“When all thinking is cut off, the mind is like a great mirror, without likes and dislikes. Then The Great Way is not difficult and Correct Action is possible.”
“I tell you this: when the voices are silenced, the stones will scream.” --Jesus Christ
In all of the world’s great religions – a primary cultural invention, ideally designed to help us withstand existence and live well in the world – there is teaching about the accessibility, presence, and role of “refuge”. That is, refuge from the discursive harms of the world; refuge from our own discursive thinking and mental narratives; refuge in the storm of all emotionality, opinions, warfare, pleasures meant to anesthetize, etc. In Christianity, “take refuge in the Lord”. In Buddhism, we see the Three Refuges of the Buddha (true self), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community of practitioners, but also the ‘world’). In Shamanism, we are led on this spiritual journey to take refuge in the spirit of the natural world, our ancestors, and spirit guides as we transcend this mortal coil to embrace a universal, benevolent existence, itself, to heal what can’t be seen through the physical eye. In all of these traditions, we are taught that we are already complete. Yet, these traditions also, in their own ways, recognize that brokenness occurs. That breaking occurs. That tools of breaking – implements – are present and used against us. Sometimes by us. But that healing to freedom is possible. Here, we’ll take a moment and explore the role of Art as Refuge. As we’ve explored the roots and presence of culture in our lives, I would like to specifically focus on the role of participation in the creation of Art – Art Practice – as a Refuge and Healing Practice in a “burning world”. This, so that we may embrace the burning, as well as the whole of the world, and ourselves. Simply put, the human instinct of art making provides a forum for us to hold our lives in our hands. Given our ego’s need for validation and control, this is fundamentally a selfless and courageous act. Thankfully, the simple act of doing reveals what needs to be revealed and pierces what needs to be pierced. While this tool may not come as a surprise to many, I’ll be speaking in the specific terms of this practice of selflessness and anyone taking full part in art making as, ultimately, an immaculate conduit of the truth that arises naturally out of the practice, as well as in related, broader terms, briefly, about the Art Practice of Any Practice. We’ll also look at this through the lens of my composition work for the Free the Body project.
Here and in previous blogs, I’ve discussed Art and Art Making as a human instinct. A natural inclination to express our intrapsychic self in an external context and to reflect upon it with that very human question, “What is this?” or “Who am I? right now? With this?” Yes, very “meta”, indeed. But the act – when intentionally repeated, the practice – of Art Making is the thing I’d like us to take a look at and explore. It is both a mindful practice, and one that requires that the “thinking” mind be, ultimately, disengaged. Through conscious effort, Art Making reveals the unconscious. At the end of this blog, I’ll leave you with a little, fun exercise that anyone of anyone of any age can do. Of course, it may reveal itself to be profoundly reflective, should the playful player decide to expose themselves to the results and let them tell you who you are in this moment. But there’s a catch, as always, with solid art making: don’t think during the act – just make. Just play.
Let’s think about the role of the physical - somatic - nature of art making and performance as being central and pivotal. In the music studio – in the Board Room - like the dance studio, how we physically engage and execute the very movements that transmit intention into a physicalized aesthetic is an essential concern to be considered and examined thoroughly by both the artist and the witness-participant to the art. In fact, I’m surprised at how few of the writers and painters, in particular, that I speak to do not figure this phenomenology into their art practice and critique. Surely, the physical flow, posture, and approach is critical to the engagement and execution of the work. Moreover, as a synesthete, the cross-translations of sensory experience prioritize a sensated, fluid, and fluent conversation between “my” internal experience and the external environment of, quite literally, the matter at hand. Part of what results is a recognition of “my” experience as “the” experience – in other words, stemming out from the personal to the generally possible.
So, how does this figure into, actually, this figure scoring music for dance? How does the practice of scoring music for dance and installation play into the play of movement and sound installation as a reality? And how does all of this practice reflect a Refuge in the world, not away from the world? Being “in the world, but not ‘of’ the world.” How does this Refuge practice instigate and grow an intimate awareness of and within the world, while protecting us from the viral infection of perversions and abuses levied on the body and mind. How does the body free itself through Art Making?
No matter what kind of mood I’m in, day I’m having, world I’m negotiating before I sit down at the keyboard or drum pads or electric bass or microphone: after my hands and/or body engage the instrument – when my mind and body align to the intention of the willful action of playing – everything is perfect. I am fully present, without worry or concern. Moreover, I find myself caring for the execution. It is only the liminal threshold between intention and action – where a busy mind convinces us that there is always something more important to be busy doing – that students and young practitioners stumble and stall and turn away from heaven. The evocation of movement, touch, emancipation of wonder, and realization of creation, itself, even within a proposed structure or genre, immediately dispels pervasive lines of thought that can distract from even feeling one’s feet on the ground. Or how tense, loose, hurried, or relaxed I actually am. Instead, I fully feel my feet on the ground, my hands on the keyboard, my subways of tension, my pastures of breath, my inner speed, and a deeper stillness where any speed at any moment is possible. And then I surf within that reality – it’s always fluid, changing, etc. - to how I need to be in this moment. And then the next. And the next.
Ironically, through the process of letting go into the freedom of what one choreographer calls “authentic movement”, the body follows deep direction – not rationally constructed, but more of a design orientation – which releases the inner-lived worlds into the corporeal plane as a true representation of what is actually taking place at the moment of creation. As a composer, this must be passionately and willfully married to the world of the work at hand. The Master Artist conjoins conscious intention to the subconscious heart of experience to express a full and complete nature of purpose and representation. When art making, with will and some practice, one quite literally watches this process happen in front of your eyes, and yet within and from your body. One is a participant, of course, in the very act of creation. A servant to it, if you will, but also the progenitor of it. In this way, as an audience member, a fully somatized viewing – that is, the fully physical, sensory experience of participating in the art exhibit as witness and catalyst within and for the exhibit, conjoining one’s own inner world to the outer world’s externalized intent – the intra-psychically driven inner world of the artist – is immersive. Now, the spirit of the presentation wraps into the spirit of the witness-participant through the physicalized, non-rational (i.e. not explained or explaining), direct experience – a mind-to-mind experience, through all senses – of all that the work embodies. That is, the listener and the artist.
Sound Art of any kind – Pop Music to Classical to Ambient to Found Sounds - physically touches the audience member. Quite literally, sound pressure levels (SPL’s) press against the art witness as sound waves are emitted – just as light touches you. In Free the Body, the sound installation, presently, is planned to immerse you on a number of levels and in a number of ways, for full communication of not just a direct experience of our work and its mission, but a very purposeful instigation of your own orientation proclivities – and reflexive view of ours. I don’t and won’t give away any spoilers but suffice to say that it is the intention and nature of any generous work (some work is propagandist and meant to foment war = not generous) that you, as yourself, find Refuge and Liberation within the one question, mentioned above, whose answer does not lie to you (it is unavoidably of you!) or lay in didacticisms or formulations:
What is this? How are things right now?
What is the taste of experience versus the mental deconstruction of experience after the fact? What is your lived feeling versus an a priori mentalizing that is prioritized as the only understanding, rather than as a road to understanding?
Genuine Art Practice – making, witnessing, co-creating - is about discovery. Pure and simple. You are actively engaged, but what arrives is new and informative and true. It’s never been done in the history of the universe. This moment is new and you, in this moment, are new. Further, in this moment, you are an essential element to the evocation of the work. For me, composing for Free the Body has been what one teacher of mine refers to as “an unwrapping of the bell”. In other words, the experiential cloth that my best, most creative, most of service self, is wrapped in is unfurled and rings brighter and with more clarity as the practice of explorative creation (not simply creative exploration) is engaged, the proper “song” is revealed, and I am more and more able to actualize it and the flow of the collective. How my body moves when I am designing shifting, rhomboidal sheets of grey sound intended to waltz around the attendees to the work, even as they utilize the space as an instrument, itself, is different than how my body must work to create a Hip-Hop groove. Further, how does my body move in a new reality – a hybrid or bricolaged reality where, in performance, genres and voices and sound positions overlay, chase one another, sing to one another, and intertwine. As Parliament Funkadelic put it, the funk “moves and removes”, simultaneously holding as sacred - and releasing as sacred - the body-spirit and the spirit-body into the performance space, exploding the performance space away from shallow consciousness, into a wider consciousness. And yet, without our basic consciousness of the space, an infinity of awareness and intention can’t be instigated by the work – truly, the work, ultimately, can’t be created. The reminder remains: this instigation of discovery and freedom through attentiveness is ever-present.
Most recently in my studio, I’ve repositioned equipment to prioritize listening. To explain, the large screen I use to view dance, film, video that I score, and the speaker monitors, themselves, are located at a ninety-degree angle to my left from my computer-based DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). In other words, I’m not looking at my computer while recording or mixing. (Although, I could do this for certain critical editing purposes, for example.) Strange? No. Old school. This prioritizes both the sensation of listening, as well as my awareness of the physical resonances of the sound on my body. In brief, the technical setup helps me pay attention. And in this world of digitized visual overload (have we forgotten that it’s set to overload), this pure, patient, auditory practice of deep listening places me in a state of intimacy to the work and refuge from distractions – systematic or not.
One final thought before I leave you with a game to play: the eminent writer Joyce Carol Oates recently noted that the greatest killer of art is not writer’s block or money or inspiration or time limitations. She marks that the greatest killer of art is interruptions. They take you out of the zone. They break the chain. Margaret Atwood auspiciously notes that we must be ruthless with our practice time. When we are creating, experiencing, attending – being attentive to something – we should not interrupt that task. Taking a break for recreation (re-creation), so that we may continue with the creative task at hand with a clear mind and heart is essential for productivity, perspective, and healthy acumen. Creativity – a practice found in any workspace – is a singular charge that most fully calls to bear our greatest human potential: to be intimate with a situation to sense how it must be served in order to best grow to the next moment of life.
Does the Dobbs ruling do this?
It interrupts the intimate living of one’s life.
It interrupts attentiveness to the personal, cultural, social, political, and technical bodies of our world.
It stops the natural dance.
So, we lean in and invite this reality to our reality in art. Together, in self and social discovery through explorative creation, we loosen and lose the tethers, move freely again, and find our sense of how to access both freedom and answers in the process. Though voices have been ignored, and some resort to terse silence in despair, we as the Shaman’s undying stones, rocks of our own church, residing in our own refuge of simple and essential being, along with the structural stones which Free the Body inhabits and effects, will scream light onto the song that cannot die. Come join us in this refuge built with the lived sense and intimate awareness of fresh possibilities in new days.
Object Word Game (use a paper and pen)
Choose a favorite inanimate, human-made object
Note its name (one word, i.e. doorhandle, floor, dishwasher, etc.)
Add an adjective to it that, in your opinion, evokes a key quality of that object
Add a personality quality or type that you feel the object represents
Add a preposition/article before, and a verb after the above, making a phrase
Add a movement-verb to make a sentence – adjust as needed
Give an example sentence of the object in action
Use Metaphor/Simile/Symbolism to evoke (g)
Make a hand gesture to reflect (h)
Repeat the above exercise 4 more times, privately, following the prompts below.
A share will happen at the end of the exercise. Of course, a player may opt out of a share.
Each time, choose an inanimate object that acts as a reminder of the memory at hand.
First, think of a time where you felt excluded.
Next, think of a time when you felt included.
Next, think of a time when you excluded another person.
Next, think of a time when you included another person.
After the last prompt, participants share their work one at a time, one prompt at a time.
(ie Once “around the circle” for the first prompt, then repeat for the second prompt, etc.)
What did the hand gestures add to your experience (reflexive) and understanding (reflective) of each memory and experience? In other words, how did the activity and action of the movement symbol of the phrase enhance your understanding of your relationship to the situation?
o Reflect on the act of moving your hand gestures for a moment.
o Was/Is your movement surprising to you?
o What realization or insight does the movement inspire?
o What else – other elements, dimensions, emotions, etc. – might it reflect/symbolize?
Can you see this memorializing activity as an analog for engaging future topics? How?
As you continued through to subsequent sections, did you feel your “artistic” acumen seem to increase?
As you continued to subsequent sections, did you feel more intimately aware of your experience, both in the exercise and of the memory?
As you continued through to subsequent sections, did you feel more comfortable with any discomfort due to the art practice?
Written by Peter DiGennaro, Sound Artist/Human Rights Educator
Sound Swatch: SoundCloud
Learn more: Free the Body