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Charles Sheeler: Amaryllis (1924)

"I can see a transparent shadow of myself …"

Practicing seems like a primitive form of what this performer intends when he picks up his instrument. Initially, I struggle to just remember the progressions and to propel myself to the end of each piece, but later, after some considerable time spent immersing myself into these mysteries, my practice shifts. After, it becomes easier if not precisely easy, more expression than re-creation. I often catch myself improvising then, as if I no longer seek to resurrect or recreate, but to manifest a feeling for which the original words and music were always mere indexes, means to access a sense more than the purpose of practicing or an end unto themselves. This after space I enter amounts to Transcending, I guess. It certainly feels like a religious experience, if that description doesn't put too orthodox a spin on it. I leave refreshed and slightly light-headed, eyes clear and voice phlegm-less for a welcomed change. I feel high, as though I'm floating slightly above my former existence, witness to my experience more than mere actor.

I'm seeing that the purpose of this SetTheory experience was less about resurrecting my songbook than about rediscovering Transcending.
It might seem as though a teenager with a guitar enters a different world as they learn to play, one which quite literally takes them away from their former forms of play. They seem to lose interest in fitting into what they once obsessed over belonging, and become much more isolating and distant. This happens because they've discovered a portal into a different universe, one which they enter whenever they pick up that guitar. Initial entries probably result from projection, more or less pure imagination, but with repeated practice, even the less susceptible start Transcending. Once experienced, it quickly becomes somewhat of an obsession, albeit a generally good one, though hair might grow shabby through inattention. Feet might eventually get clad in knee-high moccasins. This could happen to anyone. It certainly happened to me.

Afterwards, I just knew what my profession had to be. Whatever else I might have had to do for work, I would actually be a musician, for the practice of what other profession involved serial Transcending? This was not in any way an escaping from but more of a fleeing into, a welcoming transition into an ancient tradition, sort of like become a Rosicrucian, I suspect. There were no secret handshakes or dues to pay, just the promise that any day, every day, could feature that eternal experience, timelessness and then some. Songwriting brought an even deeper level of engagement, for the songs themselves served as the most reliable portals into that Transcending universe.

I should mention that Transcending is in no way related to mastery of any actual music. Transcending seems mostly a deeply personal experience and it's perfectly possible to remain a crappy performer even when one reliably transports them self with their playing. Many buskers and open mic night performers seem to be embarrassingly pleasuring themselves with their performances, clearly Transcending while simultaneously descending into one of the more offensive circles of performance Hell. No guarantee comes with these transitions. What scratches you might well make others feel itchy, so Transcending remains an iffy occupation. I, myself, have not always understood where the edges stood, and sometimes could not quite face re-entering my Transcending practice. I have been guilty of setting it aside for lengthy periods, necessitating some prolonged reintroduction periods like This SetTheory series, which has been, reliably, just about as painful as it has been reassuring.

The reassurance arrives after considerable unfruitful practicing. My fingertips seem to be finally callousing again, just on the edge of blistering, which seems a fine and familiar state. The stiffness that long idleness brought to my hands has been loosening. My voice, which seemed as though it had lost its edge, seems to be recovering, though my range has narrowed. The songs have started manifesting as I always intended them to, small embellishments have started coming through the reliable old frameworks, too. I found the place where I can hear myself Transcending, facing the big front picture window which reliably reflects my sounds without echo or distortion. I can see a transparent shadow of myself reflecting back at me as I catch myself Transcending; the Chance Encounter manifesting again along with all its old and formerly half-forgotten friends.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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