Bits and bobs found, abandoned, or incorporated along the way to »Wakes and Waking Sings«, a multi-room installation and performance that opens March 10 at Solitude.
by R. Armstrong — Feb 18, 2016
The role of my voice is to carry the body.
The song I sing is a Scots Gaelic lament. It almost exactly parallels the breaths of Callas (singing J’ai Perdu Mon Eurydice) in the furthest room, twinning the living and dead voice. The story is also the same; a dead woman, a man’s lament in a woman’s voice, the other realm overtaking this one, living and loss entwined at the site of the embodied voice, the embodied voice expressing loss as a kind of proof of life, as a way of living.
Learning the song had to be done by ear—I have not yet mastered the phonetics of Gaelic spelling, so wrote out the »words« by what I heard. It was weeks before I could line up my own phonetics with the Gaelic text. I also have not found a full translation of what I sing. The translated version I found has 10 lines; the version I learned has 14. It seems right that lines are lost but present, locked in their own world yet visible from this one.
One of the things I love about this song in the work is that I get it wrong, which is always what the living do when we try to traverse the distance from the realm of the dead. Scots Gaelic is a language on the cusp of worlds, endangered, with less than 60,000 speakers. My ancestors who spoke it have been in the ground for centuries. It hovers between. It is the distance from Orpheus to Eurydice. It is smack in the middle of the journey.
I try to remember something I have never known, to pull it into my body and keep it there, living. And this changes it, changes what it means, makes it flesh in new and altered ways. Like Orpheus, I turn back, and am forced to face the loss that brings.
And then my voice has to keep going, carrying the corpse.
Above: »Guide to Gaelic conversation and pronunciation: with vocabularies, dialogues, phrases, and letter forms« by Macbean, L. (Lachlan), 1853-1931
I have been thinking about what we can communicate beyond (but leaning on) familiar structures of legibility. What happens when we use untranslatable, unreadable, language/s? When we speak in tongues?
Other things are communicated, when we reference the sounds and structures of language but not its sense.
Is this same strategy possible in image making? Can we reference the language/s of images in the same way glossolalia references spoken language, yet like glossolalia break from direct referent, from the content-based structures of meaning created and relied on by the medium? What new possibilities of communication come into being when we are adjacent? What do we feel when confronted with an illegible image? How do we process or experience the sensation of not-knowing, in the context of a medium which assumes that we can know everything? Is this even possible?
Another way to ask the question: Can you make an image that leaves the soul in its vessel, that doesn’t draw it out, into the other, represented, world?
An interesting paragraph on the neuroscience of glossolalia: »In 2006, at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers, under the direction of Andrew Newberg, MD, completed the world’s first brain-scan study of a group of individuals while they were speaking in tongues. The study concluded that while participants were exercising glossolalia, activity in the language centers of the brain actually decreased, while activity in the emotional centers of the brain increased. During this study, researchers observed significant cerebral blood flow changes among individuals while exercising glossolalia, concluding that the observed changes were consistent with some of the described aspects of glossolalia. Further, the researchers observed no changes in any language areas, suggesting that glossolalia is not associated with usual language function.   « From this site on glossolalia
The forms of the body: to lament, to carry, to cry out, to want, to leave, to cry out, to carry, to lament, to postpone, to carry forth, to carry, to cry, to cry out.
Click here to hear Wade Ward, Mrs. Wade Ward, Charlie Higgins and Bob Carpenter talk about the fox chase.
Click here to hear Kitty Gallagher keen for a dead child.
»Grunt calls and hum from chorusing males.«
The impossible or near impossible is always compelling. This is a singing fish. This is what you hear of the singing fish if you are not a fish. I never thought about fish having voices, just their silent mouths opening and closing, or eating and regurgitating. Not singing. What the other worlds sound like, the ones we overlook or pass by or don’t have access to, is a guide to the one we daily inhabit. A sound from under the dark surface of the water, beneath the skin of this world.
© 2021 Akademie Schloss Solitude and the author