Cutting through the lonely crush of persons and cognitive distance of the city, II Pause brings pausing, sitting, and listening together to the public space of Vancouver. Sounds have been lovingly picked and gathered from across the Lower Mainland over the last three months, and crafted into an electroacoustic experience. II Pause is an offer to share a sonic world, with its composer, for only a moment of your time.
I had wonderful pausing moments with 8 different people last night. Since this is a 1-on-1 experience, that is actually the maximum amount of people I can host in 2 hours! What I have enjoyed with the piece so far was the myriad of interactions from different people. I received comments like:
“Free Listening, you picked a very interesting place to do this.” In relation to being on the cusp of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
I received thumbs up from people
I received declines to listen
I had people taking pictures of my sign
I saw lots of smiles from people walking by after looking at my sign and installation
I had people come up and steal my lemonade while I was listening with someone
I had people only want some lemonade
I had people approach me asking what I’m all about
I had someone ask me “free listening…to what…and WHY?”
I had people suggest how to organize my piece
I think I had someone fall asleep in the listening chair
All of these interactions were unique and interesting. What I am excited about is that people feel okay to approach me with this quaint impromptu patio set up. I am also excited about how people open up about the piece after listening, sharing their experience. I did not have to ask, “what do you think?,” people just began to share their thoughts! It is amazing what you will hear if you just listen and not say anything. So far, it’s been all positive comments. I had a really wonderful comment from a complete stranger that I will write down now before I forget anymore of it. I have had a lot of people fill out comment cards, which seems like a great way to collect thoughts and ideas on the piece, but some people only choose verbal expression.
This stranger described me his process of trying to slow down while listening to the music, how he couldn’t fixate on one thought due to the pacing of the piece. He said this made it easy to be in the moment and think about nothing at all because he was only able to focus on the sounds of the piece and not dwell on his thoughts. It was nice talking to him; I think he is a kind of guy who may not experience many art shows. I really appreciated being able to talk with him, shake his hand, learn his name, and serve him some listening with a side of lemonade.
I think what is also nice about this, is trying to be open to so many different situations. In some ways it makes it hard for me to relax and listen to the piece because I get nervous someone might steal something. Which I really don’t mind if they do… it would just make it a lot harder to the run the piece. But having the public around and do their own thing without asking is very interesting. If you have the word “free” on anything I think people feel a sense of entitlement, which I find very amusing. This reminds me of a lot of work I did for the City of Kitchener at a mobile skatepark and what kids felt they could have and not have based on our free outdoor programming.
Something that surprised me is that people haven’t seemed to be bored. In fact, some people have said that the ten-minute piece didn’t even feel like ten minutes. Perhaps the pause is too short. But maybe when we are able to take that moment to pause and really get settled into it, finding a place to suspend ourselves, we don’t want to leave. I think there is some kind of ebb and flow. The coming and going of whatever “flow” state you enter with active listening. Actively listening and focusing on the present seems different than just going through the day to day swing of things. To truly pause and then slowly surface back into so-called reality, maybe one can find a different perspective. Maybe discover a new curiosity.
Photo by Lukas Engelhardt
It was really windy! all of my stuff blew away. So I moved my piece inside. A bit disappointed, but I still met some lovely people and got to share a pause with them outside the Audain Gallery. There was less traffic and it was very different from the first day—mostly students and professors. This was also my first 5-hour pausing session (from 12pm – 5pm)
One encounter I found memorable was a lady who stopped listening around the 1 to 2 minute mark because she was nervous about falling asleep. It was interesting because I think the Pause might have been really helpful for her. She seemed a bit stressed out and anxious to get lots of work done.
The second 5-hour pausing session.
It was still windy and a bit cold at times, but there were moments when the sun was just perfect. I really enjoyed this day overall. It gave me a lot of energy. I enjoyed talking to all the people who stopped to listen. I had more people come up and steal lemonade, which I still find hilarious.
Other comments that were memorable: “So you’re making art what are you going to do with your life after school? You aren’t going to make money.”
This same person asked me “Why should I give you my time?”
I don’t feel like this piece is a business proposal with clients, which my friend and colleague has joked about with me earlier. I am just curious to see what happens when I get to listen to something with someone in public. I am not interested in making money from something like this. It is more about being in the community, or at least trying to be a part of the community in an accessible and healthy way. Connection and togetherness is something that has no monetary value and can also not be purchased with money. Creating some kind of experience that draws you to ask any questions with a complete stranger seems to be pretty worthwhile to me.
This leads me to various questions about why should I do this piece in this particular neighbourhood. I think it is the perfect neighbourhood to do the piece in. The types of people who walk by range from wealthy to homeless.
I got a few people tell me about their lives and stories.
The story I enjoyed most was from a heroin addict.
He was carving a small skull head in his hand with some sort of exact-o knife. Approaching me he offered to sell me some acid. I declined and counter offered with some lemonade and perhaps a listen. He didn’t want to listen but we ended up having a chat and I served him some lemonade. Eventually, I learned about his addiction to heroin. He told me he used to have a wife, house, job, lawn to cut, and bills to pay. He also struggled with an addiction to another drug at that time and felt guilty about it.
He told me that when he discovered heroin, it was a drug for which he could give his life up. The high of heroin is so worth it. He started telling me about how people pity him and maybe feel sorry for him and other junkies. “Some junkies are upset they are addicted to a drug, but not me.” He told me he was happy.
For him, the lows may be really low, but the reward of the high of heroin is worth all of the lows of being a junky. Also, all of his stresses that he was balancing in his previous life, a relationship, a job, a house, bills, have all disappeared. Now he only worries about one thing: getting high.
He told me the best thing I could probably do is to never do heroin, because then I will never know how amazing that high really is. When he was done his story, I shook his hand, learned his name and he took off saying “I’m a creepy dude.” I was a bit sad that he labeled himself so. Having spoken to him for some time, he showed himself to be someone that I wouldn’t consider creepy. I responded with “I don’t think so” and watched him walk away.
My ears are getting tired.
Last pause of the week. I am feeling tired and a bit irritated this morning. Hopefully, this doesn’t affect the piece.
Today was a slower day. I shared the piece with a few people. Not always the whole thing. I had some people take photos of me. I had some people say, “keep doing you.” I suppose I made some people smile which is always nice.
A few times after listening, the piece became a music exchange. After we listened we exchanged artists to listen to and check out. I received some really good recommendations. I enjoyed that aspect of sharing.
I have noticed I have only had male participants except for people I know and one older lady. When I did my piece inside on Day 2, I had more of a mix—more female participants, actually. It is a small sample size so it might not have the best accuracy, though it’s still interesting to note. Also, the participants change heavily once inside the walls of the university.
I had an interesting encounter with a guy who said he was in jail for 13 years. He told me he has been living on the streets for most of his life and had a twin brother who screwed him over. This guy had an interesting life, or at least a captivating story to tell. He smoked weed in my chair and just hung out for about an hour with a few other people who stopped by. I think my favourite moment with him was when this guy was sitting and he looked really relaxed. He almost looked like he fell asleep. I don’t know when the last time he might have been able to lay down comfortably. He had lots of positive plans that I really hope he fulfills.
With this piece, instead of me sharing music for others to listen to, I have somewhat become a listener of other people. I hear lots of stories from different people who are all having a hard time, but they really appreciate being able to just have a conversation with someone. I don’t mind being a listener. I think good listening takes lots of continual practice. I can always become better at listening, whether to other people or to music and sound.
One of the guys who stopped by said the piece “took him somewhere else;” he was no longer worried about what was going for that time. I am happy that he could at least pause for the moment. I wish him well.
Photo by Lukas Engelhardt
There were pressure washers outside today. I had to do the piece inside.
It was pretty slow. I didn’t get to pause with very many people. But the people who I was able to pause with had lovely reactions. I look forward to what another day brings.
I am starting to feel tired, but I think this slow day might really prepare me for the rest of the week.
Pressure washers were once again outside. It also started raining.
I had one encounter with a lady who lives in the Woodward’s building and was an active participant of Woodsquat; a protest demanding more social housing by using the space of the old Woodward’s building. I think a lot of the demand was from Native people, however, I need to read more to understand the conflict and situation. From what I gather, only a few people were granted social housing in the new Woodward’s design. The old Woodward’s building was in one of the poorest areas of the city, at Hastings and Abbot. Now the space is heavily policed with security everywhere. It was interesting to learn a little bit about this person’s story and about a protest pertaining to a space that I inhabit everyday. To learn about the politics and turmoil of the space makes me a bit sad, upset, and confused since I am now affiliated with the building.
On a lighter note: I learned and was reminded that soundscapes evoke memory. This piece that I am sharing seems to be doing just that: evoking some kind of memory or imagery through the auditory sense. Maybe it is the recollecting of memories that is relaxing or meditative.
It was a nice sunny day. I am getting a bit tired of my work. I am realizing that I am facing my creative decisions everyday, multiple times a day. It has been an interesting exercise. I still think some people genuinely enjoy it and are able to satisfy some curiosity.
Strangest encounter: some guy approached my stand. Didn’t say hello after I said hello. Listened on the headphones for 25 seconds. Told me “it sounds like construction” and left.
I moved to a new spot because I was powerwashed out. This spot is just looking onto Hastings Street from a little nook. This new place breathed a lot of life into the piece. I was able to watch the busses and herds of people walk by; I could also see people in the business opposite of Hastings looking down at my piece wondering what I was doing. I will move there again for the last day. It was a lot of fun.
I had some wonderful encounters. These were two of my favourites:
- This guy was a well-built and big dude. He was recommend to listen to my piece by the previous listener. He sat down and checked it out. He listened to the whole thing and smoked his cigarette. By the end of the piece he was fully relaxed and out for about a minute. Afterward he came back, he looked at me, put his headphones down, stood up, walked over to me and stuck out his hand. I went to shake it but he shook his head and gestured to stand up. He shook my hand but then pulled me in and gave me a hug telling me “thank you.” He said that I exposed him to something he has never heard before. I felt pretty special afterwards.
- My other favourite listening was the one right before. This guy came out of nowhere wanting to check the piece out. I told him what it was about. He left me one of my favourite comments I have collected thus far. He said that when he was able to hear all of the different parts of that make up Vancouver for him. The piece “showcased the city I love in a beautiful way.”
I am sad I only have one more day, but also relieved because then I can get my life back. It has been 37 hours of performing this piece. Only five more to go and I have done this piece for the amount of a workweek. I am pretty excited.
I made it. I did this for 43 hours (I went for an extra hour at the end for friends who showed up).
I am excited to be here on the other side of that massive task of a piece.
I met a really lovely lady named Maurice today. She told me she really enjoyed the sounds and how it colours the space. It was interesting because at first she was afraid my music was a scientology thing that would brainwash people. Fair enough. After she listened to the piece we talked for probably 20 minutes about sound, soundscapes, and how loud the city can be. She lives in the Downtown Eastside in-between two fire stations. So she says she gets a lot of sound and not enough peace. When she listened to this work she felt like there was some peace for her in the city. It was lovely talking to her and learning a bit about her experiences living in the city.
So now that I am done, I have some aspects I would like to change. Some musical edits and some other things I would like to try out. I would really like to try this piece with different bodies running my setup. What would happen if there was a young girl, an older man, an older woman, someone who is handicap running the piece? I want to make this piece accessible to others as well. I really only was able to attract specific types of able-bodied people to this piece. The last thing I would like to try is moving this piece to different locations all over the city. Or try new ways of creating interactions with each person—potentially through technologies measuring heart rates or breath. Who knows where I will go with this piece and idea. For now I will lay it to rest. I learned a lot and I feel like I accomplished my task of wanting to make a connection or be a point of connection within a community. I see people on the street with whom I have listened and they wave at me. I really enjoy that.
Matthew Ariaratnam is a composer/improviser, guitarist, and teacher. His music and research explores sonic textures, graphic/alternative scoring, field recordings, prepared instruments, electroacoustic music, performative listening, and songwriting.
Photo by Lukas Engelhardt
Text edited by Ben Bandosz