Vol. 3 | Dinner Music | Amy Kaherl

Dinner Music

Amy Kaherl
My work, when I am the most happy about it, feels like a mixtape. I don’t have a solid album of songs that work with one approach. I like the bricolage. I like how all the pieces come together and tell a story. I like how one song will flow into the next or the mix will allow for an adventure. As I write my book about my journey from an evangelical faith, to community worked based in Detroit I offer you a mixtape of my questions and observations. The mix is how I see, listen, and interact with the ideas of social practice, interaction, and exchange.
MIXTAPE no. 226 (2010-2020)

Song One:
“Suspended in Gaffa," Kate Bush

The visual artist Ann Hamilton shares her ideas of making in the blog Brain Pickings: “A life of making isn’t a series of shows, or projects, or productions, or things: it is an everyday practice. It is a practice of questions more than answers, of waiting to find what you need more often than knowing what you need to do. Waiting, like listening and meandering, is best when it is an active and not a passive state.”

Song Two:
“Ara Batur,” Sigur Ros

Sigor Ros is the perfect soundtrack for an epiphany.

I laid on my bed like I was in an 80s teen movie. Head where my feet should be. Feet up against the headboard. It was dawning on me I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. It had happened. My mother had died.

I hadn’t.

My biggest fear was being crossed off the bucket list. In this moment I gained my superhero-like strength. And unlike Spiderman, the radioactive bite called grief, would eventually wear off. “I don’t care what anyone else thinks,” promptly became my motto.

The pursuit was going to go after the questions I had left unanswered. I no longer had the woman who gave me life but I had my own life and I was going to do something with it. I was going to change the world!

Little did I know that this one fearless step would lead me into a creative enclave of Detroit. That I would find my purpose. That I would ask questions and find some answers and always find more questions. I would become part of somewhere that seemingly had meaning. I would find myself on the front page of newspapers and featured on television documentaries. I would build something that gave people a moment of connection and exchange. I would travel the world. I would heal my broken heart. I would dance until 4 in the morning. I would live the bigness of gratitude and be swelled up by sadness. I would find belief in myself. I would find the belief I needed to connect to in my neighbors. I would come alive and I would live in moments of peoples dreams.

But I didn’t know that when I pulled up to my parents house in the outskirts of the suburbs of Detroit Labor Day Eve, 2008. My VW Golf packed to the ceiling with garbage bags full of clothes, boxes of books, cds, and a dreamcatcher hanging from my keychain. A souvenir I needed to have as my best friend and I drove through the desert to face a woman who gave me life slip from her own. I had a diploma in a box with the words, Fuller Theological Seminary, Masters of Arts Theology, June, 2008 Pasadena, Ca. It was carefully shoved in between records and soon to be forgotten term papers. Most of my belongings we carried 2388 miles cross country.

I had left so much behind. It was more than books and my record player but outdated beliefs. The act of physically moving allowed me to see what felt important to pack into a bag and bring with me and what physically and emotionally needed to stay behind.

For the tens years prior to this moment I was someone who had dedicated themselves to the study of beliefs. First forming my own, holding deeply to the limited knowledge I possessed and then slowly letting the old go and allowing for new beliefs to form. It’s not that much different than birds forming new feathers. They do not drop off all at once but as time passes they shed the old and damaged feathers and replacing them with new ones that help them in different climates and seasons.

I had arrived with new feathers.

Song Three:
“Daydreaming,” Radiohead

What is the act of listening?

In the article, Plato’s "Philosophy of Listening" author Sophie Haroutunian‐Gordon “defines a philosophy of listening as a set of beliefs that fall into four categories: (1) the aim of listening; (2) the nature of listening; (3) the role of the listener; and (4) the relation between the listener and the speaker. The beliefs, as they fall into these four categories, have implications for one another, and, because they are logically related, constitute a philosophy of listening.”

Ernest Hemingway put it bluntly: “Most people never listen.”

Song Four:
“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” Michael Jackson

Dinner number one started February 7, 2010.

The snow started to fall mid way through the dinner. It would catch on the rows of cars and reveal its quiet as it would catch in the street lights. I remember staring at the window watching and I remember a renowned sense of calm. I didn’t know then how much my life would be transformed by that moment. A new group of friends started to build a dinner that maybe, we thought, would last hopefully a year. That day was a myriad of feelings. Calm, joy, anxiety, arrogance and pride.

No one pitched that night. We spent all day setting up. Anxiety running high, which meant that the whiskey was flowing heavily. It wasn’t until later did I realize that a friend spent roughly $100 to make a soup for 30 people. I have learned that you can make soup for 100 people for $30. It was Super Bowl Sunday for a lot of America, but to a small group of art kids it was a night where we began to explore an idea. A dinner of 50 could hopefully bring in $250 for an aspiring artist.

It would be about a year later when we had the method down. The model is for a suggested door donation of $5 diners hear presentations from FOUR community members leading projects in the arts, urban agriculture, social justice, education, technology and more. Each presenter has four minutes to share their idea and answer four questions from the audience. At the event, attendees eat, talk, share resources, enjoy art and vote on the project they think best benefits the city. At the end of the night, the ballots are counted and the winner goes home with all the money raised to use in carrying out their project.

Song Five:
“Take Time,” The Books

I continue to find shared experience in Ann Hamilton’s exploration of her work. In conversation with fellow artist, Audra Wolowiec in Bomb Magazine. An excerpt of the conversation follows:

AH: I invited people into the space, but I didn’t tell them what to do. It’s not going to be the same experience for every single person. To what degree does something need to be open? And to what degree does it need to be structured with parameters and guidelines?

AW: Trust is also important, for the artist and for the participant because you enter into something that has a set of conditions, an internal structure that you want to honor.

AH: As a participant, you’re also trying to figure out, What am I supposed to do? And what do I want to do? How can I be present within this?

AW: You invite people to be listeners and also responders, which seems similar to your own way of approaching a site or place.

AH: I suppose that speaks to the difference between having an experience and consuming one. We’re increasingly pushed toward the consumption of experience, rather than suspending time to just see what happens… Work that demands time is very hard for people to make space for. What is it that will make you slow down?

Song Six:
“A Change is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke

To listen is an act of hospitality. We are welcoming strangers into our world, to take up space for four minutes. It is an invitation into our own little worlds of knowledge, beliefs, understandings. We are being challenged to think about why the world we inhabit needs this idea. As a diner we are inviting the speaker into our networks, assumptions, knowhow, and idealisms. By listening we are opening ourselves up for something to challenge us, inspire us, or to make one feel less alone with what we need to do to alter the places that we are.

At SOUP for four minutes at a time one needs to stop speaking. Your ears are opening, you are becoming more present. You are being faced with real challenges that people are facing everyday and being approached with a solution. Someones real magic is being revealed to you. It is in the participation into the unknown we are confronted by our own thoughts, values, ideals, and questioning what actions we would take.

Many Sundays I have watched and interacted with the work of strangers opening themselves up to a brave presenter standing in front of them and sharing their vision. The dinner allows the listener to hear the needs of the city. These brave ideators are filling the void where so much of local leadership can’t. In the act of listening on a Sunday evening one is able to make sense of the problems because the viable solutions are standing in front of us. There is no flashy use of power points, just humans standing in front of one asking to be heard and, in many cases supported.

Detroit SOUP was built on a humble beginnings of $500. We were able to purchase some salvaged doors that we used as tables once they were propped on milk crates. It meant that listening would take place sitting on the floor for as long as someone was sharing their pitch. For long periods of time floor sitting can be uncomfortable, but practical when you don’t have the means for tables, chairs, and tablecloths.

With the floor you are placing yourself in a myriad of positions. Cross legged, figure four, sprawl, tight ball. I find listening to be easier when I am sitting on the floor. Maybe because I am forcing my body to be more aware when it is uncomfortable. The act of listening sitting on the floor for at least an hour can cause your body to stand up tall or slouch into a hand on your face and elbow perched on your knee. Often your body will betray you if you are not listening. It’s hard to hide your boredom, apathy, or excitement when you are sitting on the floor.

As acts of care we sit and listen to one another. We do what we can as listeners. Sometimes it is nothing. Sometimes it is knowing someone in your particular network that can help solve the problem alongside the presenter. It may be opening your wallet and adding more funds to contribute towards the solution. It can be sharing an email address of someone this ideator can talk with. In this act of listening we are opening ourselves to being more connected to both this place and to the people inside of it.

Song Seven:
“Avril 14th,” Aphex Twin

“Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you. To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to, start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves.” Henri J. Nouwen (Theologian)

Song Eight:
“Only Questions,” Max Richter

Is there physical evidence left behind when we listen?

Have we worn down the carpeting with just our steps?

Do the scratches on the floor mean anything to anyone who did not make them?

When we depart from a space do our conversations linger without us being there?