Percussion used to explore the social construction of space.
In a musical context you would say that Sean Meehan is a percussionist. He is also actively involved in housing struggles in New York, and has studied city planning. He walks: a lot. Over the course of 20+ years he has slowly pared down his drum kit so that for a long time now he has worked mostly just with a snare drum, and different objects used to activate and vibrate both the snare, and we would say, an engagement with the space in which he plays (and it’s social, political aspects).
Sean plays just a snare drum, with cymbals or forks. He produces electronic, rattling tones from them using just a dowel and friction. It might be a touch reductive to talk just of the sounds he makes, though. We think he uses percussion as a means to slow down and mark time, so as to create a kind of social patience for, and also an openness to, the non-aural aspects of listening together – the spatial and social characteristics of a specific setting, time and group of people1
To start with: Sean’s performances are informed by much more than music. They reach out to or fold into them much that is non-musical. Maybe even we could say that they reject a certain (dominant) kind of listening (one that reduces music to the aural, to what can be heard). They concern themselves with the extra-musical aspects of music – responding to an environment, to the physical, social space in which the performance happens and which it helps temporarily to create.
All of which is to say: instead of an idea of an audience being absorbed by a performance, a better notion might be one of ‘involvement’ – of performances that involves the audience conceptual experience; a kind of (temporary) collective thinking and being, a non-discursive mode of thought about being together in a specific space together. In this way Sean’s performances invert the normal idea of ‘setting’ - the sound becomes the setting (in the way you would say a film is set in Rio) and the space / landscape/ location, but also the people/ audience, becomes the actors.
Kinds of listening involved
Collective - to be together (listening).
Spatial - to spend time and embody space, with sound.
- 1. For example: every summer for almost 20 years he has staged a concert with Tamio Shiraishi off of New York’s mercantile grid, in elusive spaces that are commonly overlooked and unwatched. In 2007 we organized a Scottish version of these concerts, with Sean, Tamio, percussionist Ikuro Takehashi and radical cartographer Denis Wood, that visited unconsidered corners of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Cumbernauld, Easterhouse and Newcastle, cuts and holes in the city plan, the memory-traces of an abandoned set of futures.
Copyright © Sean Meehan 2012