I’ve heard the Masons have a tradition of surrounding themselves with symbols of death as objects of contemplation, creating what’s called a “chamber of reflection”. Placing skulls, scythes, crossed bones, hourglass, etc. in a study or meditation room as a way of remembering ones own mortality.
I’ve also recently heard that certain Buddhist sects similarly encourage remembering the briefness of life and considering the state of one’s karma. I suppose Christianity is no different with its emphasis on an eternal paradise / punishment vs. the briefness of living, so I shouldn’t be surprised at my own fixation with death.
I often find myself spending nights lying in bed trying to imagine not being me; either being someone else or not existing at all until it would make my skin crawl and the terror of inevitable oblivion would overwhelm me. This wrestling with the inevitability of death started at a young age, I would guess as young as 7 or 8 years old. It’s not just my own personal death that haunts me, but the end of our planet, culture, solar system, and the eventual heat death of the universe. The knowledge of an ultimate, final ending removes any comfort I may find in notions of reincarnation or creating a lasting cultural legacy with anything I do in my life.
As I child anything based on the concept of immortality pulled my attention. The idea of vampires, for instance, was alluring. It wasn’t the romance of a ‘creature of the night’ that got me hooked, it was the notion of having all the time in the world to explore, learn, create, and understand, away from the social and survival obligations. Being immortal would be the best way to combat FOMO because there would never be an end to the amount of time one had to experience the world.
I love this world. Religious theologies are always trying to get us to not be too attached to the world and set our sights on the eternal. But I can’t help it. The final words of Jim Morrison’s American Prayer have always struck me as encompassing my feeling towards leaving this world for something beyond and eternal:
I will not go
Prefer a feast of friends
To the giant family.
Much of my art in the last 10 years has been about this transition between types of existence, not necessarily life and death but other types of transformation, like a change is consciousness. Recent research and theories around the nature and substance of consciousness, especially theories of emergence, have ironically offered more comfort from the fear of dying than theology. (I can’t recommend enough Stuart Kaufmann’s Reinventing the Sacred, an exploration of the nature of consciousness of the sacred from the viewpoint of a physicist and biologist).
The idea that energy cannot be created or destroyed but only reformed, that consciousness exists in many forms, perhaps at the most fundamental atomic level, and that death is a change in consciousness so different than what we know now it’s impossible to comprehend, is what gives me hope that we aren’t all faced with a great void. I’m reminded of this Rumi poem:
Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say ‘The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheatfields and mountain passes,
and orchards in bloom.
At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.’
You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed.
Listen to the answer.
There is no ‘other world’
I only know what I have experienced.
You must be hallucinating.
This set of pieces is part of my ongoing exploration of death and transformation through music, a medium which I see as creating a threshold space between one consciousness and the next. While I can’t begin to comprehend what lies on the other side of the door, I’m interested in using these pieces to explore the transitional moments, sitting on the threshold of that precipice to take in the view.
The knife and the night-heron is a story of the violence and final resistance of death and the immediate confusion that follows. Seeing the place one leaves behind and saying goodbye.
Warped by Coral is an exploration of the first dark, the bottom dwelling place where no light enters. The question that drives the piece is “do creatures of the deep sea long for a sun they have never seen?” It is a question of faith, and of moving forward in the journey whether we know where it will lead or not. In this setting, it is the beginning of the journey upward.
Sirens explores the beginning of the threshold, where we first see the unknown and also the world from which we come. The Sirens are calling us back, and we have to choose between this life and the next.
The Vertical Horizon is the final part of the threshold, though not yet what lies on the other side, which will remain unknown to us. The piece is not a narrative description of that liminal space, rather it’s an exploration of the internal moment when we choose to make the leap. The build up of courage, the headiness when one realizes they are about the step off the brink, and the blank abandonment of all thought and feeling when we are finally in free fall.
Epilogue in C (in which two people patiently wait for the sunset) is a cinematic zoom out of this otherwise personal narrative, where the camera focuses on the unobservant spectator. If the drama occurs in the ocean, this piece is two people watching the sun set over the water completely unaware of what is happening under the waves at the edge of the horizon. It is both a reprieve from the struggle of transitioning from one place to another.
I hope you’ll be able to join me for this particular musical journey. The first concert of this set will be on Sept. 23rd at 4pm in West Hollywood.
For more information and tickets visit www.sassas.org