Drought

When you live in the UK, you generally don’t have to worry about droughts and water shortages. But this summer, it just doesn’t rain. The grass in the park is turning dry and yellow, and some of the trees have started shedding leaves. The air is hazy and grey from pollen and dust, and the flowers are wilting and dying. 

 
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I still fall asleep listening to the sound of rain. My husband has a pink noise app on his phone, and every night there is a rainstorm in our room. Sometimes it gets a bit too loud and monotonous for me, and since I can’t stand the dense, pressing silence of earplugs, I put on my headphones and listen to music instead. For me, the best kind of music to fall asleep to is minimalist ambient or drone music. I listen to Biosphere a lot, and Steve Reich, Chihei Hatakeyama, Heathered Pearls, Grouper and Rafael Anton Irisarri. I keep returning to Biosphere - and Loscil. Especially Loscil. The sound of rain, wind and waves features regularly in Loscil's music, so sometimes I drown out my partner’s rain app with other kinds of rain sounds! My favourite Loscil album to fall asleep to is the rain drenched Endless Falls.

Loscil is the project of Scott Morgan from Vancouver, known to some as the former drummer of the indie act Destroyer. I have never known Destroyer very well, but I discovered Loscil when Sketches From New Brighton came out in 2012. By then he had been releasing solo albums for more than a decade, so I had a lot to catch up on: Triple Points (2001), Submers (2002), First Narrows (2004), Plume (2006), Endless Falls (2010) and Coast / Range / Arc (2011). His latest album, Monument Builders came out in 2016, and I’m eagerly awaiting new music. 

Most of Loscil’s albums are (loose) concept works inspired by science or nature. Submers– with track titles such as ‘Le Plongeur’, ‘Diable Marin‘Kursk’ and ‘Nautilus’ – takes us into the depths of the ocean. Triple Points explores the laws of thermodynamics. Coast / Range / Arc shares its name with a large volcanic arc system that runs all the way from northern Washington to southwestern Yukon. Endless Falls delves into rain and water in all its forms. 

But the last track on Endless Falls breaks away from the overarching aquatic theme of the album. ‘The Making of Grief Point’ is a spoken-word piece featuring Destroyer's Dan Bejar. It does also feature rain – two full minutes of it. But the theme of the lyrics is almost the opposite of rain. The lyrics revolve around some sort of drought – creative drought.  

The first time I listened to ‘The Making of Grief Point’, the lyrics mostly slipped right past me. It’s easy to just get lost in the music, and Dan Bejar doesn’t exactly pronounce the words very clearly! A lot of the time he almost mumbles.  But I did catch some lines here and there, and it was like listening to snippets from an opaque poem:

… a tight and perfect digital palace …

 … picnic baskets filled with blood …

 … Patina, no name for a baby …

Wagner wrestles his dogs to the floor …

… The barge endlessly circling …

When I listened properly, the poem opened itself up to me. It turned out to be a monologue about the struggles of the creative process. The narrator is trying to finish an album, or a piece of music. He questions everything: Who is the music for? What does he himself want from it? What will the critics say? Will the new album suffer from the ‘same old shit’? For how long will he stay motivated? How should he construct the music, technically? How can he strike the balance between digital perfection and organic warmth? How will he ‘force form unto a thing’? Is this the right treatment? Always the same question. 

Connected and disconnected thoughts and ideas come and go as the narrator seeks out new ways of going about his work. But nothing sticks. He keeps doubting every angle, every attempt at a break-through. In the beginning of the poem, the narrator claims: There is a certain kind of person to whom things come with great facility. It is clear that the he does not see himself as such a person. Depression seeps in and dims everything, even when he is in fact making progress.  Impostor syndrome – every artist’s old friend – is also a part of the picture.

It’s cool how for my part, this sleight of hand,
the trick of making something confounding and great and potentially horrible, drawn up from air…
all this is no longer of any interest.
In fact, even seeing things in this light depresses me.

As a writer, I can relate to this dark side of the creative process. The statement that moves me the most in the Bejar poem, is a brief one: I have lost interest in music. It is horrible. This is a stark testimony, but rather relatable. At various stages in my life as a writer, I have felt the onset of some sort of creative ennui – a disinterest in writing, or even a distaste for literature. And it is horrible. 

‘The Making of Grief Point’ ends with another brief statement: 'It is done.' But there is no sense of victory. The 'album' is finished, but the melancholy remains, along with a feeling of emptiness. But although the creative process is described as a mostly painful journey, the poem also portrays the creation of art as an unstoppable force. As Dan Bejar stops speaking, the rain comes. For two long minutes there is just the steady hiss of pouring rain, reminding the listener that creative droughts never last forever. 

Hopefully – this very literal drought here in the UK won’t last forever either, even though clear skies and hot temperatures are predicted for at least another week. I have to admit I’m hoping for rain sooner than that. I may not be in the middle of a creative drought, but this weather is definitely making it hard to stay focused! 

 

 
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