As soon as the torch went out the atmosphere of the forest intensified. As her eyes slowly became accustomed to the darkness she started to notice the outlines of canopies above them where trees were silhouetted against the pale moonlight.
The sounds around them became more noticeable; the shuffling of an animal through the undergrowth, the whistling of the wind through the trees, and now and then the cry of some creature being captured in the darkness.
As they sat quietly, the noises seemed to become louder still until both visitors felt absorbed into the forest world.
—Emily Arden, Lie to me: Deception: Book Two
When we get caught up in evaluating performance, life, and art, become uninspired. How do we refresh our vision?
I found my seat in the darkened room. A soundless film was projected upon the bare wall and musicians waited in the darkness at the sides of the space. Soon, low electronic sounds began to enter that space, building slowly and steadily, and a dancer began to unfold herself into the light and shadow. The musicians phased in, bathing the room with a matrix of vibrations, living sounds. Something about the way the sound resonated in the room and within my own body reminded me of a session with a friend who plays therapeutic gong. It wasn’t about notes. It wasn’t about narrative. It was about vibration, vision and motion.
The first time I encountered the Transitory Sound and Movement Collective, it took me a solid twenty minutes to slow down enough to shed the excitement and yes, the anxiety and disorientation, that I felt in order to connect with the piece. One is accustomed to a story, or least a framework and purpose that one can perceive. One is used to evaluating the execution of those things. This is a different kind of experience, a physical encounter with sound and how it moves us, not far removed from meditation. I was lucky to have this experience twice last month. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing TSMC again in a few days and enjoying the Zen-like atmosphere these artists create with through the vulnerability of improvisation.
Founder Lynn Lane is an important force here in Houston. He is quite probably the busiest arts photographer in town, shooting performances all over the city: dance, music, theatre. He’s shot me as a member of the Houston Grand Opera Chorus many, many times. But we had never met until my friend Julia Fox invited me to Echoes of Solitude in Grand Central, Transitory Sound and Movement‘s February show at the Rec Room, a new and exciting venue here in Houston that supports local artists with their Artist Residency Program and inexpensive rentals. I didn’t know what to expect, and that always peaks my interest.
Echoes of Solitude featured Ron Kiley’s film of foot traffic through Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Travelers moved through the frame, becoming solid and “real” only when they paused in their walking. In front of this visual offering, dancer AJ Garcia-Rameau and singer Julia Fox moved. Lane provided a matrix of electronic sound and field recording into which Fox and the instrumental musicians could enter, meander and exit, just as the film’s travelers had done physically in Grand Central. Ben Roidl-Ward (bassoon), Emily Nelson (flute/piccolo), Emmy Tisdel (violin/viola) and Caitlin Mehrtens (harp) occupied the shadowed edges of the performance space. The interaction of the aural, visual and physical planes, as well as that of the pre-recorded and the improvised, created a sense of being together and yet being apart, a feeling of loneliness within a group. The work rose and then receded, leaving a feeling of peacefulness, like the calm after a storm.
Echoes of Solitude capitalized on catharsis, the healing element in music and art, which seems often to suffer from our desire to evaluate and sometimes even from our desire to understand. I knew then and there that I wanted to see more. Luckily, there was a private loft performance the following weekend which I was able to experience as well, a different piece with many of the same musicians and familiar, yet different elements. The second time I was swept up immediately. This healing music is habit forming.
Rehearsal for Untitled: Darkness and Light in Eight, photo credit: Lynn Lane
I wholeheartedly recommend Untitled: Darkness and Light in Eight, the next show presented by the Transitory Sound and Movement Collective at the Rec Room on Tuesday, March 14th. TSMC is presenting a new piece there each month and I can’t wait to see where they will go next. Please follow these artists on the group Facebook page.
“I live alone,” he said simply. “I live in the open. I hear the waves at night and see the black patterns of the pine boughs against the sky. With sound and silence and color and solitude, of course I see visions. Anyone would.”
“But you don’t believe in them?” Doc asked hopefully.
“I don’t find it a matter for belief or disbelief,” the seer said. “You’ve seen the sun flatten and take strange shapes just before it sinks into the ocean. Do you have to tell yourself every time that it’s an illusion caused by atmospheric dust and light distorted by the sea, or do you simply enjoy the beauty of it? Don’t you see visions?”
For the moment, the jazz is playing; there is no melody, only notes, a myriad of tiny jolts. They know no rest, an inflexible order gives birth to them and destroys them without even giving them time to recuperate and exist for themselves. They race, they press forward, they strike me a sharp blow in passing and are obliterated. I would like to hold them back, but I know if I succeeded in stopping one it would remain between my fingers only as a raffish languishing sound. I must accept their death; I must even will it. I know few impressions stronger or more harsh.
When water is being filled in a pot, the sound we hear is a function of the pot, not of the water. Same water makes different sounds in different pots. Each of us, described in Sanskrit as Ghata, meaning pot, responds in a unique way to the stimuli from the surrounding environment. Do not be surprised when the response of another appears entirely different from yours. The pot has created the illusion of a wall, of mine and other. Once you become aware of that illusion, otherness melts and the universe becomes a unified verse again, with apparently diverse responses becoming part of the same symphony.
Even then, I could still appreciate the moment of simply making sounds with a group of people. There is another place you go to in those instances, and it feels vast, refreshing, like you’re creating your own air to breathe.
I maintain music is not here to make us forget about life. It’s also here to teach us about life: the fact that everything starts and ends, the fact that every sound is in danger of disappearing, the fact that everything is connected – the fact that we live and we die.
Many secular observers and spiritual practitioners alike mistake mystical chanting as a kind of anthropological curiosity or interesting musical diversion from secular mainstream entertainment, sometimes labeling it ‘world’ or ‘folk’ music. But uttering or chanting spells, mantras or prayers shouldn’t be regarded as a romantic excursion to a distant past, or faraway place, or as an escape from our everyday stresses, for relaxation or entertainment. These sounds are meant to be experienced as the timeless unity of energy currents. The chanting of ancient esoteric sounds enables us to realize we are never separate from the one continuously existing omnipresent vibration of the cosmos.