Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Ladies and gentlemen... Liminal Tours presents: the ultimate mystery tour.

The concluding part of Music for Liminal Times is about the one massive liminal experience we all have to face sooner or later, that is, death. In this piece, I have drawn upon world-wide perceptions of death. Of course, I can't cover all ground so it was more of a narrative that made sense while referencing certain aspects of death and dying that came to me intuitively.  It contains around 115 clips, most of which have been completely reworked with very simple methods. The point with this project was that it shouldn't cost any money, so I haven't even paid for the software. It's also sometimes better to be creative with simple tools rather than get carried away with fancy ones.

With the risk of sounding pretentious it seemed a bit like channeling the collective consciousness. In other words, it wasn't just about my own perceptions about death. It is about the anticipation of death, the way people talk about death, about the fear of death, the process of death as suggested in art, literature, films and testimonials, as well as a hint at the ambience of the beyond. It has Western as well as Eastern elements in it, of the past as well as modern times. This piece is also a metaphor for the transformative process of psychological death during times of hardship and inner change. 

As always, you can also listen to it on SoundCloud (but the quality is inferior to Bandcamp). The whole playlist is here. Later on, I will publish the whole album too, but Martin may have a look at remastering it first (if necessary).

According to The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thödol), what we encounter after death is altogether based on what we expect, and is therefore unreal and illusory. In other words, all the experiences will be in line with the belief systems we had during our life. The reason they believe it's necessary to guide a dying person by chanting and reading from the Bardo Thödol is that the soul (really a kind of subtle mind-stream with karmic imprints) will start to long for a body and therefore seek to reincarnate. The aim is to remind it that what it's experiencing is only a kind of dream state and that the only reality is enlightenment. According to this belief system, the soul can still gain enlightenment after death if it "comes to". At the very least, with some help it can make positive choices while still in this dream state. They also claim that the first thing you experience is emotional impressions of the energetic heart, whereupon a more rational thought process from the head will follow (they are subtle/energetic equivalents to the physical reality). This is of course not unlike the many Western reports of near death experiences, where people report moving through a tunnel towards the light where loved ones reside. My own belief is akin to the Buddhist one but of course in this piece, I have made no definite claims as to what happens once the crossing has been completed. However I can give a clue, which is that I hope this imaginary person has "seen the light"...

In the pieces within this project, I've pointed to the cyclic character of life. Although I'm personally convinced about reincarnation, I didn't feel that I could make this explicit in the piece about death. The end is open to interpretation, because it is a deeply personal choice what one wishes to believe - I can only hope to inspire thoughts and feelings, as it is not for me to tell others what to believe. However, I don't think you need to believe in anything in particular in order to get something out of this piece. I think that the structure of the piece should nonetheless indicate a cyclic theme and the idea of an afterworld. I'm not that interested in what the past has to say about these issues, i.e. I'm not hankering after old beliefs. However I also feel that we cannot ignore the vast experience and thought that has come before us, and it is an integral part of who we are now, as a collective and as individuals. My aim is to bring some of this archetypal material into a contemporary setting. If I was able to produce more of my own sounds, it might all sound different, but this is what I can do with the found sounds that are easy for me to access through the internet.

A Tibetan image of Yama, 
the Lord of Death and the wheel or cycle of life with its many apparitions

Finding an interesting name for this piece proved difficult, as everything seemed pretentious. After all, anything complicated becomes suggestive of something no one knows much about in the first place. I decided upon a simple name anyone can recognise.

Once again I was quite moved by many of the documents that I listened to, as well as the result of my own work. Through this process I have realised just how amazing it is that we have an aural perception, but also that the art of listening isn't simple (especially not in today's world, which scatters the senses). No doubt because I had to listen to so much material with a great deal of focus, did it have the impact it did. Nonetheless I hope that some listeners can capture some of the catharsis I experienced while making this soundscape. Of course I also hope that people would be curious as to what the final voyage could be like, and come on this journey with me. I think there is always a virtue in contemplating mortality with the view of acceptance, as deep down most of us are afraid of dying or losing loved ones. If nothing else, perhaps it can help us appreciate life a bit more. I think it maybe e important to talk about death and the possibility of an afterlife in a serious way because of the way it's being trivialised in modern society. However, the good thing is, it's no longer taboo the way it used to be (which was probably due to superstitions). Personally, I enjoyed tackling such an important and eternal subject matter, but then I'm clearly always at my happiest when I get to draw upon my background in comparative religion and talk about the really dramatic experiences of life.  So that was my take on liminality.

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.” (Lao Tzu).

Eugene Delacroix: The Barque of Dante.
In Dante's work, the river Achareon is an equivalent to the River Styx in Greek Mythology, 
but has been made a part of hell.
A similar image has, for instance, been adopted in the film "What Dreams May Come".
The idea of crossing with a ferry has been prevalent in popular Western beliefs of the past.
If you didn't have a coin to pay the ferryman with, you wouldn't cross over.
Arnold Böcklin: The Isle of the Dead
So you may ask, what about contemporary visual art about death? I'm in the process of investigating, as I don't know of any offhand. There are many installations that don't lend themselves to being shown as photographs only. This book looks promising, though I'm apprehensive that it deals mostly with artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hearst. Perhaps one day we've heard enough of these guys.

The entire playlist can be heard here on SoundCloud:

New statement:

These sound collages explore liminal space. Through a process of deconstruction and reconstruction I have completely reimagined classical music from recordings of the public domain, while also adding other found sounds. At the intersection of music and sound art, these soundscapes exist in a space between old and new, past and present. In this space, the juxtaposition between collective and personal consciousness is at the forefront. Being about liminal times, they reflect a time of transition or "crossing" from one medium to another or one state to another, the archetypal "threshold" of extraordinary times and experiences. Transition and transformation is mostly an inner process with projections in the external world.

These soundscapes are an aural equivalent to the visual collages I make using imagery of the public domain. Creating something entirely new out of something old was the challenge I set myself. The vintage aesthetics from old recordings that is prevalent some of the time enhances the juxtaposition between now and then, and how some things in life simply never change and rather rotate in a cyclic fashion along the spiral of evolution.

Friday, May 16, 2014


A while ago, I tried to tackle the difficult task of setting images to my first piece of music. I didn't want the imagery to compete with the music, so it had to be quite simple. In the end I decided upon some footage I had of waves crashing on the shore in Aberystwyth. To my dismay, the technical quality wasn't quite up to scratch. Granted my camera doesn't take fantastic videos but this was worse than I expected. The reason seems to be that water has complicated nuances and shades, that are forever changing, and the camera simply cannot keep up with this kind of fluid subject matter. I thought I could cover it all up during the processing phase but after a few day's work I was still dissatisfied.

I did a great deal to the footage in cutting out the best pieces and applying subtle effects, and though I can now see that it inspired creative solutions, it was still a disheartening process. I also had to endure terribly long rendering times due to heavy effects, so it took forever to see the results of my changes. Anyhow... I just didn't want to give up and in the end decided to publish my efforts in a smaller format. The round shape was actually Martin's idea (he was desperate to have me finish the excruciating process that I got him involved in too). However, I had had this thought at the back of my mind for some time that I should consider using new shapes for my photographs. It's not easy to decide to lose a lot of your footage, so I just had to be hard on my inclination to keep it all! It is what it is technically speaking - my hands are tied for lack of funds.

The End is a New Beginning from Vivi-Mari Carpelan on Vimeo.

I've been thinking about water a great deal lately, as it's close to my own heart for a whole host of reasons, but is also one of the most powerful yet simple symbols there is. Water is probably the most primordial symbol of creative potential and its manifestation, of the unconscious as well as its expression through emotions and intuition. Many cultures have imagined that life started out as a sea without light, not unlike our existence in the womb. As the eternally recurring cycle of death, rebirth and regeneration is contained in this symbol, the footage and how I have presented it, as well as the music, reflects the idea of change and transition to a new state or level of being.

Themes that have always spoken to me, and that I now find myself resurrecting, are -
creativity and its origin
dualism and how to transcend it through paradoxes
natural and spontaneous versus unnatural and inhibited
the limitlessness of spirit versus the limitations of human life
the nature of the subconscious mind and how it relates to the consciousness
the cycles of existence, eternal recurrence and evolution
and lately also
individual consciousness/unconscious in relation to collective consciousness/unconscious

- all themes to do with the fabric of existence that no doubt interest only a select few, though I think it really should interest everyone! At university, I got bored studying modern philosophy and only found satisfaction when I started to dig into all this kind of stuff.

This project will no doubt be followed by more water-related projects. Please see my previous blog post for more musings about water in the sixth soundscape for Music for Liminal Times.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


... or at least it might. It's my belief that creativity is at the very heart of the fabric of our reality, i.e. that it has an ontological status. It's all about being and becoming - and therefore, I also believe that as human beings, creativity is the most fundamental element of our existence. It is what has allowed us to become, i.e. to evolve into increasingly self-aware and complex beings who aren't just in the world, but also add to it in substantial ways. Creativity also exists elsewhere in nature but the lack of self-awareness in other species make their creativity look a bit different and more subtle. 

The ontology of creativity was in fact the subject for my Master's thesis back in '99. In spite of this, I don't suppose I quite grasped the massive implications until just recently. What it really means is that you'll be alright as long as you can keep your creative juices flowing. It is the one thing that will help you through the challenges of life because while you're creative, you're in touch with the very life force itself. Sadly, in our decadent society we lose touch with this energy more often than not, and go about life in a deploringly mechanical way. One has to become conscious of the value of creativity in one's own life and try and keep the flame alive. There are at least two things you can do to support this process. One is to engage in creative activities regularly, and not fall into a rut, and the other is to meditate at least once a day for a minimum of 20 minutes (preferably 30 or 40). Focus on allowing your energies free flow and feel the rise of the energy from the very base of your being and imagine how it connects with your mind. Of course you also need to try and avoid giving into self-doubts and the need to please other people, which obstructs the natural creative flow and takes away from your feelings of accomplishment (see previous blog entry).

My latest sound collage references Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous theory about creativity and flow and imagines what the creative process might sound like. The experience of creative flow is a peak experience and therefore, I would argue, also liminal in nature (see previous posts). The creative process in itself is, however forever ongoing unless obstructed. This piece contains many references to space and water, two powerful symbols of creativity. One suggests that it can be an otherworldly experience that has something in common with flying, and the other that it requires a connection with the intuitive and emotional world of the subconscious mind.

You can also hear it here on SoundCloud, but the version above is slightly improved.

These two polarities are therefore metaphorical of two areas of our inner selves, the lower and higher regions of the psyche or the two ends of the spectrum of consciousness. To make it easier to imagine, consider this image. In Hinduism, there are two god figures, Shakti and Shiva, that represent these energies. Shakti (earthy, watery) lies within the unconscious sphere as raw, physical energy required for all forms of conception as well as the very potential out of which creative manifestations arise, and Shiva (ethereal) is pure consciousness, i.e. the spiritual aspect that manifests as creative inspiration. They are said to be in a dance-like play with each other while giving rise to our personal and collective reality. You could say that these forces function as theses - antitheses = synthesis. In a sense they represent a mentality of generosity in a personal as well as impersonal way. I believe this is how our reality arises all the time, without cessation.

If we live naturally we will automatically be creative (as artists we just happen to make art but it could be any other pursuit). It's really a wonderful thing that should be celebrated. Our subconscious mind is an immense storehouse of ideas and I believe we must let it come out the way it wants to come out, and not question it. We will then express who we truly are. I find it helps a bit to try and believe that we all have great creative potential outside of our normal consciousness.

The soundscape wasn't easy to construct, as it was quite complicated. I didn't plan what to put in it but advanced in an intuitive way, gradually getting the bits together. I listen for all sorts of sounds that make sense to me, based on some general idea about the atmosphere and message. I thought the piece was going to be more about the state of flow but in actual fact it became more about the process. Towards the very end I had to ask Martin what he thought of a couple of issues. I took his suggestions to heart but all the changes are my own. All the found sounds need to be stringed together in a way that makes sense. Sure it will sound like a collage, because it is one, but it  also has to make a sense in a musical way. The snippets of melody (a few of which I constructed from entirely from scratch, i.e. from single notes) are suggestive of the way the research phase of the creative process, when various ideas present themselves and beg to be tested. There are also times when it all feels difficult and one might even feel stuck. Once a sense of flow sets in, it's like flowing with a stream but also diving deep into the bubbly underwater world of the subconscious mind. The tinkly sounds represent excited, creative energy. The piece starts with some space sounds from the Earth's atmosphere and ends with it too, because we always have return to Earth after our adventures in other spaces (don't we?).

Once the piece was finished, ironically, I just couldn't think of an evocative title - everything seemed banal. Referencing the famous creativity researcher's Mihaly Csikszentmihaly's amazing Hungarian name (/ˈmiːhaɪ ˌtʃiːksɛntməˈhaɪ.iː/ mee-hy cheek-sent-mə-hy-ee) in the title was in fact Martin's idea - rather tongue-in-cheek. He also suggested "chill out mix" which is quite funny. In the end I settled for a simpler title that suggests that the only way we can be truly happy within ourselves is by being in touch with the creative spark.

In this TED talk, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asks, "What makes a life worth living?" Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of "flow." (from the TED website).

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan
Most of the time I have pretty extreme doubts about my art, and it hampers me a lot. What I try and do artistically is of such great importance to me, I just cannot take it lightly. Because of chronic illness it's the only thing I'm able to do in order to feel accomplished. It is in this respect my day job (I spend an average of five hours a day on creating,  still I feel it's taking way too long to "get anywhere"). I also feel very driven to make a difference. Some money out of it all would of course be welcome, but I can just barely survive without it, and so don't make it into a priority. Life is stressful enough as it is.

However, I don't have a degree in fine arts and my line of thoughts and feelings run counter to those of the average art world. The blankness, rejection and general lack of encouragement is deadening to say the least. There was a time when I was successful with the general public, but times have changed. Today, there are more artists who compete for attention. My own art has changed and may not be as easy to take in as it was twenty years ago. People's habits in regards to consumption have changed. The internet has changed the way we view art because there's so much of it readily at hand, and information about exhibitions is also easily available. There's simply too much choice, people get overwhelmed. The collective consciousness is even more ridden with urgent challenges, and we are made increasingly aware of various forms of threat through an increasing variety of sources - art is seldom seen as a necessity in times of great upheaval. However, it's also in times of great upheaval that great art is often made, but the artist's contemporaries will no doubt find it difficult to distinguish greatness from the ordinary. It may take some perspective to perceive that which is truly meaningful and significant to the overall collective mind, and it's perfectly possible that no one will.

When I arrived in the UK and took up art again I soon realised just how competitive the art world has become. All bigger open exhibitions are connected to awards, and if you don't win them you're not considered a good artist. However, you probably won't win any awards unless you have a degree in fine arts. As an artist, you end up depending more and more on other people's opinion and criteria, and it can affect the way you make art. This will result in more mediocre art. What I see is that a lot of contemporary artists are not intuitive and true to their souls, but people pleasing and calculating. That's why so much contemporary art is so crap. For instance, everyone knows that art with a social message is more highly regarded than say expressive emotionalism, so young artists try and bend their minds towards a strategy of socially engaged conceptualism that satisfies the art world. Art with a social message is only good art if it comes from a deep place. But of course commercial art that is purely decorative is just as bad. Most people (i.e. the average person) are complying with rules and regulations, thus supplying more mediocre art to a world that is replete with blandness.

The lack of support and encouragement threatens to kill my spirit. I may not be making great art, and it certainly isn't always good... However, you would think that people had a heart and remembered the moral of smiling at least once a day at the person at the cashpoint or a random person at the bus stop. Make their day! Well, artists also need a "smile" to keep going. Be a good human being by being generous and kind to those who are struggling to do what they are destined to do, regardless whether they are making a huge contribution to society or not. Support will help them get better at what they are doing, and it's potentially for other people's benefit too. No one is an island.

If I ceased trying to get my art out there to the attention of the general public and art authorities, and focused on being creative on my own terms instead, I might get some kind of peace of mind. However it would also damage my desire to communicate and certainly ruin every chance of ever "making it" while still alive. Seriously - I'm in two minds about this. I'm driven to communicate so withdrawal doesn't seem to be the answer. No one likes rejection and some of us are more prone to suffering from it. It can hamper you so badly, that you just give up. You don't know for sure if you're making good art or not because you're not getting much validation, and it could mean the end of a really promising path (I rather say "path" than career). After all, a lot of writers and artists have struggled for quite a bit before making it. Often they had very little support until they were suddenly discovered by an authority who resonated with their work. 

There was a recent TED talk with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of "Eat, Pray, Love" who struggled with rejection for years until she made it. However, in this case we seem to be talking about stuff that's fairly commercial - I don't know about the book, but I saw the movie and it's pretty cheesy. I know that in the end it doesn't matter what you do as long as you do it creatively and with integrity. It really doesn't matter what you do, because there should be room for everyone in our world (that's what true diversity should be all about). However, if you're not looking for commercial success you may end up lacking in some drive. After all, who are you supposed to communicate with? What does success look like to you? It can be hard to imagine if you remove the rather straightforward commercial aspect, and so you may end up feeling pretty scatty and unfocused. You might have to think consciously about how you can bring yourself back to your own inner centre. Even when you are doing what you love, it's never an easy ride and a lot of the work you have to do is tedious and uninspiring. It's a little bit of inspiration and flow, and a lot of hard work. To remain in touch with your soul throughout all this is definitely not easy. 

Every once and again I cry for a day and then pick up again when I got the sadness and frustration out of my system. I lick my wounds and consider that people might just be too stupid to get me (I know you shouldn't, but... I'm only human). I think of ways in which I can minimise exposure to disappointments, including trying too hard to get noticed. Trying too hard to gain attention is not a natural and fluent way of existing. I remind myself of the Taoist ideas about going with the flow along the lines of the least resistance. Take the watercourse way. Nowadays I also meditate at least once a day (three times would be better). Though it's sometimes a fruitless pursuit, it seems to be the only way in our chaotic world that one can regain some inner balance and poise. My husband then reminds me that my job is to make art for the future. It may not please society we know today, but it just might point the way in some way... I guess what I really want is to help people reflect upon the great pathologies within the collective psyche, and trying to be different is to go against my deepest concern, and it's a spiritual one which I'm well aware doesn't sit well in postmodernist society. I'm neither particularly clever nor geeky. Perhaps one day it will be appreciated in spite of all its shortcomings. 

This blog post was inspired by another one from "For the Creators".