a measure for a mayfly

a measure for a mayfly

Tina Pearson © 1983 rev. 1986

(for two or more people to explore a rural outdoor environment together)


This piece had its beginnings during the development of classes in Sound Studies at OCAD University in Toronto. At the beginning of each year, I took the class on a soundwalk around the building in which the class was housed – an intense urban environment. To balance this experience, we took a field trip to the Elora Gorge Conservation Area early each Spring, a time when the Grand River is particularly dynamic and when there are few visitors to the park. The piece was premiered as a performance piece by the New Music Co-operative in Grange Park, outside the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1984, with a dance component. It has been used in many workshops, Soundwalks and informal outdoor situations since that time.


Each person will need a simple treble wind instrument for calling, such as a recorder, recorder of flute head, ocarina, slide whistle, wood or bamboo flute, or other such instrument. Homemade whistles are also appropriate. The sound of each instrument should have an amplitude that would make it audible over the same distance as a vocal shout.)

An outdoor environment* should be selected for the exploration. It should be treed, free of machine noise and large enough to accommodate distances between players that are beyond the threshold of audibility. a measure for a mayfly works very well when preceded and followed by a silent Soundwalk into and out of a specific outdoor environment. (*This piece is also an interesting way to investigate a very large and complex indoor environment that is relatively quiet and unpopulated.)


To begin a measure for a mayfly, each person should take time to find, on his or her own, a simple call on the chosen instrument. (If preceded by a Soundwalk, the call should be found before the Soundwalk begins.) Each person will keep his or her call for the duration of the exploration.

Once the calls are established, participants should gather at a central place within the environment to perform the meditation below. Participants could become familiar with the meditation beforehand so that each person performs it silently. The meditation instructions can otherwise be read slowly by one person aloud for the other(s) to follow.

The meditation forms the root attention state for the exploration. It can be performed silently as often as necessary. Once the meditation begins, the participants refrain from talking, and only communicate through listening to and calling with one another.

Standing comfortably, with soft joints,
feel your feet in sensitive contact with the Earth extending below,
feel your head in sensitive contact with the Skye extending above.
Allow your vision to become soft and open,
seeing everything, looking at nothing.
Open your ears to the sounds around you, the sounds above and sounds below you.
Open your mind to the sounds inside you and gradually allow the outside in.
Follow your breathing in and out, expanding and relaxing through your whole body.
Notice as your breathing becomes one with standing, seeing and listening within this place.
When you are ready, signal your presence and the beginning of your exploration by sounding your unique call once.
Listen again and begin to move where your listening takes you.

Players should stay within audible range of each other’s calls, exploring aural distance with the calls and other sounds in the environment.

Players should let listening guide their exploration through the environment, following impulses to sound their unique call in response to

–the need to sound and hear a response to another player

–the calls from other players

–the calls from birds and other beings

–the sounds and stimuli from the environment

–the need to express a feeling, such as excitement over a discovery.

The duration of the exploration is open, but is best to continue for a minimum of forty minutes. Players can determine an ending by agreeing beforehand to gather at a central location by coming together in sound, finishing their listening and calling together. Once an ending is found, players maintain silence while leaving the environment.



Musical Interludes:

When two or more players find themselves in close proximity to one another, their calls can be used for rhythmic interplay, increasing the frequency of the calls and responses and allowing the interplay to develop in its own way until it stops of its own accord.

Hiking and Camping:

In order not to get lost when exploring any low visibility natural environment with others, each person can use a high pitched whistle or small recorder head (attached to a cord and worn around the neck) to keep in communication others. A simple vocabulary of short prearranged signals gives each person the freedom to explore in the nonverbal mode while staying in contact with the group. This method is also less intrusive to the environment.


The method of communication presented in this exploration can be presented as a game to children on field trips or other excursions. It changes their awareness of the interactive possibilities within a group, in their relation with each other, and encourages more acute, deep and sophisticated listening in general.