Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Sound of Silence

silence - 1. absence of any sound; stillness. 2. the state or fact of being silent. 3. absence or omission of mention. 4. the state of being forgotten; oblivion. 5. concealment; secrecy.

How does one create silence? By extinguishing all external sources of sound? Is this the only way? Or is there something deeper here - some other definition of silence that is not immediately recognizeable but which we naturally feel the pull of, as something inherent in our natures? How do we silence the soul? Besides the silence of external/internal sound, I offer the silence of meaning, that is: the absence of all internal cohesiveness, the absence of all reference points for the individual mind to draw inference from, the absence of that hidden language of emotional manipulation in Western art that our ancient system of tones has set itself to pull, push, and play puppet master with: the strings that tie human hearts, whether linguistic, musical, or plastic. And I offer this not as something already walked over many times, as an obvious series of abstractions and stale, forceless reversals of the 'natural order' - no, it is something else that I am after here. As a musician, I can not create silence by offering the human ear sounds that it will not connect to personal experience. I can not create tones that the ear can not handle or assimilate - the weaknesses, boundaries, and restrictions of my audience are my own as well, I share their constitution, if not their understanding, and isn't that the only real chain of similarity we balance ourselves upon - our shared nature as beings that fail to realize anything outside of our limited potential?

But all of that aside, what I am getting at here is this: how is it possible to create a silence of art, an art that leaves no trail in its birth, an art that does not communicate 'meaning' to an observer...that is, an art that effectively resists all the interpretations its audience would force upon it? A truly misanthropic art, perhaps (to some), one that escapes the pale limitations of humans and their shallow interpretations (one based on their equally shallow shared experiences, education, or personal history)? Is this possible? Is it in my nature to create a dark eidolon - an Eiger - that will successfully cast off all potential climbers? For in my darkest center, in the shadows of my heart, is it not just an overwhelming hatred that spawns this objective? The hatred of any modernist, who would create art as a rune-painted object impenetrable to successive audiences? Why did James Joyce sit in restaurants with his back to the wall? Is this only pretension, or is there something of value here? I believe I feel two instincts in this drive towards a silence:

1. The natural potential and urge towards creation, as any artist does, the pure pleasure of artistic coming-into-being, the effect of ideality contacting reality, and passing over that border into art.

2. The hatred for all who will come after me, who will experience this art second-hand, who will ceaselessly attempt to transcribe its subjective meaning - either in the attempt to 'capture' the meaning and transform it into an object, or to absorb the art into their own lives, assimilating it as an object of personal experience, as a nexus in the web of personal emotion, events, and thoughts.

Does this have to be explained? The idea of humans 'interpreting' one's art succinctly encapsulates the combined horrors of existence for an artist: here one is speaking, screaming, shouting, spreading words and music as if they could form the walls of an eternal world, and yet they are dissolved by the shallow waters of other men's minds...

To be misunderstood is, after all, only natural...but if so, why does it remain such a nightmare to so many creative artists?

The mistake here is assuming that subjectivity - internal art, art that will not rise to the nauseating 'universal' or objective - must somehow be legitimized by the 'forces of objectivity' in order to create a sustainable world for the artist. Another mistake: that the artist can not adequately be nourished by his own hands, which is also to say: the universe only holds the meaning we give to it with our shallow five-sensed natures, and no member of humanity can rise above the consensus meaning of shared experience...this is a poisonous idea, an insidious viper...crush its head before it strikes you...

The first tenet of the subjective artist is the necessity of dissolving all human contact, all human value judgements, all notions of the history of art, to extinguish the light in all appraising eyes...

The artist says: I will create silence by withdrawing so deeply inside myself that the telegrams I send to the outside world will arrive as cryptic cyphers - as translations of translations - ready to be archived, paged through, and ultimately left behind. I will create silence by turning my eyes inward, so that they reflect only darkness to the world about me. I will cease to exist, I will be invisible, nothing will move me. I will create silence by destroying every road of access the world has to my inner life, and burying all personal meaning in tombs and vaults to which only I possess the key. I will create silence by destroying the mind of anyone who would venture even close to my own domain, as they have already attempted to destroy mine, and there, at the center, behind walls so high no sojourner can scale them (for they are not walls, but worlds) I will build a garden of...statues...of the eternal truths - that is to say: of my truths. No corrupting seed of this Earth will be allowed to take root there...as an artist, the mirror I carry inside my soul will not reflect the world...

The artist says: I will create silence by waging war upon the rest of mankind, not as a primary motive but as an instinct...my blood will poison them of its own accord, they will perish in unveiling my art...

If you do not understand the motivation for such a series of actions, then you and I do not speak the same language...we can not understand each other...

The artist says: I would create a type of art that would make other men lose their shallow 'sanity', if only for a short while - I don't wish this as a display of power, but because truly subjective art - that is, an expression or communication that is both purely subjective as well as being a powerful translator of meaning - could only have this result as its own objective, as a sort of prerequisite for the audience's inference and 'interpretation'. This art would say, at the outset: 'you must lose yourself in me in order to understand everything completely, you must lose your own subjectivity in order to feel the burden of the meaning I bear, you must be broken on the rack in order to be open again to experience, as a child'...to state it in over-simplified terms: in order to understand another man's mind, it is first necessary to temporarily lose your own...

We arrive here, in good humor, at another definition of impossibility - that abstraction that I adore tracing in all of humanity's attempts at universal law: in order to feel, completely, the subjectivity of an artist one is experiencing, it is necessary not only to lose all pretensions towards objectivity, but also one's own subjectivity as well...and how will you accomplish this, you who would ceaselessly judge? How will you critique when you have lost your legs and can no longer stand? How will you swallow what I drown you in when your tongue has been silenced by the insanity of absolute abandonment? How will you swim in these waters when I control your movements, your flailings, your cries, your desire, your experience itself? No, death is preferable to this...and so this art is impossible, isn't it? That is: unless one finds an audience who are familar with death, and who are not afraid of its seductive advances...

But I am just playing with ideas here...this is all meaningless, right?

I visualize music, then, as a reliquary, a frozen ritual suspended in time - as somehow outside of time, able to be visited again and again at will, returned to, consolidated outside time in the abstract and pondered, returned to the table, opened, absorbed, made real - descended into again, taking on flesh and sound around one...as somehow a reality, concrete - a particular - and a set of abstractions at the same time...that is: a paradox...

But then one wonders: what about the music that is forgotten? The music that arises out of coincidence, the rhythms of accidental births, the vibrations of existence, the synchronicities of the world? The music that comes into being for a second - trees falling in a forest against each other, the drumbeats of waterfalls, the crying of infants, the waves of the seas, the clicking of tires on pavement in the night outside one's window, so far away? Or are these isolated incidents? Because they are constant - or because they have happened before, passed into and out of existence before, one easily recognizes them...what about the truly original sounds, the concatenation of elements that will only transpire once, as single, isolated phenomena? How does one capture their meaning? As their existence is recorded by the mind, played over and over in the memory, summoned by the will to bear meaning, one can only wonder: how much am I adding to this experience myself?

No, I believe that the only original and unrepeatable experience of sound - truly isolated and unable to bear the stress of repetition - is the meaning that comes into being spontaneously as a result of an item of music upon an individual's consciousness, for the first time, in the only time where it can produce scintillating effects as a result of the collision between individual consciousnesses within one single consciousness...that is, as a result of the collaboration between one man's meaning and art, his message (the music) and the listener's mind, his history, his total experience up to that point...ever after there will be the interfering function of remembered history - the references and inferences that the mind draws between a work of art and the meaning it has for the listening individual, or the corresponding parts of his own life that have been connected to the music (reflections on past experiences, past emotions - as past emotions become delegated 'meaning-bearing' items of experience). But for the first time, when the music bursts unrecognized upon the individual listener's consciousness (and thus is always one step ahead of his mind's efforts to assimilate it), in that space, at that time, there is something special created...perhaps the single example of a mind's silence in the face of art: no reflection, no existence, no meaning, no efforts at willing or the rude thrust of weak personality, no assimilation, no interpretation, nothing...only the play of the winds over a dark lake's surface, the Spirit over the Waters, and the helpless absorption of pure experience - that is, only suffering...

The musician seeks concealment in this moment, and his art seeks this ultimate as any other lover seeks his object of adoration: as an expression of all that is possible, as a reaching towards the ineffable, as a constant striving towards the beyond, the mysterious, that which can not be gained but which must be sought after nevertheless...

The musician's soul must seek this eternally-recurring creation of the moment, a constant ceasing and birthing of life, an endless cycle of separated instances of inspiration, where the realization of the Universal outside of one's self becomes, at a single isolated point in time, the mirror image of one's own inner world. The dark water within smoothes, is silenced, and takes on the reflection of the spheres, if only for a few seconds...and in that moment is given the gift that all artists know so well, even though many have only glimpsed it once or at the most a few times: the understanding that inspiration and creation come not from the reflection of the outer reality, but that all art and reflection is only a remembering, a return to a higher world beyond death, beyond mind and pale matter, beyond all of our attempts to understand it...when the mirror clears it is one's own reflection that one sees. This is not something that one thinks, but what one feels in these moments...if I have fallen into Platonism through my own feeble attempts at communication, I have only myself to blame.

But it is because we, as artists, so rarely understand this 'nature of things' that we clothe our creations in the language and 'meaning' of the world - that is, we conceal them in the utterances of the objective, coloring them with the minutiae of reflected reality. Our art takes on the semblances and forms of the outer world in order to disguise itself - in order to 'project' a meaning that may or may not be completely superfluous to the artist. This is easily proven - take any painting of a master, for example, and tell me: what it is that is so admirable about this singular work? What strikes the fancy, what communicates the most to you? Is it the subject matter - the objective 'meaning' - or is it something else? The viewpoint, the manner of positioning and form? Or is it the painter's style itself, that ambiguous (yet readily identifiable) tone and language of that art - the idiosyncracies and transmitted personality of the artist that come through in his work? What is most important in art is not what the artist sees, what he must say about what he sees, or how he presents what he supposedly sees, but how he sees his object, himself, in his own mind, and the parts of that vision that are translated in his work. In other words, what is most important, at least to me, is the internal world of the artist himself. I admire his art as a distracted connoisseur would - not in order to 'pierce' through objectivity into his world by a deep understanding of his personal vision - but as an observer of Daedalus would remark: 'he was doomed to fail, but the merit of his attempt lies in how high his flight took him towards the Heavens above...'

The only meaning that would be able to gleaned from an observation of another's art is the rare synchronicity of personal worlds that sometimes occurs in those that are attuned not only to their own personal inner stirrings but also to that hidden language of the subjective in all artists - those signals and signs that speak of realms completely beyond our understanding...realms that we can not glimpse in others but which we can be shown do actually exist. Artists recognize each other not as natives of the same country, but as fellow travelers...

Such is the result of all our actions, I feel, especially the tragic calling of truly subjective art - the value of the attempt does not lay in its success or failure, as it is doomed to fail, be sure, but the fact that the artist attempts it anyway, full of spirited defiance, and at the very least gains a glimpse of the Heavens inside...such visions are worth all of existence. I am as deeply convinced of this fact as I am sure that my shadowed dreams, as they flash before my eyes in the dead of night, carry more 'meaning' and true emotion than my 'real' life ever will...I have a firm faith in this feeling, because not to feel this way would be, for me, the beginning of the end...if we can not destroy this world through our dreams or art, and substitute a far better life in its place, what purpose do we serve? What purpose do you serve, dear reader? I invite you to attempt to destroy my world and put yours in its place...I invite you to try and paint over the silence...

But I am tired of clich├ęs...

U. Amtey
December 19, 2000