Monday, March 08, 2010

Dreamplay - March 20, 2010 - 7 PM @ Workspace, SF

The dread and resistance which every natural human being experiences when it comes to delving too deeply into himself is, at bottom, the fear of the journey to Hades.
C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12 para 439

Dreams, those mysterious visitors in the night… Are they simply residues of daytime experience, anomalies as the brain de-frags itself? Or are they, as humans have held for millennia, something more substantial, crucial perhaps? Dream work plays a major part of my own psychotherapy practice, in resonance with my Jungian orientation, yet it has cross-cultural roots that go farther back than Freud or Jung...

In Greek mythology, Nyx – the Goddess of night – gave birth to the twin brothers Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death), as well as to the Oneiroi, the dreams… In Indian Vedic tradition, in the Atharva Veda, dreams come from Yama’s world, from the world of death. As Jungian Analyst James Hillman expresses, “each dream is a child of the night, afflicted with sleep and death…” Every transformation involves a symbolic death as well as birth, the alchemical nigredo and coagulatio…

Charon, another child of Nyx, is the ferryman of departed souls as they enter Hades through the underworld river Acheron… Hades, through his symbolic connection with the Eagle, has a shadowy affiliation with his brother Zeus, also connected with the Eagle. As Hillman expresses, this suggests an awareness of the Upperworld and Underworld as similar but with different perspectives. Returning to Indian tradition, now post-Vedic – in the Mandukya Upanishad, Visva (waking) and Taijasa (sleeping) are also felt to be similar, different sides of the same phenomena, with one looking out towards external objects and the other towards inner objects… In our own lives, synchronistic phenomenon hint at the dreamlike nature of waking life (something the Aboriginal peoples seem well-attuned to, with their sense of Dream-time) and premonitory dreams make us wonder about the distinctions between inner and outer, as well as the nature of time and space…

It’s easy to think of Hades as an entirely nefarious entity, especially when we’ve split off the dark from the light. Yet, through his connection with Pluto, he is also associated with wealth and riches, and through his connection with Trophonios, Hades is connected with nourishment. Hence he becomes the wealthy one, the giver of nourishment to the soul – if we have the courage to listen…

The Greeks would make pilgrimages from across the lands, to Asclepian temples, where they would consult their dreams for healing from somatic and psychological maladies. After a process of ritual purification, there was a descent through chambers of snakes – associated with the creative and transformative potential of the underworld – and into the abaton, where one would sleep and wait for the gods to deliver answers. With regards to the snake imagery, this also forms another underworld-overworld connection, as established between Hades and Zeus – in Greek art and sculpture, Zeus was also imaged as a bearded snake…

The image of modern medicine, the Caduceus, also contains an image of interwoven snakes that harkens back to this tradition of Asclepius. Unfortunately, outside of the Jungian world and some psychoanalytic practitioners, clinical work with dreams exists in the margins of contemporary healing traditions. Despite this, many of us still do use our dream and fantasy life to creatively enrich our waking life in one way or another…

So, in the spirit of dreaming and the dream world, of Imagination and Creativity, please join us on March 20, 2010 for “Dreamplay” – 7-10PM @ Workspace (2150 Folsom Street @ 17th in the Mission). It will be a playful evening of interactive performance, art installation and soundscapes… There will be a remix of the abaton (Heather King Singh, Khenu Singh) - for this, come bearing dreams you are willing to share, allowing the psychopomp to guide you into the inner chamber, to be recorded and mixed into the event, with an attitude of respect, reverence and creative play... There will also be a sin eater cafĂ© (Delfina Piretti), dream potions (Heather King), performance art (Raphael Noz), video art (Khenu Singh), spoken word and performance (Eric Subido), shadow dance and art installation (Andrea Bass), as well as paintings and art that explore the mythopoetic realms of Psyche…

The night will be a benefit for Haitian Children, with all proceeds going towards this. Please come out and represent!

Dream Play
An evening of performance art, interactive
art installations and soundscapes.

March 20, 2010
7 to 10 PM

2150 Folsom Street (at 17th )
Mission District, San Francisco

Come celebrate Spring Equinox!

Requested Donation: $10.00
All proceeds go to Haitian Children.

Participating Artists
Raphael Noz
Delfina Piretti
Heather King Singh
Khenu Singh
Eric Subido

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Dread Bass, Spanda and the Dark Side of the Self

In a dark warehouse space, a roots tune comes to close and a siren unit bleep is triggered and dubbed through an analogue delay, a rhythmic drift into thick, humid and pregnant space – peppered by a few anticipatory hoots and screams… a few syncopated beats deepen the tension… then we’re released and dropped into the fierce wobble of a heavy dubstep bassline, one that seems to drive straight into our hearts and souls… First we simply experience and perhaps later we wonder – why are we affected as we are by these dark, shimmering low-end tones?

The scene shifts to the Balinese countryside, the lush, breathtaking emerald-green of the Ayung River Gorge fades to night... In the dark, the images are sonic ones (1), the growling sound of our motorcycle and the syncopated barking of stray dogs slowly crossfade into the songs of frogs and crickets that sing alongside a Gamelan ensemble playing a village ceremony… Quivering interference beats (2) arise in the space between two metallophones tuned just slightly apart – with a pulsating quality reminiscent of the sub-bass wobble… What is this connection in the perception and experience of these sounds from such different cultures and traditions?

At the back of our mind, somewhere in our being, we feel the archetypal pulsation that the Kashmiri Tantrikas referred to as Spanda, the pulsation and dynamic creativity at the heart of everything. Back of the mind – what does “back” or for that matter, “depth” (as in depth psychotherapy) or any other signifier of linear, temporal-spatial dimension really mean in the realm where Kronos (3) is intoxicated by honey as Nyx (4) sings her songs, and the entire Universe moves in ecstatic dance to the beat of Adrasteia’s cymbals and drum…

We will circle around these questions as we explore Spanda and view this in relation to Carl Jung’s seminal exploration of the Self, in Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (5)… Though he drew from Vedanta and the Upanishads (6), which also explore the nature of Atman and the Self, Jung had a complicated and ambivalent relationship to (the spectrum of) the East, and what it had to offer the so-called Westerner. Though he had explored Eastern texts more than most other psychologists of his time, he didn’t always seem to understand that it is in fact such a spectrum. He did have the humility to acknowledge this at some points (though this isn’t as clear at other points) – it was simply too much for him to take on as a more comprehensive study.

India alone has so much diversity, with some consistent threads and themes that weave in and out with many substantial points of divergence. Jung sometimes criticized the Indian as being otherworldly. There certainly are influential movements in Indian philosophy – such as Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta – that look at the phenomenal world as illusory, therefore supporting Jung’s critical position. Tantra, itself with a diverse and complex cast of characters and groups, took a quite different take on the matter. Here, the world wasn’t seen illusory, but rather, the play of a creative consciousness that seeks to manifest and thereby see itself…

This forms another thread that weaves through Balinese culture, which is in part is a fascinating syncretism between indigenous shamanic and animistic traditions and Hinduism (7). In this culture, creative process is prayer, as it mirrors the creative nature of the larger Consciousness (8). Likewise, in Indian creative and aesthetic traditions, riyaz – a term that normally refers to practice of one’s instrument – is felt by some to come from a Sanskrit term for prayer, riyazat.

Spanda is a significant concept in the Shaivite Tantric tradition. It was first introduced by Gaudapada in his Mandukya-Karika – a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad (where we find reference to various stages of consciousness as well as the idea of Aum). Spanda refers to the vibration, pulsation, or shimmering that is at the core of the Divine in these systems. This helps shed some light on why the Balinese claim to experience more pure contact with God in the shimmering interference beats I spoke of earlier in this essay, the pulsation between tones. Perhaps this gives us another lens with which to look at certain forms of vibration and shimmer in more contemporary musical traditions, from roots reggae to dubstep…

In Aion, Jung attempts to expand our understanding of the Self to not only be something creative and of the light, but also with a dark and potentially destructive side. Jung was critical of the god-image in much of Christianity, feeling that the darkness had been split off and been carried by the Devil… He proposed that we need a more encompassing image that reflected both the creative and destructive aspects of the Divine. Indians are fond of establishing parallels between the macrocosm and microcosm; in this spirit, we do see this creative and destructive process mirrored in the phenomenon of interference beats – when in phase there is a creative, additive effect and when out of phase, there is a destructive, negating effect…

The cross-fader cuts back and forth between Gamelan field recordings from a recent trip, and Vex’d, with his own metallic cacophony of beats, and distorted pulsations of sine waves modulated by oscillators, sound emerging from electronics rather than traditional instruments – acoustic or digital, just different forms and transformations of creative libido (in the broader Jungian, and Tantric sense) really, a reminder of the spirit and soul that has often been a companion to physics and physicists (9)…

There is something about the pulsation itself that draws us in – from the perspective of Tantric Shaivism, it could be seen as a form of bhakti, a devotional worship of the creative Consciousness. Yet, there is something in particular about certain tonalities, both the minor keys that are used, as well as the dirty and gritty textures of the bass sounds themselves that stand out in dubstep. Maybe it’s not entirely different from distorted, Punk Rock sounds that draw some of us in as well, that speak to our angst and our knowing of pain, suffering and oppression that exists in life. I argue that one root of our draw into a dark dubstep wobble is a desire to step towards wholeness (10).

We tire of images of spirituality that are too bright in one way or another. One shadow of various New Age perspectives and voices is the exclusion of the shadow, the darker aspect of life, including that of the numinous. We need to have the darker experience of life mirrored back to us in sound, or it’s a deadening – any extreme constellates something of the other pole – which (when untended) can be thrown into the unconscious, from where it’s either projected externally or haunts us through some form of neurosis. An extreme focus on the light is no exception – though perhaps harder to see in its blinding brightness…

Many of us yearn to have a psychoacoustic experience of the darker aspect of the numinous – one we can face squarely in the eye, try to relate to, and maybe even howl while doing it (and then, to have this in a collective setting, it feeds our need to have shared ritual with one another). When we do find it, it grips us like any deep and complementing archetypal experience can... This is one aspect of what drives our interest in horror movies – to have a sense of control in relation to what evokes fear and dread…

This dances with and completes itself by being in dynamic relation with brighter tones and melodies that bring in some light. Unless this happens – which unfortunately has more often been the case than not in my experience of many a dubstep night, which can be too heavy with the dark (or without other forms of creative diversity) – it becomes equally lopsided, and thereby monotonous and deadening in other ways. What wonders when a roots track kicks in, or a bubbling lover’s rock tune drops us into a different sort of soulful space. Or for that matter, when the melody of a sarod drops in, along the curves of the dark, pulsating, low-end terrain… So many forms and transformations of Spanda, a shimmering echo that dubs through these various rhythmical contours…



(1) Jung and post-Jungians often have a particular focus on the image. Jung alluded to this, but later post-Jungians have expanded the “image” beyond the visual, encompassing auditory, somatic and other forms of “imagery.” That these aspects of image, or modalities of perception are linked becomes clear in synasthetic phenomenon, including dreams that my tabla teacher has shared with me, in which tabla compositions were experienced as colors…

(2) Two sounds tuned to slightly different frequencies will produce a phenomenon called beating, where the volume alternates as the sounds interfere constructively and destructively, as they move in and out of phase with one another

(3) The Greek god associated with time

(4) The Greek goddess of night, mother to Hypnos (sleep), Thanatos (death) and the Oneroi (dreams) amongst others

(5) Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2

(6) Jung may have been inspired to read the Upanishads by another of his intellectual influences – the German philosopher Schopenhaur, who was said to read from the Upanishads on a regular basis and who had named his cat Atman! In his lecture on Aion, Jungian Analyst Edward Edinger acknowledges that Jung did take the idea of the Self from the Upanishads

(7) Bali, with its Hindu majority, is in contrast to the other islands in the South Pacific which are mainly Islamic.

(8) Consciousness used here is a larger term then the Conscious aspect of Psyche which is contrasted against the Unconscious – it is a term that encompasses what the Jungians would call the Unconscious, and has a teleological aspect

(9) Jung had a long exchange with physicist Wolfgang Pauli – see for instance “On the Nature of the Psyche,” in Collected Works, Volume 8: Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche

(10) I choose “step towards” intentionally as this is a lifelong process, rather than some discrete state or final endpoint