A contemplative Q&A with Daedelus on the power of deep listening.
A few years ago, Alfred Darlington was sitting outside a café in São Paulo, Brazil. A band playing nearby had the audience, Darlington included, enchanted. In 2016, he told FACT Magazine about the experience: “Everybody picked up their forks, knives, salt shakers, and began to play along. Not some easy clap along, they were playing rhythms; complicated rhythms… How inspiring.” As I begin to retell the story to him in a lead up to a question, he gives a half-laugh that lets me know how special this moment was, and remains, to him. “It wasn’t about the band being technically astounding, it was really about the audience being both engaged with the act, and being so linked to a music culture,” he explains, suggesting that this kind of experience would never take place in the States, where performer and audience are relegated to their specific binaries: giver and receiver, respectively. “This idea of joining the chorus and adding your voice to an ensemble… That was incredible.”
It was with that in mind that Alfred, the Dublab co-founder better known by his stage name Daedelus, and I got to talking about a new project he is involved in. From the founders of SUBPAC, immerse(d) is a new not for profit event series which looks to bring together artists, scientists, practitioners and technologists to explore how deep immersive music can optimally impact us, individually and collectively. Starting with events in Montreal and Los Angeles, immerse(d) will move on to London early next year, bringing panel discussions, workshops, and performances to audiences all around the world. Alfred, who is a member of immerse(d)’s core team as both a panelist and a performer, sat down with me recently to speak about the project.
Starting with this story about your experience in São Paulo, what can you tell me about the humanity of music as you see it?
I think maybe it has to do with the act of listening and hearing being linked to what it means to be human — or at least the humanity of something. Like, listening as this profound act of: not only are you hearing audio but you’re also understanding and conceptualizing the environment and the people around you. It’s very based in biology, our ears never shut off, we’re always hearing, we’re always spatializing.
What do you mean by spatializing?
Well, we are always making these decisions of what we’re editing in and out of our perception. We don’t necessarily determine that to be of the most importance — maybe we prize our eyes or maybe we associate smell with our memory place, but our ears are astounding in that way. They always are transmitting to us and we’re always deciding whether or not we want to give it importance. Listening is also an emotional response, not just a scientific one.
How does that impact you as a performer?
I suppose it just means that every performance is an opportunity to connect with people more deeply. But the thing is that as an electronic performer, especially in these spaces that are dark, cavernous, and loud… We’re making it so loud and so dark that you can’t really even see the person next to you. And yet it is about congregating together, it is about being in this church like atmosphere — you’ve kind of negated all else. Oftentimes I’m really excited about the end of the night moment where the lights come on and you realize that you’ve been maybe raving for however many hours next to all these other bodies in their own states of disrepair and exhaustion but also exaltation. And that’s such a beautiful moment that I love as a performer.
I don’t think that’s something many people or performers even think about.
I wish more people could experience it! There’s something really profound in just knowing the other people in the room. There is something to be said for even the most happenstance of bumping into somebody and knowing that they are human and you are human in these ways.
Are these experiences of human connection something you’re trying to aim for with Project immerse(d)?
The project has an intrinsic amount of that. We really are trying to raise the frequency of this conversation. The answer to that question, really dealing with the very certain circumstance of a party… We don’t look at any part of oursound culture with any kind of magnification, generally; we’re just experiencing it and kind of pushing it away into easy boxes. And so immerse(d) is trying to connect a lot of disparate dots. It’s a big act. And that’s why it’s more of an event series than a one-off. We’re really reaching to try to change the nature of this conversation entirely — but even the smallest steps focus on the bringing together of people who are already thinking of sound as a constant.
The tagline for the event series is “Music, health, technology.” Can you talk about how those things intertwine for you?
These are really broad terms! Music not only being the harmonic Western idea but also all sound frequencies; then health as the kind of surface tension of mental and physical health but also spiritual health… And then technology is not just the implementation that provides sound, but it’s also the transmission of sound cultures, be it radio or television or concert halls, plus the technology of implementing sound on the small, the intimate, on body or in ear. immerse(d) is seeking to try to find a role of advocacy for all those ideas, plus ones on the political spectrum: raise the awareness of what sound pollution and noise pollution can be, as well as Indigenous sound, translation issues, advocacy for sound as a minority issue or as a global population issue.
The everyday issues that people face where music and sound is concerned.
Right, an artist, as a musician, I think I encounter parts of this in the wide world all the time, but rarely do I have the chance to talk it out because again, the community gathers at loud places, at these concerts and events. So a place like immerse(d) is a wonderful point to start that conversation. And although these might seem like broad topics, it all comes down to hearing. You know? The truth of the matter is just whatever people are receiving is already of the utmost importance. And that intimate act alone of just listening is the basis of the beginning of this conversation. For example, our headline performer for the Los Angeles event was Laraaji, whose work brings a great deal of awareness towards the act of performing as a social commune through this incredible frequency sound healing.
What else can you tell me about sound as an act of healing?
I guess it’s about what sound does. There’s a self-medication aspect where sound has become really important, partially because we’ve been reaching for healing and sound provides an aspect of that, but without necessarily much understanding of how or why. And so, I can say for myself, I had a tough run of my childhood and music was always an easy thing. I always found some skill or talent at it. It was always the center part of my life. But it didn’t solve anything. It didn’t cure my dyslexia, for instance. We’ve made it a recreational activity rather than a way of dealing out loud with our issues and problems.
You once said that making music is the place where you feel the most happy, but it’s not a lasting feeling, just a place to visit.
Exactly, music is both Apollonian and Dionysian: it is order and reason, you have these structured harmonies that make math, they make sense; you can take really complicated ideas and have just four chords and it resolves everything. It’s beautiful in that simplicity. But the Dionysian, the recklessness of it, the aleatoric-ness of it, is also a vessel that you can take into the world and fit it into something. Oftentimes I do feel like the happiness I’ve derived from making music or performing it comes from the fact of simplification. And inevitably, that simplification erodes and you are left with a complicated world that is not listening, is not present, is just temporary. And that you have to accept.
Would you say that chasing that happiness also puts added pressure on you as a musician?
It is deadly. It’s a minefield, it is an absolute conundrum. Artistry has its moments of ups and downs… Especially in electronic music, I’m dealing with a youth culture — but I’m 40 years old. I’m playing often to people who are half my age. And I have this awareness that once that pool has set and once people have moved on, I will still be here. I’m chasing a dragon, I’m chasing my addiction… And that’s dangerous.
Does that worry or concern also play into your internal narrative?
So how do you cope with chasing happiness through music when your internal narrative is perhaps feeling depressed or unconfident or uncreative?
That’s often the case, you know, where my voice is not being strident and sometimes the difficult emotions yield results that are more interesting! But either way, it’s a very human act to be heard… Just to be heard is the beginning step of a really complicated set of chemistry that yields acceptance. And acceptance is maybe the goal. Self-acceptance, societal acceptance. And I know for myself, when I’ve been down, it is heartening to know that there are other people out there that may be helped by my sound. That is more than half the point of why I share this music out loud.
And what about performing? Does that soothe you as well?
Well, especially with those up and down moments that I was mentioning, you can lose sight of why you do this really easily. But over time, you identify it as being this gigantic communal act of just — I don’t mean to keep using these religious metaphors, but it’s very apt just because of the importance that I place on music in my life. There’s really no other religion than music. Music is that thing for me, that feeling of profound connection that happens in performance. I feel very lucky that I’ve had so many performances, so many opportunities to share the ineffable. When it works, when it’s happening, there is nothing like it.
How do you hope that immerse(d) will contribute to that with future events?
I think through the community aspect of music, the talks and panel discussions, that is all to be present… But also just in general, we are trying to put ears back in the conversation. Listening back in its primacy. immerse(d) is part of an overall zeitgeist to mind down the why and how. It’s just an opportunity to have that conversation out loud, to really talk in specifics about the ways that sound are based and have all these ancillary effects on our mental state, how our feeling of uprightness is based on the inner ear, how there are so many ways for life to leave us adrift.
What would you say is the best way we can support mental health and that feeling of a driftness in our own music communities?
I think one of the really profound ways is to just start listening deeply. Listen to the words that people say, but also, listen to the words beneath them, the melody that is supporting the harmony and conversely the same. Just being attentive and letting sometimes somebody else’s words and statements and songs, for instance, take clemency. And then listening with intelligence towards what is actually being said. I think that could change the whole world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: