on pattern and presence
by Natasha Pradhan Brown University//Department of Theater and Performance Studies 2013
the sun sets on fes
Lefebvre and Plato on representations of space and presence in pattern
a live architecture
music(k)al space and ritual possibility
"nothing is true, everything is permitted"
Freud, the uncanny, and the unmapped
a subversive rhythm
Fear, faith, and Kierkegaard on religiosity
epilogue: on the popularization of ecstatic music
In Fes’ medina1, a maze of over nine thousand pathways has become woven in between shoulder-height dwellings and palaces that tower around open courtyards. Sometimes my curiosity leads me down what first teases to be a mere crack between two molding walls. I need to use both hands in order to navigate the darkness. Minutes later, when almost at the point where the walls converge, I spy light shining at an angle in the far distance. I must crouch and slide my back against the slippery wall in order to pursue this light. Now I am on yet a new path with walls that widen towards an unforeseen set of alleyways. Feeling drowned by the darkness, I take small steps guided by my erect palms that caress the moist uneven walls. The lack of light also makes the sense of progressive time that exists in a communal space feel alien. Have I been treading so slowly that I am in this crevice of ancient walls for a mere matter of seconds, elongated by darkness? Or have hours passed and it is in fact night – others cured from the invisibility only by artificial light sources? Feeling my way around another curve, I am suddenly dumped back out in the open – amidst a series of wider converging pathways that I have never before laid eyes on. It is late evening, the sky an electrifying blue. Directly in front of me, one story up, is a square window shielded by a grill of twisted iron. Inside it, I spy a single lit fluorescent bulb, possibly shedding light on the spiced stew that the whole juncture smells of. Underneath the window, a kiosk that sells but two things, both in separate piles on the counter – round slabs of bread and individually wrapped packets of triangular
The Arabic word for “town” that refers to the walled old quarters of Fes, free of automobile traffic, as contrasted to the ville nouvelle or “new city”
cow-cheese. To my right, four boys are playing with a single stick beside a dry fountain. One of the younger ones shoots me a knowing glance. I hope that my startledness reveals itself as timidity. My eyes are drawn to the fountain, which juts out into the pathway and is neither straight at its base nor along its sides. Yet, within its deep blue and white checkerboard frame are a series of hexagons – upon a second glance, stars, and yet again – six-petaled flowers. The three rusting spouts that protrude from the back wall of the fountain are themselves framed by tiny ceramic triangles in navy and white. The triangles shift with each thud of the boys’ stick, lending a lifelike weight to the mass of geometric clouds around each broken spout. Choosing the narrower pathway that kisses the farther edge of the fountain I find myself surrounded by needle workers on both sides. Their shop lights dramatically illuminate the street. The different colored threads reaching up and down the street under the bright lights feels carnivalesque. Some tailors are deeply immersed in the fabric they have on hand, squinting to properly understand its seams. Others, though seated at their machines with what appears to be a pile of unfinished djellabas on their laps, have their eyes peeled on the street outside, and are in the midst of an animated conversation with their colleague just across the alleyway. Only some give off that they notice my presence, either acknowledging me with a nod or shooting a look of questioning concern in my direction. What could have brought an outsider into these back lanes that neither lead to nor connect any places of interest? What series of magical juxtapositions could have landed her here – into what is essentially an extended family’s secluded sitting and work area? Drumming begins somewhere not far in the distance, and its beat quickens my pace. I approach another seeming crack though possible thorough street after passing the neighborhood’s shared clay-oven bakery. A thin adolescent with curly dark hair and a long face is leaning against the inside wall, staring very solemnly at the stone steps in front of him. He looks up
and fixes his gaze upon my own. I am overcome by hesitation. I am no longer headed down the principal pathway, nor committed to the dark crevice to which this stranger is the gatekeeper. I understand that I could not return to where I was before. Even if I am to brave the patch of darkness that lead me here, it is unlikely that my palms will find the same guidance of the walls that carried them before. My morning coffee and night blanket seem so far removed; I know not where they are, nor how long ago it has been since I enjoyed that last delightfully strong cup. I have not the promise of warmth for the night. The eclipse of light on this part of town appears as a predicament, but not one that I feel any present drive to resolve. In this moment, Said’s glare is all that I have. He retains an air of sureness when, still holding my eyes, he pivots to the left and waives his hand for me to follow. Rather than heading into the convergence of stone that had previously garnered my curiosity, we deviate into a rectangular inlet. The distant drums intensify and my heartbeat becomes audible along with them. I am only able to keep up with Saïd, whose agile joints automatically dodge each protruding piece of stone, because the drums have locked our feet into synchronicity. Saïd turns left, glancing back to ensure that I am following his lead. We descend a series of twisting steps, culminating in an arch. Next, a dim alleyway flooded in reflective blue paint brilliantly illuminates the now paling sky. It houses several cats. They follow us out of the alleyway and into a rust colored street. I can smell six different recipes of boiled chicken wafting from the windows along my left. Just behind the high wall are tall Fezi palms, the only indicator that there is a world beyond the percussive steps of my ally and myself. I trust Saïd fully – a trust founded not on any rationale, nor promise, nor even the kindness in his eyes for I have yet to examine them closely. It is rather a knowing trust – of being so lost within the medina’s pattern and only having a place in it thanks to my own lost-ness. Saïd, too, is here. He does not hold the questions of those that crowd the avenues and boulevards beyond these walkways – official questions of names, and origins, and
the reasons that lead us to exist in one place and not another. Nor is he concerned with those details that correspond to our predispositions rather than our rhythms.2 Treading after Saïd’s footsteps I become lost in our own paces. I can track only the difference of shadow from one arch to the next and yet, am so lost by the mere quantity of arches that pattern the sky’s deepening fog. We pass many short staircases whose curves conceal their final destination, piles of rubbish in assorted plastic bags, emaciated cats, and unattended buckets of soaked laundry sitting around the corner fountains. Though I am accompanied, I have the comfort of being alone and anonymous in atmosphere pregnant with symbols of human activity. The maze seems to expand in every which direction without end, only slightly varying in elevation. The maze resists a preconceived coherent structure, having no sign of a beginning nor an end. Though no two streets are remotely identical, the infinite metaphoric divisions – the arches – make distance inconceivable. It reinstates the newness of each step, a rebirth with each fresh strike of the drum. I am lost to distance as I am lost to time. I know only the side markings of Fes’ ancient walls that render me increasingly helpless – dissolving my sense of space into a web of interwoven squares and triangles that come to form every perfect shape in nature. Not a single surface is flat, and apart from the healthy concentration of religious graffiti on these walls, there exists not a single marker that contains the particularities of language, nor the specificity of a representational image. My thirst scratches the back of my throat. Saïd makes a left turn. The pathway culminates abruptly at a worn dark wooden door with the protective hand of Fatima3 nailed to its front. Saïd knocks just to the right of the hand and we both stay still. Our eyes meet, in close proximity now, and it is comfortable rather than intimidating. We remain still for so many moments
I call on the term rhythm as employed by Henri Lefebvre in his treatise Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life in which he states that, “Rhythm appears as regulated time, governed by rational laws, but in contact with what is least rational in human being: the lived, the carnal, the body.” 3
The hand of Fatima is a palm-shaped amulet that protects against the evil eye.
that all expectations I had of being greeted on the other side of the door dissolve. I appreciate the tranquility of this moist alcove. It has a very low ceiling and is flushed in pale blue and dull green. The only movement I can foresee is a rustling pile of garbage in the corner. Then I hear a bolt unlatch and a door being swung open. Yet, the iron hand before me does not budge. Instead, a door half the size set inside this one cracks open. Saïd gestures for me to precede him. I duck down and crawl through. Lifting my head to grasp the expanse of space before me, I am overcome with amazement as to how something so vast could be contained by such claustrophobic niches and alleyways. The large courtyard is open to the sky, except for a yellow tarp that covers sections of it at the third story. The floor is a myriad of deep red, emerald green, and royal mustard yellow, set in miniature alternating ceramic squares. The layer that surrounds this square maze is a hexagonal array of archways. Each archway leads to an alternate space, too darkly lit for me to distinguish any furnishings. The borders are strips of wood inlaid with hand-carved flowers and diamonds. The older man that opened the door is standing at the spot where the last rays of sunlight seep into the courtyard, holding a single glass of sweet green tea. My thirst screams. I walk to him, graciously accepting his silent invitation. Once I am holding my tea, he retreats behind one of the dark archways. I lead myself into the most well-lit area around the courtyard, just to my left, and take rest on a mat pushed against the back wall. My eyes are drawn to the single incandescent light bulb suspended from the center of the room’s exaggerated ceilings. The cold tile is refreshing against my tired soles. The three walls in my direct vision are covered in offset hexagons, composed of tiny triangles of different colors that reveal flowers, planets, and triangles depending on one’s disposition. Saïd appears in the archway with a tiny plastic table and a lit cigarette in his right hand. He deposits the table at my feet and places a glass of ashes atop.
On the inside, those spaces that afford more ornate embellishment and premeditated design are not any more directed in their architecture than Fes’ interlacing pathways. Instead of articulating a preconceived narrative of action through space, these dwellings, palaces, and workshops seem to grow, almost by accident, within previous architectural happenings. An indoor space is never fully indoors, for its center opens to the sky. Surrounding this center are rooms, equally abstract in purpose. Often, a second or third level of rooms is added around the sky-facing center. Rooms are not constructed with a specific task or purpose in mind. Rather, they remain sparsely furnished and only slowly acquire definition with gradual human weathering. People are accustomed to sitting around the perimeters of the rooms, for the wall provides a natural backrest that will accumulate cushioning over time. The cold tile floors become lined with mattresses or woven tapestries as needed. If a room needs to be used for the preparation of meals it is likely for some baskets that house onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic to sit in the corner. A single gas cylinder with a pot-rest on top will shuttle around the many rooms of the house, arriving wherever it is needed for the preparation of tea or meals. Small, elevated platforms that raise the earth for the taking of tea or food travel around the many rooms as they are needed. Sleeping follows a similar pattern in which one lays down at the end of the day wherever he or she pleases. Depending on the wealth of the household, cushioned mats or tufted futons are placed against the walls in the corners frequented for slumber.
"Before - long before - the advent of the Logos, in the chiaroscuro realm of primitive life lived experience already possessed its internal rationality; this experience was producing long before thought space, and spatial thought, began reproducing the projection, explosion, image, and orientation of the body. Long before space, as perceived by and for the 'I', began to appear as split and divided, as a realm of merely virtual or deferred tensions and contact. Long before space emerged as a medium of far-off possibilities, as the locus of potentiality. For, long before the analyzing, separating intellect, long before formal knowledge, there was an intelligence of the body.â€?4 -Henri Lefebvre 4
Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997: 174.
coded space Though constructed by and for the body, the built environment takes on an identity of its own as a technology that can then exist externally to the body. Bernard Stiegler defines technology as “the pursuit of life by means other than life.”5 Founded in practical science and the scientific method, technology relies on repeatability and reproducibility. By its very definition, technology is inorganic. Organic material is in a permanent state of becoming, of live-ness, and can only exist as a presence within this transformation. Engaging more closely with Stiegler’s definition, a tension emerges between the properties of technology and the nature of natural human existence. A piece of technology is intended to remain consistent throughout the twistings of time. It does not align to the same cyclical6 rhythms that pattern organic life. In bringing together evershifting ever-becoming life with intentionally fixed, or designed non-life, humans must become with that which is in itself not becoming. It is this danger of technology that leads Marshall McLuhan, writing specifically of the technologies of language and speech, to conclude that these human extensions could “separate man from man, and mankind from the cosmic unconsciousness.”7 Technology is a thought, invention, or idea that is incarnated into everyday life. If we are to adopt the very broad sweeping understanding of technology as does McLuhan, all non-life objects of practical function that come to be fixed – in physical form or in concept – within a space are pieces of technology. Technologies assert their existence as fixed entities that we grow accustom to. The
Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998: 17, 82.
Lefebvre defines the cyclical as that which “originates in the cosmic, in nature: days, nights, seasons, the waves and tides of the sea, monthly cycles, etc…The linear would come rather from social practice, therefore from human activity: the monotony of actions and of movements, imposed structures.” –Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life Marshall McLuhan, ‘The Spoken Word’ and ‘The Phonograph,’ in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1994: 77-80, 275-283. 7
saturation of the environment with built technologies eradicates the instinctual impetuses that lead to the original conception of these technologies. For instance, if one is compelled to clean a floor, he may first think, “I need a broom,” and not consider another one of infinite possibilities of employing his own body and the materials of his immediate surroundings in order to accomplish the task. An extreme dependency on technology, one that trusts in the concept of a technological invention as a truth, blinds one to the vast possibilities of the immediate and extended environment. The impetus that lead to the conception of a particular piece of technology become reenacted and reproduced by our own engagement with, and acceptance of, these tools. I would like to use the example of an urban plan that sets a city in the form of a grid. The city’s avenues are consecutively numbered and each block is of a measurably identical distance. This system addresses the citizen’s desire to locate his destination and calculate his path more easily. It aims to heighten the efficiency of everyday life. Even a technology as pervasive as the grid-city is founded on the scientific method’s promise of repeatability and reproducibility. “If it takes a man ten minutes to reach his home from the marketplace when having to cut through a web of uncut trees and traverse narrow clearings that lie in between chaotically positioned dwellings, he will reach in only two minutes if he had a direct paved path at his disposal.” Straight roads do set up the necessary technology to most quickly reach point B from point A. However, this technology, once thrown into the unexpectedness of real life, can never guarantee that this man will always reach his home in two minutes – that he will not encounter trouble or temptations that obstruct his path, that there will be no unforeseen shift of weather that detains him, or that he will not cross paths with a fast-moving vehicle that shares the paved road. More poignantly, this path was constructed on an impetus to facilitate transport between the marketplace and the riverbank where this man’s home sits; upon its construction, it
alters the human landscape to not merely facilitate, but rather to dictate that the community follow its preconceived trajectory. Henri Lefebvre, author of The Production of Space, asserts that an understanding of the production of space involves a conception of the history8 of that productive process. The “dissolution of the feudal system and the rise of merchant capitalism” bore a certain code9 that “corresponded to spatial practice, and doubtless to the representation of space rather than to representational spaces still permeated by magic and religion. What the establishment of this code meant was that ‘people’ – inhabitants, builders, politicians – stopped going from urban messages to the code in order to decipher reality, to decode town and country, and began instead to go from code to messages, so as to produce a discourse and a reality adequate to the code…The code served to fix the alphabet and language of the town, its primary signs, their paradigm and their syntagmatic relations. To put it in less abstract terms, facades were harmonized to create perspectives; entrances and exits, doors and windows, were subordinated to facades – and hence also to perspectives; streets and squares were arranged in concord with the public buildings and palaces of political leaders and institutions…It is clear, therefore, that a spatial code is not simply a means of reading or interpreting space: rather it is a means of living in that space, of understanding it, and of producing it.”10
Lefebvre cautions, “The history of space, of its production qua ‘reality’, and of its forms and representations, is not to be confused wither with the causal chain of ‘historical’ (i.e. dated) events, or with a sequence, whether teleological or not, of customs and laws, ideals and ideology, and socio-economic structures of institutions (superstructures). But we may be sure that the forces of production (nature; labour and the organization of labour; technology and knowledge) and, naturally, the relations of production play a part – though we have not yet defined it – in the production of space…Examination of the transition between modes of production will reveal that a fresh space is indeed generated during such changes, a space which is planned and organized subsequently.” Lefebvre,The Production of Space: 47. 9
A spatial code “brings together verbal signs (words and sentences, along with the meaning invested in them by a signifying process) and non-verbal signs (music, sounds, evocations, architectural constructions).” Lefebvre, The Production of Space: 48. 10
Lefebvre, The Production of Space: 47.
Coded space, by its very definition, consists of a technology or knowledge-based device that comes to occupy and assert its own fixed rhythm in a space that is otherwise patterned by the rhythms of organic bodies. An organic body can absorb, feel, intuit, and be momentarily or permanently transformed by the myriad of sensations in its immediacy. In Lefebvre’s treatise that establishes a field of study of Rhythmanalysis, he writes “…the surroundings of the body, the social just as much as the cosmic body, are equally bundles of rhythms.”11 If we commence our study of rhythms from in and around bodies, it is possible to develop an acuteness to rhythm that transgresses the fixed paradigms of a “code” inherited from occupying and producing representations of space. This code asserts a fixed rhythm onto a live body. Lefebvre paints a portrait of the rhythmanalyst – one who perceives rhythms. “You at once notice that every plant, every tree has its rhythm. And even several rhythms. Leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds. On this cherry tree, flowers are born in springtime along with leaves that will survive the fruits, and which will fall in the autumn, though not all at once. Henceforth you will grasp every being [chaque etre], every entity [etant] and every body, both living and non-living, `symphonically' or `polyrhythmically'. You will grasp it in its space-time, in its place and its approximate becoming: including houses and buildings, towns and landscapes.”12 I posit that the rhythmanalyst blessed with good vision is also one who perceives pattern. Patterns can be visual, sonic, or architectural motifs that are repeated. Pattern occupies a space via a means that does not attempt to construe the nature of the space. It does not lend a technological function (fixedness) to space. Rather, pattern reproduces the non-fixed quality of nature into built space. Unlike the alphabet or a vocabulary of street signs, pattern does not contain
Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life, London: Continuum, 2004.
a system of representation. It posits the cyclical into linear space,13 gesturing away from a civilized impulse to decipher, quantize, differentiate, distinguish, or particularize. Pattern is a never-ending tapestry that encompasses the rhythms of being, in lieu of fixating on particularities of being. The rhythmanalyst observes the space-time, rhythm of a city street and does not seek to know a street by its name and its landmark buildings. He does not restrict his current atmosphere to its rationally definable elements but rather can accept it in its moment of liveness – “polyrhytmically.” When one peers into a pattern, a spatial formation that contains neither a beginning nor an end (and that is incapable of containing a narrative), one perceives no information – unlike an image14, a linguistic phrase, or a piece of technology that embodies the idea that incited its materialization. Like rhythms, patterns are a visual and spatial embodiment of the “the lived, the carnal,”15 into produced space. Architect and theorist Christopher Alexander shares this notion of all-pervasive pattern throughout space. He writes in the opening of A Pattern Language, “No pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it. This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.”16 13
See note on page 12.
Guy Debord, in The Society of the Spectacle, articulates the dangers of an omnipresence of representational images. Bruno Latour’s essay, “What is iconoclash? Or is there a world beyond the image wars?” likewise discusses a controversy surrounding the uninhibited dispersion of imagery. 15
See note on page 8.
Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1977: xiii.
Constructed spaces, if not designed in accordance with larger patterns, could segment this “web of nature” by inserting a fixed entity that breaks the infinitely extending patterns and subpatterns of natural life. In introducing his survey of Nature’s Patterns, Philip Ball cites art historian Adrian Parr’s understanding of the “flows” and “inventions” of Leonardo Da Vinci. I find particular value in Ball’s illustration of an artist – hence, a producer of forms and spaces – that is deeply conscious of this notion of pattern. “Leonardo ‘is thinking of art not simply in technical terms…where the artist skillfully renders a form on the canvas…Rather, he takes the relationship of nature to art onto a deeper level, intending to express in his art ‘every kind of form produced in nature’…Leonardo’s use of swirling, curving, revolving and wavy patterns, becomes a means of both investigating and entering into the rhythmic movements of nature.”17 Nature is pregnant with rhythms that incorporate cyclical and symmetrical patterns. "In nature, whether organic or inorganic, symmetries (in a plane or about an axis exist wherever there is bilaterally or duality, left and right, 'reflection', or rotation (in space); these symmetries are not properties external to bodies, however."18 By way of this symmetry, nature19 and live bodies possess an integral coherency that is more primary to fictional codes posited by constructed “representations of space.” If the produced environment we inhabit in the everyday is merely a “representation” of space, we must wonder what the nature of space is in itself. Lefebvre guides us through its abstract, and yet concrete (material) nature: “…for Leibniz place is absolutely relative – that is, endowed both 17
Philip Ball, Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Lefebvre, The Production of Space: 171.
In Nature’s Patterns, Philip Ball draws on pioneer desert explorer Ralph Alger Bagnold’s description of the patterns of sand dunes: “The observer never fails to be amazed at a simplicity of form, an exactitude of repetition and a geometric order unknown in nature on a scale larger than that of crystalline structure…The formation of sand dunes is not only one of the most fertile of pattern-creating processes; it is also something of an archetype, an exemplary demonstration of how such patterns lie in wait in systems of many interacting parts, even though no amount of close inspection of the components will reveal them.”
with a perfectly abstract quality which leads mathematical thought to treat it as primordial (and hence readily to invest it with transcendence), and with a concrete character (in that it is in space that bodies exist, that they manifest their material existence).”20 The problem of place can be illustrated by the simultaneously abstract and particular nature of mathematics. The abstract nature of [natural] space escapes particularization. It is then only in its concretization – through building – that space gets corrupted with technology, particularized, mimetically fixed, and potentially unhinged from natural patterns or rhythms. Plato’s thought can aide us to think mathematically in the lexicon of place. In Book 7 of the Republic, Plato illuminates the abstract (not particular) and thus non-mimetic property of numbers:21 Suppose, Glaucon, you asked them the following question: ‘All right, then, if you're so clever, what are these numbers you are discussing - including the one as you assume it to be, with each and every unit being equal to every other unit, and containing no variation at all, and no subdivision into parts?… ‘I think they'd say they are talking about the numbers which can only be thought about, and which it is impossible to approach in any other way.’ ‘Do you see, then, my friend, how truly essential this subject is likely to be for us, since it clearly forces the soul to use pure thought as a way of reaching pure truth?’22 Plato is referring to math prior to its particularization. The application of math to everyday material existence brings pure numbers into a code of representation. There is an abstract purity (truth) to these numbers as there is an abstract absolute relativity of space before it comes to become constructed, particularized place: “…classical philosophical (or metaphysical) thought posits a substantial space, a space ‘in itself.’ From the beginning of the Ethics, Spinoza treats this absolute space as an attribute or mode of absolute being – that is, of God. Now space ‘in itself, defined as 20
Lefebvre, The Production of Space: 171.
It is worth noting that Plato in this instance is discussing numbers as entities in and of themselves and not numbers that serve to represent. For instance, he is discussing 2 – the idea, existence of 2 and not the representational two which describes a dual quantity. 22
Plato, Republic, Warminister, Great Britain: Aris & Phillips, 2007: book 7, 526b.
infinite, has no shape in that it has no content. It may be assigned neither form, nor orientation, nor direction.”23 Lefebvre’s eloquent articulation of the absoluteness of space parallels Plato’s conversation on the pure truth of mathematics. Is it possible to produce life amidst something so definedly abstract without building fictional representations of that abstraction that will eventually bear a code that unhinges inhabitants from an awareness of truth? Immediately following Plato’s emphasis on mathematical truth, he discusses spatialized mathematics, saying that geometry is, “knowledge of what always is, not knowledge of what at some particular time comes to be, or perishes.”24 Geometry is everything that mimesis, or the representational, is not. Geometry is a patterned embodiment of the abstract rather than a fixation of the particular. Da Vinci pursued a scientific quest for truth to inform his creations. His science, however, is not one that digests the rationally constructed divisions between two entities resulting in the scientific method. Da Vinci’s science approached nature as an inquiry for truth. Ball writes, “[Leonardo] believed in the importance of scienza, but for him this did not consist solely of booklearning. It was an active pursuit, and demanded experiments, though Leonardo did not exactly conduct them in the manner that a modern scientist would. For him, true insight came from peering beneath the surface of things. That is why his painstaking studies of nature, while appearing superficially Aristotelian in their attention to particulars, actually have much more of a Platonic spirit: they are an attempt to see what is really there, not what appears to be.”25 As Lefebvre’s honest listening to a space heard rhythms of and around the body, Da Vinci sighted pattern – an all-encompassing metaphor that relates the interlacing of sub-patterns to form 23
Lefebvre, The Production of Space: 169.
Plato, Republic: book 7, 527b.
Ball, Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts.
the density of organic and inorganic existence. “When Leonardo calls rivers the blood of the Earth, and comments on how their channels resemble the veins of the human body, he is not engaging in some vague metaphor or visual pun; the two are related because the Earth is indeed a kind of living body and can therefore be expected to echo the structures of our own anatomy.”26 Da Vinci, a rhythmanalyst himself, can be credited with nearing presence. By presence, I do not describe the attribute of being present in the conventional sense that refers to living in the present, or being primarily occupied by concerns of the present as differentiated from the past or future. Rather, he is present in that he is able to see and hear clearly – in a state of consciousness not clouded by templates of understanding limited by categorical and narrative understandings of one’s moment. Faculties of sight and understanding that enable a clear and truthful presence are hindered by an adherence to the fixed “code” prescribed by established technologies and non-patterned space. Once we become accustomed to the existence of a certain fixture in space, we abandon the feeling of being linguistically nude before an unseen formation. Rather, the coded mind begins to identify with familiar perspectives and accepts their particular concepts as real concepts. In my discussion of Freud’s essay on the Uncanny, I will tell of how an experience that alerts one to the myth, or the non-fixedness of this code, is unsettling and even terrifying.
Ball, Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts.
On another night I am once again on the streets of the medina, feverishly aware that some days have passed since my last meal. I know where a kind man with long eyes roasts the plumpest sweet corn. He sits around the edge of the garden where children go to play in the evening. The garden is unlit and the sun has set – the sky a deep blue that grows noticeably blacker with each glance. Yet, the children do not seem to take notice or be afraid. They continue to fight for the swings and go down the slide in threes. I meet eyes with the corn-man and he utters a melodic “Salaam w’ailaikum,” placing a fresh stick of corn on the coals. As it cooks, I watch a group of children sitting across the bar of the sea-saw, as if it were a
long swinging bench. There appears to be not a single adult supervising their play. I am lucky to have precisely one ten-dirham coin in my pocket, no more nor less. I place it on his table before the corn is ready. He does not make any effort to acknowledge my payment. Then, clutching the hot corn with both hands I make a right into the lane of the medina crowded with bakers. This is my favorite hour to be on this lane – when all have left their homes to buy fresh bread for dinner and lemons and olives to garnish their tagines. After a healthy bite of corn, my stomach, tense with hunger, starts to relax. And then I hear it – the sound of an instrument that I had become very familiar with during my days traveling through the Rif – a long oboe shaped wind instrument that resembles the single horn of a bagpipe. It is so loud, so shrill, and blows at what must be the frequency of guts. (I assume, for when I hear it something within the center of my own body unravels to give way to the noise). I have heard the rhaita’s orbits before at weddings – at funerals even, and sometimes when Abdel-Malik in the village of Zahjouka would sit after dinner and play melancholic loops to himself in between tokes of kif while the rest sit before the television. Yet, amidst the cacophony of the late evening’s marketplace I perceive something uncanny about this echoing of the rhaita – or are there two or three? Unlike at any wedding, these horns are not playing any song – no melody that fits smoothly behind the market’s hagglings that one can lightly “enjoy.” I must be imagining what I hear – this is not an earth’s music for it swings, lacking in melody, and uncannily produces the rhythm of my every organ, starting from the gut and moving upwards. I keep walking, now pulled out of the assurance of the tall piles of round bread on either side. The eyes of the Riffian women sitting behind them grow softer. The huddles of women stopping to kiss each other gently on the cheek or gossip are no longer obstructions in my path, for I am headed nowhere. I am in this swirl of pipes now. It is not a dizzying swirl. Rather, the contrary. Every extraneous fiber on my stick of corn
and its soft shade of yellow is more vibrant then before. Every visual detail is louder than when this scene appeared to make sense – sellers and customers, stalls on a narrow cobbled street, sound and silence. The horns wake me up. I am drawn to them, wanting only to dissolve in the shrillness. Ahead, a green door stands ajar and just outside of it a crowd of casually dressed strangers is gathered. Some lean their heads inside the door crack. Others face the street commotion with their heads swaying gently to the pipes. As I near, a pathway opens for me to make my way inside into a narrow set of tiled stairs covered in a mess of colorful slippers. I remove my shoes and walk into the square room. It is beneath a white dome that reveals three inlets beyond its culminating arches. I am shy to glance about the room, my gaze still intently pointed at my own feet. The pipes are sitting to my left. Many women are huddled on the right just near the door, so I squat beside them. Seated, I can see the pipes in full flesh. Long locks of black hair spin in front of me. Women twist their necks back in inhuman proportions as the pipes’ sound curls, their ankles elevating with each rap of the derbouka27. The room is dense with ecstasy. The room is colored by the insanity of the pipes and the magic of the present. The room is reborn with each gust of wind or rap of leather, visibly playing the bodies of those in hadra28. Each limb is individually penetrated by the space’s rhythms. This loud prayer has opened them up to be ridden by the sounds of the rhiateen29. It is lodged within them, now out on their face, swishing about in loose hair.
A long and narrow drum used by the Hamatcha and Aissoua brotherhoods in Morocco.
Literally translates as presence. See The Hamadsha by Vincent Crapanzano.
Plural for rhaita player
a live architecture The hadra is a sensory and spiritual experience â€“ a present state, rather than an altered one, that opens its adepts to the potency of all aesthetic stimuli in the present environment. It dispels the numbness of sensation and blindness of vision inherited from an adherence to spatial codes. In the study of live patterns (to what I refer as rhythms), the sonic landscape is of particular importance. The sonic navigation of space and spirits by the sacred brotherhoods is a primary element of initiating the hadra. Inseparable from the how the visual comes to occupy space, the sonic architecture of a place is a series of interlacing and juxtaposed rhythms that instill a space with its polyrhythmic presences.
Like the rhythmanalyst, in understanding a space as rhythm we can perceive the density of pattern inherent within a space, and our own patterned relation to such a space. We are able to understand, fill, and experience a space without lending it a restrictive prescription of purpose. In discussing sound and sonic architecture, I wish look to the historical development of the concept of sound as a flat (non-spatialized) entity. The phonograph facilitates the recording of a live sonic and/or musical space into a form that is able to retain and replay the sonic information of this once-space. It is not specifically the advent of the phonograph or other recording technology that I wish to emphasize. Rather, I employ the phonograph as an example of a technology that can assert a fixedness within live space. Let us explore which human faculties or presences are marred or altogether erased by a fluency in the phonograph’s code and the institutions it bears into existence – namely that of “music” as described by musicologist Christopher Small. The phonograph must extract a linear data from a becoming space. Small contrasts the object music, which can be recorded through technologies such as the phonograph, with the verb musicking.30 “When we use the verb we take into account the whole event, not just what the performers are doing, and certainly not just the work that is being played. We acknowledge that a musical performance is an encounter between human beings in which meanings are being generated. As with all human encounters it takes place in a physical and a social space, and that space also has to be taken into account as well when we ask what meanings are being generated in a performance.”31 When we become accustomed to recordings of sonic spaces, we can accept recorded data as music, often altogether losing sight of musick as the materialization of sonic truth. Musicking, and the event of hadra posits a live architecture, an architecture of becoming in which the sound is understood as the space. These theorists are not articulating an obvious 30 31
See Christopher Small, Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening, Wesleyan University Press: Middletown, CT, 1998.
From Christopher Small’s lecture at the University of Melbourne on June 6, 1995, entitled “Musicking: A Ritual in Social Space.” Quote from Musicians United for Superior Education.
distinction between live music and recorded music. They are shaking the very definition of the object music that can be produced by tools of recording and replaying sound. The event of music(k), the space of music(k) is a space of presence in which the music(k) has organic life just as the live bodies that produce and become with it. Writer and expat Paul Bowles tells in his autobiography of a hadra he encountered on his first trip to Fes: There they were, several thousand people near Bab Mahrouk, stamping, heaving, shuddering, gyrating, and chanting, all of them aware only of the overpowering need to achieve ecstasy. They stayed there all day and night; I could hear the drums from my room, and during the night they grew louder…Along the edges of the phalanx there were women in trance; pink and white froth bubbled from their mouths; small shrieks accompanied their spastic motions. When someone lost consciousness entirely and fell, he was dragged inside the wall of onlookers…32 These sounds at Bab Mahrouk are not a reiteration of any object of music (though they may certainly fall within familiar musical templates); rather, they are a pool of transformations. The adepts described by Bowles are not witnessing anything associated with the technological invention of music as an object. They are present within the music(k)al space and are born and reborn into this space as are the sounds. Jacques Attali has a nice way of describing this way of listening, or being: “Doing solely for the sake of doing, without trying artificially to recreate the old codes in order to reinsert communication into them. Inventing new codes, inventing the message at the same time as the language. Playing for one’s own pleasure, which alone can create the conditions for new communication. A concept such as this seems natural in the context of music. But it reaches far beyond that; it relates to the emergence of the free act, self-transcendence, pleasure in being instead of having”.33 32
Paul Bowles, Without Stopping: an Autobiography, New York: Ecco, 1991: 150.
Jacques Attali, Labyrinth in Culture and Society: Pathways to Wisdom, translated by Joseph Rowe, Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1999: 134.
The space of hadra is a ritual space interpreted as an integrated whole (rather than a space consisting of simultaneous but distinct stimuli – ex: music, body, colors). This integration allows for transformations to occur relative to everything (as opposed to caused by a particular stimulus) – an honest emergence of improvisatory response. As Mowitt writes, “…improvisation is what one expects when a ritual, a performance, is radically receptive to the moment it seizes (in spite of its inner coherence).”34 An explicitly non-fixed space allows for a transformation beyond the rationally prescribed code of representations of space. Hence, transformation and becoming can transcend the establishment of the everyday into other realms.35 While these rituals may contain built elements (language, instruments, or comparable) the integration of these into the live moment lends an immediacy to such tools. They are used in a very different manner from the traditional concept of a tool – which is designed to accomplish a directed task or purpose. A technological tool is imbued with attachment to its desired successful outcome. An instrument of hadra, on the other hand, plays to the tune of the present and is not infused with a preconceived task or direction. The technology is receptive to live bodies and thus operates on the same set of rhythms and the patterned liveness of conscious bodies themselves. Wole Soyinka said of the technology of language: “Language reverts in religious rites to its pristine existence, eschewing the sterile limits of particularization.”36
John Mowitt, “Different Strokes for Different Folks,” Percussion: Drumming, Beating, Striking, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002: 97. 35
The holy Qur’an states that God’s sentient [conscious] creations are humans, angels, and djinn (Surat al-Rahman 55:15). For the etymology of “djinn,” see note on page 32. 36
Wole Soyinka, ‘The Fourth Stage,’ in African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, edited by Tejumola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2007: 26.
Three a.m. in Tangiers’ Socco Chico and the usual alley-lurkers’ muffled murmurs are overpowered by the sounds of the pipes, swinging out of orbit and then reeling the atmosphere back in. The sounds absorb every inch of flesh present, taking in each thrust of brittle black hair, each organ’s pulse as their own. The ageing glass windowpanes are rattling on the balconies of the flat above the red light district’s emblematic establishment, Café Najja. Occasionally, one can sight moving black streaks made by the loose hair of those in hal37 tossing to the Hamatcha’s pipes. Inside is a traditional salon, dimly lit by a single incandescent bulb suspended from the arched high ceiling. The crowd of bodies on the floor blocks the French balconies that line the room, overlooking Tangiers’ narrow alleys and the old fisher’s port two stories below. Each time the Muqaddim beats his derbouka, off-white chips of old paint sprinkle onto the mass. Dense smoke rises from the center of the percussion. Its source – the aaf’ia38 – is masked by the colorfully striped derboukas. The two pipes are slightly elevated along the room’s octagonal perimeter. Their melodies float over the swarm of heads directly to Fatima’s, which orbits wildly, bound only to air. Her violent repeated bows from the hip defeat gravity in their timeless levitations with each strike of the derbouka. Her scarf leaves a black trail as her head shoots towards the pipes. The riff changes, the pace quickens, and now Fatima’s hands rise. She is released from the earthward pulsing and spins around, facing away from the rhiateen. Her hands meet her face. She lets out a sustained shriek and begins to beat both cheeks with open palms. The lights do not change. Only Rashida reacts. She gets up and gently takes a hold of Fatima’s palms, pacifying her scream, and gestures to me for something strongly scented. I spray my left wrist and extend it to Fatima who immediately resumes her earthward throbbing. She collides with the fragrance and is lifted back into the music. 37
Loosely, possession or ecstasy. See the epilogue for the problems of translating hal.
Clay pot of incense used to ground people by asserting physical sensation during a Hamatcha ceremony.
The house is full beyond its capacity. Guests pile themselves onto dusty sofas, bookshelves, and dilapidated antique chairs in the unlit hallway. The adjacent sea-facing salon – a square – is the most jovial of rooms. The chandelier is lit, but seems to dim when hit by the rhaitas. Some men carry light conversations while passing around kif, but most stare intently at the walls, absorbed in the sounds from the next room. Down the hallway, another set of paneled doors is ajar. Inside, six women sit around a mahogany dining table, chain-smoking from a common pack of Gitanes. Aziza lies stiffly asleep on the tufted sofa. She has just arrived from her nocturnal factory shift. Her bones leak their exhaustion to the sounds of the Hamatcha. I venture down the round marble staircase to check if any newcomers are waiting at the front door. The sounds of the lila39 flood the alleyway. The usual crowd of cigarette vendors and night owls stationed along the former Rue des Postes are out later than usual. They sway to the Hamatcha but continue their nightly business of buying and selling, lingering and watching. Houda stands among them, noticeably touched by the music but with a fixedly stern expression. I let her in and we climb the round marble steps framed by a crumbling iron railing. As we pass the second floor, Seema, my twelve-year-old neighbor opens the door and insists on joining upstairs. “What else am I to do? Of course there is no sleep tonight.” I am slightly happy upon encountering her ethusiasm. Seema does not stay in the room of gyrating women, nor that of smoking men. She goes directly to the balcony, falling into a light trance by herself until dawn.
A nightlong hadra, most often held in a private home
‘Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.’ –Hassan-i-Sabbah
The uncanny is an effect that, according to Freud, is “produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when a symbol takes over the full functions of the thing it symbolizes, and so on. It is this factor which contributes not a little to the uncanny effect attaching to magical practices.”40 The uncanny signifies a decided break from the rationally known. A rational
Sigmeund Freud, ‘The Uncanny.’ Translated by Mark Taylor. Williamstown, MA: Williams College, 1919.
understanding of the universe digests the separation between objects, in which A is not B. A statue of a deity, for instance, is not the deity itself but a mere figurine. Supernatural happenings, the interactions of spirits or indefinable forces transcend the framework of rational thought and are thus deemed impossible or untrue. It is on the basis of a fixed rhythm, an alleged knowing that a table will remain a table from one day to the next, or that a home cannot unexpectedly burn down by the work of spirits, that civilized life takes form. An uncanny experience reveals the un-fixing of a world whose objects and entities have come to develop an impression of fixed-ness. Citing Nietzsche, Wole Soyinka draws out the relationship between the representational (fictive) and the real (true) of ritual spaces. He writes, “In our journey to the heart of Yoruba tragic art…we do not find that the Yoruba, as the Greek did, 'built for his chorus the scaffolding of a fictive chthonic realm and placed thereon fictive nature spirits…' on which the foundation, claims Nietzsche, of Greek tragedy developed: in short, the principle of illusion.”41 He proceeds to link Yoruban tragic art to Yoruban ritual, which does not extract truth from its practice by demarcating the representational from the real. Such a distinction parallels that a construction of place versus the abstract nature of space, or a particularization of otherwise pure [abstract] numbers. Ritual spaces do not incite a set representation of space as Lefebvre set out in his description of the town and its concretized perspectives. A ritual space does not posit the real and cast out the imaginary, forming a shield from the uncanny as described by Freud. Rather, a ritual space is a non-representational space that infuses the immediate with the truth of possibility. Freud’s essay on aesthetics and psychoanalysis entitled The Uncanny explores the etymology of the German heimlich and its opposite unheimlich [uncanny]. Heimlich summons ideas of comfort, home, tameness, and the absence of ghosts. This gests that unheimlich, or uncanny, describes a situation that is uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and likely haunted. Freud writes, “Many people 41
Wole Soyinka, ‘The Fourth Stage’: 22.
experience the feeling in the highest degree in relation to death and dead bodies, to the return of the dead, and to spirits and ghosts. As we have seen some languages in use today can only render the German expression ‘an unheimlich house’ by ‘a haunted house’.”42 The unveiling of rationality’s containment of the world reveals an underlying fear – of infinite possibilities that include the existence of spirits and producing forces beyond the human realm. Connotations of ghosts or a haunted space imply the human’s inability to rationally comprehend, and likelihood to fear what he encounters. Freud tells of experiencing pattern as an aspect the uncanny. “Our analysis of instances of the uncanny has led us back to the old, animistic conception of the universe. This was characterized by the idea that the world was peopled with the spirits of human beings…by the belief in the omnipotence of thoughts and the technique of magic based on that belief....”43 One such instance has to do with the “Uncertainty whether an object is living or inanimate.” He continues, “Or it is marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words, there is a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self. And finally there is the constant recurrence of the same thing — the repetition of the same features or character-traits or vicissitudes...”44 The uncanny finds itself within this doubling, this patterning of one’s sense of self that deviates from the rationally defined
Freud, ‘The Uncanny.’ Freud also quotes Schelling’s definition of unheimlich – “Unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained ... secret and hidden but has come to light’.” This has an interesting parallel with the Arabic djinn – which has the root “j-n-n” [ّ ]ﺝجَﻥنmeaning literally “to hide” or “to conceal.” 43
autobiographical self45. An awareness of pattern enables the seamless metaphorization of one entity for another in an infinite variety of combinations. The realms of the sacred, magical, and spiritual affirm uncanny possibilities beyond the binds of rationality. A technological fixture is founded on a mythical security that places trust into constructed particularizations of knowledge rather than on a surrender to possibility. This surrender is present in those actions deemed by Lefebvre that act on “the intelligence of the body.”46 Such actions, while not accidental, are unplanned or instinctual. These actions may likely interact with built entities in the immediate environment but do so in a manner of bricolage47 that can perceive greater possibilities than merely those functions mandated by a certain technology. They correspond to a primal intelligence that is not thought and therefore not contingent on particularizations of knowledge. In the context of our discussion on space and navigability, the uncanny results in being unable to navigate oneself, in being lost. Freud writes, “…The uncanny would always, as it were, be something one does not know one's way about in. The better orientated in his environment a person is, the less readily will he get the impression of something uncanny…”48 The uncanny realizes the
In The Sickness Unto Death, Søren Kierkegaard writes that the only genuine self is self as spirit, conscious of itself as a self before God. In The Concept of Irony, he divulges the romantic ironist’s position of constructing a fictitious “autobiographical” self in lieu of spirit. 46
Lefebvre, The Production of Space: 174.
In The Savage Mind, anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss defines the bricoleur as, “someone who works with his hands, using devious means. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’, that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions. The set of the bricoleur’s means cannot therefore be defined in terms of a project. It is to be defined only by its potential use, because the elements are collected or retained on the principle that ‘they may always come in handy’. The bricoleur derives his poetry from the fact that he does not confine himself to accomplishment and execution: he speaks not only with things, but also through the medium of things…” 48
Freud, ‘The Uncanny.’
abstract nature of space. One sees past the knowledge born into space by maps, grids, and constructed pathways and is disoriented in a maze of abstraction. Lefebvre writes, "The poetry of shells - their metaphorical role - has nothing to do with some mysterious creative force…the relationship between nature and space is immediate in the sense that it does not depend on the mediation of an external force, whether natural or divine. The law of space resides within space itself, and cannot be resolved into a deceptively clear inside-versus-outside relationship, which is merely a representation of space."49 A metaphor, rather than merely likening two distinct particular entities, dissolves the distinction between them. It pulls out a common shared pattern between two distinct entities. Yet, in accepting the uncanny to its full extent one effaces all distinctions between entities – in accepting the imaginary and real, the existent and the potential, as one and the same – we tap into a world lacking particularization, and in which particular metaphors (as distinct from a universal singular metaphor) cannot exist. Rather, seemingly distinct entities operate as various shades or elements or sub-patterns that compose a singular continuous pattern. Plato’s assertion of truth in pure mathematics and geometry and Da Vinci’s sighting of human blood in the earth’s flows are founded on an observation and awareness of this pattern and not the particularities of a “code” fixed by concretized representations of space. The blanket that cloaks pattern until it enters plain sight and becomes registered as uncanny is fundamental to the sustenance and production of everyday representations of space50. What founded such a divide, such a discrepancy between the realm of possibility, imagination, and magic and that of civilized everydayness? Freud does touch on the subject, albeit in an overly simplistic
Lefebvre, The Production of Space: 173.
I am referring to Henri Lefebvre’s concept of “representations of space” built into the everyday as opposed to “representational space.” (See page 17). 50
fashion. “We — or our primitive forefathers — once believed that these possibilities were realities, and were convinced that they actually happened. Nowadays we no longer believe in them, we have surmounted these modes of thought; but we do not feel quite sure of our new beliefs, and the old ones still exist within us ready to seize upon any confirmation. As soon as something actually happens in our lives which seems to confirm the old, discarded beliefs we get a feeling of the uncanny; it is as though we were making a judgment something like this: ‘So, after all, it is true that one can kill a person by the mere wish!’ or, ‘So the dead do live on and appear on the scene of their former activities!’ and so on.”51 The fear aroused by an experience of the uncanny is a fear of possibility – a realization of the unfixed nature of the world in spite of mechanisms that define, categorize, construct, and produce it.
Freud, ‘The Uncanny.’
“If one loses one’s way, civilization vanishes as though it were a magic carpet rolled up by a djinn.” 52
Edith Wharton, In Morocco, New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920: 10.
a subversive rhythm As the arch divides a room (and can be repeated in order to give a room an infinite number of divisions, a visual assertion of the impossibility to quantize space), pattern occupies built space in a manner that asserts the uncanny quality of nature and natural spaces. Pattern features a density of visual rhythm and form without holding any content that relays particular information. It is this primordial quality that makes pattern able to visualize the truth contained by uncanny experience. Adorno and Horkheimer characterize enlightenment thought as an all-encompassing schema that, by concretizing rationality, seeks to erase fear. It shuts out the unknown and carves a reality that dons the illusion of control. Only those happenings which prove to be repeatable (as per the scientific method) are granted truth in this mode of thinking, while all the rest – the utterly spontaneous, inexplicable, and uncanny is disposed of in various bins that imply untruth – i.e. the literary, superstitious. “Enlightenment is mythic fear turned radical…Nothing at all may remain outside, because the mere idea of outsideness is the very source of fear.”53 The enlightenment’s desire for security gave rise to the distinction referenced by Freud between the real and the literary and the surmounting of animistic thought. When Søren Kierkegaard defines the human as a “synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity,”54 he unites those aspects of a human that the enlightenment’s disenchanting grasp has retained with those that it has cast aside. The enlightenment ignores that a human being is not merely a self, but spirit. The formlessness of spirit finds no place in coded representations of space, nor in the establishment of the everyday that relies on and governs the activities of numerous autobiographically bound selves. These selves, contained by their own 53
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.
Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1941.
inheritance of rational thought, duck beneath a weak shelter from omnipresent fear. They are forced to confront fear upon the rare occasion that the meek shelter of rationality is shaken during an acquaintance with the uncanny. Tom Riccio quotes scientist Brian Hayden, “The rational mind thrives on stimulation and the analysis of incoming information of changes in the state of the environment, assessing possible dangers, opportunities, transgressions, and compliances…Without sufficient incoming information, the rational mind tends to shut down or go dormant and lets other parts of the brain assert themselves, such as when we dream. Monotonous and repetitious stimuli have the same effect. The rational brain perceives no interest in endlessly repeating unchanging phrases (mantras), sounds (chants), rhythms or images. It lets everything go on automatic pilot and checks out in a more energy saving dormant stage…These are the reasons why relaxation, monotonous repetition, drumming or a constant beat, sensory deprivation, mediation, and prayer are effective doors to ecstatic or altered states.”55 This altered environment does not produce a fictional environment. Freud acknowledges the potential of uncanny experiences to affirm what was (and remains) true: “…The animistic beliefs of civilized people are in a state of having been (to a greater or lesser extent) surmounted [rather than repressed]. Our conclusion could then be stated thus: an uncanny experience occurs either when infantile complexes which have been repressed are once more revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed.”56 The perpetual rebirth of the space of hadra exercises an instability, or altogether dissolution, of the concepts on which civilization is founded. While secular spaces stabilize identity away from abstraction, the hadra restores an atmospheric pattern that detaches from a rational understanding
Thomas Riccio, “Rhythm Reality,” Poland: Jagielonian University Press, 2008: 131.
Freud, ‘The Uncanny.’
of oneself. Mihaely Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively of a term of his own coining, “flow,” which he defines as “the holistic sensation present when we act with total involvement…a state in which action follows action according to an internal logic which seems to need no conscious intervention on our part.”57 This closely describes the experience of falling in hadra, in which one experiences a heightened consciousness, though a different consciousness than that of the everyday self. “Loss of ego is another ‘flow’ attribute. The ‘self' which is normally the ‘broker’ between one person's actions and another's, simply becomes irrelevant…No self is needed to ‘bargain’ about what should or should not be done.”58 With the suspension of rationality comes a suspension of all that is said to be true from one moment to the next. When one is no longer directed towards a want or necessity, they have the potential for presence. As Paul Bowles writes of his experience in the Sahara, Here in this wholly mineral landscape lighted by stars like flares, even memory disappears; nothing is left but your own breathing and the sound of your heart beating. A strange, and by no means pleasant, process of reintegration begins inside you, and [you] have the choice of fighting against it, and insisting on remaining the person you have always been, or letting it take its course.59 Those attitudes which extend life to all objects - which acknowledge and engage with possibility rather than adhering to the security of rational thought can not only experience the uncanny, but proceed with an awareness of uncanny truths. Riccio himself writes, “Indigenous and traditional groups, performing a culturally specific rhythm – meaning Earth and location specific rhythms – enables an alignment and for the performer to breach time and space to actually become 57
Mihaely Csikszentmihaly, Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, San Francisco, CA: JosseyBass, 2002: 55. 58
Victor Turner, ‘Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology.’ Rice University Studies, vol. 60. no. 3, 1974: 88. 59
Paul Bowles, ‘Baptism of Solitude,’ HOLIDAY magazine, January 1953.
an ancestral being, an animal, an element, or a combination of several beings."60 In the case of the lila, those that enter hal become susceptible to being ridden by djinn or exorcised of the same. Rudolf Otto, German theologian and author of The Holy - On the Irrational in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational, has coined a term that adequately describes the atmosphere of a lila – a religious ritual built on faith that likely incites fear or dread among participants and onlookers. What he deems as “the numinous element”61 is “a special term to stand for the holy minus its moral factor…and minus its rational aspect altogether.” He details, “Its antecedent stage is demonic dread with a sort of queer perversion, a sort of abortive offshoot, the dread of ghosts. It first begins to stay in the feeling of ‘something uncanny,’ ‘eerie,’ or ‘weird.’” 62
Riccio, ‘Rhythm Reality.’
Rudolph Otto, Christianity and the Indian Religion of Grace, Madras: Christian Literature Society for India, 1929.
See The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Kierkegaard.
"The deification of the established order, however, is the smug invention of the lazy, secular human mentality that wants to settle down and fancy that now there is total peace and security, now we have achieved the highestâ€ŚEvery human being is to live in fear and trembling, and likewise no established order is to be exempted from fear and trembling. Fear and trembling signify that we are in the process of becoming; and every single individual, likewise the generation, is and should be aware of being in the process of becoming. And fear and trembling signify that there is a God something every human being and every established order ought not to forget for a moment." - SĂ¸ren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity No. II
Fear is linked to the comfort in possessing an object, for in this comfort one inherits a fear of the absence of the object. Both comfort and desire are hindrances to presence, for when one is attached to something or directed towards a particular end one seeks protection from the uncanny. Infinite possibility, realized in hadra or during an uncanny experience, knows no security. It does not accept material existence as truth and dispels the myth of consistency surrounding the present state of affairs. To be present is not to merely reside within the present space and moment, but rather to be honest to the truth of that moment. Such honesty knows no attachment, for the present see pattern and not particularities. Kierkegaard, under the pseudonym of Johannes de Silentio, writes in Fear and Trembling, “Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith, for only in infinite resignation does an individual become conscious of his eternal validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith.”63 The faith – belief in, and thus willingness to surrender oneself and all that is known to a divine presence – is the foundation for experiencing hadra. This faith is strengthened through the lila ritual. Without this deep sense of faith, those present do not have the ability to so fully surrender to the space. In presence, one can release one’s hold on all rational and time-bound identities. The unfaithful cling onto false comforts from fear of the abstract, unknown, infinite. So while they may listen to the sounds of the Hamatcha and even experience some of its presence-inducing effects, they remain shut to a divine grace that is the source of the ultimate ecstasy during the hadra. The full aesthetic potency of the environment is blocked. To a fearful mind, things seem to remain as they are from one moment to the next. The lila begins by summoning adepts of the hadra into a space of asserting and realizing 63
Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, translated by Walter Lowrie, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press: 1954.
their faith, hence shedding the insecurities of everyday life. This facilitates the collective transition from the everyday into a sacred space. Victor Turner articulates this initiation of the liminal: “The first phase is separation, the phase which clearly demarcates sacred space and time from profane or secular space and time (it is more than just a matter of entering a temple - there must be in addition a rite which changes the quality of time also, or constructs a cultural realm which is defined as ‘out of time,’ that is, beyond or outside the time which measures secular processes and routines).”64 Through the rhythmic praising of God, blessings, and giving of alms, adepts tap into an awareness of their faith. Quotidian life requires that entities such as selves, jobs, partners, or equity remain constant throughout the passage of time. This constancy gives a sense of material security. Faith overpowers the fear that attaches one to such everyday entities (for fear of their absence). Faith is not contingent on particularities. This “separation” at the start of the lila enables the faithful to overcome the fears that bind us to the everyday. By collectively acknowledging a divine presence, the room transgresses the everyday establishment to become a vesicle for truth. In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard relays a story of Abraham’s faith, resulting in his willingness to sacrifice what he loved most, his son Isaac. The acts of Abraham could never be assessed by a rational consciousness. “One cannot weep over Abraham. One approaches him with a horror religiosus, as Israel approached Mount Sinai.”65 In light of the holy, in light of this uncanny act, one can feel only dread, awe, and an utter inability to comprehend an act founded on another’s faith. “…Abraham is at no time a tragic hero but is something entirely different, either a murderer or a man of faith…Why, then, does Abraham do it? For God’s sake and—the two are wholly identical— for his own sake. He does it for God’s sake because God demands this proof of his faith; he does it for his own sake so that he can prove it. The unity of the two is altogether correctly expressed in the
Turner, ‘Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology’: 57.
Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling.
word already used to describe this relationship. It is an ordeal, a temptation. A temptation—but what does that mean? As a rule, what tempts a person is something that will hold him back from doing his duty, but here the temptation is the ethical itself, which would hold him back from doing God’s will. But what is duty? Duty is simply the expression for God’s will.”66 Fakirism refers to practices of Muslim saints or ascetics. In communities that engage in the hadra in Morocco, fakirism refers particularly to those practices of the faithful while in hal. During a lila, only onlookers can draw fear from the sight of another in hal for his ecstatic expressions of faith. To those in hal, presence is realized in lieu of fear. Inhabiting a space in which one is entirely conscious of one’s faith in God, she is not attached to particularities of the everyday, including the particularity of the autobiographical self, and most essentially, even the particularity of one’s own body. While the hadra does not prescribe self-mutilation (as it does not prescribe any code of negotiable behavior), a state of presence is not governed by the set of fears that inspire the mind to reject instincts that pose danger to one’s self. The same openness that allows for the full penetration of the sound of hadra allows for the materialization of every expression of divine grace. A fakir, experiencing self as spirit, realizes an infinite openness of being and of possibility in hal.
Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling.
I arrive in Meknes by train. It is the day of Aachora and so the streets are especially colorful. For some, it is a day of mourning and for others, of sweets and presents. Young children hold their parentsâ€™ hands while they are bought small handpainted drums, waterguns, caramels, and bright slippers. I enter the electronics bazaar to my left. There are fewer children here. The next section has used comic books and men's tailored trousers. After that, in a covered clearing that appears to contain the ruins of a once admirable monument, people gather in small circles. In each, one is calling out numbers in increments of five. It is a popular auction. An old woman holds three long skirts in her hand. In one group, people bid over an old curved screen television set. Many more are repacking the trousers they were unable to sell. The clouds shift and this part of the bazaar loses its sunlight. The murmuring of dirhams quells and the sellers and buyers (there is no distinction) gradually disperse into various corners of the medina. I am one of the last ones left, with nowhere to go, preferring to enjoy the disappearance of the sun's last ray that dances through the scaffolding. Returning a different way than how I came, the streets feel much colder. Most stalls are empty or a tarp has been placed over the merchandise by an absent owner. I start to shiver. Meknes often feels colder than its neighboring towns, even those set at a higher altitude. The kitchen serving hot bowls of bessara tempts, but now is not the time. So I feverishly walk past, glancing to see if the owner is looking up to exchange a nod. He is busy ladling soup into the bowls of strangers. I walk further, approaching the zaouia of Sidi Ben Aissa. The sky is not yet dark, and I do not yet feel like entering. I take a seat in the clearing outside. Most of the people sitting have just been, or are on their way into the zaouia. Some women sit near me applying henna onto each other's hands and feet. Most of the children, on their way out of the zaouia, are delighted to hold their aachora presents. A few feet to my right sits an old man with deep blue eyes. He has a deep mauve djellaba swung over the top of his head. He is thin, and peacefully sad. His eyes meet mine more than once. A large family arrives and he lifts himself to make space on the elevated earth, taking a seat closer to mine. I
watch and he watches. We are very aware that we are watching together. After some time, he asks if I would like to go on a walk. I ask him his name. I do not remember it. We leave the rectangle and walk in the direction of the bessara stand. We walk along familiar roads. Then he turns down a road that I have passed by on many occasions, but never pursued. It is a large open street but has no street stalls and few people. We keep walking, with my feet always a distance behind his. He never turns to check if I follow. I am intrigued, but I am not curious. The few people that pass us do not look curious either. I think that it is Meknesâ€™ cold air that dries oneâ€™s curiosity, replacing it with an acceptance of all things as they are. He stops in front of one of many shut garage doors. I slow, and near him. He asks if I would like to go inside. I do not know what this place is. But now it is dark and I would like to be in the zaouia. He accepts and so we turn around. Now he follows behind me and at the next crossing utters a quiet farewell. I make my own way back to the rectangle, this time without stopping to sit, and hurry past the candle-sellers into the doorway. The tomb of Sidi Ben Aissa is big and open at its center. The crowd is larger than I have ever seen at any hadra. The drums are on one end and the rhaitas on the other. Closer to the drums is a large circle of men and women. They link arms and move up and down in perfect synchronicity. Near the rhaitas there is no such formation. Men and women salivating in hal gather very close to the rhaitas. When I watch them my gut quivers. I know that feeling. Their eyes are rolled back and they are so so present. I feel excited by their ecstasy. Around the covered perimeters of the clearing people sit in huddles. Some have brought gas cylinders and are busy preparing tea. Others sleep on the cold tile or on blankets that they have brought from home. No one is eating, though piles of foodstuffs are gathered in the corners in between mattresses and huddled masses. As I gradually sift through the crowd towards the rhaitas, I spot not one but many familiar faces. Our eyes meet, kindly, and yet we make no gesture to acknowledge the familiarity. Even those anchored upright by their own legs are affected by the loud horns.
I stand. I watch - heads, turning. The floors, in diamonds. The horns lift me. They drop me. I stay standing. A set of knuckles presses into my back. They are pushing me forward. They guide me to the ground. I am on my knees. The rhaita's whirl is dropping just above my head. And the muscles on my neck jolt to meet its air. Now I cannot feel my head. It is gone - separate from the rest of my body. It is outside - up, never down. I am pulled left, but touched by nothing. Now I am no longer in control. Not over my head, nor my lower body. My legs are far away. The tile stops being cold. I am not anywhere any more - not in Meknes, nor at this tomb. My entire body is dismembered. My elbows are the drums, coming from a softer place. The drums flap. The drums become fast and though I lose vision, I can still see. And then I am gone. My mouth screams. It is a long scream, like the rhaitas, and I look up - my head freezes with my teeth hanging out. Now I am erect, stooped over from the waist. There is a tight cloth around my hips. It allows my head to hang, to swing, to rise with the rhaita's elevated tune. Fingers reach into my ponytail and now my black hair is loose. One ear becomes naked. It silences the sound. I have regained vision. I hold myself steady and the rhaitas slow. Zohra is holding me with her scarf. She places her hand reassuringly on the small of my back. The pipes pick up and now I am here, even more deeply than before. Rocking up and down, my legs too - in these drums. When the horns sustain a long high blow the last grain of familiarity with my own body joins with them. I, am out. Swaying frenetically, I am not afraid for I have just seen. I fall onto the ground before being lifted into Zohra's lap. She strokes my head. I am not dizzy, only drained. At one point I smell blood. Then I feel it, drizzling onto my head, staining my yellow dress. It is Mohammed "s'Tito." His strong thin frame is bouncing high with its usual buoyancy. In his right hand, something moving so fast against his head that I cannot make out its form. His bald head, usually concealed with a round cap is a fountain of red. I have not ever seen him this joyous. A
Muqaddim, he is usually watching over the others in hal. I am brimming with joy, for I love him, and witnessing his hadra for the first time makes me, too, ecstatic. I lift myself from the mat now, watching, shaking, happy. Late at night, once the rhaitas have stopped it is very cold. In the corners of the zaouia we sit on the floor. I am nestled within unfamiliar people. We take sips from a single glass of tea. Someone always wants tea, so the glass never sits on the floor. It is passed around and around. The sweet flutes are playing. Some women are erect, in a pacified hadra that will go on for the whole night. There are no drums - nobody is flapping. We all swing. I feel less cold. I get up to assist in the placing of blue tarps on the tile. There will be food soon. Everyone eagerly makes place for the tarp. I go to sit near the men with flutes. I do not want to eat. I like watching the enormous clay pot of couscous slowly empty, eleven right hands plunging around its circumference. The chicken at the top is picked apart by one, and torn to pieces to place in each other's hands. The blue tarp amasses grains of yellow. It is picked up, and the hush of mealtime lifts. Then I dream, wide-awake. There is no need to sleep. A stranger hands me a blanket and I place it around Zohra. Her eyes open upon its touch. They close again. The flutes stop. The men drink tea but do not light their kif. At the first appearance of dawnâ€™s light it is the coldest that it has been. A single flute plays a floating melody. I smile with gratitude. Now everyone seems to be sleeping or awake, but there is no difference. I could not wish to be anywhere else.
EPILOGUE // ON THE POPULARIZATION OF ECSTATIC MUSIC At its onset, the popularization of sacred music in Morocco occurs in instances in which ecstatic music is made available to those who do not identify as devotees to the marabout saints. Institutional initiatives directed towards the preservation of Morocco's sacred music often sponsor public festivals of what they deem as traditional or â€˜folkâ€™ music. Annual festivals and smaller gatherings throughout the country provide brotherhood members with large sums of money to perform a version of their esoteric improvisations in the context of a public performance. Popular sacred musicians, such as the Gnaoua, radically alter, and sometimes altogether deny the ritual of presence from which their music originates in the context of a public performance. Due to an imbalance of resources, renditions of the presence-ritual that are inspired by a secular understanding of this music prevail over performances of the esoteric hadra. Sacred understandings of one's embodied religious practice are overpowered by a modern understanding of one's musical and labor practice. An open door to sacred practices and spaces allows those who do not necessarily share the faith that is a prerequisite of hadra, to either fully or peripherally attend the hadra. Some cults are more secretive than others. The Gnaoua is the brotherhood with the most expansive history of open practices and a gradual deletion of extreme practices in their states of trance.67 They are also the most popular of the sacred brotherhoods. Though other brotherhoods do not have as much exposure of their ritual practices as the Gnaoua, they rarely hesitate to share these practices when prompted. 67
See Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance and Music in the Global Marketplace by Deborah Kapchan.
The lack of secrecy around these practices does come from a noble belief in the curative and faithbuilding properties of the hadra and a hesitation to deny this experience to anyone. Inviting newcomers to experience the space of the hadra, hear the music, and occasionally even attend a lila allows for the discovery of a relationship to certain djinn within an individual that will in turn draw them to further engage with the brotherhoods. Yet, the continued exposure of sacred spaces to a secular consciousness allows elements of the ritual to develop a popular reputation that, whether admiring of the hadra as a mystical spectacle or criticizing of it as superstition, misunderstands the ritual. Baldassare acknowledges, “The risk incurred by a policy of openness is evident for such an esoteric tradition: previously, Gnawa rituals were jealously guarded and handed down through the centuries by a few exponents of African ethnic groups who were uprooted and deported, and who remained a minority their new society. What was, and still is, a veritable ritual runs the risk of being reduced to ‘folklorismus’ or entertainment. Apart from compromising the tradition itself another risk regards the enslavement of the bearers of this ritual tradition to the demands of an alien world.”68 A reception of sacred sounds that interprets their powerful code outside of a religious context creates an opportunity for the reinvention of this code as profane ‘music.’ In urban spaces of Morocco where many belief systems are juxtaposed within close quarters, sacred sounds are incorporated into a soundscape where they will reach many more ears than of those participating in hadra.
Antonio Baldassare, ‘The Music of the Gnawa of Morocco: A Journey with the Other into the Elsewhere,’ in Performing Ecstasies: Music, Dance, and Ritual in the Mediterranean, Ottawa: Institute of Medieval Music, 2005: 85.
A Different Ritual: Staged Performances of Sacred Music The popularization of this music in the present day is catalyzed by the public performance of sacred music. This shift in context is much more extreme than open door practices, for here the public is not merely witness to a ritual of which they are not part; rather, the ritual itself is altered and secularized. Sacred music on stage does not aim to incite hadra but to publicly entertain. Initiatives by secular cultural institutions in Morocco69 targeted at the preservation of traditional or folk music often take the form of public music festivals or recitals that feature some combination of sacred music and Amazigh70 music. Morocco’s most popular music festival takes place each June in Essaouira – a Southern city of great importance to the Gnaoua. Essaouira has a developed tourist quarter that boasts boutique bed and breakfasts, restaurants that serve Moroccan cuisine according to European dining rhythms, and cafes with an in-house group of Gnaouis that play live music in the evenings. The Gnaoua festival is extremely popular with Moroccans and foreigners alike. Each year several stages are erected along Essaouira’s beach and in private venues that welcome reputed Gnaoua Ma’aalems, their western musical collaborators, and reputed musicians from farther away – perhaps Mali, India, or Haiti – that play genres sympathetic to Gnaoua. The boundary between trance and dance is blurred during the festival. The Gnaouis are not conducting their sacred lila but addressing diverse crowds, many of whom are ‘dancing’ to the codes within Gnaoua music. The festival ritual is one in which the brotherhoods perform their music – playing pieces of the code – for an audience that overwhelmingly does not understand it. Baldassare extends his optimism towards the Gnaoua ritual despite the altered circumstances of their 69
Such initiatives include the festival of Amazigh (Berber) music in Tangier, the Fes Festival of Sufi Culture, the Fes Festival of Sacred Music, Tifawine in Tafraoute, and the Gnaoua Festival in Essaouira. 70
Amazigh, meaning “free people,” is another term for the Berbers ethnic group. Amazigh music refers to traditional music that is rhythmically similar to the music of sacred brotherhoods from nearby regions. While this music is also heavily improvisatory, it is not ritual music credited with the ability to possess and cure.
performances. “Some academics may fear that the authenticity of this tradition is threatened, but they must be reminded that it is not the mere display of a ritual to profane eyes and ears that causes deterioration…Instead, it is the lack of expertise on the part of the officiates which could reduce the expression of supreme principles of existence, such as the Gnawa’s rite, to a mere entertainment.” He attributes his optimism to the alleged separation between the “World Music performance” which consists of the “dance and musical repertoire of the lila-derdeba” and the “more specifically ritual part.”71 It is naïve to assume that each variety of performance (secular or sacred) can occur in a vacuum and that the musicians can consciously divorce their spiritual practice while occupying a secular stage. Sociologist Paul Connerton has eloquently written on how societal rhythms, and an entire way of life, are posited and sustained by our rituals, which he refers to as “acts of transfer…commemorative ceremonies and bodily practices.”72 Practices of the body and collective ceremonies that define a history or a group do not produce a narrative. Rather, they assert and sustain a series of social relations and rhythms. This hints at an understanding of community and collective memory that is defined by shared rhythms – memory exercised into the body, into space, into performances – and not shared narratives. Connerton writes, “It is essential in perceiving the existence of a culture of subordinate groups to see that this is a culture in which the life histories of its members have a different rhythm and that this rhythm is not patterned by the individual's intervention in the working of the dominant institutions.”73 Shifts in ritual practices are significant alterations in all ways of being that is embedded within the space of ritual.74 Hence, drawing the lila 71
Baldassare, ‘The Music of the Gnawa of Morocco: A Journey with the Other into the Elsewhere’: 89.
Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989: 40.
Connerton, How Societies Remember: 20.
Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Experience, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001: 95.
ritual into a new ritual – that of stage performance – severely affects the brotherhood, their sacred practices, and the way of being embedded within the hadra. The ritual of large-scale public performances of sacred music is also articulates a particular series of relations and ways of being. In this case, what Baldassare did not have the foresight to see, and what Connerton preached against, has occurred. The assimilation of a subordinate sacred practice into a dominant secular one has paved the pathway for an extinction of a set of rhythms – and in turn, of a community.
Ritual Music as a Popular Music and the Gnaoua Ceremony The Gnaoua lila continues, but not without being impacted by the reception of its own sounds as a profane music. A widespread public consciousness of Gnaoua music has blurred the distinction between the “world music performances” referenced by Baldassare and esoteric performances of the lila. While most brotherhoods have open lilas (acquaintances of friends of the hosts and those curious about the brotherhood’s practice are welcome), the lila of the Gnaoua of Tangier is an especially public performance. It begins with a parade led by the musicians through the town center. The door is usually left open for visitors to come and go throughout the night, and all are invited to attend the lila, even if they do not identify with the brotherhood. The audience at the lila is thus very diverse and the Gnaoua musicians have come to understand themselves in some aspects as performers and not healers. A lila at the home of Ma’aalem Abdellah El-Gourd75 is a sacred ritual that has been subtly compromised through the group’s frequent engagement in secular performances. At the start of the lila, an informal stage develops in the middle of the space and attendants circle around a semirehearsed dance performed by the brotherhood. They cheer the Gnaouis for their skill and mastery
These findings are based on my own experiences in attending lilas during 2011 and 2012. Deborah Kapchan has also documented her experiences at lilas of the Gnaoua, and time spent with Ma’aalem Abdellah himself in Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance and Music in the Global Marketplace.
over sound and movement. This dance commemorates the Gnaoua tradition, but also articulates a distinct break from that tradition. As the night progresses, the stage opens for others to fall to the sounds and enter hal. Yet, unlike an explicitly curative lila, it is common for the public at this lila to ‘dance’ to the Gnaouis’ ‘music’ as they would at a music festival. Electric amplifiers are used to ensure that the Ma’aalem’s guimbri can be heard in the overcrowded room. Older members of Abdellah’s group identify as both musicians and as Gnaouis.76 Younger adepts identify as some intermediary of the two.77 This, albeit subtle, deviation from explicitly identifying as a healer has a severe effect on this group’s hadra. Extreme outcomes of experiencing hal, including fakirism78 and the exorcism of djinn are rare, if not altogether extinct. The stage of secular institutionally sanctioned performances has pervaded the once esoteric space of religious rituals of Gnaoua music. During these increasingly theatrical lilas, a state of hadra and ‘dancing’ to the music is blurred. The majority of those in attendance at a Gnaoua lila have a similar relationship to the music as people identifying with one brotherhood but attending the lila of another. Such an attendee is less susceptible to be inhabited by the music and they can thus be entertained by the sounds and the movements of others. In the case of Abdellah El-Gourd’s Gnaoua group, however, the ritual of performed music has taken such an effect that the musicians themselves have digested an altered understanding of what their music is. When Abdellah gathers with the rest of the brotherhood in his home each
The term Gnaoui in reference to an individual connotes that he or she facilitates the sacred Gnaoua ritual and is a healer. A male gnaoui most likely plays the guinbri or an element of percussion and a female gnaoui conducts rites of the ceremony and has a special ability to tend to those in hal. 77
In conversation with the Ma’aalem and his group surrounding an upcoming tour alongside saxophonist Archie Shepp, I posed the question as to whether they could identify what it is that they do as Gnaouis with musicians. 78
Gnaoui Ma’aalem Abdellah El-Gourd said to me in an attempt to relate himself to the Hamatcha Muqaddim Mohammed (everyone is familiar to each other from sharing a neighborhood): “They do that [practices of fakirism and self-harm in ecstatic states]. We used to but the Gnaoua don’t anymore. Because we are on stage. People come to our lilas. It’s just not that anymore.”
evening to play, he sometimes refers to these gatherings as a ‘rehearsal.’ The group improvises together for long hours – enjoying themselves, telling stories at breaks in the music, and indulging in tea and kif. Sometimes after the sounds die down, praise is expressed if someone’s playing was exceptional. This process of understanding the sounds of the Gnaoua as music that can be judged in this way is unheard of within other brotherhoods that lack stage exposure. Abdellah El-Gourd has collaborated with several Western musicians and toured internationally. He has had to repeatedly engage with officials and audiences that refer to his performance as a recital of music and not a channel of divine experience. In a global context, the fruits of these intercultural improvisations are very beneficial. Jason Stanyek, a composer and professor of music, writes of Abdellah El-Gourd’s joint recordings with Randy Weston: “In the case of the Weston/Gnaoua collaboration difference is enacted through what Antonio Baldassarre calls ‘creative remembrance,’ an improvisatory consciousness, an interactive form of memory that characterizes music making in Gnawa communities.”79 An understanding of Gnaoua as an improvisatory musical tradition and not an esoteric healing practice is a prerequisite for such collaboration. Though Gnaoua’s potency originally lies in its engaged practice of hadra and not its aesthetics, the widespread international recognition of Gnaoua gesture at its musical merits. Further discussions of this collaboration by Stanyek concern music and politics. The essence of the Gnaoua ritual is given no consideration, for it was abandoned at the outset of Stanyek’s project. Stanyek quotes Weston’s interpretation of the piano: “I approach the piano as an African instrument. I really do. Because inside the piano is a harp. The harp is one of the oldest instruments coming out of ancient Egypt and Ethiopia…” Stanyek writes, “The ‘out of tunneness’ between Weston’s piano and the guimbris of the Gnawa musicians is instantly 79
Jason Stanyek, ‘Transmissions of an Interculture: Pan-African Jazz and Intercultural Improvisation,’ in The Other Side of Nowhere: Jazz, Improvisation, and Communities in Dialogue by Daniel Fischlin and Ajay Heble, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2004: 113.
discernable, and provides a compelling sonic analogue to a kind of intercultural communication that does not sublate difference…”80 The gradual evolution of the Gnaoua ritual into a secular performance is largely a matter of economics. Secular performances and collaborations energize a needy community with the economic fuel to sustain itself, and, in theory, to in turn sustain its religious tradition in an increasingly modern economy. It is true that the Gnaoua community has become visibly better off in comparison to other brotherhoods as a result of their popularity and resulting institutional support. However, it is unclear whether this increase in wealth will sustain the essence of the Gnaoua tradition or fuel more performances that further distance from the Gnaoua’s curative lila. An altered economic relationship with a once-spiritual practice has its repercussions on the rhythm of everyday life and its occupations. The process of bestowing money the brotherhood by attendees of a sacred lila is incorporated within the ritual itself. In a sacred context, the resulting economic exchange is an offering of alms, upon which the brotherhood prays for baraka.81 These contributions go towards the upkeep of the zaouia and its community functions.82 In a secular context, the musicians receive a salary or fee in exchange for a staged performance. These fees greatly exceed what is usually received in alms. The sudden windfalls of money to a community that lives hand-to-mouth83 encourages the brotherhoods to engage more frequently with secular
Stanyek, ‘Transmissions of an Interculture: Pan-African Jazz and Intercultural Improvisation.’
The Hamatcha zaouia in Tangier is open throughout the week for anyone to sit in. It hosts a simple quarter upstairs where the Hamatcha can sleep if needed, and where large plates of couscous are prepared for all those in attendance on Friday evenings. The zaouia operates as a collective space without any formalized structure of management and many adepts consider lending their service towards its upkeep as an aspect of their spiritual devotion. 83
It is rare for a brotherhood member or one that frequently participates in the hadra to be found among the educated upper classes of Moroccan society. The general poverty of these communities can be credited to numerous factors, including Morocco’s colonial history and the colonial values that reign over the country’s economic development since independence; a difficulty to reconciliate material life and its pursuits with the empowerment acquired in the hadra; and characterizations of hadra practices as backwards by educational institutions.
performance contexts. The practice of receiving a fixed wage in exchange for services that are central to one’s spiritual practice assimilates that practice into a secular framework of wage labor.
Corrupt Magic: Zahjouka/Jajouka/Joujouka The commodification of healing music from the village of Zahjouka has altogether erased the original context and meaning of this powerful music. Brion Gysin, an artist associated with the beat generation that spent a large part of his creative career in Morocco, describes his discovery of Zahjouka’s music in an interview with Terry Wilson: “I heard some music at that festival about which I said: ‘I Just want to hear that music for the rest of my life. I wanna hear it everyday all day. And uh, there were a great many other kinds of extraordinary music offered to one, mostly of the Ecstatic Brotherhood who enter into trance, so that in itself – it was the first time I’d seen large groups of people going into trance – was enough to have kept my attention, but beyond and above all of that somewhere I heard this funny little music, and I said: ‘Ah! That’s my music! And I must find out where it comes from.’ So I stayed and within a year I found that it came from Jajouka…[tape stops].”84 Gysin proceeded to engineer a relationship with the musicians from Zahjouka in which he could hear this music all day everyday. “Oh the restaurant [1001 Nights] came about entirely because of them…I said ‘I would like to hear your music everyday’ and, uh, they said ‘Well, why don’t you just stick around and live in the village?’ And I said, ‘No, that isn’t possible, I have to go back and earn my living’…and they said, ‘Well, then why don’t you open a little café, a little joint, some place in Tangier, and we’ll come down and make the music and, uh, we’ll split the money?”85
Vivian Vale and Andrea Juno, William S. Burroughs, Throbbing Gristle, Brion Gysin, San Francisco, CA: RE/Search Publications, 1982: 47. 85
The musicians from Zahjouka were quick to acquire international fame, collaborating with Ornette Coleman and the Rolling Stones, and producing several records. The current generation of musicians from the village does not engage in magical practices. They are dedicated to making a living as a musicians and play to entertain at festivals and weddings near to Zahjouka. The bulk of their earnings comes from foreign audiences and the musicians have performed on tour in the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and the United States. Secular income from a performance concretizes the economic potency of the performance as work. A sacred ritual becomes a production of a commodity (music) to be consumed, and is itself transformed by the sale.
Conclusion What is lost by the popularization of sacred sounds and the assimilation of esoteric modes of existence into a secular economy? Attempts that understand the emergence of modern forms of old traditions, or the mechanisms to sustain traditional forms in modern contexts, as a preservation of these traditions commits the fault of reducing these traditions to their superficially extractable elements. Institutional attempts at preservation of the music of Sufi brotherhoods (through stage performance and marketed recordings) are victim to an essentialism that alters the original meaning of the music each time it is employed for a commercial or popular purpose. The ritual is the embodiment and sustenance of a particular mode of existence â€“ a communal conception of time and situation of space. The rhythms perpetrated by a ritual are always open to adaptation. Essentializing modes of understanding or recreating the ritual results in preservation attempts that are limited to the superficial. The forces that endorse secular festivals featuring sacred music and musical recordings as â€œworld musicâ€? perceive a space or experience and proceed to reduce this space to its musical performance. Such efforts fix and contain the ritual in time, facilitating its folklorization. The case of the Gnaoua ritual makes evident that an either/or
attitude is in fact more harmful because it forces this distinction to be digested by the musicians; and as a result of imbalances in resources, the new ritual that articulates a modern and secular digestion of this music prevails. Sacred understandings of one’s musical and religious practice become assimilated into modern understandings of one’s musical and labor practice. Looking forward, subsequent research on the ritual practices of the Sufi brotherhoods and their evolving contexts in environments dictated by contemporary secular conceptions of music and musical performance should explore fresh avenues of preservation. Preservation practices of the Sufi brotherhoods can manifest itself either towards the sustenance of esotericism (or the re-introduction of esotericism), or through modes of creative preservation. Esotericism protects sacred spaces from the popularization of spirit possession and faithbuilding through hadra. By simply placing restrictions on the dispersion of a music, its popularization, and subsequent economically-induced secularization can be hindered. Perhaps more relevant to the present situation, however, is to explore avenues of creative preservation. Creative preservation preserves not the superficially identifiable elements of a tradition – i.e. the music, costume, etc. – but rather seeks to perpetrate the experience of hadra itself that is contained within the ritual and practices of sacred music. This preservation takes into account the atmosphere, the performance practices, the faith, and the rhythms embedded within the space of ritual. Rather than understanding preservation as a freezing of those aspects of a tradition that have penetrated popular consciousness, creative preservation sustains and reinvents what is experienced and sustained within the ritual. This bears into being new rituals, rather than staged reenactments that extract from what was and fix a form, and an entire way of being, within the past.
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