Released December 29, 2020
This work is derived from an improvisation session from the studio at the University of Victoria. A carefully chosen and delicately cut 9-second section was taken from the hour long recording, which consisted of drums, piano, guitar, and bass. However, this foundation to the piece is not merely a loop, but rather the dynamic interplay of 3 different versions of the percussive sounding loop, each subjected to its own unique instance of delays. This results in a rather complex, yet hypnotizing palette, which seems to exist in the liminal space of performability and automaton. The continuous inconsistencies hint towards it being a live human performance, whereas the staggering ad nauseam of complexity and a strange ability to be perpetually at the threshold of the ‘loosing the beat’ without actually crossing over into chaos, suggests a more automated, machine-like performance.
Scylla / Charybdis, Davis Connors and Sean Kiley: January 2021
Here we are, venturing into uncharted waters, betwixt the whirlwind of Dionysus and Apollo, searching for an unknown shore, a new route homewards. Steering as Odysseus, out of reach from Scylla, the fallen nymph, lusus naturae of the sea. She is the looming threat of Dionysus, poised to swallow us whole into undifferentiated collectivization, while Charybdis, progeny of Poseidon and Gaea, the personified whirlpool, awaits just across the way. She, like Apollo, impends upon our psyche, coaxing us down the proverbial rabbit hole of the solipsism. Yet – despite such hazards, like Odysseus, we maneuver clear, holding fast to such temperance both in our hearts and actions. A liminality, which pervades all domains. Between this performance of the automaton and the human being, between cacophony and harmony, between the ring chaos and ring cosmos, between solemnity and ecstasy, between Scylla and Charybdis, we continue unwaveringly, towards some ineffable home.
Despite this liminality and unstable foundation there is firm ground to stand on. The slow moving synth, buried beneath the texture, yet omnipresent, presides as the ‘time keeper’, an unwavering motif. It is the esoteric twin to the more exoteric percussive loop. In order to locate it, however, one must take a step back, a deep breath, and retreat from engagement with the more apparent manifestation. Rather than bobbing one’s head to the beat, it is instead the act of slowing down to the feel of a waltz, in order to dance with a chaotic cosmos as such. From this vantage point, all the riffraff and instability of the percussive loop seems to fall more into place; the beat does not feel lost, only obscured. This practice is reminiscent of an exercise in mindfulness: rather than let oneself be carried by the energy of an external stimuli, one takes a step back from it and looks for the archetypal energy mandating the current state. It is no more than an inquisitive state of mind, posing questions such as: “What is it that is causing this?” or perhaps, “Why am I identifying with it so strongly?” or even “Is there something I’m missing?” From here one becomes aware of an underlying and pervasive source energy – not only is it there, but it can be tapped into. Simply put, it is developing the capacity to find stability on shaky ground. Even amidst an earthquake, there is always some most stable position, just as the eye of the hurricane is the most calm. We strive to cultivate the intuition to locate such a position in any situation, for it is never not there.
The ending of this piece resembles something of a psychological phenomenon outlined by William James. An automatism, which funnily enough has little to do with the term ‘automaton’ mentioned earlier, is an event wherein the known or unknown center/foundation of one’s own consciousness, i.e. the fundamental operating principle from which all action and decision springs forth, is usurped by a new principle either gradually or rather suddenly. Here, in Charybdis we encounter a similar phenomenon, for a great change occurs. An initially more percussive Dionysian palette suddenly morphs, or is rather overtaken, by a more Apollonian-like orchestral harmony, which ultimately closes the piece. The seeds of such a transformation, however, are not without precedence, as the orchestra at first adopts the motif of the ‘time keeper’ synth, and from there, bursts into its harmony. This is to suggest two things: Firstly, that by holding fast to a state of mindfulness or realizing and engaging with that which underlies all things, a great change in consciousness will occur. And conversely, that a change as such may occur without conscious realization or even consideration of the underlying principle, and if it does, we are in retrospect able to trace back the manifestations to the realm of the unconscious, which birthed such a seemingly sudden state.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not comment on the title of the album, which is taken from the phrase “to be between Scylla and Charybdis”, or more colloquially, “between a rock and a hard place”. It is representative of the lingering option of the paths presented to us, and that path, which is ultimately taken. There is. However, a fundamental difference between these two images, the former, a more ancient and mythological setting, the other, a colloquial re-appropriation. In the case of the latter, the image is static; we are presented with two alternatives, which are equally undesirable and we evidently must choose one. Whereas, in the more ancient setting, the image itself is couched in a deeper mythology, from which we learn that Odysseus ultimately ends up having to reckon with both of these wicked forces, but he does not, however, succumb to either one of them as the image of the rock and a hard place might suggest. Rather, he narrowly and cumbersomely escapes both in order to find that path, which takes him back home to Ithaca. Here in the music of Scylla / Charybdis we encounter a similar reckoning with the Dionysian forces, which in the ‘rgms’ we seek to reckon with and sublimate, however gracelessly and labyrinthinely that might be, to find the path home, as did Odysseus, to wherever our own Ithaca may be.
It is these forces – mindfulness, automatism, and the mythological image – which roam in my psyche and play out within Charybdis – at least, these are the ones I have become conscious of. There are of course those unconscious elements imbued in this piece, which I have not yet become aware of and may never become aware of, but that is precisely what makes the music a dynamic symbol rather than a static one, and it like the image of Scylla and Charybdis is swathed in mythology, which is the telos and the unfolding of my own existence. For now, however, Charybdis stands as a glyph of the synthesis of mindfulness, automatism, and the mythological image – a culminative heuristic which seeks to offer passage back into the domain of mindfulness and continue its reign throughout the din and mundane perpetuity of all things. It is the cleansing agent of those mystical doors of perception, both harkening back to my more Dionysian past and looking forward to an Apollonian future, remembering and reflecting on the eternal presence of that undercurrent through which all things flow.