Urgent Stimulation is a work for solo piano, in which I play inside a box made out of a light wooden frame covered in black cloth. The structure encloses the area around the keyboard, including where the pianist sits, while the strings of the piano are left exposed. This allows me to play without amplification and in near total darkness, without the audience being able to watch me play. What happens when musical expression is divested of its visual dimension? The philosopher Pythagoras is said to have taught his students from behind a curtain, so that they could concentrate solely on his words without being distracted by his gestures. He called his method of teaching ‘acousmatic’; that is, listening without seeing the causes of the sounds. Pierre Schaeffer adopted this term in the 1940s with reference to musique concrete, electronic music that is played through speakers. In this situation the listener’s relationship with the music is changed; as the composer Luc Ferrari said, “as soon as you can’t see them anymore you’re listening to tapes and what they have to say. You’re not listening to images or causality anymore.” It is an investigation of the listener’s experience of the effects of this absence.
It is the ‘void’ thus created that is of interest; in The Voice of Cinema Michel Chion talks of “this place of lack which is necessary to function effectively”, a lack of perception and fulfillment on the part of the listener, who becomes conscious of his own relationship with sound, as well as of his own creative capacity. In his book Silence, John Cage writes: “The activity of movement, sound, and light, we believe, is expressive, but what it expresses is determined by each one of you”. Consequently, “Stimulation”, because the work of the arts is to stimulate through the senses, the sensual, and the creative capacity in each person; and “Urgent”, to bring to mind the activity of the listening experience necessary to engage this capacity.