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.