The moonlight split the night, projecting its ghostly reflection onto inky waters. An impartial lamp giving and taking-- at once calling forth the tide from the abyss whilst masking the luminous pinpricks beyond. From my vantage point on deck, this boat and that moon were a lonely pair of impossible accidents, two dancing deviations hatched from the infinite void.
While I wish I had a better word to describe what happened on that deck 17 years ago, it is better to be direct and claim it for what it was--a vision. Or maybe a hallucination, who knows. Whatever the case, what followed my drowsing on the ship's prow that night has guided the course of my life as surely as the rudder propelled the Cinque-terra.
I remember waking with a start and drool drifting across lines embossed on my cheeks from the vinyl slats of the lounge chair. I must have been out for hours. I got up to stretch and that’s when it began. First, a building pressure in my ears like we had suddenly dropped in elevation. Then, as I tried to get my bearings, and reached my hand out for the railing, grazing my fingertips to its surface. The railing erupted with the blinding claxon of a church bell. The salvo rang out along its body, modulating in tone as it wound around the prow and descended with the stairs, hiccuping staccato dips in pitch. I turned about wild-eyed, searching for another possible source of the sound.
I found no one. Nothing but deck slats, steel girders, a row of lounge chairs here, enamel-coated bulkheads framing the mess quarters there, an occasional port-hole. As I scanned the area, each object under my scrutiny suddenly split the air with song. It was as if my observation rapped the lounge chair like a gong, and it’s resonant frequencies burst forth. Then the wooden slats, deeper in pitch, spongier in timbre, extending back, back, aft beyond my vision. The balustrades, the girders and columns pulsing in interference patterns like throbbing heartbeats beating the air. And now, the symphony drew my eyes yonder, down the skewed curvature of the ship’s hull. Subsonic echoes marching out to sea. Pressure waves slapping against, bouncing off of and occasionally being devoured by the tide. Before I knew it, the awakening had encircled the hull. Complex microtonal patterns floated up like froth on the subsonic cascade, reverberations propagated from the spine of the craft. They spoke of the hidden architectural viscera within-- vacuous mazes of corridors, partitions, piping, bearings, glass portholes again.
Onward and outward the soundscape roared, rising into an awe-full cacophony. And just when it felt as if my mind would buckle, a final crescendo.
Diving now, spilling out into the ocean. The spectral waters took their turn. A language indigestible. Where the mist met the atmosphere, high frequency oscillations bloomed into a film-like sonic texture buzzing and hovering just above the surface. These almost random hyper-vibrations then amplified by the chambers of the deep, shooting straight up into the air, fanning out in layers of thinning overtones. Their peaks, like some kind of tonal reflection of the topography below.
Now contrasting tones, little pockets of sharp beats marking the flapping of fins; a restless soup. Layer upon layer of information, spreading further out to the horizon to the moon.
Fading. A somber dampening; the signal flattening and compressing into static. Then a hum, and a sorrowful parting. And finally back to the railing. A long breathe of silence. A silence that slowly convinced my frozen hands to release their vice-like grip. A silence slowly unraveling the knots in my arms, my shoulders, my chest.
This glimpse of synesthesia, this infinitesimal instant of my life, this drop in the ocean of my mind has wrought tidal waves. They carry me in whichever direction enables me to recapture and share this experience. Synesthesia, the melding of senses, can be harnessed as a potent tool for dilating and deepening human perception by orders of magnitude. To broaden our peripherals is to broaden our world, is to broaden our possibilities. Simply put, you multiply senses, you turn up the volume on human percepton.
While ROYGBIV limits our eyes, and 20Hz-20kHz limits our ears, nothing limits our minds alone. But a mind with limited senses has limited reach; and so I induce these synesthetic experiences to extend this reach. The outcome is an emerging bodily awareness over the confluence of energy and matter.
In so doing, I uncover hidden geometries. My work becomes as much art as corollary research to the physical sciences. Through sensory translation and the wresting of forms from their spatial constraints, I use data to carve out the unexpected shapes that reflect the invisible networks surrounding us.
And yet, we cannot see what we cannot see! Even multiplied senses can deceive us. When this inevitably happens, I don't believe in foresaking our senses for the mind or mechanical aids. That is the purview of the sciences, mathematics, philosophy. No, I believe in the doubling down and amplifying our focus with the grainy and inexact tools we were given. After all, our reality can be derived as a product of focus and we do seem to naturally possess the most compatible system know to man for piercing the veil (that of mind, body and spirit).
Because the truths gleaned at the frontiers of discovery prohibit a priori understanding, I strive to make tangible and visceral the world of the esoteric, the mathematical, and the theoretical. It is only through corporeal interaction that truth can genuinely be known and made real.
Now, the sorcery required to do this, to tear theory off the page and bring it to life is mysteriously dependent on our naturally chaotic input filtering mechanisms. These fragmented narrow-band sensory signals cross-chattering and miraculously commingling in our brains to resolve into a patchwork interpretation of reality are the self-same signals responsible for filling in that patchwork and for creating beauty. Hence, transcendental insight and beauty are both a function of our limited sensations. They must never be neglected in the pursuit for truth.
Thus, beyond synesthetic simulacrum, my broader aim is to provide an immediacy to the profound principles and hidden phenomena that govern our world and hint at the endless connections tethering us together.
Consider this: day to day, how mindful are we of our bodies warping the spacetime around us, which in turn augment the way our constituent particles perceive time itself? How mindful are we of the entirety of information about our bodies comfortably fitting onto the surface of a sphere far smaller than a proton? Not very. These physical insights are just that--insights. Unassimilated thoughtforms.
Knowledge cannot become wisdom without first undergoing a profound metamorphosis. If the sciences discover knowledge, and the spiritual traditions walk the path of wisdom, then the arts bridge these worlds and are responsible for catalyzing the transformation to wisdom by making us feel what we know.
This dynamic three-fold symmetry between the fundamental disciplines of discovery is but an echo from the dawn of science. Millenia ago Pythagoras championed a metaphysical worldview which advocated for the unification of math, music and science. He called the principle The Music of the Spheres, (or Musica Universalis), a bold declaration claiming that these pursuits were but mere reflecting facets of a boundless stone. Today we draw ever closer to the time when we will need to utilize the tenets of Pythagorean philosophy as a practical guide for directing the future course of epistemology. Just as Siddhartha Gautama sensed impermanence as the basis of reality, and as Pythagoras intuited that the nature of the universe was somehow bound to the musical principles that make strings vibrate, so too have the frontier experimental and theoretical physicists confirmed that we live in a vibrational universe of flux. Whether it is with strings that vibrate at the Planck scale upon compactified knotted higher dimensional Calabi-Yao manifolds, or spacetime itself that vibrates as loops (Loop Quantum Gravity) or Simplices (Causal Dynamical Triangulations) from the energy of the vacuum, we have returned full-circle to the notion that our reality is one of vibration, our universe an instrument producing impossible music.
Indeed, it is the raison d'etre of the artist to play this instrument; to bring harmony from the spectrums of visible light, tonality, material density, etc. And although "all the skill of the artist cannot turn a process into a thing" as quantum physicist Lee Smolin so aptly notes, we create the illusion of the thing to convey a deeper understanding of the process.
Check out Radical Inclusivity for my take on a contemporary implemenation of The Music of the Spheres.