Music making as assimilation: the practice of group listening

Chang, Leo
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Fisher-Lochhead, Chris
Galloway, Kate
Gill, Denise
Goodheart, Matthew
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Electronic arts
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This electronic version is a licensed copy owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy, NY. Copyright of original work retained by author.
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Group Listening is a collaborative musical performance practice that I organized and led from 2017 to 2021 with a group of musicians under the name Ensemble Consensus. Group Listening was the conceptual term I coined to be referenced by Ensemble Consensus members as a mutually understood, overarching framework when designing and discussing our own projects. Notably, Ensemble Consensus was a group dedicated solely to Group Listening projects. At its core, Group Listening is a creative methodology for investigating various relationship dynamics via iterative activities that necessitate collective authorship, participation, and improvisation. Specifically, every Group Listening project has resulted in Ensemble Consensus members co-writing text-based guidelines that outline the ways we should relate to one another and our creative tools. These guidelines determined how we rehearsed, rather than what we played. Thus, our various public performances and offerings ended up looking, sounding, and feeling like rehearsals. With each project, Ensemble Consensus aimed to imagine different ways of facilitating social interaction to deepen our creative capacity for collaborative music making. Understanding Group Listening necessitates understanding the social circumstances that initiated the performance practice. Group Listening and Ensemble Consensus came about as a reaction to my lived experiences with assimilation and rootlessness. My migratory background as a Seoul-born, Shanghai-raised artist currently based in New York informs my understanding of music as a social activity, where explicit and implicit etiquettes and rules of collaboration inform how people engage with one another socially and musically. Analyses of a portfolio of projects undertaken by Ensemble Consensus demonstrate how Group Listening treats music making as an assimilatory process that can manufacture norms and manipulate relationship dynamics in specific ways, parallel to the experience of cultural assimilation. In doing so, I advocate for the acceptance of rootlessness as a meaningful condition that encourages multiplicity and fluidity within notions of selfhood and identity. Accepting rootlessness at the personal and interpersonal level illuminates how it can be applied at the cultural level. In this project, I apply the connections between rootlessness, assimilation, and Group Listening to the contemporary cultural interpretations of Koreanness. In so doing, I situate the musical practice within the history of my place of birth and clarify the origins of my desire to legitimize rootlessness and assimilatory practices like Group Listening.
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Dept. of the Arts
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Rensselaer Theses and Dissertations Online Collection
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