The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2016

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NOV 2016 Issue

It Will Be the Silence, Where I Am?

OBELISK (Ikue Mori, composer, electronics; Okkyung Lee, cellist; Sylvie Courvoisier, pianist; Jim Black, drummer) POMEGRANATE SEED
September 16, 2016
New York

Marionettes tug on the strings of recurrence. Petals sink invisible thorns into wood. A flickering eye shutters with the anger of metal. OBELISK is a black stone, cold as it is hot, seductive as it is repulsive, a hand opening to reveal a Pomegranate Seed.

Ikue Mori. Photo: Scott Irvine.

The warble of “Mozu shrike” signals the morning of cruelty. A hurricane grows, carnivorous birds clot, hysteric and feeding on mayflies, dragonflies, and poison butterflies that carousel in ruined flight. Carmine rain announces autumn with the seven trumpets. The white lamb’s head falls from the virgin’s womb, its seven eyes opening already within the red caverns. “Insomniac bird” is perched on the mouth of Tartarus, the last call heard by Persephone.

Core, wed into new name,
the sentinel is betraying you –
can Demeter hear you, little one,
little lost sheep with the seven horns?

The cello takes on an especially theatrical articulation under Okkyung Lee’s rich command, through which the textures of OBELISK become an eerie alloy of earthy darkness and the density of “Quicksilver”—the first metal, prelude to transmutation. An isolated melodic line begins slow and melancholy, with an expression that is, at first, comically exaggerated. Like a morose tenor sitting at the bottom of a well, spinning his songs, each plaintive verse stretches the sense of anticipation, and as the register drops—becoming fuller, longer—the instrument seems to attain an impossible depth and is suddenly dangerous.

The pit is trembling with the din of a distant satellite—moon rock and planet corpse—Lucifer composing sonnets in the darkest reaches of Dante’s Inferno. The terrible god of the underworld, filled with hatred for a world of light above, his solitude has become so immense, it has outgrown the tortures of time.

Seedling fallen into the waters of Abydos,
sinking into primordial depths,
the darkness from which you came:
you were not supposed to know it again so soon…

The seed of paradise is plucked from inside a bleeding pomegranate, seven pomegranate seeds clasped in “Invisible hands,” hands that secretlyplace a moiré over the senses. Sylvie Courvoisier reaches through the open chest of the piano, tapping and hammering at the heart, nerves spun thin. The percolating resonance spasms out of the farthest reaches of the hand; the seventh seed is falling.

In the precision of Jim Black’s playing, sound contradicts its material host: soft fabric resonates with the clamor of taut drum skin, a bowstring scrapes voicelessly against an edge of metal that shakes too rapidly for its screaming, everything is convulsing with the cold meeting of “Blue moon and yellow dune.”

As in Dante’s vision, our passage through the realms of the shades and spirits guarded by Cerberus is slowed, so that we grow somewhat used to the discordance, until the descent is made obvious, as if we had been moving blindly all this time. In the midst of this diabolical polyphony, it is still possible to recognize a foundation, a sense of order, a logic that makes itself evident with an insidious cleverness that is exaggerated by the wicked, knowing grins of the musicians: a worm-ridden humor.

The damning contract is fulfilled by the black earth.
Demeter is shedding her grief into the cup of the bloodening blossom.

The dissonance and increasing layering of textures take control of pulse until the rhythm of blood is attuned to the composition. Hyper-awareness of the body to its own pulse creates an immense discomfort. In this complex net of rhythms, it becomes impossible to follow one entirely, confusing the aural thread of logic. A primitive state of terror takes hold of a heart that is being told to beat.

The sublime and the profane are revealed at once—
heaven and hell colliding and scattering in the spaces of my body,
heaven and hell that feel immensely real, unquestionable, immanent,
until my bones forgot they existed and my heart lost control,
had to reassure myself, of myself…

The sad hollows are lit for a moment by a single red “Firefly,” embering in the caverns. Fire returns to the first encounter with mercury, alchemical shift, elemental distortion—the ear is a heretic; stability is a façade. The point of rupture is sensed, awareness returns to the body, though moved far beyond the mind’s control. The labyrinth is navigated without the silken thread, as the pomegranate juice courses beneath skin, an irretrievable and deceptive poison.

How long must I endure these “strange tortures” that rattle the bones from their ligaments in the inferno that licks the walls of this “Steel cave”…

There is a level of sublimation equivalent to psychedelic overdose—the fragility of distinction between sanity and madness. To confront the proximity of the margin that is denied—the habitual refusal of danger is its own schizophrenia—is to see without distinction; it is to submerge in the terror, to permit the sensation of hopelessness, not to avert the eyes from the seasonal return of despair.

The many voices of the monks of Mount “Kōya” resonate with ancient wisdoms—the songs pulled out of the mountain stone, out of the caverns’ shadows, the eternal return, the sickness for Nirvana.

I don’t want to be here.
I can’t leave here.
I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

OBELISK succeeds in inspiring the rarest of experiences through the Pomegranate Seed: a total surrender to music that is intent on invoking a spiritual autopsy in the listener. Sound becomes violent. Pomegranate Seed conveys the merciless rhythms of life and death through cunning layers of rhythms and sly logic, the synesthetic experiences of its minutiae expressing a purgatory anguish.

The courage to submerge, to endure despite immanence,
and re-emerge bound by the chariot of Hermes to the spring light.
We shall do this, how many times?


Persephone, little heart,
the seedling that grows in the blackest nights is purged with red waters.
Fruit is sweetened by black soil,
growing full with the harvest moon and somber by the laws of time.
the dreams of dying are shedding glass skin
like the snakes that burrow tunnels into Pluto’s kingdom,
loosening his walls and freckling with buds of air,
accumulating dewdrops into secret reservoirs of relief,
dear, sweet Persephone,
you must go on.


Lital Khaikin

LITAL KHAIKIN’s writing has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, Berfrois, Black Sun Lit, continent. journal, e-ratio, gobbet, and elsewhere.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2016

All Issues