BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP FOR DEATH:
electronic composition as a mourning and healing ritual
My electronic composition Because I could not stop for death (2019) consists of three movements featuring three poems by Emily Dickinson on dying, death and the soul, respectively: Because I could not stop for death, A death blow is a life blow to some and A bird came down the walk. In the first movement the text is broken down into syllables, gradually amalgamating into comprehensible words and complete stanzas. The musical source material for the movement was generated entirely by electronic means. In the second movement the poem progresses towards completeness in a similar fashion, but is initially presented word by word. The material stems from a combination of electronic and natural sources, including my own voice. The progression towards wholeness of the poem in the third movement starts with the presentation of complete phrases, and my manipulation of natural (or natural-sounding) materials – which again includes my own voice – resulted in a musique concrète-like collage.
In this auto-ethnographic, philosophically reflective, theoretically speculative and music-analytical essay I aim to articulate how the creation of an electronic composition can function as a mourning and healing ritual. Although surface-level symbolism abounds in the work itself through references to physical breakdown, progression towards spiritual wholeness and accepting the futility of humankind’s obsession with exercising control (the latter specifically speaks to electronic composition), the act of composition should also be considered. Carl Jung’s mother archetype will be used to explain how this process served to negotiate between two archetypal mother complexes – one that provides reassurance and nourishment, and the other overwhelming possessiveness – during and after the loss of the personal mother (the first example on which the mother archetype is modelled). The role of the composition process after this loss in furthering what Jung calls the individuation process, the continued development of the anima in the male psyche, will also be considered.
CHRIS VAN RHYN
Research Director MASARA, North-West University, South Africa