There was this tiger, see? And this funky-steampunky run of hallways filled with people from all different centuries, all talking loudly to and over one another. At some point I strolled through a 19th century music hall. And then I saw stars. All the while there was this cacaphony of music and sounds: a medieval madrigal with a Gregorian chant underlay, a jet contrail emitting flute notes, some Miles Davis-y jazz blended into an almost regal chanson, and a fiery furnace blast of unmitigated, white noise, full on rock-n-roll. This is what happens when a synesthete dreams.
Synesthesia, a term which translates as joined perception, "is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway" [ from Wikipedia article ] Here's another take on it:
"Imagine that when you see a city's skyline, you taste blackberries. Or maybe when you hear a violin, you feel a tickle on your left knee. Perhaps you are completely convinced that Wednesdays are light red." [from Neuroscience for Kids: Synesthesia]
For me it means that chocolate tastes green - that beautiful rich green of moss on rocks; brass music becomes massive, brilliantly-lit, sharply pointed glass shards; time is a giant grid of hills where the past is a hazy lit fog and the future looks like clouds on the horizon; and when I walk on a certain moving pathway at the National Art Museum in Washington D.C. I see purple splotches where others might see footprints.
Some days it is as distracting as all get out though most times it is the normal, quietly entertaining backdrop of my day to day doings. Last night it invaded my dreams. Last night I dreamt wildly. Last night I went to a concert by Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra.
Funny thing is, I don't like rock music - often to the point of active dislike. I rarely listen to it. My Beloved Spousal Unit is the rock fan in our household. I don't much care for Ms. Palmer's work musically (though her lyrics and her videos I find huge and hugely powerful). Her music-making crashes and hurts my synesthete's brain fearsomely. But I adore her for what she does. I've seen her in concert three times now and each time I've come away relatively unmoved in terms of having had a musical experience. And each time I come away feeling I have seen a real artist, a person who has utterly, and with complete abandon, given herself over to the true madness that is at Art's core.
Image by RevolveR
AFP and The Grand Theft Orchestra, Vienna, 5 November 2012.
(Musician is 4th from the left.)
Palmer and her current band, The Grand Theft Orchestra, have been an active element in our lives these past few weeks. Our very dear friend, Musician - my one time grad school roommate - lives in Vienna. By day she works, by necessity as is often the case for artists, as an executive assistant at the IAEA. But her heart is elsewhere. When Amanda put out the call that they needed a string quartet for the Vienna concert, Musician applied. She also brought in another violinist and a cellist. These classical players had a night of it. An incredible night, Musician tells us. (We had an inkling. We were tracking it all via Twitter and the intermittent text messages Musician sent out at the pre-show rehearsals and sound checks.)
Turner Hall, Milwaukee, 11 November 2012
Photos by Melissa Miller
Complete gallery here
I can't tell you how the concert went down in Milwaukee. I really don't get rock music. But I can tell you there were a lot of people around me who did. I can tell you there were people there for whom Amanda and her bunch mean they can live another day because she is out there flying the flag for them. Her music gives them hope. It tells them Be Strong. It says I Hear You. It tells them to BE. It tells them they are loved.
And the funny, awesome, sweet and mad raucous thing is - she means it. She god damn means it. And they know it.
Rubberstamp design by me for my onetime art stamp company
(the original Dante's Wardrobe).
So last night I dreamed. It was the kind of dreaming that I just enjoy. I held off from lucidly directing things though I could have if I wanted - it seemed I was awake throughout the night.
Mostly I just watched as the decrepit plaster ceiling of the 19th century Turner Hall evaporated into a view of a very richly shaded night sky of stars. I heard Gregorian chants behind my memories of the concert's pounding rock. I imagined my friend Musician on the stage playing her violin. I felt my Beloved's delight at hearing one of his favorite artists perform. I was aware of the couple from Chicago whom we'd just met for dinner before the concert. Both love music - I could feel myself wondering what their experience of the night might be. I studied a kaleidoscope of costumes (some showing up as illustrations on the pages of old books). I wandered through scene after scene, image after image, music after music.
The most curious thing about Amanda Palmer. After each of the three concerts I've left truly unmoved by the sounds she makes. And yet I am profoundly moved creatively by what she has done. It is that funny, awesome, sweet and mad raucous thing again.
And thus I have begun my week.