Cameron Sharif - May 22nd, 2011
The Chaos - Void Cycle
Throughout the past year I’ve discovered contrasting forces in my musical life: one of formal logic and forethought, the other of rawness and intuition. In a moment of maybe excessive introspection I reviewed a lot of my compositions and tried to see where they came from – which part of my brain was being used, what I was going through at the time, whether not they had stories behind them, whether not they were carried out slowly and theoretically, or jotted down uninhibitedly, or in fit of emotion. For whatever reason, the compositions I like the most where the ones I did quickly and without much premeditation. On the other hand, the compositions that I spent more time trying to craft on a micro-level, I seemed to over-think, and for many of them, didn’t even finish. I find composition to be a big part of my musical identity, and I’ve always been curious as to why the writing process is at times effortless and at other times seemingly impossible.
For a point, while trying to stay away from any intangible views about the creative process, I became something of a materialist over the matter, and thought that my ease and ability in composition would be directly proportional with how I treated myself physically - allowing my body and brain to be fully capable of the higher functions that being human has to offer us (as opposed to the, shall we say, more basal functions).
But of course, I found there is more to it. On many occasions I would treat myself well - exercise, adequate sleep, no alcohol, no allergens (I pretty much have an “intolerance” to anything you’d want to buy from a grocery store, save dark greens, rice, corn, peanuts and water) , only to come up with mundane, unsatisfactory compositions that I didn’t finish. Likewise, there were times when, stressed out and operating on very little sleep, febrile and nasal passages clogged from ingesting foods that were sending my immune system in a state of emergency, I came up with compositions with little difficulty. So, it’s obviously not entirely physical, and this led me to some exploration.
Emotion is very important to me in both hearing other people’s music and making my own. I find music to serve little purpose if it doesn’t move people. I find the golden standards of musicianship to be limiting and frustrating. Everybody has something different to offer which cannot be fit into a hierarchy. Music has become isolated into a high art and is one step removed from our current society. In schools it is often dissected and made formulaic for the sake of pedagogy. This can be very limiting because the possibilities of music are just about infinite.
So lately, I’ve been doing some personal investigation into the emotional domain of music.
The motivations for the compositions for the session come from a cyclical experience of emotions and life-happenings which seem to follow recurring patterns. I would also venture a guess that is pretty common in others as well, and probably is a theme which has been covered before by psychologists. I call it the ‘chaos-void’ cycle. Essentially – things are going along well, then you find yourself in a state of disharmony with something in life; could be other people, yourself, your work, or anything that you are invested in. This is a state of unrest. Generally when we are in a state of unrest we need to do something about it to make us feel sane and in control of our lives – to exert our free will over external, or internal, stressors. So then, there is an explosion (a change) which causes the deconstruction of what was once causing the disharmony, and for a moment, this is complete and total chaos. When the smoke settles, what is left is a void. It’s almost like a black hole. I find it to hold psychological, and even physiological gravity. The void is infinite and empty and really, quite frightening. I think everybody finds a way to deal with the void differently, the most common being to form other attachments, which become affirmations of reality, forms of security over who we are what we are doing in life. The attachments can be intellectual, emotional, or physical. Although these new attachments are comforting and relieving, and enough to lessen the gravity that the void holds, they too eventually enter a state of chaos. Things explode, and there is the void again. And the cycle repeats.
So I guess the full, unabridged cycle is really something like: [:security - disharmony - chaos - void - retreat:]
I feel like people are in a constant flux between states of security, states of chaos, and I think most uncommonly, states of extended contact with the void. I don’t think it is very human to tolerate the void for what it is for any extended period of time. It is a nebulous place that doesn’t offer any consolation over life’s hardships. Perhaps as a survival mechanism, we immediately look elsewhere when confronted with it.
To add one extra level of complexity, there are also cycles within cycles . For instance, it’s not so clear cut when people go through the stages. For instance, it’s not as simple as saying, last year, this person was in security for eight months, chaos for three, and void for one. Although the large, overall arch of the cycle may be that way, at each stage along the way there are small-scale revolutions which influence the greater, overall trajectory.
How is music affected by the cycle? Probably different for everyone, so I can only speak for my experiences. Briefly looking back at stages of my life over the past five years, I can generally identify when I was in security, chaos, or void, and the musical trends that accompany them.
I feel differently in each stage. Security is the most common stage - great initially but generally starts sucking after awhile. Save for the initial period, I always run the risk of stagnation and complacency in this state, and start feeling like something has to change. Though initially I have a comfortable pad for creativity, I often don’t find myself being musically or artistically the most productive in this stage, and most of the stuff I come up with ends up reverberating with things I actually felt in other stages.
Then there is chaos, which I personally find to be a pretty rich stage in the cycle. It is has the potential to be eye opening and inspiring. There is also a lot of energy to tap into- both positive and negative – which can be quite fun actually. A lot of the things I come up with in this stage are fearless and destructive.
Then afterwards, there is the void, which I spend the least amount of time in – generally not being to tolerate it’s complete and total disregard to my existence as a human being – who I am, what I want, what I need, etc. To deal with the void music really helps. Sometimes I can stream some of the empty energy of the void into composition and musical expression, which makes we grow warm again. In this way, music can be an attachment.
It is misleading to ascribe each stage to one emotion - happiness, confusion, and sadness, respectively. All three of these basic emotions pop up in each stage, and I find the emotions themselves to run in cycles, with happiness ultimately being the one I’m most productive and creative in.
Lately in my own life, there has been chaos, which has come after months of security. I’ve recently encountered the void again, and am already doing a pretty good job at avoiding it. I haven’t entered security again yet. I’m writing this two weeks before my session, and it’s likely that by the point, I will have entered the first stage again.
The pieces I’ve written are not ascribed to a respective stage each. Rather, I hope they kind of blend into one another and reference each other. I am going for a cyclical form, mainly to try to capture this entire process…which is impossible. But, hey, I tried. Joining me will be Evan Woodle and Ivan Arteaga.
The assignment for this week is to use the chaos-void idea as food for thought. Try to identify similarities of how it manifests in your life, and what was going on when you were in it, etc. And if anyone would feel so compelled as to improvise a piece that evokes one, or all, of the stages, I think that would be really cool. If you interested, let me know at, or before, the session. And lastly, if you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, or didn’t get a chance to read this through, we can just play free music without restraints :)
Thanks! Hope to see you there.