“And Beethoven Heard Nothing” 

Collage by Timothy Gosley

An intimate audio-visual tale that intertwines the listener’s personal experience of hearing with visual light play and sonic re-imaginings of Beethoven’s music filtered through the realities of hearing loss and tinnitus.

Directed by Tina Pearson, Dramaturgy by Dylan Robinson. Performed by Tim Gosley, Cathy Lewis, Alex Olson, Tina Pearson, Chris Reich, and George Tzanetakis.
And Beethoven Heard Nothing was developed from January through May, 2010 and premiered May 12, 2010 at Knox Presbyterian Church in Victoria, BC. A revised version of the work was developed for performance at Merlin’s Sun Home Theatre October 23 and 24, 2010. An intimate black box theatre, Merlin’s Sun afforded a deeper engagement with the audiences and gave the opportunity to work with a Ship’s Piano, a small version of the piano designed for ship travel in the mid 1800’s.

And Beethoven Heard Nothing had its beginnings  in discussions to re-mix Mauricio Kagel’s multi-media Beethoven-inspired work Ludwig Van.
The project coalesced instead into the creation of a new work using the practice of facilitated composition within a context that was more akin to performative installation than concert. Dylan Robinson and Tina Pearson developed a concept linking haptic and sonic elements of performer and audience perception in an exploration of Beethoven’s changing hearing juxtaposed with his musical sound world.
Robinson’s  proposal of large white paper screens as a way to rearrange the visibility of the performance space and performers, and as projection surfaces for light and image, brought a new kind of structure for the creation of musical relationships for the ensemble.
Pearson developed sonic exercises and improvisation structures for the ensemble, focusing in two ways; first on on the hearing process, inviting an inner rearrangement of sound perception for musical interplay and performance; and second on proximity, placement and movement of the musicians in the physical space.
At each rehearsal, the ensemble began by wearing earplugs to focus listening attention on the varying inner sounds of their individual physical systems, and then replicating these sounds as accurately as possible with their instruments and other soundmaking sources. This evolving practice became the core attention of the work, creating a juxtaposition of heartbeats, tinnitus, the nuances of hearing, listening and hearing loss with musical interpretation and invention.
The process for bringing Beethoven’s music to the work: Each musician was invited to choose a specific Beethoven musical fragment for the ensemble to explore in this context, bringing ideas about story and shape from individual perspectives, experiences and sensibilities.
Timothy Gosley’s experiments with low-tech live video and projection techniques were a fit for both the sensibility of the ensemble and for the project. Tim participated in the exercises throughout the development of the piece. His light play became an integral element that shaped the narrative while giving a shifting visual architecture for the sonic exploration.

“Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.”

Beethoven was completely deaf by the time he composed his later works such as the Ninth Symphony, the late String Quartets and Missa Solemnis. Over a twenty-year period, starting when he was about twenty-seven years of age, Beethoven experienced gradual hearing loss combined with severe Tinnitus. That he continued to compose and perform such music as he did is an astonishment that guided the project.


“…And Beethoven Heard Nothing”

The path of sonic narrative for the project “…And Beethoven Heard Nothing” is dependent on its venue and the performers involved.  It begins with a focus on inner hearing, and unfolds in an exploration of the relationship between vision and sound, and ways that the processes of hearing and its nuances can be juxtaposed and combined with ‘musical’ material. A regular practice of listening to ear and body sounds while wearing ear plugs give foundation to an ensemble for bringing these sounds and their visual representation into musical interplay, for creating the sounds of imagined Tinnitus, and for playing with silence. These elements were absorbed into the Beethoven fragments and improvisations, creating a blur between ‘noise’ and music; inviting the “roaring, buzzing, ringing and hissing” of Beethoven’s tinnitus into a redefined soundworld in which to meet his iconic musical mind.
LaSaM’s “…and Beethoven Heard Nothing” performances at Knox Presbyterian Church Merlin’s Sun Home Theatre in Victoria in May and October 2010 were a resonant success. The pre and post concert talks were full of illuminating ideas, responses, and heartfelt interactions with those who attended. Listening so deeply to inner sounds together seems to create an immediacy and intimacy in which to share experiences without the usual walls and masks.
For information and score, contact <tina.pearson”at”shaw.ca>
And Beethoven Heard Nothing was funded by the British Columbia Arts Council. LaSaM is grateful for the support of the Knox Presbyterian Church, Merlin’s Sun Home Theatre and the University of Victoria School of Music for providing rehearsal space.
Photos by Lyssa Pearson