The only sound that exists to me is the sound of the mind.
— Yoko Ono, 1966
Listen presents a selection of music by pioneering artist, musician, and activist Yoko Ono (b. 1933). For over six decades, Ono’s powerful body of work has challenged and dissolved boundaries between visual art, music, performance, poetry, and activism. At the core of Ono’s art lies an exploration of and conviction in the imaginative, boundless capacity of the human mind.
Installed in various spaces throughout the museum, Listen features an assortment of Ono’s music from the early 1950s through 2009. Trained as a musician since her childhood in Tokyo, Ono moved to New York City in the mid-1950s, where she became closely associated with the Fluxus movement and a number of avant-garde artists and composers including John Cage, Ornette Coleman, George Maciunas, and La Monte Young. Listen includes the 1968 Ono/Coleman duet AOS, the title of which is a fusion of Japanese and English that signifies “blue chaos.” The exhibition also features the soundtrack to Ono’s 1970 film Fly. Recorded in a single take with John Lennon on guitar, Fly features Ono’s agile vocalizations, which range from barely audible whimpers to deep cries.
Other recordings in the exhibition include early experiments with found sounds, as well as tracks from the 2009 Plastic Ono Band album Between My Head and the Sky.
In addition to audio recordings, Listen presents the complete set of forty-nine instruction pieces from the “Music” chapter of Ono’s 1964 book Grapefruit. A seminal collection of conceptual artworks, Grapefruit includes instruction pieces for music, painting, events, poetry, and objects. In these works, Ono uses language to create her own form of musical notation that invites audiences to physically or imaginatively interpret the piece. For Ono, the instruction pieces, which prompt readers to imagine a whole new limitless sphere of sound, began “from realizing the limitations of our scoring, and suggesting an alternative to normal Western classical musical notations” (Ono, 2001).