Friday, 27 March 2015

The Susurrus: An Exploration of Improvisational Psychedelia

'One sound–miraculously, it also happens to be a wordnow covers the entirety of language. That word is susurrus. It is similar, perhaps identical, to the “hum of the Earth.”' - Andrew Joron
The above quotation, taken from Andrew Joron's profound work: The Theremin In My Life, is but a fraction of a marvellous essay in which the author and poet examines how the unlikely instrument of the theremin has impacted upon his life. Not only does Joron offer specific insight and adoration towards the electrophonic instrument, he also pursues a more general attempt to delineate and examine the fundamental essence of the sounds he is able to create. 

Joron's description of a unifying base-drone of worldly existence, so called 'susurrus', is an insight that still fascinates me as much today as when I first read it. From the moment I started listening to alternative forms of psychedelia, I have been pondering the link between the different musicians and artists that I discover. In their respective sounds, there seems to exist some sort of obscure connective element which places them all into a single, distinct overarching creative canon.  

Now, this is not for a moment meant to suggest that every piece of music I have ever listened to has shared this quality. No, this susurrus has only ever presented itself to me within certain types of music, what I consider to be psychedelic music, or at least pure psychedelia. Therefore, in discovering this 'hum of the Earth', as Joron puts it, I can come closer to truly defining psychedelic music, at least to my own satisfaction. If I am to place these artists together according this abstruse feature of their sound, susurrus, then surely it must mean they all feature the Hum of the Earth within their music. Or moreover, they can harness and tap into this sound, as Joron claims to do with his theremin.  

So what does this susurrus sound like, or at least present itself as? This is where definitions become increasingly blurred. The idea of a universal drone itself can be viewed in several ways; most significantly as a concept in itself or something which actually exists ontologically within the world. Kawabata Makoto, one of the founding members of Acid Mothers Temple, claims to have heard a humming in his ear since he was a young boy and thinking it was an alien. Although this susurrus may not reveal itself to all of us in the same way it did to Makoto, anyone who has ever felt they connected with (or 'got' or 'dug' or what have you) the aforementioned pure sound of psychedelia will have understood it to a greater or lesser degree. 

Note: In this article, I am framing susurrus as a predicate of psychedelia, or at least wilderness psychedelia. What constitutes psychedelia is a long-standing debate, and the definitions presented here are merely those which I have explored and examined to my own satisfaction. It is only in my personal view that this Hum of the earth represents raw psychedelic music, and alternative views are varied and plentiful.   

To take a step back, so as to further this exploration, the term susurrus itself requires sharper definition. The word itself refers to a whispering or rustling, like one may hear from a river. This basic definition can be developed to view 
susurrus as an underlying quality which can be almost imperceptible at times ('hum of the earth'). Also, in covering the 'entirety of language', a great unity is indicated - an ability to link and to balance, and also remain immutable in the face of humanity's constant change and development. This hum, the susurrus, is immutable, unchanging. 

I would now like to introduce another concept which illuminates susurrus; wilderness. There is a link between the wilderness and the susurrus, so much so that they are integral to one another, and perhaps even one and the same. 

Wilderness, spoken about on the blog before, is the natural state of the earth when it has not been altered by human civilisation. However, civilisation is in fact a human construct invented as societies grew increasingly complex. Humanity is actually inherently connected to the wilderness as that is the chaos from which our species sprang and developed (see evolutionary biology, etc.). This is important in reminding us that we all have the wilderness, and a wild nature contained within us to some degree.  

Furthermore, through accepting this wilderness within ourselves it can be realised that susurrus as we experience it is actually a sonic expression of this inner wilderness. It begins to finally define the creative canon I mentioned earlier because this raw psychedelia which invokes the susurrus is actually allowing you to connect with the wilderness within you and very well the wilderness around you to.  

These concepts, as previously mentioned, can seem incredibly abstract and incomprehensible at times so I have written an accompanying post which gives suggested listening for artists which I consider to channel the susurrus. Thank you for reading and happy listening.

Article written by Daniel Sharman

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