MONO Prelude (2009)
by Neil Rolnick
If we listen to the same piece of music, do you hear what I hear? When we look at a red stop sign, do we actually see the same thing? If we each take a bite of the same apple, do we experience the same taste sensation? Even if we agree we’re both seeing hearing a Bach fugue, looking at a red stop sign, and tasting a sweet apple, how do we compare our actual perceptions? As far as I know, we have no way to know someone else’s actual sensation of sound or sight or taste.
On March 31, 2008 between 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. I lost all hearing in my left ear. The loss is permanent and is accompanied by a loud white noise tinnitus where the left ear should be. With only one ear, I now hear the world monophonically. There is no stereo or surround sound in my world. And much of what I do hear I identify as distorted, and unclear compared to my memory of what I heard before.
What I walked away from this experience with was an awareness that our perceptions are indeed different, because my perception of sound now is quite different from what it was. I wanted to see if this was unique, so I started asking around – first to friends, then to a wide net of contacts on the net – to see if other people experienced similar changes to their perceptions of the world through their five senses. What I found was a flood of people who identify one of their five senses as impaired. They are aware that they see, or hear, or smell, or taste or feel the world differently than others. When you listen this CD, there’s no way to know if you hear what I hear. Probably not. And if we’re not hearing the same sounds, how can we agree on the music? Yet, for the most part, we do. We may not like the same things, but we agree enough on what we hear to be able to discuss it, comment on it, refer to it. The more I think about this, with the huge number of people in the world who identify their senses as being impaired in some way, the more amazed I am.
Several years later, I’ve collected and compiled some of these stories into an evening of music and media performance called MONO.
MONO is a series of musical meditations on the fragility of perception: its appreciation, its loss, and our ability to adjust to changes in our perceptual abilities. The piece is an evening length consideration of how our perceptions shape us. It is a series of twelve pieces which explore the loss of perceptual ability and the subsequent changes in how we relate to the world in response to that loss.
The MONO Prelude is a little foretaste of the larger work. It describes my experience of the initial few days and weeks of discovering and adjusting to the change in my hearing. Unlike the larger pieces, which involves instruments, singers, and various media, the Prelude is performed by me, alone, talking to the audience, controlling the laptop computer which modulates my voice.
Neil B. Rolnick
A pioneer in the use of computers in performance, beginning in the late 1970s, Neil Rolnick’s music has been performed around the world, and appears on 15 CD’s.
Though much of Rolnick’s work connects music and technology, and is therefore considered in the realm of “experimental” music, his music has always been highly melodic and accessible. Whether working with electronic sounds, improvisation, or multimedia, his music has been characterized by critics as “sophisticated,” “hummable and engaging,” and as having “good senses of showmanship and humor.”
Rolnick teaches at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, where he was founding director of the iEAR Studios.
- Live Electronic