A Chance Encounter with Christian Wolff

9. Listening

FRANK J. OTERI: Now we talk about the ideal performer to some extent. What about the ideal listener?

CHRISTIAN WOLFF: I don’t have a lot to say about that. Let’s start with that. I think it may be partly because of that initial experience that I had which was that people hated the music… I mean, in concerts, there would be a very small group I knew would be interested and the rest—either they would hate it or if they were my family or friends, they’d say, “My God, what are you doing?” They just couldn’t relate to it in anyway. And so I got kind of hardened early to the notion that, look, this is what I’m doing and…There’s plenty of music out there that people like to listen to and if they like to listen to it, they should go listen to it. I’m going to do my thing and if they like it fine and if they don’t, too bad.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, to a listener that’s coming to your music, what advice would you give? How should somebody listen to your music?

CHRISTIAN WOLFF: Besides just listening to it? Well, just relax. I don’t know, I just don’t know. I mean, I don’t want any special favors or anything. You should just listen to it the way you would listen to anything else! It’s true, though I mean, the problem with it, of course, is that it doesn’t sound like anything else. Or you might say the problem, or even the greater problem, is that it might occasionally sounds like something else and then suddenly it doesn’t. And then it leaves, you think, “Ah, now I’ve got something I can get, you know, relate to” and then I leave them hanging dry, you know and that…So, yeah, I don’t know what to say. I used to talk a certain amount about art actually. I mean, people don’t have problems with abstract pictures. Alright, so you can’t see, here’s a picture of a mountain and here’s a picture of just blobs and you don’t have any problems looking at one and then the other, you know. And the music is like that too. I mean, I haven’t totally talked that way for a long time but that seemed to me perfectly, and maybe that’s, maybe I should raise that again. Just listen to it as another kind of, what could you say, work with sound. I mean, maybe that’s an issue that came up earlier. Don’t worry about music, now especially nowadays that shouldn’t be such an issue because every kind of music is out there. And as you said the kids are used to music from, you know, Borneo and Sonic Youth, and Bach and it’s all part of this great thing and people are much less troubled now by making peculiar sounds or whatever it is. It’s just part of the world’s music and maybe that’s what I would say. Just listen to it just as though you listen to anything else that is out there.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now, this question…

CHRISTIAN WOLFF: My main problem with audiences is that they’re totally unpredictable. Because you never know who it is that’s out there, and why they’re there, and what they think they’re doing there and so on and so forth. And there’s no way you can control that. I can control what I write on a piece of paper. To a certain extent if I’m there when they’re preparing the piece or I’m playing in it, I have something to do there, but beyond that, it’s totally out of my hands. I mean, I can choose my venue, okay, but who knows who’s going to come to a concert? Or with what presuppositions and maybe all they do is listen to classical music. Well, of course, they’re going to have trouble with this to a certain extent, yeah. On the other hand, if they listen to Sonic Youth as well then maybe they can connect a little better.

FRANK J. OTERI: But indeed, isn’t that the most wonderfully indeterminate quality of music? That you don’t know the audience…

CHRISTIAN WOLFF: Sure, exactly, yeah. Well, that is the ultimate indeterminacy.

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