|My grandfather--William E.C. Haussler--as painted by Norman Rockwell
The first records I listened to I found beside my mother's stereo cabinet: Neil Young's Harvest and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Before that I remember listening to my mother playing John Denver and Judy Collins songs on her piano. I had a Realistic Solid State cassette player/recorder and would place it on a chair in the middle of my bedroom and record 'mix tapes' as I fumbled records on and off my turntable. Where are those tapes now? I know they were full of long durations of interstitial noise: the lid of my record player banging closed, the needle bouncing violently as I looked for the start of a song, the padding of my feet on the rug, maybe even getting called down for dinner? There wasn't a stereo at my father's house (he always preferred 'silence', which meant the sounds of the house and its appliances), but he did have a working victrola with a set of records.
My grandfather listened to tape reels and lps. He worked for NBC studios before television, at the close of the radio age. He photographed Toscanini conducting the New York Philharmonic and this picture was published in the first issue of Life magazine. His father was president of Hohner (the harmonica company) in the States. My grandfather told me he always wished his dad would bring a Hohner drum kit home for him but all he ever got were harmonicas. He played harmonica duets with his dad on a weekly radio show in Manhattan as a way for promoting the harmonica. He also used an old artillery shell and pots and pans at home while he waited to become a proper drummer. When my grandfather was 14, the Hohner company hired an artist named Norman Rockwell to paint his portrait for an ad campaign ("That musical pal of mine"). Then when he was in 40s, my grandfather was sent by his boss at the Department of Information on an assignment to the home of Norman Rockwell to make a short documentary film about his work. My grandfather taught me the names of many classical composers and I remember vividly, how he would tap his fingers along to Sibelius, Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak during our family dinners. It was my job when visiting to ring the gong hanging in the stairwell.These are some of my first memories as a listener.
I am interested in the ways people listen—at meetings, in auditoriums, on park benches. And I am fascinated by each set of ears within the room and the context for listening. Given the type of situation we get ourselves into, we bring different expectations and calibrate our senses to accommodate them. As an educator and sound artist, I realize how significant environment is when looking for listening. In my work as a teacher in the San Francisco and Portland public schools and in collaboration with London-based foundation, Proboscis, I have been developing curricula and teaching programs that introduce students to the means (conceptual, creative, and technological) for actively and imaginatively listening—where sound may become a material for catalyzing literary, social, scientific and artistic practices. In a sense, listening belongs to literacy. In my work with students as well as in my artistic practice, I am interested not so much in presenting meaning-- but in opening up the experience of the listener. Often too, it is enough to leave meaning alone and relate to an experience at the level of the sentient. In this case, I hope not so much that anything is understood, but that something imaginary, and maybe a bit fantastical, is touched.