For most of us, the stomach is positioned around our middle. In East-Asian cultures, this area is usually considered the seat of the subjective self – the centre, from which we extend outward towards the world. Closer to home, we usually think of ourselves as residing somewhere behind the eyes, perhaps at one of the busier junctions of brain fold. Testing both locations within myself for signs of existence, I’m most aware of a ‘self’ when something goes wrong; when things are going well, I don’t occur to myself at all.
The solar plexus is where the feeling of danger registers whenever it appears I am under threat (emotionally or physically). This reaction happens in my guts before any wordthoughts have time to log the incident in my head. Recent scientific investigations show the extent of the neural network in and around the stomach, and lend credibility to the idea that we exist much more in our bellies than we think we do. I like this idea. It makes sense when I think about playing and writing music, and what can be considered ‘my own’ in any of it.
The word ‘stomach’ traces back to stoma, a Greek word having the sense of a kind of mouth; an opening; an inlet or an outlet. Interestingly, the entire alimentary canal – oesophagus through to the large intestine – can be strictly considered external to our bodies from an anatomical perspective, in that it has openings at either end. If we consider the stomach as the seat of the self, we might concede that we exist outside ourselves in a certain way all the time. The ear is another stoma, another digestive organ, where voices are metabolized and absorbed into the nerve stream.
I find the most enjoyment in making sounds when it lends strangeness to the experience of being. When you listen to another person or another thing, you’re initiated into another world, churned around in another belly. Within the transmission process, you are suspended between selves, with an ability to be inside and outside simultaneously, accessing all the feelings on both sides of the exchange.
As you listen and digest the sounds you hear, you’re not only receiving – the ear also gives a voice to the other person or the other thing. Anytime I hear Roy Orbison sing ‘In Dreams’ now I can’t help but hear what David Lynch heard in the piece for Blue Velvet. His ear has edited what Roy Orbison and ‘his’ song are forever.
All of this is a preface to my admission that I always find it difficult to write about what I do with music, ‘my own stuff’. I think everyone should find that difficult. I’m suspicious of those who don’t. There is a well-founded anxiety that comes with the notion of having a genre, image, piece of music, or slogan, represent you.
Because when things are working well and when music is working well, there is no need to think about what you are doing. You shouldn’t be able to name it.
The boundaries between what you hear and digest and what you try to say, or sound, are fluid and always shifting. Artists like R. Stevie Moore and Robert Wyatt, whose songs present a healthy digestion of the sounds and perspectives of others, for me always come out sounding the most original.
This makes me reflect on the obsession we have with our selves, and also, the idea of eclecticism in music. Everyone wants to find what is unique and self-identical and unmixed and quintessential in themselves. The commodification and marketing of music propagates this obsession because in order to sell things, we need personalities, niches, geniuses, and so on. As a musical artist, distinguishing oneself from ‘the others’ through branding, imagery, sounds, and words is deemed crucial to being able to survive the Internet.
I think it’s worth making the case for selflessness again. This is not to suggest that we don’t reflect on the place we occupy in the world; we might do well to recognise that the need to identify ourselves with any position is questionable and also very boring. The thing that is really interesting to me in all of this is the experience of not being anything, possessing no essential qualities, having nothing particularly special to speak of, and being fully content to tip on.
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The Bonk play The Sound House on 11.10.19
May Feign is available for free download here.