Tuesday, April 29, 2014


My latest piece "War and Peace is a State of Mind" is about the eternal recurrence of conflict and harmony, and how the murky recesses of the individual and collective consciousness reflect the state of the world. It was a complicated one and the research as well as the creative process of putting all the bits together inspired some deep-felt emotions and frequent bouts of tears. It was interesting to listen to historical documents about the Second World War in a very focused way - when you see these things on TV they just pass by so quickly, and don't usually cause a deeper emotional connection with the way things really were back then. The rhetoric used varies a great deal, it's sometimes aggressive warmongering, sometimes triumphant propaganda, sometimes woeful but determined statements - and then there's the neutral voice too, in order to complete the spectrum. The explosion of the atom bomb has a profound effect on me. I decided to stick to parts of WW II and the Cold War because of the wealth of documents that are now part of our collective consciousness, and also because introducing more modern wars would simply have been overwhelming with confusing results. I hope some of what I felt will come through to the listeners.

In case you wonder, the theme in the beginning is not from an ice cream van, but a theme (the Swedish Rapsodhy) that is said to have been used as the interval signal for a German language numbers station during the Cold War. The idea of weird codes being transmitted through the air is somehow alluring and creepy, but also quite a strong metaphor for the murky world of the collective consciousness (or even unconsciousness).

In my last post, I explained what liminal means and suggested that war is usually seen as a liminal experience, i.e. "out of the ordinary". I was interested in exploring this assumption further, not least as it was an excuse to equate the external event with ongoings in the human psyche. I realise that a lot of people will have no idea what I'm talking about when I bring in some Taoist philosophy, but I will attempt to explain myself nonetheless. My sleep, or lack thereof, is a disaster and I'm finding that a possible cause could be an neuroinflammation in the brain, that is an over activation of microglia... I'm very worried about my upcoming sleep study and whether there is any help to be had. I have been able to escape my worries by drowning myself in work when I can focus, as this sound project has been quite exciting to me. However, thinking is very hard for me these days and my inability to sleep naturally and my increasingly adverse reaction to medication doesn't help. I still hope I can make some kind of sense.

According to a Taoist way of looking at reality, polarities are fundamentally interconnected and not in conflict with each other - the conflict lies within the human mind. Life has a cyclical quality, as polarities (yin and yang) shift from one to another. One can't exist without the other. War can only exist as a counterpart to peace, and vice versa. 

We think of war as liminal, i.e. “out of the ordinary”, but this is not quite true if we look at war and conflict in its broadest sense (and I think it's really only liminal in some ways were there is real change involved). Conflict is as frequent as the lack of it. This might be easier to see if in your mind, you exchange "conflict" and "war" with other forms of disorder and chaos. Life is a wave movement that alternates various forms of chaos with forms of order and stability (there is a tipping point where everything is in good balance, but it doesn't last as nature has to take its course). The way of nature is inescapable, it's our attitude towards the facts of life that we should worry about more.

To humans, war is normally terrifying but in the long run, a lack of action can also get tedious. People also get complacent when everything is a bit "too easy". This is as much an external reality, as an internal one. I think it's really important to remember that one mirrors the other. A dissatisfied and agitated mind will cause havoc in real life, but warmongering can also arouse other people's secret aggressions and make people lose their inner control. To change the world you do have to address the human psyche first. The point, however is, that you can't do that by fighting and repressing your urges. That's violence against the self, which in ironically just perpetuates the idea of violence. The more you resist something the more it will keep coming back. That's why resisting war isn't the answer either. In fact, our "fight and flight" mechanism isn't serving us very well anymore - more and more people are succumbing to stress related diseases. We are luckily evolving, and are thus able to find new and creative ways of dealing with perceived threat. We need to rethink our propensity for stressful situations in which we are hunting or being hunted. How can we lead our lives in a more emotionally mature and less simplistic way? That is surely our future!

However, the point I really want to make is that by resisting conflict while advocating peace in a warrior like way we are shooting ourselves in the leg. History already shows that holding onto peace (or status quo as it often means in practice) too forcefully will lead to all manners of suppression and ultimately civil unrest. Even "fighting for peace" is a warrior's stand, and perhaps humanity needs to reinvent its warriors (in fact some of them are now "diplomats"). 

To realise the nature of this semantic tension in our minds is surely a way of dealing with the urge to exert aggression towards one another. If you postulate that polarities are irrevocably interlinked like two sides of a coin, then by reinventing the idea we have about conflict and how to solve it through war, we automatically reinvent our idea of peace, and vice versa. That to me is evolution, but it's up to us how quickly we are willing to allow for change.

The way the world runs the wars at present is patriarchal (note the lack of women in the piece, as I simply couldn't find any other than ones in numbers stations), but thanks to evolution, expressions of disagreement and power eventually change over time. In the end, the concept "war and peace" is no doubt less about what it represents to us in our minds than how we may reinvent these concepts and seek less destructive ways of dealing with challenges within ourselves and in relation to the rest of the world.

I have written some more about eternal recurrence in this blog post.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Quality downloads of my music from Bandcamp

Having branched out, I now realise how each medium lends itself to quite specific ways of expression, and they truly are not interchangeable. I decided to continue experimenting with found sounds and the subject matter that came to me was times of change and transition. It has been quite fascinating to see how feel different about this medium - I feel that I can express psychological realities in a way that I can't quite do with other media. Sound has always been quite an emotional affair to me and I have been curious about alternative music all my adult life, so it comes as no surprise that I seem to be more emotionally expressive this way. Perhaps that's just my personal impression based on novelty value, however it has still been quite satisfying to me. 

I have realised that I really want to champion a greater attention to emotional intelligence, as I feel it has gotten somewhat lost in this mechanical age. It is easy to forget just how multidimensional we are when we go about our day in a typically mindless way. I know many people find this kind of music very difficult and maybe even pointless, but it does require some attention and mindfulness. It's not supposed to be easy, yet I would hope that when given the appropriate attention it would trigger some sense of recognition and connection with the psyche. It's not meant to be "just entertainment", nor is it meant to be so difficult no one can stand listening to it. Why this music is at the intersection of music and sound art is in my opinion because it has a specific concept and attempts to express ideas in a reasonably complex way. One can argue this line but it's fairly clear to me. This music requires reflection, not just mindless consumption. My mom was quite taken by it, and said it sounded just like me, and that it gave her imagery that she remembers from my visual artwork since time immemorial. This musical pursuit really reflects my life long interest in the deeper layers of our psyche - in fact one of the strands of comparative religion that I was focusing on at University was the psychology of religion. It's all making sense to me now...

I have created two new pieces and decided to pursue this project until I have a complete album. I call this endeavour "Music for Liminal Times". The word liminal is to me an intriguing and beautiful word. I realise not everyone has come across it but hey, then it's about time, eh? Liminal is originally an anthropological term that denotes times of transition and change. It's a time that is out of the ordinary. It can be a rite of passage, it can be times of war, it can be crazy carnival time, it can be times of relocation, or times of inner change. These times are archetypal thresholds, usually marked by disorder and chaos until a new order ensues. All of these situations are interesting from a psychological point of view because they help us evolve, on a personal level as well as on the level of collective consciousness. I find that I am really quite fascinated with the way collective consciousness interacts with the individual consciousness, often in a compelling and quite distressing way. To withstand this influence and retain personal integrity is difficult. However, I believe that awareness of this and how we transit from one stage or level to another is quite important to a more fluid experience of life.

In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold", is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual's liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold" between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes. /.../ The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established. (From Wikipedia)

The two new pieces are...

Please note!! If SoundCloud isn't working, go to Bandcamp instead.

The theme for the first one was suggested by old recordings done on an Edison Sound Cylinder back in 1904. The music sounded quite odd and was fun to work with. The quality of the singing was so terrible at times that it made me think of how desperate people enter singing competitions in order to be famous. Fame is another very futile and transient experience that is surely quite nice while it lasts, but as we all know is also of very relative value and a very exclusive one at that. It has little to do with real (ordinary) life, yet even I secretly dream of it..!

The theme for the other piece was one I already had in mind while I was looking for material, as I mean to make a film with my abstract photography ("Traces"). I have already discussed the possibility of showing this film during a themed exhibition at a nearby gallery ("Maesmawr") next year - the owner is planning to show several films on the theme "Journey".  Being in transit - transitioning from a to b - is of course a liminal experience. This time, I was inspired by my own efforts to meditate and thus try and rebalance my self. As most people know, when you do you become mindful of many inner events and psychological issues, and that's what this piece is mainly about. I did find it difficult to make it long enough, without it becoming cliched and boring meditation music. It took me quite a while to figure out how to create harmonious depth to the latter part. 

I hope it's not too hard to detect my sense of irony and subtle humour in these pieces. After all, if we take life too seriously we will only become depressed and even suicidal. 

The first piece took me only two days to create, but after that I had a lot of flawed waveforms to fix (that's a whole new ball game, phew!). The preparations for the second piece took a couple of days (that is, collecting the sounds of the public domain as my rule of thumb is that it must be free, as difficult as it is to find such sounds), then the actual creation took about three - four days. It means I now have more method and experience than when I did the first pieces, but I'm working with very basic and quite cumbersome free software (Audacity). 

The making of this music is a process of complete deconstruction and reconstruction, during which I reimagine classical music of the past - one may in fact question whether classical music exists at all today. To this mix, I various other elements of my own liking.

You might like to see how Max Richter has reimagined Vivaldi, and also a project in which he refers to the past through the spoken word, Memory House.