Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Possession (pt. 2)

In the August 2008 issue of the Wire, Mark Fisher continues his exploration of artists channeling "...other voices, outside forces..." in an interview with Adrian Thaws, better known as Tricky.

"Saying that Tricky 'writes from a female point of view' fails to capture the uncanniness of what he does, since he also induces women to sing from what seems to be a male perspective. Gender doesn't dissolve here into some bland unisex mush; instead it resolves into some unstable space into which subjectivity is continually sliding from male to female voice. (...)

His own weakened, recessed voice - all these croaks, mumbles and murmurs - has always suggested a presence that was barely there, something supplementary rather than centred. But the main - usually female - voice on his songs also sounds absented and abstracted. What the voices of his female singers - flat, drained of ordinary affective cadences - most resemble is the sound of a medium, a voice being spoken by something else. (...)

It is not that Tricky possesses female singers; more that he induces them into becoming possessed, into sharing his trance states. The words that come to him from a lost female source [i.e. Tricky's suicide mother] are returned to a female mouth. (...)

The one who is possessed is also dispossessed - of their own identity and voice. But this kind of dispossession is of course a precondition for the most potent writing and performance. Writers have to tune into other voices; performers must be capable of being taken over by outside forces (and Tricky is a great live performer particularly because of his capacity to work himself up into a state of head-shaking shamanic self-erasure. Like the occult, religion provides a symbolic repertoire which deals with the idea of an alien presence using the tongue, and Tricky's language has always been saturated with biblical imagery.

Where, in his post on Mark Stewart as a man possessed, Mark K-Punk kept rather vague by whom or what Stewart was possessed, he now dares to name explicitly the voice, the force that possesses the artist. In the case of Tricky, it is his suicide poet mother who rides her son as a loa rides its cheval. "I was always my mum's ghost" Tricky says in the interview. Here we see a clear case where the roleplaying so common among Western musicians has transfigured into the dramatic 'characterization' of possession.

Nevertheless, Fisher omits to mention that Tricky's mother suicided when he was four years old, and that he hardly has any recollections of her. So it is in a sense a possession in the second degree - he is not so much possessed by a ghost of his mother constructed from his own memories, as by a ghost of his mother constructed from other people's memories - principally those of his grandmother, who raised him and would say to Tricky that he resembled her dead daughter, his mother. Obviously, the importance of this fact for Tricky's 'characterization' of his mother is immense: he isn't channeling the ghost of his mother, he is channeling the ghost of his grandmother's daughter.

It seems very unlikely that Fisher is unaware that Tricky mother died when her son was still at a very tender age. So it is not that that Fisher is loathe to investigate the context of possession, he does not present to the reader the results of the investigation. It is not that he is hesitant to slice open the Mexican jumping bean, it is that he doesn't show us the wondrous Cydia deshaisiana within - which is a pity, as it diminishes the uncanny power of Tricky's music. The notion of Tricky's mother being not his mother but the reflection of the memories of his grandmother - the reflection of a reflection reflected by Tricky's vocalists - adds yet more mirrors to Tricky's already complex mirror maze, making it still easier for us to lose ourselves in it, making errantry in his music still more seductive.

Post scriptum

- I've just bought "Music and Trance. A theory of the relations between music and possession" by French ethnomusicologist Gilbert Rouget, a book which seems highly relevant to the issue at hand.

Fisher's interview presents Tricky as a Triphop Xasthur - or is Xasthur a Black Metal Tricky?

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