|Santa Caterina II, black ink 19x24, by zoe blue|
“Leap, and the net will appear.” --variously attributed to American naturalist John Burroughs, Gaelyn Foley, Julia Cameron, and also an “unknown” Zen source.
with a bite
just fly baby
enjoy the flight
with a bite
just fly baby
enjoy the flight
In the Church of Corpus Domini, Bologna, Santa Caterina de Vigri sits upright on view, her flesh ranging from a brick-red to black and still cleaving to her bones, though she died in 1463. She is the only such saint to sit upright, and her shrine miraculously survived the bombing raids of 1943 which destroyed the building in which she sits. Next to her sits her violetta, created by Andrea Amati (1413-63), which is the oldest known surviving stringed instrument. So, the saint, uncorrupted, remains with her instrument, a fellow-survivor. She sits across the nave from the tomb of Luigi Galvani, famous for his attempts to show electricity as the ‘spark’ of life with his seizing frogs, experiments which led later to tales like Frankenstein and the reality of electroshock therapy and cardiac paddles. His life gave meaning to the word galvanize, which means not only to give life to the moribund but also to protect from corrosion. The elements of this nave scene led me to consider the connections between electricity, music, and incorruptibility.
The mysterious creative power of music has been expressed visually in several of my favorite Remedios Varo paintings: for example the mother-of-pearl-faced musician creating a structure from the sounds of his clarinet, or the musician freeing birds from crystal cages by playing her bow across beams of sunlight. Might music itself be the life-spark that Galvani was looking for? The source of the rhythm and melody that synchronize us into being, harmonize into personality and memory, the whole cloth of our existence?
In This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin explains:
"Contrary to the old, simplistic notion that art and music are processed in the right hemisphere of our brains, with language and mathematics in the left, recent findings from my laboratory and those of my colleagues are showing us that music is distributed throughout the brain. Through studies of people with brain damage, we’ve seen patients who have lost the ability to read a newspaper but can still read music, or individuals who can play the piano but lack the motor coordination to button their own sweater. Music listening, performance, and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have so far identified, and involve nearly every neural subsystem. Could this fact account for claims that music listening exercises other parts of our minds; that listening to Mozart twenty minutes a day will make us smarter?"
Could it even be that the music itself is the method by which the pieces of our brain communicate with each other? If each neuron gives off a spark, like electricity, wouldn’t that electricity have its own beat and lyricism, just like all the other currents of electricity that surround us invisibly in our world, which Kubisch gave voice to with her headphones? And if so, then it would be important to keep those elements in sync with each other, in rhythm. To have concordance between the left brain and the right, between the amygdala and the cerebellum, between the serotonin and the dopamine. Perhaps this is why pharmaceuticals have had such a large failure rate with emotional and mental illnesses--it’s not a matter of a certain number of neurons or interactions; it’s a matter of harmony. Even with just an octave’s worth of notes, Levitin tells us, there are endless possibilities for a melodic line and its harmonizations, and when you add in tempo, rhythm and timbre, the possible variances multiply exponentially. It makes sense that each of us would have a unique balance; it makes sense that each of us would be our own song. Now, studies show that Alzheimer’s patients and parkinsonian patients as well as patients with the inability to form new memories can miraculously function under particular musical circumstances. In his Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks describes the
“extraordinary powers of music with our post-encephalitic patients--its power to ‘awaken them at every level: to alertness when they were lethargic, to normal movements when they were frozen, and, most uncannily, to vivid emotions and memories, fantasies, whole identities which were, for the most part, unavailable to them....[And] It is music that the parkinsonian needs, for only music, which is rigorous yet spacious, sinuous and alive, can evoke responses that are equally so. And he needs not only the metrical structure of rhythm and the free movement of melody--its contours and trajectories, its ups and downs, its tensions and relaxations--but the ‘will’ and intentionality of music, to allow him to regain the freedom of his own kinetic melody.”
|Stepping off the edge of the universe, Caterina II by zoe blue|
And what about the expansion of perception? Levitin tells us:
“[Miles] Davis famously described his improvisational technique as parallel to the way that Picasso described his use of a canvas: The most critical aspect of the work, both artists said, was not the objects themselves, but the space between objects. In Miles’s case, he described the most important part of his solos as the empty space between notes, the “air” that he placed between one note and the next. Knowing precisely when to hit the next note, and allowing the listener time to anticipate it, is a hallmark of Davis’s genius. This is particularly apparent in his album Kind of Blue.”
It’s as if that’s the way they create a new path in the world, because the spaces between the notes or the objects is where your expectations are formed. Those spaces, instead of just handing you something, are rather training your mind to expect that thing, and then reinforcing that expectation. They change your perceptual reality by changing your expectations--then you look away from the paintings or step away from the speakers, and all of your brain, which was involved in that experience of listening, as stated above, has been nudged in a new direction, which has repercussions: symbolic, perhaps, but you are now operating with a new broadness of rhythmic or tonic possibility. The electricity of your mind, your being’s music, now opens to more than it did before.
For the drawing, I was focusing on the idea of music being the animating electricity that Galvani was talking about, because it’s what gives us the ‘spark.’ If electricity is how a person’s billions of neurons communicate, and the rhythmic coherence of all their firings is what holds a body together; if Christina Kubisch has shown that electricity always has sound, its own music even though outside our limited range of hearing; then couldn’t you see music as the juice giving life to the body--or even see the body, or the less tangible ‘person,’ as an expression of a particular music? And that music is how we communicate with the entire universe (even a black hole is a low B flat), being in sync or out, discordant or concordant, and how well our lives “go” probably has a lot to do with that. The idea of the ink is the connectedness, in both negative and positive space, of all of it: the birds singing, the man conducting even as he leaps into the void, the girl sailing out of the void--perhaps because of the motion of his arms or the sound of the violin, or the rhythm of the swirling birds, or some mixture of all of that together with whatever the tree’s input happens to be --but she's not just falling in a terrifying swoop. That electricity slowly rises, through granite, through roots, through the biped, through the birds, and into the universe as pure song.
If we do understand music to be our essence, how can we consent to live without harmony, to bludgeon our own internal rhythm and spark with the mechanized drumbeat of unchosen routine? An awareness of our lives as a symphony with the universe must surely persuade us to take the chance, to expand the harmonies and concordant possibilities in our own contribution to its music.
|from Caterina II by zoe blue|
The idea is to stop. Listen to the birds, to your heartbeat, to your own breath. Listen to the pull your whole being has towards something. Ignore the part of you that’s focused on what you want to escape, and pay attention to the part of you that has a magnetic pull, a pulse, a compulsion, however senseless, towards. Play that tune. Dance. Leap.
James Rhodes, who is performing at the Soho Theater this summer was the first classical pianist to be signed to Warner Bros records--the world’s largest rock label, and under their label put out ‘Bullets and Lullabies’, a number one iTunes album, in 2010. He wrote an editorial for the April 26, 2013 issue of the Guardian which he titled with the great words of Charles Bukowski: ‘Find what you love and let it kill you,’ where he exhorts us to :
“Do the maths. We can function - sometimes quite brilliantly - on six hours' sleep a night. Eight hours of work was more than good enough for centuries (oh the desperate irony that we actually work longer hours since the invention of the internet and smartphones). Four hours will amply cover picking the kids up, cleaning the flat, eating, washing and the various etceteras. We are left with six hours. 360 minutes to do whatever we want. Is what we want simply to numb out and give Simon Cowell even more money? To scroll through Twitter and Facebook looking for romance, bromance, cats, weather reports, obituaries and gossip? To get nostalgically, painfully drunk in a pub where you can't even smoke?”…“What if you could know everything there is to know about playing the piano in under an hour (something the late, great Glenn Gould claimed, correctly I believe, was true)? The basics of how to practise and how to read music, the physical mechanics of finger movement and posture, all the tools necessary to actually play a piece - these can be written down and imparted like a flat-pack furniture how-to-build-it manual; it then is down to you to scream and howl and hammer nails through fingers in the hope of deciphering something unutterably alien until, if you're very lucky, you end up with something halfway resembling the end product.”…“What if, rather than paying £70 a month for a gym membership that delights in making you feel fat, guilty and a world away from the man your wife married you bought a few blank canvases and some paints and spent time each day painting your version of "I love you" until you realised that any woman worth keeping would jump you then and there just for that, despite your lack of a six-pack? I didn't play the piano for 10 years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, Don Draper albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven – to be a concert pianist. Admittedly I went a little extreme – no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about 35lbs in weight. And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I'd envisaged as I lay in bed aged 10 listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall.”
And yet, it gives him more than the years of greed in the city; it gives him so much, he would never turn back. It gives him so much, he’s hollering for the rest of us to come join him--not on his path, but on our own. It’s worth it, he says.
Do not miss his video here--either the introduction or the playing.
Leap, and the net will appear.
Again, from Vesna:
The awareness of your existence
a smile after smile on my face
Feeling filthy rich
like an arabian princess
Smile is a new currency
It is all mixed up
The economy and the fantasy
I am almost sure
we are not crazy
The elm flowers are also there for a reason, but I will stop now. If you use this image for any sort of meditation of your own, please let me know your results!!