The Art of Deep Listening

Deep Listening—I didn't invent the term, but wished I had. The term actually comes from the late composer/performer, Pauline Oliveros. In short, deep listening is a way of hearing in which you are fully present. You listen to both the inner world (your mind, breathing, pulse, etc.), and the outer world (all sounds around you). The idea is to become fully aware of all the sounds around you. Through this heightened awareness, you become aware of sounds, and parts of sounds, that you haven't heard before. 

Oliveros said that “Listening is not the same as hearing and hearing is not the same as listening.” Hearing is a passive activity. We hear sounds all the time: traffic, the TV, birds, etc. And for most of it, we don't really pay attention—it's just background noise that blends into our environment. Active listening, on the other hand, is just that: active. We become participants in and with the sound. We notice our sonic environment and how it exists around us. We also let the sounds be just as they are. As John Cage said, “I love sounds. Just as they are. And I have no need for them to be anything more than what they are.” 


Pauline Oliveros

To learn more, please check out the Deep Listening Institute.

Deep Listening is listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, or one's own thoughts as well as musical sounds. Deep Listening represents a heightened state of awareness and connects to all that there is. As a composer I make my music through Deep Listening. Pauline Oliveros 




I studied music formally for 8 or so years through high school and university. In that time, I often had difficulties relating to what I was being taught. It wasn't until later, working on my own, that I discovered that I heard and perceived music differently than most. I could never understand the sort of disconnect I felt, because I thought others perceived things the same way I did. 

What was going on here? 
Through much thought and self study, I came to realize that my understanding, and perception of sound and music, was different than most other people. Once I understood this, I was able to sort of backwards engineer a way to connect what I do with what others do. But even in building this sort of bridge, instead of crossing it, I headed completely in the other direction! I was much more interested in what I was hearing inside, than what I was hearing outside. (Much of this journey has been explored in these 122 blog posts)

In my own way, I've been experiencing deep listening, hearing sounds and rhythms that most of my fellow performers & listeners were not experiencing.

The Path To Deeper Awareness And Listening
If you read through 9 of the 10 previous blog posts, they are all about leading to, and finding this space, this deep space. While many people who work with Gongs/Bells/Bowls actively work at some sort of therapy or healing, I find that is merely a byproduct of what I do. As a trained musician, I'm more fascinated by the sounds themselves, especially the ringing, long tones. I love the way they can combine to create further tones. I love how the same sounds act differently in different rooms. When I'm playing, I'm actively trying to get inside those tones. 

I'm also actively working with timeI find the idea of time fascinating. In one sense, there is no time, there is just the present moment. But in another sense, there is this flow, this movement from one present moment to the next. I actively work at manipulating this sense of time movement, working to stretch out until it disappears, and we are only NOW.

If someone finds my music healing or therapeutic, that is great. But by reaching this deep state of listening and no time, we are able to access any and everything we need from the Universal Consciousness. What more could we strive for?

Don't just hear, listen

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™ / Listen


Addendum: if you are not already hip to the fantastic Meet the Composer series on Q2 radio, please check out these 2 recent episodes on Pauline Oliveros: Episode #12 and Bonus Track.







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