant survival.

For the majority of us living in a city or suburban setting, listening to our environment seems like an alien idea. We hear music in our cars and as background noise in the office. We hear the sounds of cards, sirens, airplanes, chatter but, for most of us, that just becomes the white noise of our life and doesn't hold much information for us.

However, the ability to listen to our surroundings and to have those sounds impact our conscious and unconscious mind is still within us. It is a skill that we can learn and practice and it doesn't take much work to shift into a place where we listen with our bodies not just those little flappy things mounted on the sides of our head.

This weekend, we practiced walking blindfolded. We were guided by a partner that had us stand in the sun, in the shade, reach down and touch the earth, a tree, whatever was around. Similarly, we were instructed to listen. In just those few short moments, the exercise lasted about 15 minutes per partner, folks reported that they could identify all sorts of sounds that they wouldn't have heard if they were not thinking about it. Everything from buzzing insects to the sound of the grass below their feet, to birds chattering, even the sound of the wind moving through the trees.

Take an experiment like this out to a remote place, and you'll be amazed at how well you can begin to identify not only more sounds, but how those seemingly distinct noises begin to form a larger conversation. I have found that certain places have a rhythm all of their own and I can identify the place by the sounds I hear there and, perhaps importantly, I can tell when something is "off" about the place by the sounds that are present (or not).

And this is the skill my teaching partner has developed to an incredible degree. He knows instinctively how to join that conversation. That deep-wisdom that he knows how to listen to, I believe, is what makes his music so engaging. It simply  and effortlessly fits with the environment.

As an aside to all of this - If this intrigues you, I might suggest picking up "The Spell of the Sensuous" and "Becoming Animal" by David Abram.

Happy listening and happy drumming.



Scott LeGault said...

Nice read, Gwion. No doubt many of us could spend more time actively listening to what's happening in the environments where we live, work, shop... whatever. It makes sense that more information is contained in sounds than one might first assume, as taking-in the full richness of it does require some degree of quieting the mind. We moderns don't seem to use that skill as often, or as successful, as perhaps those who came long before us did. Here's hoping that will change.

Glad your drum play-shop went well. Thanks for the insight... [=

Lori Davies said...

Love it. There is a great TED Talk from a drummer who says that one of his biggest lessons in life, and the drum circle, is to have "big ears".