TOCfi Singers in Social Dreaming Experiment

As TIC and TOCfi evolved we undertook Social Dreaming experiments as a way to get in depth feedback from both singers and the Landmass Listen Party audience. Below is the TOCfi “dream”.

Social Dreaming Process

  1. Create “snowflake” seating so people are in non-aligned concentric circles giving space to gaze out beyond the circle.
  2. Listen to music – collective listening for 30 minutes, extracts from snips of recordings from previous concerts.
  3. “Sentence/phrase pooling in dream space” having listened.
  4. After break come together in semi-circle for discussion to look at convergence and themes
  5. Facilitators’ feedback
  6. Present findings externally as needed.

Below is the full transcription from of the TOCfi singers after over a year of working together.
Each ‘new paragraph’ is a new voice.

The words spoken …

I was sitting right next to the speaker and it was just so exciting. I didn’t realise what we were doing. Somehow I wasn’t hearing it like that, when I was taking part. It was just like sounds that this planet has never heard before… It’s like, sometimes it was like a crowd of primitive indigenous people just discovering that they can make noises and just the thrill of it, somehow, there was a great excitement and… Again, it was sort of like a runaway train where all the parts took a while to get going, and then didn’t quite go, and then they went, and yeah, it was just kind of so fresh in that way. Surprising. Yeah, it was thrilling, sitting right next to it, of course, I could feel it, and there were bits where there was like wild animals, like some stirring group of wild animals! Just again the whole – I think the whole idea of just discovering what the sounds could be, it was just extraordinary. Almost like everyone was discovering new things. And it was nice to hear the audience spontaneously applauding when it was – that was coming across to them too.

“I was astonished at how harmonious it all sounded. It sounded like music, whereas when we were actually making it, it felt much, much more disjointed than that and more idiosyncratic and more individualistic as well. So it was really astonishing to hear how it had all come together, so amazingly.”

I felt something of that too – something about hearing the whole is different than performing in it and being more individualistic or maybe that’s my experience but that – early on I was in Australia in a corrobary(?) that’s just a real kind of great beat. I felt taken to different places at different times, creating different wonderful landscapes with sound.

It felt very tribal didn’t it, at times.
Yeah that’s the corrobary(?) for me, very tribal.

It just reminded me of the real sense of play and fun that we had when we were creating and rehearsing. I just remember, it just being such fun! It’s like every rehearsal that I went to I just came away feeling, just really amazing. Even though I came really tired at the end of the day. It just reminded me that sense of fun was always there, and in the creation in the moment, I suppose it comes through in the performance, even though some of them seem a bit less polished, and trying to find their way, it still feels like there’s that real sense of fun play coming through.

There’s also an incredible sense of community which comes across in the sound somehow, of a group of people achieving something together

On an adventure (laughter)

I thought there was a profound sense of collective when the voices really came together strongly. Sometimes it was sort of disjointed and searching for that, but when it did come together that was when it was really powerful. It sounded strong when there was that ‘communal together thing’, with very, very close communication going on, strong.

In terms of the disjointed, I kind of just hearing maybe the bits that weren’t conventionally, musically harmonious, were just kind of shifting and transforming into points where it was settling, so it’s kind of a sound world that’s constantly shifting and roaming. And then the phrase like ‘wonky mandala’ came to mind, so something quite organic in the little kind of cogs of this thing that’s going round, or growing round. Just kind of refusing to get stuck, there’s always 2 or 3 voices branching out, which is really, I like that actually, that quality.

I can imagine a film producer hearing aspects of that and going ‘oh yeah, that would be great as a soundtrack, very provocative. (laughter)

I always think if you turned the radio on and you heard that what would you imagine it was? It’s not quite like anything that you’ve ever heard!

Imagine if it was at the Proms…

When it started I was actually wondering ‘Is that us?’ because I found it beautiful. I really felt it was beautiful, so powerful, just everthing! My first thought was it TIC, but then I was like ‘No it’s us because I recognise our voices’. And I found it so powerful and I felt as well like this community as well, we are all together. I could not believe because we have worked, but we had fun, it was enjoyable, and when I listened to it – I had a vision of the fish when they swim together (shoal) and the change and – like all together we had this sense of community and following each other. And it was interesting to listen to it with the memory of being in there, where it was kind of cacophony and we are doing our own thing and I was like ‘Wow, this is the result’. It was really powerful. And I found that at one moment it was at the same time community, and at the same time powerful and very intimate. I found it – in the first part, what I would call the first part, I found it very intimate, I felt very touched by what happened. I think I was touched because we were making it, and it was fun, I felt it had a lot of power and intimacy.

It was very different to listening to conventional choir. Just thinking about the difference, because obviously there’s lots of community choirs around, just thinking about the difference between listening to what we just listened to and if you were listening to another community choir, obviously not doing improvised music. And I think it’s far more – the sense of community that you get from it is much more powerful, because you’re not just listening to someone singing a certain part in a certain group that’s been predefined almost, you’re hearing people’s ideas, and people following other people’s ideas, and sharing ideas on the spot. So you get this greater intimacy to all of the voices that creates community that is much more potent, is that the word? A more intense kind of community.

It’s much more joyful as well. Much more greater sense of exploration. I’m in a traditional choir and when I listen to us, I’m always thinking ‘That wasn’t quite right, it sounds a bit, almost there’ because you’re all trying to achieve something known, whereas here we’re creating something totally unknown and so there’s never a sense of it being right or wrong, so it’s much more in the moment somehow rather than trying to attain something in the future, you’re really enjoying the moment and the moment is what matters, and the moment is perfect because there’s no ‘other’ that it could be.

What it’s bringing out of us is more personal because we’re having to improvise it at the time so if everyone is doing that, that brings that, brings everyone together, because there’s an exposure and we’re exposing that to each other, so it brings everything closer, which you wouldn’t get just singing a part. Singing well or badly, or better, or improve, but you’re not exposing yourself in quite that same way.

The way that I’ve been mulling over some words which tries to sort of sum it up, the words are symbols and you can’t really sum up that in a word but that sense of ‘bewilderment’ but in it’s true sense, ‘be wilding’, that sense of something which is wild and almost unconscious, for me there was a sense of, it was quite overwhelming, because there’s that sense of raw power, and it felt raw, elemental, bewildering, at points, not all the time obviously. Amazing.

It kind of made me appreciate your skill Jenni in co-ordinating all those wild elements.. and sometimes they actually turned into something musical.

Conducting in the very true sense of the word!

I like that idea of allowing for the unconscious, because it’s like there’s possibility here. Huge, because as you say, there’s nothing right or wrong, and what might or does emerge.

I suppose it was nice to sort of move away from a conventional association of what is music, it was music but it wasn’t, in the sort of sense that you normally think of music, because it was all just ‘strange’ I suppose! I don’t know, it was just like turned on its head a little bit, about ‘what is music’ I suppose, and how music is created. It didn’t follow a musical rules or form, it was just kind of bleugh but it was – but some of it did work beautifully, musically, but it wasn’t intentionally kind of held as a conventional musical piece, was it…

Yes, but it wasn’t chaotic, it was structured and it had form and shape and beginnings and ends and movements and transitions and so on. So it was very, very far from being chaotic. And that was because Jenni was conducting and organising it in time, in the moment.

Wasn’t it a bit chaotic at times?

There was always that feeling that chaos was bubbling away under the surface! That’s what was exciting.

It’s interesting – I never thought about it really, but to ‘conduct’ the energy, you’re kind of conducting aren’t you, like lightening is coming down this rod, in the way that a conductor does.

Coming down this Roditi! (laughter)

I guess in a way the chaotic element, I kind of feel like that can really challenge a listener, an audience member in a way. The voices were kind of saying to me ‘Let us in’, in a way, so this welcoming of it in, kind of makes the perception of it less overwhelming to me. At first it can be a bit like ‘Wow, bombardment’, but then it kind of just becomes ‘Wow’, without maybe these other expectations that I have, once I’ve let those go. It’s just so wholesome, because it’s like immersing yourself in the sound is very, just wholesome somehow, in terms of feeling whole with it.

It felt like it was energising for the audience somehow. It felt like even though, obviously we weren’t in the audience, but you could feel that the audience were really kind of with it and in it, because they have to really ‘Oh, what’s going on?’ like really be in it kind of thing. So it felt like it was a really energising experience for the audience.

Well the applause was like that. It was definitely a kind of spontaneous outpouring of pleasure from what we could hear. It was obviously genuine enjoyment and release.

Well often – sometimes you go to a gig or a concert or whatever and it’s so kind of constrained you know. It’s like ‘we clap here because we…’

Ought to

Yeah. But somehow going back to those chaotic moments it’s quite freeing, giving permission to everyone experiencing it.

I thought it was very kind of explosive at times. It was kind of like a big bang thing where there’s end chaos, and then gradually things would kind of settle down and find their place and then other times when there were great kind of swirling undercurrents of potential that you didn’t know what they were gonna do. Nobody knew what was going to happen, just kind of whirlpools of different things going on, and sometimes always kind of meeting together and becoming something else.

But I can imagine that because we what we were offering was not a ‘perfect piece’ to someone who then would absorb it passively that the audience would get very involved and would feel ‘I could be doing this’. I think somehow, it seemed to me that it was generating excitement in the audience in that way.

Well that was so shown, I think it was the first gig, when the audience joined in at the end. That felt like a real acknowledgement the fact that it wasn’t us just being with people on stage separate, we realised that it was having an effect and also was inclusive, was able to be inclusive.

I thought that the fact that the voices are not trained musical voices, actually can remove a barrier with the audience. It actually allows them to identify closer with the voices they’re hearing, so that allows them to have a closer connection so they can respond more directly.

That takes me to the thought of the vulnerability of what you’re all doing and does anyone want to speak to that?

At one point I felt very – I didn’t realise how vulnerable and intimate it was. I felt a bit shy about it. I completely felt like closing down and I was like ‘Oh my gosh’ in a sense, as if you are showing something you don’t realise, how intimate and vulnerable you are. And I could perceive that and thought: ‘Oh my gosh’. It was not something mental, it was really something I could feel in my heart, or in my senses. I think we have been really – as if we were all jumping into it fully, with no expectation, no agenda, fully present, fully ourselves. I think that’s what makes the power of it. There is no makeup, no façade, just raw and generous, and you can sense it through the piece.

What about inhibition?

To me it was a tribute to the sense of the group and the people in the group that – my inhibition quite quickly found that it was all so supportive, it was very easy to get beyond those barriers of inhibition. And everyone put themselves out on the edge and supporting each other, it felt so safe, as safe as I could imagine it to be, to actually, try to go beyond.

It was a space to also be – I could feel this for myself – be in something, in the vulnerability, and the inhibition as well, that’s, in the same way, as there’s no right and wrong here and that we can step in from that place, and I might sort of sometimes say ‘Oh I should be out there and bold’ and just go straight in, but actually that tentativeness, or what you might call inhibition or vulnerability, has something that can be a part of this as well. It’s something to offer and grow from.

I wonder if the audience might actually see the struggle and the inhibition as part of the performance which may make it engaging in a way that you might not normally associate with a choir, but you aren’t that experienced as performers, and you are giving it your absolute best, and you’re also dealing with your own limitations and challenges. I wonder if that’s actually part of what the audience also are engaged with? ‘I can see this whole human being standing on stage and I can read their body language, I can read their facial expressions and I can see, if you like, the edge that they’re walking along for themselves and I can’t but be empathic to that, in a sense’.

Definitely it’s a different experience for me from doing a Vocal Tai Chi session where it feels much more that the edge of the therapeutic and artistic, one goes from one to the other in a kind of closed group, and although even if I wanted to show my all before a performance there’s a part of me that steps back, and I don’t show all of it because it’s just too much. So I definitely think there are gradations and depending on how I feel on the night. If I feel more open then I’m obviously going to be able to give more in a particular direction perhaps more of a particular emotion than another type. But it varies. For me, my personal experience is that it varies,

depending on the circumstances. But definitely it’s not singing conventionally. So it feels like there are gradations, a spectrum of openness, closedness, vulnerability, struggle. And that’s what I guess gives it it’s fascination, because it’s always different. It’s never boring.

I think there is a vulnerability in the solos, when we are stepping forward to do a solo because it’s like, sometimes it’s quite hard to find the solo in all what’s going on in the background, and trying to find your way with it, and you haven’t got any time to rehearse it or think of what’s going to work, it’s just got to come out! So it’s like in a way you’re standing on a stage and you are judging yourself, thinking ‘Oh is this quite right? Is this really hitting the mark?’ And you haven’t really got time to sort of properly think about it, it’s just got to come out, in the moment, so I did find myself judging myself after listening to it back, thinking ‘Oh that doesn’t sound very..’ I mean sort of judging my performance standards thinking, ‘Oh well that didn’t sound very professional, or good enough’ or sounds a bit weak, or whatever, or not very interesting. But I suppose it’s in the moment, you’re just going with what’s happening aren’t you, you haven’t got time to properly compose it, it just comes out. You’re called to deliver something aren’t you, and I suppose it’s very easy to then judge yourself afterwards. ‘Did I deliver it well enough?’ Because I’m not a professional singer and I’m standing up on a stage so..

But you know what I think one of the main actual differences between let’s say TIC listening back to our solos, which is maybe not how we would normally sing as well, it’s just the first times you even listen to your voice at all, coming back – feeding back through a recording, or let’s say in this context, it’s the first times that you’re really self-conscious, and it’s just through repeated listening that you come to accept it more, so you might think that as TIC’s we’re happy with our voices, but we’ve got our own kind of criticisms and judgements as well. Because I noticed that you were wincing a little bit (when listening back), I was like ‘Oh yeah, been there’ you know. It’s kind of – especially the TIC TOC recordings, it’s kind of a mirroring effect listening to it, you really have to almost like have to look at yourself in a mirror with all the flaws without, there’s no opportunity to shy away or hide away. It’s like, boom, right in front of you. But slowly you kind of accept that, I mean about your own voice.

It feels like when you’re called to do a solo you have to take responsibility for kind of the whole piece and the audience. Well, I’m just remembering in my own mind, but looking back on the other members made it so much easier to just pick up on what they were doing, helped me to orient myself, somehow. I found myself in relation to them, so I wasn’t on my own, kind of thing. And that sparked off, it felt like mutual enjoyment and support. Make things happen.

It was a bit freeing that some things that you usually kind of judge yourself or you judge a piece of music, think that ‘this isn’t the right tempo’, or the right even key, or the right character, these things don’t work when you listen to TIC TOC, well both, but TOC especially, it doesn’t work, so you can’t apply the usual judgement on it, so you have to find your own parameters for how you judge the piece and how you think about it. So in a way it was a bit of an exercise for the mind as well, so you can’t fall back on your normal judgements, as a musician, you have to create from new.

That’s a really helpful point because yes, if we brought in some ‘proper’ musicians they would go ‘Well, erm…’ You know from the standard of proper performance, whatever. But it’s like pulling the carpet out from that, and I think that’s what you’re pointing to. I think actually as a proper musician I’m listening with, I’m kind of reconstructing where I’m listening from. So I’m responding very much to the context and the people rather than just coming in with these objective standards. Something like that…

That’s the different level of engagement then, that comes from singer and listener.

And for me to make me think about when you look at a painting and even if you have no clue of what the painting is, if you are touched, there is something going on and maybe someone will say ‘Yeah but it does not follow the rules of painting’ but as soon as you are touched from it, this is art and this is – here we are and I think here it’s very organic, and even if it’s not – it’s creating its own rules, because whatever is the background you can’t deny – I think we can’t deny there is something, where you can’t say there is nothing happening. Actually I think so much is so organic, for me it’s really like, as a member of the public – it’s like it’s talking to me, it’s talking to my cells, it’s talking to my gut, my heart, and as you say like sometimes I’m not in my – I’m not here (ie I’m not doing it ‘right’) But in a way, probably when you perform, in a state where you are not fully what you wish you would be, you are (nevertheless) touching the person in the public who is actually there and so ‘Ok, this is the resonance of who I am’. So I think this is the power of this work, it’s really talking to the human, to the organic, it’s vibrating. As you say, sometimes it can be – we are singing and it does not sound – it’s kind of chaotic but it’s kind of talking to the chaotic side of us, and can talk to the sensitive inside of us. And it’s like we create our own rules and if we look at it, it works, because all the time people were touched.

I agree and I think that’s great. I was looking at Jenni because I was thinking sometimes Jenni sometimes thinks ‘there’s sort of some rules!’

We have the symbols!

Yeah, we have the symbols and the signals …

Yeah but we created our own rules. I mean it’s rules and you can’t deny which is amazing because it doesn’t follow any old ones – I mean it can’t follow very old ones like the ancestral ones but it’s not – which I love, it does not follow the rule – it’s like if you are trying to paint, I mean where I come from, if you want to be an artist you have to be amazing, you have to follow all the rules, and then you have the one like somebody like David Bowie, he didn’t follow the rules and he became the rule, he became an example, and I think this sense of the work is like we are all so honest and present and from what and who we are and so very well directed by you and Jenni, because it looks like you are directing a dragon with a thousand heads! And it’s perfect because…. we obey!

We are listening to each other as well because we are responding to other people’s music as well and creating – trying to be music as well, we’re not just singing any old thing! We are trying to create music aren’t we?

Oh yeah, absolutely.

What’s also interesting which is something that we won’t know until – if this group as a course, for instance was together for 10 years, and you listened to the recordings that we made on the first concert, listening in 5 years, or 10 years, how different it would be. I wonder….

Well it would obviously lose some of its rawness wouldn’t it? But I’m not sure that would be good. I think it might get slick.

Would it lose its rawness?
It depends what you mean by raw. Predictable.
It’s interesting.
That’s a very interesting question.

It’s unknowable isn’t it.

I feel like a lot of musical groups have to be performing for years to get to this point where they feel so intimate and close with each other.

I’ve shared with some friends about being in this choir, and who are in other, conventional choirs, happily so, but they kind of, pick up on in the sharing that there’s something else here, that’s not there, that is I think an intimacy and a way in which we kind of connect with each other. Because we are, even like when someone does a riff and then the next does the same, that’s a real and particular kind of way of singing together, isn’t it.

It creates a bond in a way that being in a conventional choir doesn’t at all. I don’t know the other members of my choir, and never will do! We have polite conversations in the break, but there’s no sense of sharing, on any level at all, even though we are engaged in a collective endeavour. It’s out there ‘beyond us’, it’s not touching us personally in the same way at all.

Because in the TOC rehearsals we do a lot of group work, we do lots of pairs and groups in threes, and groups in fours which is how we’ve done it all, through building up those skills, we’ve done that group work, which has been really nice hasn’t it, and the pairs work, and that’s how we’ve managed to create that intimacy, and that was really good.

And really recognising each other and each other’s voices and particular kind of sounds and then we produced completely other sounds as well!

Yeah because you don’t often do – if you’re in a conventional choir you don’t often do pairs, pair work often do you? Or in threes do you?

Not at all. You just learn your part as best you can.

I’m going to throw in a red herring here and it might just swim off over there and not take off at all, but I’m just pondering something. I’m drawn to thinking about Philip Glass, for some reason, I don’t know if you all know Philip Glass’ music? Very repetitive, very samey, you could say on one level, certainly not expressive emotional, in the way that we might think of a song by David Bowie or something like that. I think that what he was trying to do was in a way create a ‘big listening space’ in which – and he talks about it in his book ‘Opera On The Beach’ which

allows the audience to put their own story on it so in a way they bring their stress, their complexity, their longing for simplicity, whatever it is, and they fill in the gaps in a way. Something about ‘the audience complete the music’ rather than in other kinds of music where it’s a complete object which the audience consumes, I suppose. And I’m wondering if there’s a parallel with Philip’s thought that the audience complete his music with their own ‘overlay’ maybe, I’d have to look it up exactly how he described it, and what we’re doing, it’s very different kind of music but, is there some way where the audience has to put their own story, not down, but it’s almost like the opposite – I don’t know…

Our music demands a lot of empathy from someone to listen to it. So it asks that of them. To me, Philip Glass and that style of music, it’s asking something different, it’s asking something more than usual of the audience, but it’s not asking the same thing at all. It’s a very cool thing, where as ours is a sort of very hot thing. It’s asking for a very strong emotional response to voices.

Thank you. I think you’re helping me to try to form what I’m trying to say which is maybe the audience has to sort of, wind up a few notches to receive what we’re doing, or open their eyes in a different way, open their ears in a different way, to appreciate what this is for, what it is. Does that get anywhere close to…?

What have the audience told us about that?

Well, we’ve got some feedback forms. Generally they were very excited I think.

From what I heard, it’s more that in a way they are led to… I think the feedback I had form a friend who came, they were just – it brought them, they didn’t have to make an effort, it was just like a wave took them, and they just listened, explored, experienced, because it’s an experimentation. And there was this thing, they didn’t have to – again if I think about a piece of art, sometimes you have to know many things about the artistic to be able to understand the piece! Here you don’t have to, they don’t have to know us, they don’t have to know why we do this. In a way it looks like, from people I know and from people I’ve seen, and just listening to it myself, it’s like you’re going to the sea, and suddenly you have the wave and you have the wind, and you’re just fully there, you can’t even think about it, you’re just..!

Involved Yeah.

It’s very experiential. In the experience of it, it’s not just a passive consuming like you were saying.

If you look at it in terms of the Indian Chakra system I think that our music is here whereas Philip Glass is starting here and sometimes getting down here but it’s kind of starting here and coming down. It’s top down, whereas ours is bottom up. It’s very visceral, it’s very raw, organic, and human, and so it impacts people in a field.

But I think that what the audience is seeing as well as hearing is the process. They are engaging with us as we engage with the process of creating the piece. So they’re not listening to an ‘end product’, they’re engaging with a methodology if you like. And I think that’s what’s exciting because it makes you feel ‘Yes, I’m invited in!’, it’s very generous I think.

Because we’d only done six rehearsals ever and then we did a concert so that was quite amazing. I mean we’d just done literally six rehearsals and none of us had ever done it before so it was like….!

Can’t believe we did that!

And then we did one more rehearsal and then we did the one at Hornsey Town Hall.

That’s right.

So that’s seven rehearsals and we did one in a public place.

That’s true.

So that felt, yeah – but it felt really doable, either way it was facilitated it felt easy, it felt really safe and easy just to do that.

What I appreciate is that we really had – I mean, we really had – I really had fun. It made me think about fun, serious fun. I was fully serious being having fun and when I hear the result I’m like ‘Wow, we don’t really need to make so much effort to create power and to create powerful experience’.

You know, personally on a kind of aesthetic level, when we do less as a choir I think it’s more powerful. But that’s the whole learning experience isn’t it about not having to do too much in order to achieve the result and that’s part of the communication between you and us and ourselves between each other.

I mean, that might be something that we grow more confident to do less, maybe, or my own work gets more confident to do less.

Yeah because somehow just being all together and repeating the same pattern it was just so powerful and there is no – it was just like growing and you can sense – and it doesn’t look very complicated…

Some of the more simple, circular riffs that were maybe had harmony and maybe had one other thing going on, but it felt very alive, listening back to it I thought, it was just this sort of ‘throbbing thing’ that…

Yeah some of them were really like that weren’t they.

It’s quite nice to have the contrast within a performance and for the audience as well. Something really mixed that we can do.

Some really atmospheric ones as well. Really kind of taking you on a journey, really atmospheric and mysterious.

I think that TOC with Philip Glass would be much more interesting. It would be much more – if TOC would perform Philip Glass’ music the music would be much more interesting.

I’m up for it!

I don’t know why Philip Glass was just in my head when we were talking there, it’s the antithesis in a way.

Heading towards Portsmouth Symphonia territory there …

Kate: Jenni: Martins:

Alistair: Sarah: Alistair: Jenni:

Like because he has the repeating phrases doesn’t he, which we do in the choir. We do have repetition as one of the sort of fundamental building blocks.

Choral repetition is much more kind of alive and you always knew much more than a riff.

We could do a Philip Glass album and call it ‘Shattered Glass’. Being conducted by the Rod!
So.. “Lightening Roditi and the Wonky Mandalas”.
You’re on fire tonight!

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