Every once in a while, here at arslocii, we have to check in with our original definition of placeness. The eve of our first anniversary is upon us, and so, perhaps, this reassessment has even more meaning, as we cross the threshold into the first annual revisit. Or, maybe not. It is odd, though, how perspectives and definitions alter over time. Our original vision was likely more rigid – to explore the nature of a site, a real place that has a far more meaningful experience beyond its physicality. (See our sites arslocii and Sculpturehead.) What we have discovered in the past year is that it isn’t always so clear-cut or tangible, that it can be anything that possesses this quality of placeness, or even a confluence of multiple things. And it also can have no substance or location at all.
We have realized, too, that placeness as art is still a valid and welcome concept, and is probably much more difficult to define than we previously thought. It has appeared in likely as well as unlikely places: it can be found in the public realm and in our innermost thoughts, in a book, in art and architecture, in sad moments or ones of extraordinary exuberance. As we move forward with these writings, we hope that we have produced or will soon create some moments of placeness for you, our readers.
One thing that we have not mentioned thus far is music. We have talked about sound but not music. Music was a huge presence in my life: my mother sang when she was happy, but usually sad songs: “Yellow Days,” “Que Sera Sera,” “Girl From Ipanema.” My father played piano and sang a little, in German mostly; his mother, too – “Black Hawk Waltz,” over and over on her spinet – and she was a great hummer, as well, almost as if it were a nervous habit, humming songs of her day: “What’ll I Do?” “Who’s Sorry Now?” “Always.”
My brother and I had record players as far back as I can remember and we nearly wore out the grooves of the Nutcracker Suite and movie themes from the mid-fifties to mid-sixties: “Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape,” “Exodus.” We also listened to some of our parents’ favorite dance records, like Arthur Lyman’s “Taboo” and “Bahia.” We both played autoharp, and then piano, and vocally performed in school choruses. But my brother kept with it, becoming a bit of a classically-trained piano virtuoso. I was steered into dance, which happily always involved music and movement.
Once when I was a teen traveling on the West Coast with my parents, we had been out and about for several days and stopped into a university cafeteria to eat lunch. There was music playing on loud speakers, and I realized that I had been without any music for all that time. I was so happy to hear it that tears came into my eyes, and I’m not sure I knew why at first. There had been a lack, and now music filled the hall, giving me a sense of place in an otherwise unknown territory.
Apparently, I never forgot that moment of rediscovery of the familiar soundtracks of my life and how comforting they were. Now I see, too, that music can create space as well as emotion, and an absence of it can create a void. And there you go, an ephemeral collection of sounds generating placeness: no thing, no site necessary, just music filling the space around me and the space inside my mind, drawing pictures, making pleasant tones, conjuring memories – making an archive of time and place based on music, and carrying those feelings into the present while carrying you back to those places.
Of course, with the advent of iPods, one never has to be without music again. There was a time, though, when driving across country could involve vast tracts of music-less-ness, being out of range of radio antennas. It’s frightening to ponder now, when there is so much connectivity, that we don’t know what to do with it, and because of that fact, no one again will experience the eureka moment I did that summer. But lack of music seems to me a kind of deprivation of one of the keen senses, one that can activate all the others. It is the kind of placeness you can have on a moment’s notice, with the push of a button. Instant placeness. Or you can sing.