Hungry Listening,” is a beautiful book, the cover “Atsi,gathering songs to return to our families,” by Bracken Hanuse Corlett (Wuiknuxv/Klahoose/Kwakwaka’wakwo), Cover Design by Kristina Kachele Design. Reproduced here with permission from the publisher

“I paint what I see.” Artists through the centuries have responded differently to their vision, even to what’s right in front of them. What they see is not always representational but imaginative art making prompted by what they see. Painters, visual artists, use a variety of stimuli to inspire their art making. Music listening certainly is one of them, sound, smell, touch, pain…whatever gets into their brain.

Writers, often poets, have responded to the artists image presented in a visual medium using art work as a source of inspiration to write new poems. This is known as ekphrastic poetry, and there s a lot of it going around these days. Ekphrastic writing is most often related to responding to visual stimuli like pictures, or say listening, touch, pain…whatever gets into their brain.

Ekphrasis (Gr.”description”): A self-contained description, often on a commonplace subject, which could be inserted in a fitting place in a discourse. … could deal with persons, events, times, places. A kind of enargia (vividness, distinctness). — from Lanham’s A HANDLIST OF RHETORICAL TERMS.  (Note the restriction by the time of the Romantics to a description of a work of art.) Foregoing thanks to Ted Dyck.

In my project Listen, Here my inspiration will come from what I hear by listening, prompting imaginative and exploratory writing. The phrase becomes “I write what I hear.”  This is what I got my Canada Council grant for, and will be my major focus through to the end of 2021.

Keeping my mind open, my imagination loose, I intend to free associate; inspiring free writing which may not be literal or even immediately relatable to sound, though those may be in the majority. My first sketches will be freehand notes launching writing that will include prose and poetry.

I am losing my hearing, now down to about 50%. I hear very little birdsong for example unless I am wearing hearing aids. I’ve concluded by trial and error I might need to record sound which is not the same sound as my ears would heard even 20 years ago. Recording is a lower priority.

The hearing aids though will be used throughout these listening experiments. I enjoy my hearing aids, especially when I’m listening to music because they are “equalized,” to give me better highs and lows. (What if there were such devices for depression we could choose to use.) I have been advised about how much natural hearing I lose by using hearing aids, but am happy for the choice. For me the rest of 2020 and 2021 will be my time to listen to as much as I can from coast to coast.

My listening happens inside and outside, to natural and mechanical sounds, live performance and recorded music. I have a special interest in what I hear close to water, including locations of environmental degradation. This could include Winnipeg’s North End Sewer Outlet for example, or places that have been altered or are in danger like the marshlands in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg and elsewhere.

While recorded or performed music I will hear,  focuses on jazz and blues, it also includes the 13 String Quartets of Murray Schafer. Kandis Friesen (thanks) directed me to a new book by Dylan Robinson called Hungry Listening Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies, considering listening from Indigenous and settler colonial perspectives.


The book begins with a shocking racist statement by R. Murray Schafer in 1961. By the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Schafer’s views  shifted significantly. He suggested that all Canadian composers should incorporate the values of Indigenous peoples in their compositional practices. John Raulston Saul has made similar arguments for our civic lives.

Unfortunately so far this usually means “appropriate.” For my part, I appreciate difference and how this can add to our lives providing there is real equality for Black people,  Imdigenous people and People of Colour (BIPOC) n  Canada. We have a long way to go to get there.

I have just begun reading Hungry Listening which will be an important text alongside those of Pam Olverios in Deep Listening approaching hearing awareness from yoga, mindfulness and breathing. Oliverios has been composing in the United States since the late 60s, and then there is A sound education by Murray Schafer.

Schafer’s composition “Threnody” for school choirs, and orchestra, narrators and electronic tape was a centennial commission which our choir director Henry Engbrecht took into our repertoire for presentation as part of our Centennial Concert Hall performance in 1970. I played the trumpet part. These three or four minutes and its connection of politics and art (Threnody is about the bombing of Nagasaki) was transformative, and made me want to be involved in the arts, specifically as a maker. It sure wasn’t trumpet playing or music composition, so I took up writing.

Now here I am, in Gimli, 50 years later. Schafer has dementia composing his last piece, a trio in 2013. My listening experiments to Schafer’s music are to his string quartets for ekphrastic writing – ghazals,“Stilt-Jack Ghazals” most likely – a Canadian adaptation of a Persian form.

I will write what I hear. I will listen to nature, to music and the motors that grind our place on earth.

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