Turn Away

My first day at the Arvo Pärt Centre was surprisingly stressful. Unbeknownst to myself and the staff in charge of the residency, some folks were taking the opportunity granted by the Monday closure of the centre to test the fire alarms. I spent a good amount of my day frantically scribbling sketches of the middle section of my latest work for chamber orchestra trying to get as much done before the alarms went off. Luckily for me, they alerted me before the alarm repairpeople arrived. And they were considerate enough to arrive later than they had initially planned, and then were fashionably late to their new arrival time. I also lucked out by the fact that there were no fire alarms in my room. Instead, all noise-making devices were tastefully far away from my room. I was, however, acutely aware of the alarms as they were going off, which is probably good and means that I won’t catch on fire for the rest of my time in Laulasmaa.

It was an interesting way to begin my residency, and I mean that quite literally and neutrally. This day and the sounds of the fire alarms were, literally, thought provoking. It reminded me of a story about John Cage where he was sleeping in an apartment with a number of his good friends and the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. While his colleagues were tossing and turning and trying to figure out what to do as the alarm was going off, Cage recalls the following:

“I remained in bed, listened carefully to its pattern, and worked it into my thoughts and dreams; and I slept very well.”

When the repairdudes arrived and I was told that the alarms would be sounding soon, I walked over to the beach and back. Despite the fact that I was already thinking about John Cage and the possibility of just trying to vibe with the alarms, I had one too many cups of coffee from the centre’s actually very good coffee machine (and high quality beans) to trust my heart with staying in my body at the screeches of a fire alarm, especially one that gets me when I’m in flow state. Once I got back to the centre, I realized a bizarre parallel between Cage’s story and what I was experiencing. The Arvo Pärt Centre is phenomenal in it’s objective of acting as a sort of non-existent space. In the project of the residency program, it’s goal in “taking you away from the distractions of every day life and allowing you a quiet space to be with your thoughts and creativity” implies that the centre will exist in your consciousness as unobtrusively as possible. Much like Cage’s acceptance and integration of the sounds of the alarm, the APC as an architectural marvel takes itself very seriously as able to be intrusive of the minds of people who visit and obtrusive to their experience of that nature. There are many design choices that take this into account and are effective in minimizing their footprint on your perception. I could go on for awhile about the interesting philosophical implications of this design choice and what they say about the act of the creation of art, how it’s really just a sliding scale of impact, or how this design choice mimics the aesthetic of Arvo Pärt’s music itself, but I’m going to keep these APC blog posts as brief as possible. Only fleeting thoughts and stream of consciousness writing in this part of my website.

Despite the fact that I applied to this residency program with the intention of getting the silence to listen to myself, today was a reminder that there is in fact an outside world which deserves listening to. And sometimes, despite whipping out the essential oils, chai tea, Calm app, artist residencies or what have you, the world will still grab you by the collar and force you to listen to it. This again reminds me of a John Cage quote (which I kid you not I coincidentally read for the first time yesterday in a book that I brought to the APC with me to read in my down time),

“Music is continuous. It is only we who turn away.”

On a much more positive note, thank you to Arvo Pärt for greeting me with such enthusiasm today. Shaking your hand and seeing you smile so brightly was truly one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me. I am immensely grateful to be allowed to take part in creating music alongside you in Laulasmaa.

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