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Blowing One’s Own Bone, or
Truth Shot Through Me Like a Whistle, She Said

Margaret De Wys composition “I OH [I have a magnetic shadow / bleeding on tape /as an echo] has been issued on Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label, and my piece below was written as accompanying text. The context of her composition is quite important to know both in listening to the CD and in reading my remarks below. The composer writes:

click here to download Word file

This composition developed as a music-centered response to my personal work with ‘liminal states of consciousness’ that arose in a non-art context generally characterized as healing. Based on casual recordings of my own voice that I made during actual sessions, my soundtrack focuses on sequences of highly stimulated vocalization (‘excited,’ ‘ecstatic,’ etc.), particularly those that seem to embody a unique and intense experience of knowing, something like a direct encounter with vitality. The effects: sound, vision and emotion in the rawest possible state. Truth shot through me like a whistle.

The unaccompanied, minimally edited voice is, as she says, raw, embodying the emotional/psychic state that drives it; completely unselfconscious and without the slightest trace of musical training in evidence or any sort of affective enhancement. If you heard these sounds out of the blue, your perhaps anxious effort to interpret what it is you are hearing might range from someone is giving birth, reaching orgasm, or undergoing catharsis to embodying spirits, expelling demons, expressing rage or dying…. This, of course, is the work of a highly accomplished composer with an impressive, complex, and innovative body of work. [As published in Open Space Magazine 2 (Spring 2000)]

Margaret De Wys’ I OH offers an unheard-of music. It comes to call itself music by a deeply executed stretch of imagination. To accomplish this the composer, whose previous music is literally nothing like this, has to wear her identity a cut below the known. She also puts her art, as she has put herself, seriously at risk. In truth, what she offers us here is something like risk itself. I suppose Artaud embraced a sister art in his sense of theatrical “cruelty,” and I invoke his name here both to set a standard for the sense of the artistic in this work and for the aid only such a spirit can give us in participating this work and its possibility.

This is music that offers so little guidance in how to hear it or use it or, last and least, interpret it, that we fairly may wonder in what way it is music at all. Certainly it calls for conscious listening, yet conscious in a sense that’s always without precedent, that is, truly aware, because it belongs so nakedly to its own moment. We may seem to be listening to ourselves in our deepest danger, or ourselves so transparent that we hear the earth itself. Fear, fear of succeeding, of finding out in fact what’s on her mind. Fear of turning into something other, at the level of animal. Zero degree cognition. We may enter a confusion of identity that we feel is an intimate union with earth herself, gripping her strewn stones, limbs of her whose ecstatic pain belongs to oneself. Love in a lair. Vocal rhythm as sheer body, breath, larynx released. Being inside her, whatever she is.

If this is music, waking itself is making music. From first cry to the sounds of dying everything that originates has a music. How to learn it? If one recalls a music that was hard to hear and that eventually became hearable, one holds in mind an instance of origination, as well as the process that was necessary to experience it. In this sense music is what condenses certain modalities of access to the unacceptable real. With the availability of musics from many cultures we have all become more openly atunable. Musically, so much of reality is now “crossable”—as certain plants can be cross-fertilized to give rise to a new species. Musically, giving birth, reaching orgasm, undergoing catharsis, embodying spirits, expelling demons, expressing rage, dying…— any and all may come into their comparisons to a usable degree. Any and all may give permission to enter otherwise forbidding human dimensions. They come together, these life strangers, when we can no longer tell them apart. Diverse as these “states” of experience are, extremes of being may relate there. And our listening is their meeting place. When we recoil from raw listening we recoil from what we fear to know in life. No wonder, since we have had no sensible access to whatever it is. Art sometimes succeeds in offering a door to the deeply unknown most familiar. But such a door does not open of its own accord; it requires a certain holding power. In I OH we may learn of this power by discovering how we have to bring it up to sustain attention. For me it helps to think of a manifest principle: my own stranger realities consent to come forward and meet, indeed marry, and even crossbreed in my awareness only when my listening is truly open. Such openness to accommodate the strange is hardly easy or ordinary, but we may find that it’s “natural” in the sense of belonging to our true nature. What we hear there, from the root of music itself, speaks to us beyond reason, both terribly and blessedly. Perhaps Rilke had something like this in mind when he said “any angel terrifies.”

© 2006 George Quasha