Birdsong, shifting ssshhhh, guitar string ping: rarely is it so immediately clear how the perception of things affects the perception of other things happening in the same space, in the same moment. And yet these musical events were not concurrent at the moment they were recorded to disk, even though they became so later, at the moment of playback; nor did their performers have any idea of what their collaborators would be performing. At the request of Melange Edition curator Ryoko Akama, three composers (Michael Pisaro, lo wie, and Manfred Werder) sent three scores each to three performers (Angharad Davies, Cristián Alvear, and d’incise), who picked three scores at random and recorded them without being aware of the choices made by the other performers. The three sets of three recordings were then overlaid by Akama to create three new pieces.
Didn’t that string just ping in reflective response to that electronic chirp? Didn’t Alvear just pause what sounded like an attack on his guitar with a chisel to let Davies intone a group of letters, her voice cracking slightly on the last letter in anticipation of the bowl d’incise is about to drag across a stone floor? No, they couldn’t have heard one another. Their dots are scattered according to separate logics, any lines between them being drawn purely in the ear of the listener, like the alignments of aural constellations in a sky of silence. It’s as if causality is an illusion.
Though the project participants all stress in the liner notes their trust in Akama, they each admit to being amazed by the quality and musicality of the outcomes, and with good reason: each track simply sounds like good music. The work is based on a willingness to throw things wide open to a range of possibilities and to trust in the senses of listeners, rather than the laws of any musical tradition or theory of harmony or melody, to sort things out. That such a strategy so often produces pleasing and enthralling results points to the ways in which our brains seem predisposed to seek and find coherence, even in the least promising of confuddlements. Similar propensities for joining the metaphorical dots have been observed experimentally in all sorts of areas, from facial recognition to language acquisition. In fact, it’s possible that the whole of consciousness itself can be attributed to these sense-making practices, these habits of turning an apparently disparate jumble of stimuli into something resembling a world.
Musings on the nature of consciousness seem like quite a departure from a music project such as “3 + 3 = 3”, but the relevant point is that the correspondences and coherences that emerge across the three pieces aren’t just happy coincidences. Rather, they are signs that everything is working as it should: that composers and performers and listeners are engaged in the collaborative act of making sense of things, separated by time and space and yet entangled somehow, such that each completes the others’ thoughts. In short, all the things needed for making music are present, even if centralised control and an overarching plan in the mind of one individual are not. There’s a powerful sense of communion in this, as well as discovery.