You are here

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Part 2

Flow:
After dealing a bit with the different ways we receive artistic information, we now understand a fundamental characteristic of music: we cannot stop it, we must receive it as it is. By using our ears as the receiver, music can go inside our minds effortlessly and our mind is not able to control it. We are obliged to take it as it is! Our ears, after thousands of years of receiving information this way, try to construct what enters in order to somehow control it. I must say that after digging a bit more into it, I see much more similarities with dreams and its mechanism. I am not talking about the mechanisms of conscious and unconscious dream-thoughts, I am talking about the fact that both dreams and music experience, happen in a situation where we cannot actively control the information we receive and its impact on our mind. Sleeping and hearing are completely different of each other beside the fact that both passively receive information without us being able to control it.
Freud: “ A dream, then, is the manner in which the mind reacts to stimuli that impinge upon it in the state of sleep.” Now, bravely, we could change it into: “A musical experience, then, is the manner in which the mind reacts to stimuli that impinge upon it in the state of  - ? .” What is the ultimate state one should be in order to experience music? We know that the ears are the main receiver, but are there anything more? Is there a state of mind one should be in order to experience this ultimate musical experience? Does the eyes take part of this experience in any way?

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, the Hungarian Psychologist, offers an interesting term for us to use when talking about music making: “Flow is a subjective state that people report when they are completely involved in something to the point of forgetting time, fatigue, and everything else but the activity itself. It is what we feel when we read a well-crafted novel or play a good game of squash, or take part in a stimulating conversation.” I can say, that conducting could bring me to a state where I feel these sensations. You loose track of time, fatigue, you don’t feel your body: as something took over you. Csikszentmihaly describes: “The flow experience is typically described as involving a sense of control-or more precisely, as lacking the sense of worry about losing control”. I believe, that Flow is the ultimate description of the state of mind we musicians find ourselves occasionally. Not in every concert we manage to get in to it, not in every concert we experience this feelings as above. There are three main preconditions to experiencing flow: a clear set of goals, a balance between perceived challenges and perceived skills, flow is dependent on the presence of clear and immediate feedback. All these preconditions are correct for a general definition of Flow, whether we talk about extreme sports, music making or studying. But are there another preconditions when dealing with music? I suggest two other preconditions:
The first one is a physical unity. When conducting a piece, its rhythm, harmony, dynamics, all its musical characteristics bring us to a certain physical interpretation using our hands and body. I believe that when the physical side matches completely the musical ideas, even for a short moment, Flow is emerging. I have felt this a lot of times during conducting: in some moments you feel that your movements are in complete unity with the objective music information (as in the score) and your personal ideas of interpretation. This state of Flowing, when dealing with conducting, reflects the musicians in front of you but not less it reflects the public. The conductor uses his hands and body in order to transmit his musical ideas of the tempo, rhythm, dynamics exc. We conductors are used to be in complete silent while everybody around us play or sing. The musicians play as we conduct, they receive through their eyes the information we transmit, and translate it into the music. We send information, energy, inspiration and they must receive it all and translate it into the notes they have in front of them. It is very difficult to explain all this to someone who is not a musician, or have never experienced conducting, but I cannot start to describe to you the unbelievable influence the conductor has on the musicians. The physical aspects are not insignificant, it is true a conductor needs to work in the rehearsals and talk and explain what he is looking for in this particular piece, but eventually if he does not “show” it in the concert, a lot of his work could be forgotten. His conducting must match his musical ideas.
The second precondition would be an intellectual unity. Since we conductors work with musicians and we are not the music makers, we all need to achieve an intellectual unity. We could never get into Flow if all the people on stage think the same and understand the musical search we are up to. This precondition is specific to conducting but I think that since conducting is such a mysterious form of communication, one could use it in a search for an experience, which is particular.

If we all agree to all this preconditions and to the fact the flow could take place in a musical performance, we now need to approach the fact that when flow is on stage, flow might get to the public. Could it be that a very exciting concert is a concert where the public passively experience some kind of flow? Or could the public experience flow without it being experienced on stage too?

Listeners often say that they have lost track of time during the concert, or that they didn’t feel the uncomfortable seats from the moment the music starts. Those are similar to the description of flow in other activities only that in listening to a concert those descriptions are not enough in order to call this a full experience of Flow. I will explain, being in a concert is not enough in order to define this experience as an active one, which could lead the listener to a certain flow feeling.  Being a listener cannot enter into the definition of people  who “are completely involved in something” because being in a concert is only one part of the “being involved in something”. The second part must come from the stage. Since the stage is the mechanism that makes the music, the stage must experience flow in order for the public to establish a complete flow experience. How do the stage experience flow? As we already explained, when all the preconditions are achieved together with the fact that music contains old and hidden sensations, all together could bring us to experience flow in music making. It is not enough to have inspiration, or to have beautiful hair; one must unite all the conscious and hidden elements in the score into sound and movement. When this is achieved on stage, the musical impact on the public is so profound that it touches their hidden and old symbols using their ears, and brings them closer to the flow.
All this must be the musical information received by the ears. The mind of the public receives the music, elaborate it and brings it to the point it touches our inner sensations, some personal and some mutual to all humankind (ancient primitive sensations).
To this we need to add the musical experience achieved by watching. Our eyes take an important role in our search for Flow in the concert hall. When our ears have achieved all this, our eyes must receive the same quality of information. The conductor and musicians who experience flow, using their body’s, must transmit this unity to the public in way that the ears and the eyes elaborate the same core using deferent receivers. The physical and intellectual unity is the most important condition to flow sharing. Each of the organs has a different way to elaborate information, but flow appears when each of them elaborates the information in its own way, only that during flow both mechanisms share the same sensations. The ears manage to construct what the eyes see, and the eyes manage to picture what the ears hear.
At this precise moment, I believe, flow of its best appears and throws us into a great musical sensation.