In 2022, from September 28 till September 30, Skaņu mežs festival organized constructive listening workshops for children aged 7 – 12. The workshops were hosted by Portuguese musician and educator Filipe Felizardo. The workshops took place in Riga (NOASS art center), Daugavpils (Mark Rothko Art Centre) and Liepāja (Pegaza Courtyard).
In this interview, you can find out how the workshops were conducted, what their main intentions were, and what were the most interesting results.
Can You, please, describe the structure of the workshops You conducted as part of Lyra?
The workshop follows a standard I developed over the years, which is always subject to fluctuation, according to the participants’ needs.
It is aimed at ages between 6 and 12, and can be done with two to twelve participants. Although I will experiment with an adapted workshop for ages 3 to 6, this spring, here in Portugal. No formal musical education is required at all.
It takes between 120 to 150 min, and is split in three parts. At first we listen together to various sound recordings and discuss concepts of music, noise, composition, agency and whatever else the participants come up with spontaneously. Secondly, we start improvised musical activity using cue words and games, in solos, duos, and trios. The participants use any sound-making object they find, preferably not proper musical instruments. Every musical performance is analyzed by the participants, in order to develop notions of autonomy, self-determination, and normative assessment both in theory and practice. The session ends with a collective improvisation, without the participation of the instructor.
What age range were the children that participated in them?
In all three workshops I did in Latvia, ages truly varied between 6 and 12, although in Daugavpils the participants were mostly all 6 or 7. In the workshop I did in Norway it was a group of 12y-olds only. In those two cases where the ages are all the same, I think this was only due to the fact that the groups were enrolled by their school. I should say that the most constructive results are obtained when the groups have a diverse age range.
Were there also parts where You play experimental music to the participants? What music did You play to them and why that music exactly?
Indeed, I showed experimental music to the participants. In fact, the workshop session immediately starts with that. I start by showing them recordings of Mario Bertoncini’s Arpe Eolie, Alastair Galbraith’s tracks which use his Fire Organ, and the wood organ of Denis Tricot and Eric Cordier. I choose these because we depart from materials which they know and are part of the environment – wood, wind, and fire – and are usually important for ‘normal’ instruments, in the case of wood and wind, but used in an uncommon manner. These make excellent starting points for discussions of environmental sound, the concepts of music, noise, of composition and improvisation, score, intention and chance. For example, the Wind Harps of Bertoncini are not played by a human instrumentist or musician – this mere fact allows us to expand the concepts at hand. From here on I show them further examples, and it can vary a lot, depending on the ideas the participants bring to the fore. But it can go from Florian Hecker to Albert Ayler, from Margarida Garcia to Vomir, as well as recordings of traditional music from around the world using instruments with uncommon timbre.
What were some of the most interesting reactions to some of the music You played to them? What was the most common reaction?
I should say it is always interesting whenever the reaction is not mere laughter. There is nothing wrong with laughter, it is a way of coping with what is new and alien to our knowledge, but i think it is much more interesting when we see that the children are absorbed and interested by the experience. I also found it very interesting that most children were very quick to dismiss the idea of noise as against music – by this I mean that when confronted with the new notion that such sounds were deliberate, all children [except one!!] acknowledged that it was music and not mere unintelligible noise. I’m very glad to say the most common reaction was focus, interest, and serious engagement with the new sounds. Finishing with your first part of the question – I must say that the most interesting reaction was in fact to a piece of traditional music from Papua New Guinea [track 6 here], where most children said it reminded them of an alien – in the sense of an extraterrestrial – and I thought it was very curious that coincidence between an alien cultural artifact (the raspy singing technique) and the image of an alien in the sense of otherworldly being. It strengthens my notion that indeed there are many worlds inside one planet.
Being a musician Yourself, how do experiences at such workshops influence the way You create sounds? Because, after all, now You know how uninitiated listeners – even the youngest ones – tend to perceive experimental music.
That is a very good question, and I think my reply will be very bad. I think that my knowledge of how uninitiated listeners – young or old – perceive experimental music is always mediated by language – both verbal and bodily. The advantage of the specific context of these workshops in this regard is, first and foremost, the fact that the participants also put experimental music to practice. Which entails that I do get to know how they perceive “what it is to experiment with music” by how they effectively experiment with music. Secondly, given there is a strong component of verbal discussion of very abstract concepts, my perception of their perception is mediated in a different way than it is by, for example, discussing musique concrete with François Bonnet after his talk in the Riga music faculty during Skanu Mežs festival of 2022. That is to say, the younger listeners’ perception is reflected by how they show their handling of the concepts, either verbally, or musically – in a way that is more honest, or more frank than an older listener’s. I don’t want to say theirs is more ‘pure’, because that is a very dirty word. But it does have less habits or prejudices – and if it does have them, it is very easy to unmask these and afford young listeners a richer understanding of what is at stake, as opposed to discussing this with someone who has very entrenched views or strongly prefers a certain school of thought.
It seems i answered first the last part of your question. I should say that this kind of ‘understanding of perception’ is a goal of mine in artistic and philosophical research. In fact, it is the main goal of this pedagogical activity. In that sense, doing this regularly is a strong reminder – at least for me – of how one should be always prepared to review one’s commitments, to analyze what one is doing and to recognize how one is being possibly perceived, in order to synthetize new forms, new practices. This is something that children can learn how to do, and this starts by providing a ‘proto-adult’ status to them in order to give them the tools to enter into adulthood: by emulating it. And i think every artist – or every person! – would have a lot to gain through this practice: as we pull up children into adulthood, adulthood itself should be viewed as the notion that we adults were children until just yesterday.
Interview by Rihards Endriksons
LYRA receives grants in the amount of EUR 206,256.00 within the framework of the EEA Grants and Norway Grants funded by Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway. The project aims to introduce kids and teenagers to experimental music and to get them involved in its creation. As it is democratic and non-hierarchical in essence, experimental music gives trained and untrained kids the chance to take part in making music. Since the project crosses social and ethnic divides, it is also socially inclusive.
Total LYRA eligible costs: EUR 202,510.00, European Economic Area financial instrument programme Local Development, Poverty Reduction and Culture Cooperation support sum: 85% or EUR 85,000.00, of which:
- European Economic Area financial instrument co-financing: 85% or EUR 175,317.60;
- State Budget co-financing: 15% or EUR 30,938.40.