SOUNDS, SILENCE AND DREAMS. From the soundscape of the Alta Langa highlands to the dreamland

Photo: Eugenio Pini (CC BY-NC-ND)

This work describes an experience of listening to the soundscape – in a specific context (Alta Langa, Southern Piedmont) – where listening, walking and dreaming converge to explore the passages from one experience to the other in order to understand their mutual influences.
Further developments suffered a forced interruption due to the pandemic and are waiting to be resumed, with two objectives:

  • To create a format for small groups, applicable in different contexts, which relates three ancient dimensions: walking activating the body, listening to the soundscape and sharing dreams.
  • To explore which potential offers the connections among these three bridge dimensions between the individuals, their inner world and the environment. 

Towards an ecology of listening

Ecology is a word that hypnotizes us, enveloping us and losing its meaning in the trivialization of advertising, in which everything becomes a « green » product, to be sold, from an insurance policy to snacks: nothing more polluting than an invitation to indiscriminate consumption.
Our vision is supported by the idea of ​​ »taking care » – what else should ecology be? – starting from becoming aware of the immense beauty and richness of the world that still surrounds us, of the sensorial and aesthetic perception that our body has since the beginning of life, of the ability of our mind to know ourselves, the other and the world.
Walking on two feet has allowed us human beings to be such (Leroi-Gourhan A., 1964): to open the gaze and the attention of all senses to the world around, but also to develop a language, thought and sensitivity for beauty, communication with others and the tenderness of love relationships.
Dreams, art, music, the possibility of communicating with each other not only in a useful way but by developing and amplifying imaginable worlds, are possible because we are able to empathically enter the infinite worlds of our fellow men and experience emotions and sensations through the narratives.
A place where we live, whether settled or nomadic, becomes, with our work, but above all with the ability to perceive it, landscape, soundscape and also, through the imagination, memory and dream: an emotional landscape.
Dreams condense our experiences (emotional, perceptive, real) into stories that we live with the emotional intensity of waking. We know that the dreams of human beings are united by the representation of the world in which we live (Beradt C., 1966). They have always been considered by human beings to be the custodians of a knowledge that transcends the rational one. When we pay attention to their emotional content, they open to us the knowledge of unexplored internal worlds.

Where does the experience starts from?

Walking is the simplest and most primitive way we are aware of to get in touch with our self and with the environment around us. The sound walk could be enriched with a psychological aspect that would have explicitly highlighted the connection between mind, body and environment.
We began to define a path that integrated listening to the external landscape with listening to the internal landscape, experiences, emotions and memories that the soundscape would certainly have evoked. We decided to focus the walk on its conclusion at sunset – hence the title Sunset Sound Walk – in an open space so evocative that it borders on oneiric. And here comes the dreams in our speeches.
The idea started within the designing of ​a contemporary workshop site: a cultural outpost in a remote area with connections toward the outer world (Giorgia).

Where does the sound starts from?

We are in the very early 1990s: listening to and studying Luigi Nono’s music, during the collaboration with « his studio », the Experimental Studio SWF, Heinrich Strobel Stiftung, where I never met him personally because unfortunately, he had left the path of life shortly before. But I met his music, his instruments, his collaborators and his ideas; and it is thanks to him, at his suggestion, that the doors of the Freiburg Studio opened to me for the realization of two pieces “Natura morta con specchio” (Still life with mirror) and « An die Nacht » (To the night).
Luigi Nono, a Venetian, says it about to the motto « Caminantes, no hay caminos, hay que caminar » (Wayfarers, there is no way, you have to walk) written on the wall of a cloister in Toledo and inspired by the poetry of Antonio Machado (1912).
Crossroads without indications, deviations from the market road, lost paths and the incessant search for new ones: it is the way of music and the arts, and it can also be the one of life. Many of the most significant things in my life happened to me because I lost my way.
From that consideration began the search for a project that would integrate Giorgia’s different experiences as a psychologist, with my sound walks and my compositions, which, by the way, often have nature, and sometimes the night, in the titles.
The next meeting was with Maria Grazia, Giorgia’s colleague, and with Social Dreaming (SD). I admit: I did not even know SD existed. Now that we have walked a little bit together, I know it and tell it like this: a polyphonic collective dream, a choral; not so close to written polyphony, as to the music of oral tradition, which thrives on listening, improvisation and collective memory.
Do sound and dreams have an affinity? I answer spontaneously: yes.

In the assonances of their names, at least in Italian and in Latin languages; in depth: that of deep listening – linked to the practices of soundwalk, soundscape, acoustic ecology – and that of sleep in which our dreams live (I propose a rewriting of the acronym REM as Resonating Ear Memories); in the music, power to make people dream, and in the power of dreams to make sleep resonate with reality: the interpretation of dreams has not always been an attempt to tune the world of sleep, night, darkness, of the Moon, with that of wakefulness, of the day, of the light, of the Sun?
And what about the great day of the Earth with its four phases: dawn/spring, day/summer, dusk/autumn, night/winter? In this irregular path, marked by unconscious synchronicity, John Cage’s « Silence » (1961) reappears: a fundamental book, read years ago, loaned to who knows who, lost and found in the new edition of 2019. Opportunity to return on a figure who has made the liberation of sounds and listening (“allowing the sounds to be themselves”) his own poetics and artistic style. One of the most important books on music (not only: on art, culture, communication, life) of our times, in which knowledge otherwise fragmented in isolated disciplines is intertwined in a new polyphony and in a new humanism in poorly permeable bags. Leafing through, I read:

As I wandered thoughtfully through the woods, I remembered the Indian relationship between life and seasons. Spring is the Creation. Summer is Conservation. Autumn is Destruction. Winter is Quiet. Fungi grow more vigorously in autumn, during the period of destruction, and almost all of them serve to facilitate the final degradation of the decaying material.  »

(translation of the authors, (John Cage, op. cit, Saggiatore, 2019))

Perhaps the eye was drawn to those names of Seasons so often linked to the inflated concerts of Vivaldi, and it was immediate to associate the music of Cage – an expert mycologist – with mushrooms: with his music, perhaps he too did not do the work of ecology? Was not his composing a de-composing of the organization process of sounds? And the last step raises a question: perhaps dreams, like mushrooms (and like Cage’s music, but perhaps like all music) have ecological filtering, purification function? A question that, for now, remains suspended. (Giuseppe)

Where does the dream starts from?

The beauty of my work is listening to the words and emotions echoed by the voice.
Years ago, reading Cesare Pavese and Beppe Fenoglio, I started walking in the Langhe. Up and down hills furrowed by the sweat and blood of generations of « losers » (Nuto Revelli, 1977). The Langhe had then become places of the Resistance.
And the three of us met, each with a piece of this story in their hearts, the common humus in which our roots sank without our being aware of it: we began to talk about landscape, sounds and dreams.
My long psychoanalytic training began a long time ago, but even before that I had walked in this world, made what it is now by people who only knew the fatigue, and revealed by the voice of great storytellers.
When I met SD, I just had to let it evoke the stories of my childhood and those of the birth of the world that anthropologists had collected from men and women with powerful oral memory, people who communicated by modulating songs and respecting the power and knowledge of dreams (Chatwin B., 1987)
The SD method is a space constructed both simply and rigorously, an extension of the psychoanalytic culture, in which the « two people talking in a room » (Nissim Momigliano L., 1984) can become a group that shares dreams.
SD, which has allowed us to understand that a community that shares its dreams can acquire a greater awareness of the reality it is experiencing, has become for me a meeting place for the different paths of my life. (Maria Grazia)

Experience: from the hypotheses to its realization

We wanted to explore how walking while paying attention to the soundscape influences the connection with the environment, the others and our internal world, made of emotions, memories and thoughts.

First phase: the design

The idea was born within the beginning of « Officine Sartorino. Cultural Outpost” and found space in the framework of the “Global Celebration of Sound Walks” and its “Sound Walk September” program, walklistencreate.org.
We started defining the route (duration and main stages of the event), made of flat and uphill passages, paved road and path, meadows, hazelnut groves, woods and hamlets.
We asked for walking in silence, listening more than observing.
We designed different stages: listening to the sounds, sharing them and the impressions they evoked and finally work on dreams and free associations in an SD matrix.

Second phase: execution
5:15 p.m. Climbing towards the Chapel of S. Callisto (first stage)
Photo: Eugenio Pini (CC BY-NC-ND)

On 5 September 2020, a group of 18 people plus the 3 conductors and a photographer met in the village centre at 5.00 pm in Levice (Cn), Italy.
We proposed a brief introduction to the world of sounds and a few simple indications on how to pay attention to the soundscape, « blurring visual stimuli as much as possible and trying to build a map of surrounding environment through the characteristics of the sounds”. The path that twists from the village towards the top of the hill (the langa) began.

5:30 p.m. Chapel of S. Callisto, participants take note of the sounds in their notebooks
Photo: Eugenio Pini (CC BY-NC-ND)

After the first 30 minutes of walking we stopped, the first sharing moment took place in a suggestive spot in a small hamlet where participants were asked to take notes on their notepads of the sounds they had heard while walking. A quarter of an hour of individual work in silence, at the end of which we asked them to break the silence to share those notes.

5:45 p.m.  After the silence, we share the sounds we heard
Photo: Eugenio Pini (CC BY-NC-ND)

Participants were struck more by the silence and the lack of sounds they expected to hear than by what they actually heard. Is this the fear that nature is dying or the lack of awareness of an environment in which animals come out when farmers retreat to their homes? How much time and patience does it take to be able to hear the sound of nature and how many voices of nature are no longer audible? Frustration and disorientation are perhaps inevitable when we stand in a dimension of authentic listening.
Before the group resumed walking in silence, we invited participants to collect an object along the way that can represent the current experience (and which will be stored in a glass jar, like in a time capsule). After about 15 minutes, we stopped again at the top of the hill for a short break. Here, surprisingly, the group held a profound silence. Instead of interrupting it, as scheduled, for the indications concerning the final stage, we too remained in silence, enraptured by the emotional climate created.

6:15 p.m. Descending towards the sunset
Photo: Eugenio Pini (CC BY-NC-ND)

After 10 minutes, we resumed the downhill walk, till the meadow oriented as a natural amphitheatre towards sunset where each of us finds a place to sit.
After about ten minutes of contemplation, indications were given for the final session, dedicated to the dream.

7:15 p.m. On the lawn, while the sun draws the profile of the hills, we share our dreams 
Photo: Eugenio Pini (CC BY-NC-ND)
Third phase: reflection and redefinition

In this experience, the silence, more than sounds, had become the main catalyst of attention: silence as modality held for the entire duration of the experience, beyond all our expectations; silence as a perceived element; silence as a shared need.
Rediscovered or actively built together silence?

At the highest point we listen to our sensations
Photo: Eugenio Pini (CC BY-NC-ND)

As the participants wrote one week after the event:

« Silence relieves us from having to communicate and creates a deeper bond, with close people and with nature »

« When we reached the final moment we were invited to share dreams but I remained silent (…) I didn’t want to leave the listening dimension that had enveloped me throughout the experience”

Being in a group in silence. The sound of footsteps and breaths. “

A sense of harmony between people, who did not even know each other, emerged as if silence, or a shared need of silence, create and intimate relation with the environment and among “others »:

« I felt a deep sense of peace and serenity.”

Everyone finds their place among the others
Photo: Eugenio Pini (CC BY-NC-ND)

« It reminded me of a group meditation experience.”

« I felt a strong feeling of increasing energy flowing among all the people in the group, a sense of unity and affinity.”

“Peaceful, calm, silent sharing, an intense network of elastic agreements that (with) bind but do not bind, in the process of becoming, which are collectively sought and clarified; fluid participation in search of a widespread and common focal point. A strange and unusual situation experienced as a family situation: with curiosity. “

« Silence, emptying of the head, relaxation. »

In all the feedback, the memories goes to the silence that enveloped the participants, the silence of the word and the openness to listening. An experience of wellbeing in which everyone was able to enjoy the place and the presence of others. It seems to us not so common in daily life to experience such a sense of harmony.
Nevertheless, we have to notice that not even one feedback refers to the soundscape or a specific sound: did we lost the capability to use our hearing to explore and understand the environment?In the SD final stage, we proposed sharing dreams, albeit in a palpable atmosphere of melting that « energy that flowed… among all the people in the group” and the dreams emerged even if between long pauses of silence.
Some dreams evoked places of prayer: a cathedral, a chapel, or primitive shelters like a cave, but also the places and atmospheres of “Solaris”. We can hypothesize that the experience, both unusual and intense, « like a group meditation experience« , facilitated the emerging of these places-atmospheres.
Other dreams evoke powerful forgotten memories of childhood sensations and their intense physical sensations, vivid in the dream, but erased from alert memory: a rough caress, a vision of a face immediately disappeared.
The power of the body and its sensations emerges in the dream of being both female and male, accompanied by the fear/awareness that to love as before is no longer possible. We are not able to say what unearthed such a powerful dream – in which we recognize that each of us can potentially live as a female and as a male and love with a new fullness – but it evokes a fuller and more complete way to relate to ourselves and the others. Connecting our sensitivity to the emotions of others creates the same disorientation, easily to understand, experienced by the dreamer.
We can only make hypotheses. After all, in SD, the dreams that are offered to the group become collective imaginary, as a glimpse of intense light which, from the depths of each of us, illuminates the reality we share and that we transform into our own internal landscape from which we draw to re-dream it, re-live it and re-think it as much as we want, freely.
Later on, some of the participants confided privately to us the dreams they did not dare to tell in group, considering them insignificant, too funny, or embarrassing. This confirmed our impression that the transition to dreams was too sudden: a night between the walk and SD will be included in the new design of the experience.

Provisional conclusions

A glass vase to collect the substance of memories
Photo: Eugenio Pini (CC BY-NC-ND)

We pass through the same world, inhabited by the same sounds, but listening is different for each of us. Being able to live and share experiences so natural but also so unusual, might give some hope to the utopia of paying more attention to the environment, to the other and his/her world, so similar but different from ours?
Utopia is experiencing the possibility of communicating our own different soundscape and inner-scape to the other and connecting to the emotions of the other by resonating with him.
How attention to sounds affects the emerging of dreams it is something we lightly touch in this first experience: intense and profound sensations, emotions and memories emerged but we cannot draw conclusions yet.
We are open to listening and observing what will happen by including, in this possible near future, a creative phase of sound composition.

Bibliography

Benjamin W., I “passages” di Parigi, Einaudi, Torino, 2010
Benjamin W., Scritti autobiografici, Neri Pozza, Vicenza, 2019
Beradt C., (1966), Il Terzo Reich dei sogni, Einaudi, Torino,1991
Cage J. (1961), Silenzio, Il Saggiatore, Milano, 2019
Calvino I., Il castello dei destini incrociati, Einaudi, Torino, 1969
Fenoglio B., La malora, Einaudi, Torino, 1954
Fenoglio B., Il partigiano Johnny, Einaudi, Torino, 1968
Lawrence W.G., Social Dreaming. La funzione sociale del sogno, Borla, Roma, 2001
Leroi-Gourhan A. (1964), Il gesto e la parola, Giulio Einaudi Editore, Torino, 1977
Lewin K., Pippo, Pluto e Paperino alle Olimpiadi, Atene, 1980
Machado A., (Proverbios y Cantares, 1912), Proverbi e cantari, Aracne, Roma, 2012
Nissim Momigliano L., “Due persone che parlano in una stanza” (Una ricerca sul dialogo analitico), 1984, in Rivista di Psicoanalisi, 30/1, pp. 1-17.
Restagno E. (a cura di), Luigi Nono, EDT, Torino, 1987
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The authors

G. Gavazza, G. Micene, M.G. Siri. The English version is by Sophie Provost.

Starting from different perspectives, we converged in the interest of increasing awareness about what we are and the environment in which we live through listening. After years of friendship, we had this epiphany: as psychotherapists and musician, the three of us have one thing in common: listening is our job.

Maria Grazia Siri
Psychoanalitical psychotherapist for children, families and small groups; Social Dreaming host; trainer for educational, health and welfare professionals.

Giorgia Micene
Psychologist and psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapist. Consultant for third sector public and private institutions and companies, for projects in favor of vulnerable groups. Member of Doctors Without Borders Italy, Opus London, member of the scientific editorial staff of Psicologi del Mondo-Torino, member of the Scientific Committee of the Nodo Group.

Sophie Provost
Professional translator specialised in translation studies. Translator at the AAU Laboratory, volunteer for the United Nations Volunteer Program and for TED Translators. Contributor to the International Ambiances Network.

Pour citer ce billet : Giuseppe Gavazza, Giorgia Micene, Maria Grazia Siri, Sophie Provost. 2021. SOUNDS, SILENCE AND DREAMS. From the soundscape of the Alta Langa highlands to the dreamland. Le Cresson Veille et Recherche. En ligne : https://lcv.hypotheses.org/16855 

Giuseppe Gavazza

Giuseppe Gavazza (1957), live in Torino. He studied Composition, Direction, Piano, Musicology and Electronic Music at Milano Conservatory with-among others-Paolo Castaldi, Azio Corghi, Alberto Peyretti, Goffredo Haus, Marco De Natale, Guido Salvetti and Giovanni Acciai. He has collaborated with CSC Padua University, LIM Milan University, SWF Experimental Studio Freiburg, IRCAM Paris, ACROE-ICA Polytechnique Grenoble where, in 2018, completed a PhD on subject: "De Rerum Natura: Physical modelling as a tool for musical composition". From 2020 is Associated Researcher at CRESSON, Centre de Recherche sur l’Espace Sonore et l’environnement urbain, laboratoire AAU, CNRS, Ecole d’Architecture de Grenoble. He teaches Music Composition and Analysis at Cuneo Music Conservatory. Promoter of events of contemporary music and arts, new technologies and musical theatre for children has collaborated with Luciano Berio, Sergio Liberovici, Enrico Correggia and Giulio Castagnoli. His compositions won international competitions, are edited, recorded and executed by accredited performers and festivals and broadcasted on international radio and networks. Partecipated in Artist in residence programs round the world where realized more then 150 collaborative projects with visual artists, film and theatre directors, video makers, architects, poets, choreographers and dancers, writers and photographs. “My primary goal – as musician, artist and researcher – is to find new spaces and opportunity for my music”

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