Stop, Look and Listen

R Murray Schafer is a Canadian composer renowned for his soundwalks. The idea behind these is that music is all around is if we would just take the time to stop and listen. Train whistles, crickets, the sound of children laughing, sirens and birdsong; all are part of our sonic landscape. No sound is inherently more valuable or beautiful that another. The real problem is not the whirring of an air conditioner unit but rather that we fail to recognise it as an integral part of our existence.


The same idea is manifested by visual artists who work with found objects or photographers who find beauty in the strangest of places. It’s a very simple approach to art and beauty that flies in the face of conventional thought in culture circles. Beauty is everywhere. All you have to do is take the time to look, to listen, to appreciate.


To follow this line of thought further, if beauty is everywhere, then we don’t really need artists to create it. Art is already in existence, waiting for people to discover it. Perhaps the new role of the artist is a guide. Someone to show us existing beauty so we can be inspired to find out our own secret spots.


This is a role already familiar to musicians. Without them, the music will still exist but only as a coded script on paper, not as a living entity capable of taking us on the most fantastic of journeys. It is only the branch of the arts, aside from theatre, that requires an intermediary between the creator and the consumer. The final interpretation is a composite of the composer’s and performer’s ideas and is different every time the piece is played.

Live performances are magical because they can be experienced only once. This is increasingly difficult to imagine in our on-demand world. Missed the Wimbledon tennis final? No problem, it can be viewed afterwards on the internet. Going to your book club on Grey’s Anatomy night? Just get the DVDs and watch the whole season at your leisure.

Miss Mussel is not so curmudgeonly as to insist that these option shouldn’t exist. She is however more and more cognizant of our increasing inability to experience those unexpected moments of beauty that can’t be Tivo’d. Next time you’re outside, stand in one spot for an entire 60 seconds. Close your eyes and really listen to what is around you. Take some time on your lunch break to look at what is happening, how your life is intersecting with hundreds of other strangers.

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