Enforced listening moments

Enforced listening moments

Jeremy Denk’s take on simplicity versus complexity as told through Chopin:

Chopin’s simplicity rebukes Chopin’s complexity. The Genius of Chopin is sitting there, in his self-rebuke, sandwiched between an almost-clichéd chromatic transition, a pedal point, and a lyrical slow section rocking between the two most common chords there are: this glimpse of screw-you-I-can-write-something-so-beautiful-that’s-made-of-almost-nothing, as an unearthly transition between things that are also almost nothing.

“Almost nothing” as a theme. I like this. As people who create things, we’re often striving to achieve thoughtful reduction ourselves. Denk continues:

One of the great and strange elements of the Polonaise-Fantasie, one of its “themes,” is that the act of listening is woven into its fabric. Chopin wants you to listen–carefully! thoughtfully!–to certain sounds, certain pitches, certain moments; the structure of the story he is telling is utterly dependent upon this listening. But he knows that listening is an inherently lazy activity, often thoughtless, often lulling itself into complacency. Just look around the boxes of Carnegie [Hall] some night if you don’t believe me on this.

Listening is lazy. Of course it is, but I’ve never considered this. I immediately thought of McCullough’s reference to Walter Benjamin, “architecture is experienced habitually, in a state of distraction.” Architects must then weave ways to flow people and resources through built environments. How does Chopin do it?

Chopin writes “enforced” listening moments into the piece–strangely arresting moments, like that F# held, alone, then heard against an astringent dissonance, then heard alone again, then heard against the “correct” dissonance…

Enforced listening moments. Intentional pauses woven into the experience (here music, but elsewhere they could be websites, products, service experiences, architecture) that make people “act, stop, listen” as Denk describes them.

As designers, for all the simplicity we intend in our work, for all the intentional moments we craft, what enforced listening moments are we creating? What rhythms are we designing? Where’s the F#?

[Image: Opening Chopin Polonaise. Think Denk.]

Make sure to head over to listen to the curated piece directly.