Our hearts are heavy, too
« ‘The Holy Spirit is direct comprehension of beauty, the prophetic conscience of harmony, and therefore its ceaseless pursuit.’
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Demons
Romanticism grew out of a sense of loss
: loss of primal speech, of harmony between the self and the cosmos, of the key to explaining the world, and even of the rituals that authenticate our relationship to the divine. The poet entering this new world encounters all the problems tied to this initial loss. Everything becomes terribly mysterious. We are divinities at birth, but are abandoned; we are chosen but unconnected. We are held at a distance and our thirst cannot be quenched. Will we ever rediscover the path of transfiguration that will once more enable us to become the emissaries of a conscious and creative divinity? Our entire lives are devoted to the search for a polestar, for the ‘blue flower’ that unites the self with the All, for the little voice that tells us what to do. Our works of art no longer represent the serene knowledge that precedes us and comprehends us. They must now produce – while also producing themselves – their raison d’être, their theory, their analysis. They are immediately cosmic: they must be conceived as poetic art, as a natural system. But this natural system is unfinished, broken into fragments, like a piece of porcelain that breaks in the sitting room. And we run about like little rabbits whose paws have been broken in hunters’ traps.
Olivier Mellano knows all this. How We Tried a New Combination of Notes to Show the Invisible or Even the Embrace of Eternity
is a piece that reaches for the absolute. The absolute in music is the point at which music engenders itself, when the composer merely acts as a filter through which the music enters and exits like an endless stream of black coffee. The quest for this state of grace is the musician’s ‘blue flower’. It is the reason he endlessly searches and suffers.
The musician’s desire is to find the point at which he completely gives himself up to the pressure of the music itself, becoming its humble and anonymous executor. How We Tried
… is also a work that makes its own commentary on itself. The voice constantly sings about what the music is in the process of doing; the voice serves as the ongoing conscience of the search, the doppelganger of the process of emerging. The voice is both a rejoinder and part of the unfolding process of doubling, the embodiment of its impossible termination.
How We Tried
… opens with a representation of ur-chaos, of the turmoil at the beginning of Genesis, and an attempt to direct – like a film for the ears – the organization, anarchistic but disciplined, of the notes. And the voice speaks and observes:
‘This music is going nowhere.
It is swelling like a heavy heart.’
Our hearts are heavy, too.
We too have been alone for a small eternity, since the ‘little voice’ in our heads – our Angel or celestial twin – has stopped telling us clearly which path to take.
Our hearts have been heavy since we have had, at every moment, to ‘choose’ our next act, our next stage, our next metamorphosis. And we will never be happy as long as we have to decide what to do on our own. In The Birth of Conscience in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
, the American psychologist Julian Jaynes postulates that hearing voices is not a anomaly that only occurs in the right brain of schizophrenics, people experiencing serious mental breakdown and drug users. It is a natural human phenomenon that was suppressed at the time consciousness emerged, between 1000 and 800 BCE. Up to that time, when people had to make a decision in the face of an unknown situation, they listened to their little voice. And these little voices, in later years, were celebrated as gods, exorcised as demons and cast out as ghosts. The entire history of humanity could be told as a continual mourning for the bicameral mind, a mind with which we have tried to reconnect, through prayer, rituals, intoxication and trance states, since the advent of consciousness. We can also attempt to reconnect with the bicameral mind through music. And the voice continues to comment: ‘The form imposes itself, the form is imposed, sure of itself, of its creator. How much leeway do we have when the angel imposes itself so forcefully?
Olivier Mellano steers his composition like a Mallarmé captain aboard his ship.
After finding his first note with a throw of the dice, he pitches and zigzags on a sea of sound and notes.
And like the parrot on Long John Silver’s shoulder in Treasure Island
, or Tony Clifton’s puppet in the Andy Kaufman Show
, Mellano’s consciousness is close at hand and comments on everything that he is writing, playing and experiencing:
‘Everyone plays the lowest note.
Everyone plays the deepest note
The search for the absolute in music consists – like for the dervishes – of ceaseless spinning around the Great Note, as if around a maelstrom. It is the Hindu Om
, which links us to the solar system, to the cosmos and to the Absolute. It is the Alpha and Omega of universal manifestation. In the beginning the Great Note was divided into Light and Water. Light is Purush, the presence of the principle, the Atman, in each human being. And Purush blended with a body of water, Prokriti (an image of the ‘universal passivity’, and the ensemble of formal possibilities) to form the source of every manifestation. In the Hopi tradition the Great Note is called Palöngawhoya
. After each destruction and reconstruction of the world, while Poqonghoya
, the echo, lays his hands on the ground to solidify it, Palongwhoya
crosses the Earth, propagating the sound of his voice, and all the vibrating centers along the terrestrial axis stretching from one pole to the other resound with him. Olivier Mellano, too, presents his version of the story of the Great Note, a more Gnostic, heroic and nostalgic rendition:
‘In ancient times when only gods occupied the universe, a goddess was sent to the earth as punishment. Embodied, fallen from the ether, desperate and fighting the elements, the goddess brought from the depths of her being a memory of the ether, and projected it with the full force of her throat over all the things of the earth. The air began to vibrate and the first music of the earth was heard.
The elements were becalmed and the astonished gods populated the quietened earth with creatures that could work the same miracle. And when humanity wants to speak to the gods, it raises its voice in song, causing the hidden harmony in all things to vibrate.
And it was thus that the Hindu Om
became a mantra, because of this that the Sufis dance to the rhythm of the Zhikr. Orthodox Christians use the same technique to attune themselves to the divine rhythm: the perpetual prayer of the Russian pilgrim, inspired by hesychasm, the yoga of Eastern Christians: ‘Every monk who seeks to stay in continuous touch with God must learn to murmur silently and to ceaselessly think of the formula I am going to share with you
’, writes Jean Cassien, ‘and in order to do this, he must rid himself of a multitude of other thoughts, for he will not succeed unless he is free from all the travails and demands of the body. We have been initiated into this doctrine by the rare survivors of the most ancient Fathers, and which we will only share with a chosen few, those who have a genuine thirst for knowledge.
There are several ways to spin around the Great Note
. One is ceaseless repetition. Another is the technique used by romantic poets: withdrawing as far as possible and carrying out one’s search in a baroque, ironic, rhapsodic way, in order to let the Great Note appear in the heart of one’s constructions, like a spectral, polychrome presence. Our relationship to the All can be expressed in a brief, decisive poem, but also in romantic constructions of extraordinary complexity filled with labyrinthine passages and secondary characters, each of them epiphany-like reflections on the lost Oneness. Dostoyevsky’s notion of divine harmony, of total accord between human beings and the sound of the Great Note, perhaps came from the tradition of hesychasm, or perhaps from his epileptic fits.
This can be sensed in the feelings expressed by Kirilov near the end of Demons
, which Olivier Mellano used in How We Tried
…: ‘There are certain seconds when you feel the presence of a universal harmony, which you have completely attained. There is nothing terrestrial about it. The feeling is clear and unmistakable. It is as if you can feel all of nature and you say: yes, this is right. It is not emotion, it is joy. Oh, it is a higher feeling than love.
What is most frightening is that it is terribly clear, and such a joy. If it lasted more than five seconds, the soul could not bear it; it would perish.
Olivier Mellano evokes universal harmony
through successive associations and dissociations, through breaks, reiteration, cuts and reprises. These express the heartrending experiences of the soul in search of deliverance. His work is constructed like a Tower of Babel whose sole purpose is to be destroyed, to be struck by the thunderbolts of divinity and to preserve their resonance in its imprint. Note by note he builds up his gigantic symphonic work like eggs being beat into a meringue. But at the last moment, in one brief gesture, he allows it all to fall to the ground. And he begins the creative process once again in versions that both approach and withdraw from this intuition. This enables us – the listeners – to reassemble, one piece at a time, his cosmic puzzle. We can also take a few fragments away with us to create a new puzzle or a new cosmos. These fragments are living, and they speak to us.
Listen to them: they will not cease to haunt you.