Some words about personalization, communication and how I place myself when creating the project “Soundra Massage”
Things started from my tinnitus.
It is something really draws a lot of attention of a musician, so I kept asking “am I having tinnitus now, or is there a noise in the environment?” It is annoying. Not only because it made me worry about losing the audible ability, but also because the sound I paid a lot of attention to, doesn’t exist for other people. I may look anxious, but it’s hard to let other people know the reason. When I have tinnitus, I’m actually having a sound source which I can’t share its sound with other people.
But that explained something I confused for a long time. As a composer who once learnt music production, I always have the doubt: does it make sense to make all mixing/ mastering environments the same? A lot of producers are trying to build a very dry studio, buy the “standard” monitors, calibrate every time before starting a project; they also require their audience to use some “professional” playback devices to play their works. There is a famous picture which is regarded as a joke or a meme on the internet telling about the real situation (which made these producers very angry):
Of course, they changed their mind somehow after knowing the cruel reality: in some studios, they do several versions for different sale channels – one for CD in shops, one for internet downloading, one for mobile app streaming, etc. There are some producers even tried to know beforehand which device their customers are using, especially the device of the person who decides whether to pay for the production. They make a special version for this person, then they are more likely to have time to show and explain their “studio version”.
But since the audience is using thousands of different devices, plus the different physical conditions and different listening environments, what these producers doing is just trying to reduce the audible differences between every single person (but never eliminate it). Of course, it makes sense for huge productions like pop songs, but is it too egoistic if you’re facing a small audience no more than 50 people?
This is exactly the situation of many contemporary music works. A bigger audience is not the priority among the reasons composers creating their works, deeper connection with the limited audience seems much more important. In this case, making music works more specific for some groups is a very effective strategy. Thus, we’re seeing pieces for children, for patients, for a place, for a certain period of time…
But there must be some sounds only YOU want to listen/ make/ share.
Composers usually can’t take care of these needs, because traditionally they’re supposed to “express themselves”. We always say we’re going to “show” a piece, sometimes we say “share” too, but it still means “share the sounds/ images came from my mind”, or at least “let me show you my feeling first”. If we just think music is an art, it is reasonable to worship it. But if we go back to the start point of music – communication, this composer-dominant situation can’t make me satisfied.
There are pieces which audience can fully freely participant, but even though, in most works I’ve seen, I can’t say the audience is at the same position as the composer. Because the composer is not really listening to the audience, he/ she/ they won’t change their piece after knowing the audience’s needs, like the producers making a special version for the most important customer. The audience is always ready to pay attention to the composer, but the composer is not supposed to know every audience’s idea, no matter how small the audience is.
Is it communication? If the equal status is a precondition of communication, if exchanging ideas is the essence of communication, I can’t admit the “mainstream” composition and musical performance nowadays is a way of communication.
How I place myself here
When I was a teenager, one of my biggest wishes is, me not being a composer. It was because I was strongly influenced by the communist thoughts and I thought it’s very important to serve the people, but not to make myself prominent. Later I also learnt about the value of being an individual, and I started to accept myself as a composer. But I’m still happy to provide some services to people, as a composer-performer.
The title “Soundra Massage” is a combination of “Tantra Massage” and sound. Like tantra massage through some intimate sessions to help people explore their sexual pleasure, Soundra Massage is a personalized, therapy-like, one-to-one process to explore the sound possibilities of the audience. The session will happen in a bed where the audience can be relax, no other observer or assistant is allowed. It will start with a talk, so every session will be different from each other. I may play some pieces by other composers with my alternation to warm up, then play 1-3 my improvisational pieces (specially composed for this project) together with the audience. Some parts can be multi-sensory, but it will be centered by sound.
In different situations, I have different relationships to the audience. But in this project, I will try to be at totally the same position as the audience (could be lower sometimes), try not to show off the characters or skills of a composer. It’s an attempt to dissolve the boundaries between people, art and environment, like some artists already did decades ago, but still something worth trying now in the sound area.