Black Embodiment: A Work In Progress Blog

Tackling the Text – 4/15/17

In reading these texts, I have come to find that putting these specific works together will require much more than a standard text setting. There is a specific way I believe these words – dissimilar in genre, form, and time-period – can speak with and to each other regarding Black bodies.

The portions of the text I want to really focus on are:

  • The end of “Whispers in the Dark”
  • The dream/partial consciousness sequences of “Voices”
  • Stanzas 7 and 8 of “I Sing the Body Electric”

As it stands, it seems as thought the joint text I have in mind must be more of a project of generation and construction rather than just scansion, stanza, and setting in order to tease out of these texts a critique of Black (dis)embodiment.

Musical Inspirations – 4/24/17

I’ve done some listening to current and past works of music that are considered to be Afrofuturist and have come across pieces, some of which I know and some of which are new to me, that I would like to draw upon as I start writing the music for this piece. I’ve annotated a couple of the videos to highlight certain aspects of their significance to my project, however all of the following videos are musical markers that I feel will inform the composition of the piece.

“Mothership Connection” – Parliament

See 2:19 for a reference to the Biblical object of a “sweet chariot,” which is used in other historically Black significant music such as “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” as a metaphor for the transitional state between life and death. It uses a chariot or carriage to symbolize the liminal space that extracts the soul from the physical world and connects or transports it to the purely spiritual. That this image seems to be present in the Black artistic consciousness across generations suggests the relevance of narratives that acknowledge being in a constant state of mortal transition. This directly ties into the issue of embodiment that I am interested in as Futureland suggests that as the body becomes the Black body and is therefore racialized, there exists a threshold between the Black body and soul.

“Interstellar Universe” – Josef Leimberg

Images of outer-space and cosmic symbology (stars, spaceships, “aliens,” astrological signage, etc) are quite prevalent in work that is deemed Afrofuturist. Josef Leimberg is a contemporary jazz artist that evokes these symbols (the same that were used by Parliament, Sun Ra, and other older Afrofuturist groups) in his newest album “Astral Progressions.” This particular track makes use of extensive vocal sounds in the background texture of the piece – something that I intend to draw heavily upon as I detailed in my project proposal.

“Them Changes” – Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus

“Stretchin’ Out (In A Rubber Band)” – Bootsy Collins

“Change of the Guard” – Kamasi Washington

Constructing the Text: Sleep, Dreams – 4/28/17

I have started using Twine to help assemble my composite reading of these two texts. The limitation of this software is that it requires that any story – or lyric – have a starting place. The software is constructed in a way that gives special weight to the starting words, as those are the words from which a series of intertwined narratives can build upon. Though this might be seen as creatively limiting, it has forced me to think about just where I want this journey though these texts to start. In doing so I came across a passage from “Voices” that reads:

“‘Wake up, Leon,’ a girl’s voice said.

It was Tracie. But she had aged at least six months, taller now and wearing the same blue jeans that her mother had worn. Her face was just that much longer, and the happiness in her eyes was leavened with the awareness of Leon’s fear.

‘Where am I?’ he asked.

‘I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t see what you see right away.’

‘Are they operating?’

‘No.’

‘How can you be sure?’

‘I heard something,” she said. “They arrested my daddy for taking you away.’

‘When?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t hear things right away, either. And you’ve been sleeping so it takes even longer.’

Daddy?’

Leon opened his eyes…” (Mosley “Voices”).

This passage has given me the point of inception from which these stories can interact. The usage of sleep and dreams in this passage provides the reader with a tangible, real-life experience that highlights the threshold between our physical and non-physical selves. This exact point of transition – this liminal space – is what encapsulates the dialogue that I am fostering between Whitman and Mosely, as it demonstrates the state of being in-between states. This paradox of embodiment for those born in a Black body is the nexus of the dialogue between the Whitman and Mosely texts.

Vocoders and the Perils of Disembodiment – 4/30/17

For one of my other classes – an instrument building music and science class – I am building a software instrument called a Vocoder. These instruments have been around since the middle of the 20th century in some form or another and have found their way into mainstream and Black music across the years.

Now that I have finished assembling my version of these joint texts, I am beginning to compose the music for the rest of this project and I believe that using as an instrument in the piece will heighten the story that I am teasing out of these texts. The basic sound of a vocoder is one that we are familiar with as they served as the sounds of early robot voices. As they evolved, they’ve become expressive musical instruments that allow a single person to sing with themselves in harmony by re-pitching the human voice.

This instrument takes something as distinct and soulful as the human voice and attempts to replicate it. As it does this, and it does this imperfectly, the listener is left listening to what sounds like something that is almost human but could be something else entirely. This instrument sonifies the uncertainty of existence that I have been discussing in my earlier posts. It accentuates the voices of those who feel disembodied due to racialization and parallels the struggle of the Black soul as straddles the canyon between humanity’s boundless creativity and the emotional limitations of existing in a socially unaccepted body.

I am unbelievably excited to be creating my own version of the vocoder instrument and incorporating it into the music for this project. However, as I start to delve into the writing process, I am discovering that the text that I have compiled as my lyric is extremely dense, meaning what I had planned as a 2 -3 minute setting of these texts now seems as if it deserves to be more on the order of 10 minutes – an undertaking I don’t know if I can complete with our class’ time constraints.

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