- Open (def: scores for unspecified instrumentation)
- Found objects or art supplies
- Acoustic instruments
- Digital devices
- 13 to 18 years of age
2 one-hour sessions
- Community associations
Finding Folk for Music
Finding Folk for Music is a way to share concepts and strategies for a kind of experimental folk music. The series engages people in hands-on creation regardless of anyone’s level of previous musical experience. Workshops provide an opportunity for improvisation, exploration, sound making, and audio recording in response to the environment. They are a chance to practice deep listening, a philosophy and approach to music and sound developed by composer Pauline Oliveros. Deep listening helps us understand and perceive ourselves in the world, and whether through environmental, social, or political impacts, our soundscape is always in a state of change. Documenting sound is an important aspect of Finding Folk for Music. The workshop and performance recordings are like transcriptions of the acoustic spaces and the participants’ musical engagement. The recordings have archival and documentation value, and I find them pleasant to listen to. Through these workshops I am finding new strategies to bring people together to make experimental music, and in this way, the series is an extension of my composition and sound art practice.
In October of 2019 I was invited to present Finding Folk for Music at the Sounds Like Festival in Saskatoon. The two-hour session involved eight people and explored transcription and composition strategies with a variable set of instruments. The sample workshop strategy found below this text was used for one of the activities.
It is interesting to hear the different results from the two groups who were following the same set of instructions and listening to the same looping audio sample, and to note how quickly the participants found a shared musicality in their playing.
One year earlier in Reading, UK, I had an opportunity to present a longer-form version of Finding Folk for Music, as a four-day workshop with an ad hoc ensemble leading to public performance.
Over the four days, our group explored field recording, transcription, and improvisation, with the goal of making music that complimented and responded to the environment. We went into wooded areas near campus and listened to the trees, city noises, and Heathrow air traffic above us. With an array of microphones and instruments in our hands, we set up in isolated as well as busy public spaces, making music that transcribed and complimented the soundscape. In the quietest places, we found a world of sound already present, and for the performance at the museum, the large audience and their chatter, clinking glasses, and shuffling feet became another soundscape to which we responded. Throughout the process, we asked ourselves the questions: Is there already enough to listen to? Why am I adding another sound? When I do, how can it be already part of the soundscape or how can it stand out through intention, repetition, or expression?
On the first day of the workshop, participants borrowed portable recording units and set out to monitor and record the most quiet places they could find on campus.
As a strategy to encourage deep listening, the field recording exercise contributed to the creative process. When making field recordings, participants wore headphones and experienced the soundscape in a close-up and immersive way, hearing the smallest details and encountering the background noise in even the quietest places. This awareness of the soundscape informed the group’s ability to improvise together, and parts of the field recordings were integrated into the performance.
Our performance was well-received, with hundreds of people standing, sitting, and walking through the museum to listen. Audience members commented on the focused and immersive quality of the music we played, and afterwards group members were interviewed about their experience in the workshop:
“The sound is supposed to react to the environment but not overpower it. We also recorded some silence and played along with those recordings. It feels very calm in our corner; the exhibition is very hectic otherwise.”
“I learned about sound composition, how to use instruments in different ways, creating sounds with recordings from nature.”
“We were working with sounds, with different ways to record sound, to document it. It was a group project, four of us and Jeff as well. We were all there, working together during the workshops, making individual recordings, and putting it all together.”
Following the workshop and performance in Reading, I had an opportunity to present a stand-alone version of the field recording exercise in Winnipeg, on a very cold day in March in the office space of Creative Manitoba.
Participants were given a set of instructions during a short 20-minute session:
(1) Borrow a sound recorder and toy xylophone; (2) as a solitary activity, move through the building to find a silent or near-silent space; (3) record the soundscape; (4) speak quietly and describe where you are and what you hear; (5) make sounds with the xylophone; (6) after a few minutes, stop and return.
This exercise invited participants to listen to the acoustic environment, and to hear themselves and their actions in relation to the sound that was already there. The hallways and stairwells were filled with ambient office background noise, with machines humming and the sound of icy wind outside. The xylophones interjected a playful element and a kind of sound impulse that acoustically mapped the spaces through echo and reverberation.
Later the same year, I had a chance to present Finding Folk for Music at the Regina Public Library. As in earlier presentations, the workshop included field recording exercises, group improvisation, and deep listening. We found sounds in and around the building, and we used these recordings as bed tracks and as a kind of acoustic score. Playing in the open area of the library beside a rumbling escalator and with sounds of people all around us, we responded to the soundscape, imitating what we heard, mixing background and foreground.
Through all of the presentations of Finding Folk for Music, the series has grown and has been adapted for different contexts. I have learned more about ways that deep listening, creative music making, improvisation, and composition can be engaged with by people with any level of musical training or experience. Results vary, and while I am moved by all the music we have made, appreciating this is a matter of taste. The process, however, is most important, and the strategies I am working with playfully reveal musical relationships, artistic choices, and collective efforts by people in the creation of a work of art. For me that’s the point of Finding Folk for Music.
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Jeff Morton is a composer, musician, and media artist based in rural southeast Saskatchewan.Read More +