Getting Out of the Way

02023-01-13 | Guitar, Music, Philosophy | 7 comments

There are, for those with the requisite sense, currents, energy flows, and dialogues to be discerned in the Japanese garden. Shunmyo Masuno contends that when arranging rocks, for example, one must “converse” with the stone, waiting “until it seems to speak and say where it wants to be put.” According to some of the subjects of Listening to Clay, a similar collaboration, or consulting, takes place between potters and their material. Artist Michiko Ogawa, for example, is very specific on this point, stating that she attempts to, “listen to what the material has to say,” posing the question, “What does the clay want to be?”
Listening to Clay

Some will read this and wonder whether that conversation is entirely imagined by the artist, and will question whether it can, in fact, be a dialog. I believe that not only is it a dialog, it’s more real than the consentual hallucination of regular life.

I think there are a few different movements that are part of this experience, several steps of this dance. There is getting out of the way. There is getting into the flow. There is also, acknowledging being part of a larger web of things. We are all just molecules dancing in space, whether we are humans, rocks, or melodies.

I feel kinship with these words: Listen to what the material has to say and What does the clay want to be is analogous to my experience of What does this piece of music want to be. The sentence It seems to speak and say where it wants to be put relates just as well to the notes of a melody as it does to a rock. I get out of the way of the flow and allow the music to materialize itself. The music moves my hands — that is the feeling when it really works. I don’t know where my music comes from. It doesn’t feel like it’s mine. It comes through me is the sensation I have.

Now I am lying here wondering whether that’s how a tree feels about their branches and leaves. They simply grew where they needed to go.

I woke up at 0200 and was wide awake. Now it’s 0322. Better try to get out of the way of sleep.


  1. Dave Kirschner

    What does the sleep have to say? ;-)

    • ottmar

      I caught up with an afternoon nap. I love those!

  2. JaneParham

    I love this; it touches my core being. I remember as a very young child I looked at everything around me as an entity, possessed of life and identity, whether animate or inanimate. And it was all Loving. I still have that childlike sensibility, in spite of the necessary practicalities. It is pure delight. And I am always happy to hear of other humans who have kept their child intact.

    • ottmar

      Mystical experiences are quite common in children. I remember having them myself. It seems they get pushed out of the way when kids are around 12-14 years old, in favor of the constructed reality that is perceived as more practical. Some can learn to tap into them again, depending on their lifestyle and profession. The best part of being an artist is that these experiences are not only nourishing, they can also inspire and inform art.

  3. Stephen Duros

    This is fantastic. I agree and share your thoughts relating it to music. I think there is a difference between playing notes, a melody or writing a piece with the mindset of what “should” it be from learning what is taught in a book / music theory lesson etc.. vs unplugging, getting out of the way from all that and letting the melody / music become what it wants to be. It comes from somewhere else that I can’t explain.
    Thanks for sharing this!

    • ottmar

      It’s wonderful to marvel at a melody and have no idea where it came from. The best!

      • Stephen Duros



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