>

from Science Fiction Studies / Nov. 2001

Feature by Bruce Gehiere







Listening to Anaphoria: A Note on Utopian Music by Kraig Grady and Banaphshu (Anaphoria: The Creation of the Worlds, Music from the Island of Anaphoria, From the Interiors of Anaphoria). I first learned about the island-nation of Anaphoria from its North American Embassy web site, which showcases all matters Anaphorian, including artifacts, historical and mythical vignettes, photos, even a national flag. But it was the fantastically sculpted musical instruments, gleaming artifacts seemingly from an alien world, that most piqued my curiosity. Kraig Grady designs and handcrafts each one-of-a-kind instrument, matching each instrument's materials to a particular xenharmonic scale. (The term "xenharmonic" was coined by Ivor Darreg for musical phenomena that employ tonalities other than our familiar "well-tempered" twelve-tone scale.) Each Anaphorian instrument exhibits unique sonic properties, each is exotic and astoundingly resonant, and each creates a tonal world. A roomful of these instruments is featured, solo and in small ensembles, on the three compact discs (available from Forced Exposure ) that have issued from Anaphoria during the last decade. Grady, who modestly declines to call himself a composer, writes and performs the works that allow us to inhabit the sonic worlds of these instruments. Grady, like Philip Arnautoff, belongs to a select circle of musicians who have elected to follow in the footsteps of the avant-garde maverick Harry Partch, and he offers some unique guidance on how we can come to inhabit the sonic space of Anaphorian instruments.

 In an Interview with Brian Harlan/Corporeal Meadows, Grady explained that his favorite music "created a sense of space-almost like an imaginary landscape" into which he felt himself transported (Notes from the Inner Ground n. pag.). Anaphoria is an island realm that hovers ambiguously between imaginary transcendence and the sounds of this earth. Fragments of narrative in the CD liner-notes read like shards of history, or myth and ritual spun off from the music itself. In tone these narratives by turns suggest an enchanted fantasy world such as Tolkien's Middle Earth and a satiric realm such as Swift's flying island of Laputa. The CDs themselves present further enigmas: Banaphshu and Grady are co-credited for recording and production of the music in Anaphoria, "a land where recordings have always been taboo"; the liner-notes are related to Kraig Grady by Banaphshu, a native of Anaphoria.

 Is this a Nabokovian musical hoax, then? Dave Segal has chosen to review Anaphorian CDs with Cheshirean coyness on these points. David Toop of The Wire considers Grady's work to be "ethnographic surrealism" - at once "homage, critique and reflexive observation - to the practice of ethnographic recording"; and Brent Clough of ABC National Radio's program "Other Worlds" has presented Grady's work as faux ethnography. I interpret Anaphoria, whatever else it may be, as also a utopia, a vehicle that at once transports and keeps in view an alternative and better world. In part, Darko Suvin defines utopia as "an alternative location radically different in respect of sociopolitical conditions from the author's historical environment" (41; his emphasis). The location of Anaphoria is, strictly speaking, nowhere; it hovers between a space and a state, nonexisting (ou) as well as good (eu). Utopia operates deictically; it is "a gesture of pointing, a wide-eyed glance from here to there, a "travelling shot' moving from the author's everyday lookout to the wondrous panorama of a far-off land" (Suvin 37).

  The tradition of utopian literature, from Thomas More's Utopia (1516) through Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1872) and from Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888) through the feminist utopias and dystopias of the 1970s and 1980s, seeks to present discrete alternatives, inverted allegories that selectively mirror our own world. Where classical utopian literature most often employs the vehicle of the imaginative voyage, Grady employs the vehicle of music. The location of Anaphoria depends upon one's sense of musical geography, musical traditions far flung across the world. The putative geographical location of Anaphoria "somewhere in the South Seas" is a nod to the indigenous music of Southeast Asia, particularly of Bali (Indonesia). But in an interview with Greg Burk, Grady also places Anaphoria "somewhere between Indonesia and Africa," with infusions from many different cultures, at once ancient and cosmopolitan. A sampling of these musics can be found on the playlist of Grady's radio program, The Wandering Medicine Show, as well as on David Beardsley's Juxtaposition Net Radio, whose audio is archived on the Net.

 As Grady explained to Greg Burk in an interview in L.A. Weekly, anaphoria is also a medical term for an optical disease that makes the eye look upward, so that the eyes of the afflicted person perform the gesture of pointing from down here to up there. He cites Carl Jung's theory that diseases are often "the manifestations of old gods who have been rationalized away but refuse to die" (n. pag.). Grady's musical project of a "visionary geography" (Corbin 24-36, 51ff) shares with Harry Partch an endeavor to remember and to rekindle through "the Ancient Magic" of music "an antidote for our age" (Partch 184, 186). Grady and his troupe regularly stage performances of Shadow Theater, Anaphorian performance rituals that borrow both from Balinese Shadow Theater and from an American dramatic and musical lineage stretching back through Lou Harrison and Partch. His Shadow Theater is a mystical and irreverent blend of music, theater, myth, and ritual that infuses elements of myth and dramaturgy from other cultures, including India, Africa, Greece, and Turkey. Grady's music thus aspires not to postmodern "faux" play but to transcendence, its utopian gesture more dependent on auditory than purely visual powers of imagination. Passage to Anaphoria lies through its music; its geographical outlines, history, myths, and various cultural artifacts spring from visual manifestations of the music itself. Musical sound, not simply ideas, provides the utopian vehicle.

 Anaphoria is no isolated utopia; this cosmopolitan island is in constant commerce with the contemporary world, save that throughout its many communities, from the most urbanized to the remotest village, xenharmonic tunings and musical practices, customs, and rituals continue to play a central role. The cultures of Bali and Anaphoria are ancient, their histories replete with imperial incursions by many foreign powers. And yet ritual music has remained an enduring feature of both cultures. When Christian missionaries came to the island, Anaphorians detected the zealotry of their message not only in their stories and creeds but in the very form of their hymns and instruments. The Christian Missionary Expulsion of 1823 proved of fundamental importance in establishing how Anaphorian culture would return the favor to Western ears. Instruments such as the reed organ, long abandoned by the missionaries, were retuned to slendro and pelog scales (the two predominant scales of post-1950s Bali) and reborn in the creation of new Anaphorian customs and rituals. The appearance of Western instruments in Anaphorian rituals thus signals not an imperial incursion into Anaphorian life, not a degradation of earlier, more authentic traditions, but rather an ancient and ongoing process of Anaphorian adaptation. The Anaphorian love of music in other tonalities had proved stronger than any of the putative economic and organizational benefits to be gained by adoption of a single equal-temperament scale whose tuning demanded instrumental compromises at every turn. Anaphorians, content with their tunings which varied from village to village, even for the same scales, had somehow discerned that the path of such tuning-compromises eventually requires an immense reorganization of music itself, its very social forms and functions coming under the greater rhythms of industrialization. Anaphorians continue to reject the attendant web of tyrannies that accompany a single hegemonic tuning, even as late capitalism increasingly saturates Western societies' relations to their music, musicians, and instruments.

 The 1823 expulsion thus offers a parable of how Anaphorian culture, when faced with an imperial incursion, even while appearing to acquiesce, is already mounting extensive transpositions in the form of symbolic exchange, transpositions which, in Frantz Fanon's terms, inhabit that "zone of occult instability," that liminal space of cultural signification, in which a dialectic of temporalities - modern, colonial, postcolonial, and "native" - sets in motion a historical process of other-timely revolution. Where our equal-tempered twelve-tone scale has contributed substantially to what Benedict Anderson calls unisonance, a horizon of cultural hegemony in which the social becomes totalized within homogeneous, empty time (Bhabha 309), the dialectic of Anaphorian musical temporalities operates without establishing totalizing difference, without establishing regimes of sovereign territorial or musical exclusion. Through this dialectic, xenharmonic music remains the very core of Anaphorian vitality and the grounding site of its alterity to Western eyes and ears. Anaphoria as an island-nation thus remains "off the map" of Western modes of social and cultural organization, just beyond that liminal zone that would permit establishment of the nation-space. Homi Bhabha explains: "Once the liminality of the nation-space is established, and its "difference' is turned from the boundary "outside' to its finitude "within,' the threat of cultural difference is no longer a problem for "other' people. It becomes a question of the otherness of the people-as-one" (301). Anaphoria remains an illimited realm of many tonalities, ethnicities, and customs, its shards of history outside the form of a closed narrative, national or otherwise.

 For a listener new to Anaphoria, The Music of Anaphoria provides the most accessible introduction. From song titles, liner notes, and the music itself, listeners can most readily imagine an excursion into Anaphoria. Performed with The Electric Company's Brad Laner, this CD is the most generically, instrumentally, and rhythmically varied. Metallophones, xylophones, celesta, reed organ, zither, voice, gong, and chimes provide highly kinetic rhythms to a rich and varied ambiance. A generation raised on synthesizers will have trouble believing that all sounds are analog. Anaphoria: The Creation of the Worlds is a single sustained performance, more intensely focused and more coherently developed. In Bali, the performance of the Creation of the World occasions the ritual accession of a new ruler. Balinese culture, which does not recognize a Western division of life into the sacred and the profane, is also famed for its incorporation of music into nearly every aspect of daily life. The title Creation of the Worlds signals a ritual advent of sonic, mythic, ethnic, and cosmological plurality; like d*sa kala patra (the "place-time-context") essential to Balinese artists, the performance is a way of putting human activity into the context of the world and nature, a way of interacting with forces greater than the human, giving a "sense of place" on both a social and metaphysical scale (Herbst 87-89; 111-113).

 From the Interiors of Anaphoria is a more contemplative work. And yet it too involves us in cosmological dramas. The first three tracks, "Three Ingressions of Ancestral Spirits," are rituals performed on the island by Anaphorian Buddhists. Tibetan Buddhists practice "undertone singing," an extended vocal technique in which very low fundamental tones rich in harmonics are selectively amplified and reinforced by additional higher notes during the chant; the choir weaves its notes through this fundamental tone's harmonic series. These Anaphorian Buddhists perform their version upon instruments, producing a distinctive "melody below" in the vein of Balinese Jegog ensembles that employ huge bamboo resonators to produce a deep chthonic sound. Anaphorian Buddhist "melody" emerges from the "dharma" or event of interaction between the shifting sub-harmonics. The subtle weave of rhythms, pitches, and beats creates a distinct shape or envelope to the sonic field, out of whose weavings ghostly "melodies" emerge and hover "between the notes." These ancestral "melodies"- the "ingressions" of ancestral spirits invoked by the musician's performance are thus entirely coextensive with the subtle weave of pitches and rhythmic beats. Their importance lies not in the independent pitches but in the intervalic relationships. By relaxing our listening habits acquired from our own "even tempered" twelve-tone scale, we can come to discern these ancestral "melodies," and in the process become open to a gradual perceptual conversion, one in which music of this world provides a common ground for encountering these sacred ancestors.

  Mark Slobin points out that music, unlike many other activities, demands "the simultaneous projecting and dissolving of the self in performance"; one's sense of identity may "hover around the musical space but can penetrate only very partially the moment of enactment of musical fellowship" (41). Grady's work develops these spatializing implications in order to offer new relations with a Western audience. Music, musicians, and an acoustic awareness of self may appear to cohabit the same abstract space, a space neither entirely interior nor exterior to the listening individual, a space in which the perceptual boundaries governing the individual's sense of self can for a time dissolve onto another plane. Grady's visionary space presupposes this transmutation of one's senses; an auditory scene with its own center and horizon opens onto the physical world. As Greg Burk observed of an Anaphorian performance, after a while the music "sounds like it's not out there at all, but actually inside your head." It is in these moments of dissolution of self that Anaphorian musical performance becomes in its purest form an ambassadorial act. Performance by the artist admits into our Western world an "ingression" of something of the rich alterity of music at the heart of Anaphorian artistic and civic life. The utopian call of Anaphorian music is a bid for us to accept this rich diversity of xenharmonic practices as an alternative basis for our own.

 For Grady, it is also a conversion away from our commodified relation to music. Jacques Attali's Noise outlines the stakes of such an enterprise for political economy: "Fetishized as a commodity, music is illustrative of the evolution of our entire society: deritualize a social form, repress an activity of the body, specialize its practice, sell it as a spectacle, generalize its consumption, then see to it that it is stockpiled until it loses its meaning" (5). Commercial music may inspire dreams, but "it does not give one the strength to put its message into practice, to use the musicians' noise to compose one's own order"; a fan's devotions are but a shadow of participation, a music festival audience is "totally reduced to the role of an extra in the record or film that finances it" (137). By contrast, Grady seeks to restore to music its ritual relation, a healing "exorcism through noise and dance" (9).

 Ultimately, it is this performative relation with the world that puts Anaphoria as utopia on quite a different footing from nearly all creative projects of the Western commercial music industry. Instead of subordinating music to a conceptually prior universe, one that permits the author to retain proprietary rights to his/her creation, Anaphoria stands as a realm of music whose audile borders remain fluid and fleeting, briefly coextensive with our own. Grady sidesteps a composer's proprietary rights to his/her creation, and instead only assumes the mantle of performance roles as needed. Grady thus stands as a liaison of only ephemeral authority between Anaphoria (wherein he claims to have resided for three years) and North America, a strictly unofficial ambassador who helps out where needed. The question of his own citizenship hovers ambiguously somewhere on the border between national - Native and American - and musical affiliation. For Grady is part Ojibwe Indian, son of a mystic and something of a medicine man. Grady steps out from behind the conceptual bulwark of authorial creativity and offers us, in an other-timely fashion at once postmodern and ancient, a utopian mode of performativity. To listen to the music of Anaphoria is to be swept up by a music that installs alterity at the heart of political, social, and spiritual relations. Bruce Gehiere, Queen's University

WORKS CITED

Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1985.
Bhabha, Homi K. "DissemiNation: Time, Narrative, and the Margins of the Modern  Nation." Nation and Narration. Ed. Homi K. Bhabha. London: Routledge, 1990. 291-322.
Beardsley, David. Juxtaposition Net Radio. June 20, 1999 & Dec. 19, 1999
Clough, Brent. "Fictional Musics." Other Worlds. National Radio, Australia. Aug. 29, 1998.
Corbin, Henry. Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi’ite Iran. Trans. Nancy Pearson. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977.
Fanon, Franz. "National Culture."1961. Trans. Constance Farrington. The Post-colonial Studies Reader. Ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. New York: Routledge, 1995. 153-57.
Grady, Kraig. The Wandering Medicine Show. Wed. 8pm-9pm. KXLU, Los Angeles.
     . Interview with Brian Timothy Harlan. Notes from the Inner Ground. Aug.4, 2001.
     . Interview with Greg Burk. L.A. Weekly. Dec. 8-14, 2000; Aug. 4, 2001 .
     . Anaphoria: The Creation of the Worlds. Bzang, 1998.
     , and Brad Laner. Music from the Island of Anaphoria. 1996. Bzang, 1998.
     , and Banaphshu. From the Interiors of Anaphoria. Bzang, 1998.
Herbst, Edward. Voices of Bali: Energies and Perceptions in Vocal Music and Dance Theater. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1997.
Partch, Harry. "The Ancient Magic." Bitter Music: Collected Journals, Essays, Introductions, and Librettos. Ed. Thomas McGeary. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1991. 184-87.
Segal, David. Rev. of From the Interiors of Anaphoria, Music from the Island of Anaphoria, Anaphoria: The Creation of Worlds. Alternative Press 134 (Sept. 1999): 100-01.
Slobin, Mark. Subcultural Sounds: Micromusics of the West. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1993.
Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.
Toop, David. Rev. of Music from the Island of Anaphoria. The Wire 155 (1996): 74.
 
 

back

main page