listen carefully


I am working with artist, musician Joe Willie Smith. He’s helping me create background sound for my exhibition. We are using one of his sculptures to do this. It’s an unusually shaped object made up of varying thicknesses and surfaces of wood, steel, plastic, string, brass…and a slinky. The slinky is about the only thing I can identify. The sculpture’s purpose is to be used to create sound. Because it’s not an instrument, it becomes more about vibration. The noise remains unidentifiable. We use our fingers, palms, wooden and metal sticks, wide flat paintbrushes, roller brushes, and flat plastic cards to tap, hit, bang, scratch, and slide across areas. You’d be surprised at how mesmerizing the effect is, both to create and to hear. 



We sit in the gallery with my paintings and drawings leaning on the wall.  His recorder and amp underfoot. This is all foreign to me, and I make it known. The first direction I receive from him is… listen carefully. I inform my drawing students to look closely. It’s the same sort of request but using a different sense organ. With that instruction, I register that I am going to explore listening and hearing in a different manner.

I could say that I do listen. I even listen and hear spaces between words. I awaken easily, if I hear a noise.  I distinguish sound in most any circumstance. But this is not that. This is listening…moment by moment, staying present, full attention, no identifying, no assuming or forcing, no judging. Pure listening. Pure hearing.

He has me start tapping in an area of choosing. Wood. I use my index finger and firmly hit. He turns on the recorder and follows my rhythm, on steel, with a wooden stick. The process reverses naturally, he then creates an effect and I follow. We move back and forth, changing the feel, and then as if on cue, we come to the end of a segment. Play back and listen…rich, deep pulsating beat, and here and there a high anxious noise…gurgle air flow, sputter, hollow.  The sound varies like the elements in my painting…linear, textured, layered, organic and free. 

I want to create inside the body, visceral sound.  I carry with me a borrowed stethoscope, for reference. I go back to it regularly.  I am tapping away creating what I think is heart beat. When I actually hear the heart with the stethoscope, I realize I am interpreting…close, though not really. Listening to the recording afterwards,  I believe for a moment, I connect with my drumming ancestors. Primal.

We complete a number of sketches each day. I will eventually sit by myself and listen. I imagine I will edit and form a constant vital commotion in audio form. It may work…it may not.  Neither of us are attached either way. The process is satisfying and informative. To really listen, requires more than attention. It requires a willingness,  a steadfastness in being present and open to the moment.

Last night I was aware of sound, in my sleep.  I believe I was dreaming because I didn’t awaken out of sleep.  The sound was lucid. There was no identification to what or where it was, it came and went. My sense of hearing is heightened right now. I am not interested in the everyday distractions like news or radio.  I just want to listen, and I want to hear.

Expanded and alert, is how I describe my state of being this morning. I am carefully listening.


Click to see the exhibit: A Constant Vital Commotion

4 thoughts on “listen carefully

  1. saw the pieces for the show on your web site – they look great. There are a couple I really like – Mi Mano Entera and Label and Separate. Great lines, lots of layers. The show will be wonderful.


  2. Pingback: a video – nothing is ever really in stasis | Monica Aissa Martinez

  3. Pingback: raw @ the tempe library | Monica Aissa Martinez

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