Tanso Afternoon

I sit playing my tanso, small thin hard hollow bamboo, with a small notch on the end to blow into. A clear sound is produced with care. With time an ephemeral complexity of small notes flit around the melody. At first it seems to have a light expression, but I sense something deep here. This is a modern instrument that has more holes to play more notes. Yet it awakens something ancient, timeless.

My breath must be precise as the notch is small; a miniscule change produces something unexpected. I strive to perceive the imperceptible, to embrace the microscopic in my expression.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The high tones cry, the lower tones sigh. A murmur appears. Another voice arises between notes. An inner landscape of peaks and valleys, irregular surfaces, twists and turns – all within a nuance. A pitch drops slightly with a forgotten despair, and then rises with a fragile hope.

My soul rises from my lips and fingers, as my mind is helpless but to just listen. So much pain, so much joy, so much life. Then a train in the distance answers, and my soul responds unhindered. A crow comments as the wind in the trees and my breath ebb in unison. My soul and the world around me interconnect in the music. My mind is quiet.

The notes disappear yet my lips and fingers continue to move. The sounds outside disappear yet nothing has changed. All that is left is a vast yet intimate connectedness…an infinite oneness. I am playing, listening, being and not being, all at the same time. This depth of being and not being is both peaceful yet unnerving. It is so powerful that I stop.

My mind returns, objects in the room reappear; the sounds outside have names again. I am holding my flute. I am still feeling the connectedness, but am now in the world again as well. The wind and crows are calling for me to return. I want to feel this world some more before I go back into infinite oneness. I make some tea.

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Learning to Love

Self-loathing is one of the most difficult disorders resulting from childhood abuse to heal. Self-loathing constantly feeds itself, which makes it tricky to get a handle on. Its roots are very deep in the psyche, as it often is created well before the conscious self was formed, making it pervasive.

Imitation is our first way of learning. From a very young age children read their caretakers emotions and learn what gets a response. Usually a smile or laugh from one elicits the same from the other. If negative responses are all the child receives, which can be the case in an abusive household, the results are confusing. The child’s psyche struggles to find a positive result, and a large number of rejected responses can form the roots of self-loathing.

The abuse I received from my family taught me that I was not worth anything, that anything I did to please them was wrong, that my very existence was flawed, and that I did not deserve to be loved. Through my family’s actions, I learned not to trust any signs of love, as it could be followed by hatred or rage. I internalized this self-hatred within the deepest part of my being and it became part of my psyche, which is very hard to grow up with.

What is worse is that anytime I failed in life, anytime I was criticized, anytime I was rejected, it became a proof that I was worthless, and it hurt…very deep. This is how self-loathing feeds itself. So any success was quickly discounted. Success was fleeting, and failure was constant.

By the time I was school age, I was an emotionally crippled abused child with thick glasses. This made me a target for persistent bullying in school and the torment and rejection of my peers poured gasoline on the fires my self-loathing. I felt completely worthless and totally rejected from both my family and from society.

However this was normal for me. It was all I knew. I could not understand the happiness of others; I thought happiness was false; I thought that life was torturous for everyone. No matter how hard I tried to fit in or to imitate the “fake” happiness of others, I could not. So I thought I had even failed at being fake.

I did not learn social norms as a child, and my awkwardness with them further alienated me. To survive emotionally, I subconsciously learned to compensate through adopting unusual behaviours. One method was to isolate myself to avoid interactions that would potentially make me feel bad about myself. Another was to consider myself special.

I knew I was different from those around me, and as early as Grade 4, I realized I could entrance people with my voice. As written in earlier blogs, my eyes gave me more than one sight, my abilities to sense emotions in others gave me another type of vision. Combined with my growing intellect, these abilities formed the basis for my psyche to equate “different” with “special.” This then grew to an unconscious attitude that I was better than those that criticized or ostracized me. This was an important psychological system as it allowed me to grow; it was what kept me alive.

However, my “special” self and my self-loathing were in separate places in my psyche, and no mater how hard I tried they never combined until years later in therapy.

My self-loathing trapped me in a feedback loop. No matter what I did it somehow fueled these feelings. When I achieved something, I still felt “not good enough.” I could always find fault with it. I therefore became a perfectionist to try to control everything and everyone around me so it would not fuel my self-loathing. Yet, I also became very self destructive, in relationships and in life. Suicide was never far from my mind. I also had to deal with a very deep rage, which could be triggered the moment anyone stimulated my self-loathing with a single word or glance.

As I grew older, even though my self-loathing was creating an increasing amount of emotional pain, my “special” self increasingly compensated, fueled by my survival instincts. I would use my extended listening abilities to feed myself with the beauty of birdsong or raindrops to keep me alive. I expanded my “special” skills, reading voraciously, extending my senses, and watching people from the inside and out.

I eventually found a balance between my self-loathing and my “special’ self. I tried to spend as much time in the latter but the former never left me.

Finally, with an amazing therapist, I found relief from my self-loathing. He helped me to integrate the separate parts of my psyche to make it whole. First he helped me build a psychological safe place that only good feelings could enter and this isolated me from my self-loathing. Second he showed me how to break the feedback loop of self-loathing. He then helped me feel my accomplishments and not judge, diminish or discard them. Third he helped my re-parent. By emotionally divorcing my parents, I made new emotional parents who were composites of powerful, supportive, loving people/icons. I placed them in every memory of my life.

Over the years I have been gradually getting better. However, this is an ongoing process and even though I am now in my sixties there are still times I find another pocket of self-loathing. I have realized as well that my self-loathing was a habit, or an automatic system of behaviour. I had to realize that I could just accept a failure as a learning opportunity and move on without going into the pits of despair.

I am also now dismantling the false images of myself and the self-aggrandizing of my “special” self. I have to be honest and objective as to what are my actual accomplishments and what are constructs of my former damaged self. Some of these constructs have been with me a very long time so to dismantle them requires to remove a chunk of my psyche and to replace it with something new. This is like ripping out the walls to replace everything but the roof, and then once done you realize that you need to do sections again as the foundation was also rotten in places.

This is a lot of work, difficult work. In the meantime, it is rewarding. I find my relationship with my family and friends are getting better, and I feel emotionally cleaner. I still have work to do, and I am doing it.

To those that have remained my friends through all my struggles I thank you and honour you for being the wonderfully understanding beings that you are. Your understanding and friendship has been a big part of my survival.

Leaves Budding

Many years ago I met an amazing visual artist named En Burk, who at the time worked with leaves, branches and other natural objects. She patiently waited for them to fall from their respective trees or plants, and then fashioned them into stunningly beautiful sculptures, sometimes quickly shaping them before they dried and hardened. She knew the flora of the city as if it were her garden, and often went to visit a certain tree on a certain day, talking to it, as she harvested it’s gifts. She used her whole apartment as her gallery, and to enter it was like entering a temple devoted to life and nature. Visiting En was always the most peaceful and grounding experience.

Inspired by her art, one day I decided to take her a copy of my score Leaves (1) which I had written for the Japanese ichigenkin. We sat drinking tea as she quietly read the score. After reading it, she sat for a long time in silence, and then looked at me and asked, “How did you do this?” “How did I do what “, I replied. “I just heard this!” she exclaimed, “I’ve just heard leaves budding! And wilting! And … and I just heard shadows of leaves! I’ve always known what they look like, and felt like…. but now I know what they sound like!” “How did you do this?”

A year later, I showed the same score to a number of musicians at the prestigious if sometimes stuffy Banff Centre for Fine Arts, in Alberta, Canada. One of them asked mockingly, “How can you hear leaves budding?”

I replied “You could try listening slower, perhaps you listen too quickly.”

leaves

Listening Beyond Boundaries

I just finished playing my xiao again and am still listening.

Before I play my Chinese xiao, I stand and listen, I open myself wide, so that all sounds close and far away, inside of me and outside, obvious and barely perceived enter. I don’t try to label them as a car or a bird, I don’t try to categorize them, or sort them as good or bad. It becomes a strange sensation, as it is like I have to stretch part of myself out to as far as the sounds come from.

Yet there is a timelessness to this, as I listen, time stops, as past, present, and future blend. So the beginning and ending of a sound blur. Yet I am still aware of normal time. It feels like I am listening in more than one manner, or dimension at the same time. The sensation of listening is not just from my ears, it is from my whole body. As I expand my listening all my body feels like it extends, not just my skin but even deep inside of me. This sense of listening in another dimension is intensified by my body’s sensations, as is the timelessness of it. It is as if time and space no longer apply.

Then I play. This also is a strange practice, as I add the sound of my playing to the other sounds on an equal basis. I don’t try to play, to match the sounds, to choose a note or to guide my playing in any way. Instead I just let go. I somehow let the music out. Often a long sustained note happens first but sometimes it is a number of short notes. The structure of the sounds that come out is often very unlike the way I normally play, sometimes it is very orderly, sometimes not at all, long and short sounds, fast runs, and wild intervals. I can observe the interaction of what I play and what I hear, as I am both inside the music and yet outside at the same time. What I play melds with all the rest of the sounds that I sense as it all becomes music.

What happens is amazing to me, every time I do this. Everything works as if I composed all the sounds to be played together. black and blueThere is an order and even a harmony. I will play and stop just as a car door closes, and start to play on the same pitch as a car going by even changing tones to match the shifting Doppler effect unconsciously. The note I play will anticipate an environmental sound. I will play a note and the environment matches it or plays something that is in perfect harmony with it. I will play a rhythm the environment matches and then it shifts exactly as I shift. Somehow I sense what is going to happen, I can sense large and small patterns in the environment and start to play them even before they appear. Even a person walking by talking has been incorporated within the sounds my flute makes and is integrated. Nothing is out of place. Nothing is random.

The more I listen and play like this, the more the environment around me seems to start to work together with itself. Maybe this is my mind trying to find order in chaos, but it feels more like the chaos is not chaos but instead part of a much more expansive order that only very large wide extensive listening can perceive.

I find myself playing more in extremely noisy environments and still finding a harmony in them. This intrigues me. After playing I feel like I am still very big, like there is a large space within me, like I still have no time, like air is moving through my being, like my skin and cells are sparkling. Like I am many places at the same time, and all of them are connected and working together. These feelings sometimes well up in my daily life, while I am at the computer, or while at the store. They are beautiful yet, a bit unsettling as they are redefining what reality is. I am not sure if this is a real experience or a quirk of brain function, but either way I will explore it more.

Face of Alzheimer’s

My mother has Alzheimer’s. At writing this, she is a month short of her 91st birthday and is in relatively good health otherwise. She is in a full care facility and is comfortable there. Visiting her is both difficult and fascinating. Her mind is slowly failing, but the decline is in waves, as is common with this disease. At times she seems clear and interacts easily. However, the majority of the time, she doesn’t remember anyone except me. I can see that it takes her longer and longer to recognize me, and some days not at all. She responds to questions with answers that are not connected to the inquiry and usually with only a couple of words seldom speaking in sentences.

Although most of my mum’s memory is gone, music, especially that of her youth, is still very deep in her. She remembers the words to many songs, and can sing them at the mere mention of the song title. It seems that music is stored in another part of her brain, which the disease has not reached fully.

smileyaugust54Humour is similar. I always tell her jokes, so she can laugh. As my mum was born in Scotland, puns along with playfully insulting the English, the Irish and most often the Scottish, all said in a Scottish brogue are the best way to make her laugh. She can even follow a series of jokes on the same subject, even though the logic of puns is usually quite complex and divergent.

I find most interesting is how social behaviour seems to be deeply situated in her brain. My mum has always been reactionary, responding to a question with an answer that seems to fit, until you probe further. She has always saved face. When I was young, everyone outside of my house loved my parents. My parents were considered to be kind, funny and generous. They volunteered for a number of organizations and were well known in the community. At home was a different story. My parents battled constantly with all the rage, vitriol, hostility, and loathing that anyone could possibly manifest. Often it was thrown at my sister and myself as well. Their transition from Jekyll to Hyde was the most difficult, as it could happen in less time than it took to close a door. No one outside of the house knew who my parents truly were.

Having an outside face was important for my mother, although she was probably never consciously aware of it. Throughout her life she would greet someone with a big smile and a wonderful compliment, yet the moment their back was turned she would make a hate-filled remark about them. Still with her advancing Alzheimer’s, she will put on a front for people but scowl or grumble when they are gone.

Having this “face” is probably the deepest thing in her psyche. Somehow even in the depths of this disease her psyche constantly develops new face saving devices. Last year, when I asked my name, she would respond correctly. Six months ago she answered by jokingly saying three Scottish names: MacTavish, McNab, and McKay. Now she responds with “Same name as I have.” She has a number of these face saving phrases, and they come out immediately, whereas a full sentence is difficult in any other conversations.

Keeping her laughing
Keeping her laughing

There probably is good reason for all what I have observed in my mother’s daily life. As learning social behaviour and putting on a “face,” is one of the first things we do as a child. We make faces for our parents, and we mimic and respond to theirs. We respond to foolish things our parents do and our laugh always gets a warm response from our caregivers. Music is often used as a comfort for babies, and we often start to sing well before we use words. Social behaviour, humour and music were the first to be formed in our psyche and the last to go.

I will continue to tell my mum jokes and keep her laughing and when she can’t sing anymore, I will sing for her. Even though my mum terrorized me, and I still am in pain from my childhood. Coming home from visiting her, I am so extremely tired that I often sleep deeply for a couple of hours. It takes a toll. Yet, I have a deep sense of compassion. I will continue to take care of her until she passes. Is this me putting on a “face”?

Thanks to Kia Ull for this link:

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Bali Bamboo Music

When in Bali in 1984, I was walking home one night sometime past midnight. In the distant I heard a deep percussive sound that led me behind a few buildings to a covered performance area. It was a full performance of Jegog Bumbung, a dance drama where a cocky young man chased a single woman dancer. She coyly flirted with him until he caught her and then submitted to his charms. After an intermission there was a scream and the man flew out behind the screen in fear chased by his newly married wife who is now obviously in the dominant role. The music was performed by an orchestra of struck bamboo tubes open on one end with a large tongues carved on one side, suspended in frames. The largest of these instruments had pipes at least three metres long. They were accompanied by a number of sets of progressively smaller instruments playing the characteristic Balinese interlocking rhythms. This ensemble of instruments is called Gamelan Grantang. The sound of the big instruments was very round and deep and traveled well in the night air. This performance went on for hours and although I was the only non-Balinese there I sat listening and watching to almost dawn.

Tingklik
Tingklik

A few weeks later, I ran into another version of a bamboo gamelan in a small village close to where I had found a small cabin to rent on the beach (see Bali Night). One morning I again followed music in the air and came upon two men sitting on their porch playing a matched pair of bamboo instruments called tingklik, which looked identical to the smallest of the instruments played in the Gamelan Grantang. Although they played very fast interlocking parts, they didn’t seem to tire as they played for almost an hour.

The older man invited me to sit down, served me tea and they continued to play. After playing for a while, he asked me if I would like to try the instrument, and handed me the mallets. Although the tingklik is about a dozen hollow tuned bamboo tubes suspended from a small frame the technique for playing it is quite complex. The left hand plays a rather simple melody on the lower tubes, while the right hand plays the rapid intricate patterns following the melody while interlocking with the second instrument.

On just hearing the piece, I was only able to remember a few notes on the right hand before making a mistake at which point my impromptu teacher, took the mallets from my hand and played the piece again, all fifteen minutes of it! He then calmly handed the mallets back to me and asked me to try again. I only managed to play a few more notes correctly before running into problems, and again the mallets were politely taken from my hands, and the full fifteen-minute piece was played again. This process continued well into the afternoon, with my teacher patiently playing the full piece again and again as I muddled my way through it.

Obviously this was a normal for my teacher, and he seemed to have all the time and patience in the world. After many hours, I was exhausted and somewhat frustrated, and we sat for a while to talk and drink tea. While we talked his five year-old son picked up a mallet and slowly but accurately played the whole piece. I realized that I had the wrong teacher, as it would have been easier for me to learn from the five year-old! When I asked how long my teacher had been teaching his son, he replied “Oh I haven’t taught him anything, he has just heard me play so much, He knows all the pieces by heart.”

Our modern world doesn’t allow us to have the time or patience for this type of musical transmission, and I didn’t have the time to stay and study this amazing instrument, although I really wanted to. I imagine that growing up from birth hearing these sounds would implant the music far deeper in your psyche than any other form of learning. Maybe I was born in the wrong time.

I was so intrigued by these instrumental discoveries that I explored more and found that there were pockets of unique music and instruments everywhere in Bali. The two tingklik played together is often referred to as Gamelan Rindik, although a full Rindik often uses a suling, and there is also another large bamboo ensemble called Gamelan Jegog that uses a four-note scale. I have recently learned that there are versions in Java as well. (see: Aural Archipelago)

Mystery gamelan
Mystery gamelan

A month after my impromptu lesson, I traveled to a small village in northern Bali to discover a single bamboo xylophone that was quite different in shape than any other that I had seen on the island. It had bamboo slats of different sizes for keys and bamboo tube resonators. I asked some local people where the instrument was from. “From here,” they replied, “it’s native to our village.” “Do you know anybody who can play it?” I asked. “There is no-one left who knows how to play it,” they replied, “the last person died a year ago.” “Are there any recordings or books on how to play it?” I asked. “No,” was the reply, “nothing at all. The music is lost.” Hearing this was a shock and it deeply saddened me. Since then I have given a good portion of my life to support and preserve traditional instruments and music wherever I could.

Jogeg Bambung with the  Gamelan Grantang:

Gamelan Rindik:

The four note scale Gamelan Jegog:

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Rubber Time in Java

Indonesia was my first experience immersing myself in a new culture, and it opened my mind to a world of thousands of different musical perspectives. This is where my musical education kicked into high gear.java rebab

I arrived in Java in time to attend a performance of an ancient court gamelan at the old palace in Jogjakarta on Eid, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The courtyard was filled with big crowd eating and socializing. I was not surprised by the casualness of the event, as I had attended other events in Bali that were also a combination of ritual ceremony, formal concert, and casual social gathering.

This balance of formal and casual was also present in the music. Gamelans are performed in interlocking parts at a slow to moderate speed in Java and at a lightening speed in Bali. Yet, that day I heard an old piece that was far slower than I had ever heard before. So slow in fact that there was a repeating section where a number of musicians that in theory should hit a note at the same time, but in practices they all hit the note at a slightly different time, creating a sort of haphazard staggered effect. This was a shock to my organized western mind and I initially thought they were a bit sloppy. But as they continued to play, I began to hear the beauty in this effect as it sounded very much like rainfall.

The gamelan orchestra was split into two parts on either side of the courtyard, and would play sometimes separately and sometimes together. After going back and forth between them for a while I decided to just sit on one side and listen. I sat in the shade very close to the gong player, and had a good view of the orchestra. In some pieces the gong is played quite often, while in others the gong cycle is very long and the gong is seldom heard. I was watching the gong player during one of the latter pieces, where the time between gong strikes was almost ten minutes. The player struck the gong, and then casually turned around to his friend behind him and started a conversation, he then lit a cigarette, talked for a while longer and then got up and walked off. I saw him occasionally walking through the crowd stopping to talk for a while and then disappearing again. Hearing the gong cycle coming to an end I noticed him casually return and sit down, but with his back turned to the gong. He started talking passionately to his friends while pulling out his lunch and beginning to eat. He seemed to be oblivious to his rapidly approaching cue, as he became further involved with his conversation and meal. I became quite anxious at his apparent lack of concern and wondered if he knew how close his cue was, and there it was, and he hadn’t heard it! I was surprised no-one called to him to quickly hit the gong when he stuffed some food in his mouth to empty his hand, reached for the mallet, and casually leaned over and hit the gong over his shoulder at the exact “right” late moment. The mother gong is often played after the end of the rhythmic cycle, which in the west we would consider late. Sometimes in Indonesian music such a musical marker might be far later than a western musical mind would ever expect, and in this piece it was even later still.

There is an expression in Indonesia called “rubber time” as time is a very relative concept there, stretching like rubber, and this certainly applies to music there. That day I realized that the strict adherence to time so important in the western world was not always necessary for music.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014