Album ReviewsReviews

Dreaming the self, awakening the self

It’s hard to convey something directly through music as ‘abstract’ as drone and ambient. So when artists tackle concepts like self-actualisation and experience, you have to take a plunge. The artist presents a visual æsthetic, and a limited textual one through choice of titles. But the rest is non-linguistic sound. We have no further direct access to what the artist wants to say on the topic in the context of this work.

So, it’s impossible for an elaborate philosophical conversation about these topics to form between artist and listener because of a yawning abyss where no language forms a bridge to connect both sides. After the first communication, we are each stranded on our own shores, and the listener has to think on by themselves.

And what is that ‘self’? In a sense the latest album Alchymeia is an answer to the question posed by the project’s name: raison d’être. Spiritual alchemy is not the purpose of being, not a reason in that sense. More profoundly, it is the thing that allows the true self to be in the first place, the most basic reason that the self exists and does not not exist. Before the completion of Alchymeia, in the Jungian sense, the self is a mask, a shadow, a mere ego. Only the integration of all aspects of one’s personality constitutes the whole self, the whole way of being oneself.

The four tracks on Alchymeia represent the four stages of alchemy: blackening, whitening, yellowing, and reddening. They form a richly textured aural canvas that invites us to project our own thoughts onto it. Who am I? What are the experiences in my life that have shaped different aspects of my personality? Am I being completely honest with myself about who I am, who I was, and who I want to be? As always, raison d’être’s music combines spiritual cues — western, eastern, ambiguous — such as choral samples, organs, bells, and chants, against a backdrop of drones, and the sounds of physico-alchemical processes: metal, earth, air.

Even if you don’t ultimately or completely buy into the Jungian model of individuation, the music will be a kind host. It accommodates whatever model you want to wield at the moment of listening, though of course the references to Jung’s model suggest linearity of time, a journey, and a struggle.

To move beyond that linearity, we have to embrace Xibipíío.

A word from the Pirahã language that is hard to translate, it refers to things moving in and out of the experience of the person using the word. It plays with the boundaries between being and not-being, as grounded in the perception of the speaking witness. If things cannot be perceived, they move into a different realm of evidential being, flickering from one plane another, and sometimes back again.

‘Xibipíío’ is the second collaborative album between raison d’être and TROUM. Its nine tracks also cover the topic of self and experience, but more loosely, more playfully, than Alchymeia does. It has to, because it is in way about play itself: about moving across boundaries and back again, about defying rules and categories.

It inhabits a place when machines can sing, where the æther births chords, and longing travels in waves. Here, things have no one shape or dress, and the animals we once were come to us in dreams from the beginning of time.

As befits a collaboration, the boundaries between the work of these two artists are also blurred. Yes, particular elements can be tagged as being ‘more raison’ or ‘more TROUM’, but the experience as a whole is fused. This fluidity of form makes this album richer in variety than the more focused process of Alchymeia.

Though the paths differ, both albums end up at or pass a similar point: a moment where the self becomes whole, where the false self is expelled, and the parts of the self are reintegrated.

My own self has forced me to think on these issues lately, and to stress the importance of not just the rational integration of the (rational) self, but the driving together of all aspects and manifestations of it. To me, the music on these albums provides hand-holds, angles of approach, and surfaces to dive through. May it offer you some of the things that you might need, too.