October 8, 2020 | Arts and Culture
show me my body
anatomy of a musical body ache
I wish, just for one day, that everyone would pry their headphones off of their ears and let their music tiptoe down their legs and scamper around the grimy subway station at Prospect Park. To let a pigeon’s yawn and Ariana Grande seep into the depths of a taxi driver’s gut and spill out again into the lap of a family on their way to synagogue. To watch the Johnny Cash–inspired head-bobbing of a 55-year-old lawyer manifest itself in an 87-year-old Italian grandmother with an alligator cane. To let the benches in Central Park bleed their music into the souls of the people memorialized upon them.
We can listen with each other.
Before I proceed, I must confess that I don’t feel entirely comfortable with how I currently write about music, so I plan on dipping into other interpretive mechanisms. This means eating music, nibbling at its edges, until it bites back. I have always seemed to vomit forgotten SAT words onto a blank page and blindly thrash around for the right way to present them. I then expect my readers to clean up my puke while I move on to my next episode of shallow sonic reconciliation.
But one day the music devoured me. Show Me the Body (SMTB), hardcore punk architects and a trio of sonic creators that require utter chaos as a prerequisite for breathing, taught me to stick a finger into my belly button and pull out the 20 years’ worth of sounds that had been stuck inside of me. SMTB has taught me to squeal, to yelp, to break down, and to call my dad more often. SMTB has taught me to snuggle with Bear Bear again, my childhood stuffed animal (who’s staring at me as I write this). SMTB has taught me to say “I love you” to my friends, even the ones I don’t know well enough. SMTB has taught me to try driving a different route every time I go to the same doctor’s office. SMTB has taught me to look at my reflection, and to look at yours…
When I slipped on the feeble rug of traditional western music and plummeted quickly and deeply into the sounds that make me pant and wheeze, I was warned to go slow. These sounds that SMTB both evade and personify are usually labeled as “out,” “experimental,” “hardcore,” “harsh,” “messy,” and other disgruntled adjectives that mask fear. Nevertheless, I seem to have found myself overtly and rapidly embodying these descriptors after reckoning how these horrifyingly delicious sounds have always invaded, invigorated, and invited themselves into my being. These noises are nudged and stirred out of their sonic homes to hang out with us for a reason, so we must let them.
My embodied reaction, and its necessity to interface with sound, is not an experience I alone have. Namely, it is in the approach of Esperanza Spalding, a sonic creator and thinker, who uses her voice and upright bass to shove jazz into a different dimension entirely. She centers the body as the vessel for creating and perpetuating music.
Pauline Oliveros, an experimental electronic composer, sonic forager, and investigator who peels noise from the most peculiarly intimate places, encourages us to listen with our feet and with the spaces around us. Leaping off of this beauty, I personally want to knead a culture of sonic awareness into my body’s unique versions of itself, and to embody a definition of pandemonium that is so two-faced it doesn’t bear any relevance to me anymore (though sometimes I do need Bear Bear when I mosh).
CORPUS, founded by members of SMTB and other sonic morphers, is a poignant collective of underground musicians that seek to uplift Black, Brown, and Indigenous artists. They mold these practices of embodied and communal listening into their everyday musical and personal lives. The group’s motto is:
“CORPUS IS A COMMUNITY. COMMUNITY BUILDING IS DIRECT ACTION. CORPUS IS ABOUT MUTUAL RESPECT. RESPECT BUILDS SOLIDARITY. CORPUS IS BUILT ON HARD WORK AND PRACTICE. INTELLECTUAL WARFARE IS MANDATORY. INCREASING SELF DEFENSE AND AWARENESS IS PARAMOUNT. CORPUS IS EMPOWERMENT AND BECOMING FREE.”
Their words thought of each other, together.
We can realize, together.
(Performed with Dreamcrusher)
I want to slurp music up into my mouth, digest it, and let it unearth the insides of my body.
Dreamcrusher, a harsh noise commander and cultivator, excavates my senses of expectation and lets them decay to the point of rust. Then, they collect my remnants for me and smirk as they watch me attempt to put them back together. This is a feat I may not be able to appreciate until much, much further into my consciousness. A feat that would make every being in NYC simultaneously brawl.
SMTB’s second public adventure, Corpus 1, is the album that extended an invitation to burn, cuddle, burp, and poison me.
Sometimes it is their lyrics, and sometimes it is how the lyrics tear at my skin.
In the neoliberal echelons of the music criticism website and magazine Pitchfork, this album has been chastised for being too confused because of its use of 20+ collaborators. But to me, this perplexing conglomeration of soundmakers is precisely what we need in order to advocate for communal embodied investigation. What is distinctly different in SMTB’s approach to collaboration is that the moldable skeleton of each piece is curated by their collaborators, rather than by themselves. This flows directly into their relationship with their listeners/viewers/feelers. Watch a video of SMTB performing live and you will see everyone’s bodies get so entangled that they plunge onto the concrete. Look closely now and you might see every one of those bodies being hoisted towards the sky by a fellow mosher…just in time to be crumpled downwards again. This cyclical bombardment of thrashing and care is soothing, motivating, and subtly masochistic in the same sense that if you chew for long enough, Dreamcrusher’s Grudge2 (a categorically disruptive album) will give you lockjaw. SMTB, in their visceral and snarly approach to organizing sounds, not only lets their audiences move differently, but also lets them sigh differently.
Everything Hate (here)
(Performed with Moor Mother)
I want to shove music into my knees and let them uncontrollably quiver.
Moor Mother (who vocalizes the world as a product of herself) has shattered my conception of persistence. She bends jazz, hip-hop, and experimentalism into each other so poignantly that those genres evaporate entirely and, in turn, create a new sense of provocative normalcy. She relentlessly compels me to think about time and how I can dance to it and throw up on it. As my tears sometimes do, when I can’t reflect, when I can’t feel myself, Moor Mother’s sounds dribble through my thighs and down into my knees, spinning them into a frenzied cocoon of disorientation. They shudder the same way they do when I show up at my doctor’s three times in one week, for an issue that doesn’t make sense and doesn’t seem to matter. The music tells me that things will be okay, and helps me heal.
Consequently, as much as I need to feel this music inside of me, it needs to escape me as well. When I hear the mellifluous screeching of Julian Cashwan Pratt’s banjo I am pushed to sneeze. To let a little bit of my body permeate into the sonic atmosphere and confuse the sounds that whiz around me. This sonic and fluid imposition into the world makes me think that Johnny Cash might even like SMTB.
Not only can we listen together with our ankles and our chins, but also with our precarities. All of us can find each other’s headphones.
(Performed With Justin Flammia)
I want to throttle music hard enough that it seeps into my blood from the tips of my
This is my favorite song to pretend not to know, so I am able to rediscover it every morning. Sometimes I need to forget it. The classical guitar punctures my memory and my fingers, as I stare at where my calluses are, and touch where they used to be. Julian sings to where my fingernails meet the flesh in a pulsating tremolo. What do you do with your fingers when you scream?
As we depart from our momentary sonic and textual journey together, I will continue to think about how this prescribed disarray that SMTB’s music is soaked in will change every time I listen to it. It already has, over the course of me writing this. It is also vital to envision where SMTB’s music has yet to poke us, or where it may never be able to. After all, we each have the agency to comprehend sound how we see fit and by no means is SMTB the sole vessel for thinking and feeling our way through this. Without privileging the sonic realm any further, all sounds, if we indulge them, have the beauty to listen to us as well. The allure of coming up against perpetual modulations of sounds, such as SMTB’s, allows me to indulge in a recurring dialogue with my body. These sounds cause a resurgence in my ability to relocate my process of introspection and, in turn, change my approach to interpreting my surroundings (both human and non-human). Together, we have the ability to entangle our bodies in a catastrophic and profound game of sonic hide-and-seek.
We must reimagine our musical stories as we press our bodies against a mirror so hard it shatters and the glass cuts us open.