Psyche and Sweat: An Audience with Vastum


We sneak away from the festival, our ears eager for a respite from the endless onslaught of blastbeats and distortion. Turning the street corner, we arrive at what we are promised is a coffee shop, littered with small round tables and simple chairs. A bored teenager is installed behind a long bar. Popcorn, soda and other small bags of snacks concede that this is a cafe in brand only, and simply a waystation for the four theater rooms just up and down the stairs. One particularly well-lit wall is nothing but transparent buckets of candy in all shapes, sizes and flavors, readily equipped with plastic shovels with which to overfill our small paper bags.

The simple glucose in sweets is one of the few nutrients that can actually be partially absorbed in the mouth prior to proper digestion, the sugars in the bloodstream being welcomed by chemical receptors which trigger our innate reward system and dopamine pathway in the Nucleus accumbens. Likewise, the caffeine once liberated will travel to the brain where it inhibits the interaction of built-up adenosine and their receptors, increasing our awakeness and alertness. You sip your chai latte, a light mixture of glucose and caffeine swirling beneath a light dusting of serotonin cinnamon.

Where does the mind end and the brain begin?

Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ #3, 2017. Laina Terpstra.

In spite of all efforts, you find it impossible to localize the self through your consciousness in material form. To identify…that’s me. There’s always some alienating encounter with ourselves when we try to project anything about us onto the outside; when we try to harness the brightness of our thoughts and ambitions, using them like bulbs to project the luminous flash flickering in between contorted shapes and shadows onto the silver screen of our surroundings, warping, sagging and anchored to the collective paunch of our fleshy existence.

It’s a visceral thing…coming up with lyrics that describe these images and these relationships, that are horrific in how they combine with music, not just semantically but phonetically with the riffs. It has to make this gut-wrenching impact, and if it doesn’t, then you know the work isn’t finished. It must have immediate adrenaline, nausea. The body is the impossible thing, it is the It in relation to the I.

Das Ess is what Freud called it, translated into Latin is the Id, or a better English translation is the It. It is the thing that we’re always in relation to; our body, a polymorphously perverse body. Frequently over the course of our development we will try to manage it through the cultivation of a self, but it’s ultimately unruly and unmanageable and it nags at us and it taunts us. There is a kind of visceral quality about the body as an impossible thing. It disturbs us.

Even Vastum is a way of doing that. It’s symbolizing the unknowable, and yet, there’s still a responsibility in some way to take that encounter with the unknowable, both present and absent, and to take that relationship to its limit, even at the risk of a breakdown….that’s what we try to do lyrically and aesthetically in some way, but it’s impossible. It is the impossible. But that’s what drives us.

There is a vision of ancestral pain, a series of disconnected frames flashed onto the collective strobe of our consciousness, only dimly aware of the downward thrust of a silhouetted hand holding the knife of history over our trembling psyche.

Often we start with an image, a disturbing image, your organs merging with your mouth, and it will form these concentric circles around the concept. Gradually it fills in and the horror gets spread to the horror of humanity, to the universe with humanity inside of it.

That concentric image is a labyrinth, like cement and stones behind a church, a very beautiful church. You can walk and just follow the twists and turns of the stones, a living and breathing mandala pattern. But the pattern is not merely aesthetic, nor a maze in need of solution. The path only leads in two directions, forward and back, with only your own meditative instinct as a guide to reach the end that is also the beginning.

Grace Cathedral

At the time we found ourselves doing things automatically, almost disassociatively…compelled to walk the labyrinth, feeling compelled to be very quiet and alone. This was one of those phases in your life, a breakdown you would say. It was a very unmooring experience, going through psychoanalysis on your own, painful and difficult to endure, though we write a lot about psychoanalysis in both music and therapeutic practice.

We would walk the labyrinth very slowly and it would take us sometimes 2 hours. It was a very difficult time in our life and I needed that. There’s something impossible about the mind, wherein lies the impossible profession, because when we’re engaged in trying to get forms of help it might feel like we need, there are very concrete instances of obstacles, spread throughout these various social systems we have to live in. But they correspond to physical processes too, where in its experience it can feel, and actually how impossible it is, for aspects of ourselves even to be helped.

Numerous disciplines orbit this mind, circling like vultures armed with fMRI machines, radioactive markers and transcranial electrodes, desperately trying to wrest the carrion from the space in between our synapses and unconscious.

We think this concept of liminal space is an attempt at grounding ourselves or stabilizing our relationship to the unknowable, to the in-between. But what if it’s just a gap, an emptiness, a void, or what if it’s not an empty void, but a void that’s already filled in with some kind of presence that you cannot identify and we cannot know, though you have this uncanny feeling that it’s there?

You do have a tendency to admire, to narrate something that is visceral and familiar in experience but also alienating at the same time.

The Death of Socrates, 2016. Laina Terpstra.

We persistently struggle to be heard over the din of a stream of people passing us by, their coats and umbrellas rustling as they walk on the gray linoleum floor. Our individual voices sink into the swamp of background noise that is the collective trajectory of our people, coming into being through the din of eternal abjection.

In many ways it’s an Oedipal story that frames the things that we do, but at the same time it’s an absence of a story, and that’s what’s abject, because abjection is where meaning collapses. The Abject is where there is nothing symbolizable; it’s where the story ends, though it’s not an end because there was no beginning. This is the disassociative rapture where humanity comes into being as nothing.

What once prided itself on existing as A Being, turned out to be merely a thing that had no existence at all. But the fact that it turned out to be only a thing is so disturbing to us that it potentiates a kind of libido and drive within us, and that is pleasurable and rapturous.

Abjection begets life, and is the end of life, and is no life.

In that begetting of that life, that union of incomplete genetic vessels, the fusion of both single-celled unborn organisms and their towering counterparts, skeletons draped in meat and chemical electricity. And in between the two extremes of development, there’s a kind of latency, a sort of restoration of an earlier phase of development, which is very libidinally charged.

Where there’s that discovery of sexual difference, and then that discovery itself segues into an Oedipal phase where that difference is worked through, such that there is an avowal of the fact that you have something that someone else doesn’t have and there’s a bodily difference…there’s a sense of loss between us. Then there is the genital phase which is reproductive, after the Oedipal has been supposedly worked through. It’s non-linear in Freudian terms, but a lot of people after him tried to make it more linear, which is very heteronormative. For Freud it was not, and it doesn’t just go in a single sequence. We are perverse throughout life in a lot of ways.

Through this psychic act of eating yourself you’re nourishing yourself, it’s an erotic act as well, and you’re making yourself disappear at the same time. It is a sexual union of I and me.

The crosses have always been a variant of some kind of patriarchal cross. Your first thought is Oedipal but also theological and mystical themes, the cross is very much related to all of that. There’s a kind of eroticism, some mysticism, some theology, psychoanalysis…maybe atheology would be a better term. We don’t like inverted crosses personally, there’s something that’s too easy about that. It’s just a meditative object for us, it has been artistically. But it’s also in a lot of ways the ultimate symbol, the apotheosis of symbols, the paragon of symbolism that captures the impossibility of representation. It’s like the X, which is also a cross.

There is something very erotic about the cross too, of course, a kind of prohibition against which our desires are struggling…something very tempting about Christ’s body.

That body is our body, a focal nexus of innocence and holy aspirations colliding with the disquieting void of our own fleshy bindings, powered by primal instinct and lust. You slowly accumulate this idea of your self over time, yet it is still bound to inevitable mortal decay and it is to be released, not in an act of final triumphant martyrdom and glory, but only as an acrid and steaming Orificial Purge.

(Image VIA and VIA)

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