Summary of Week Two

Tabula Rasa and the Aeolian Harp

Lecture 1—Wed, 10/8/08

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Tabula Rasa (Clean Slate): In our usage, tabula rasa refers to the state of open receptivity in which our artistic media are addressed.  For the writer it is the blank page; for the musician, silence; and for the dancer/actor, stillness.

The artist’s body is the field of that potential receptivity. Ideally, the readiness to act is a tuned condition in which the artist is prepared to move wherever the creative imperative demands. Remember, body includes senses, feelings, thoughts, and movements.   

The artist’s warm-up aims to achieve this state of full potential. Warming up is tuning the instrument. It involves quieting or clarifying our sensory, emotional, intellectual and kinetic awareness. This tuned condition of readiness I relate to the Aeolian Harp.

The Aeolian Harp, from the Greek god of the wind, Aeolus, is a stringed musical instrument that is hung in a tree where the wind can “play” it with natural grace.  

The Aeolian harp represents a tuned balance between mind and body, between awareness and control. It is neither too tense nor too relaxed, but rather, a state of active receptivity. This state is the transition from potential to kinetic energy. It is essentially inactive, like tabula rasa, but imbued with the intent to act. It is an impulsive state of incipient action that anticipates the specific instrumentation (words, sound, movement).

If the subjective tabula rasa is preeminent in executing the work, the aeolian harp represents the art object’s immanent expression.

We have used progressive relaxation to achieve tabula rasa, and somatics to tune the Aeolian harp.

The next step is to define the wind, the force, energy, stimulus or artistic intent.

Seeds for Future Development

We touched the following themes to both support the week’s thesis, and to set-up further exploration.

➢    “The Prodigal Son”: Separation and Return to the Source (world>son>father>god>source)
➢    Movement of Western culture away from the body, the senses, sensuous art, the feminine, and the natural world, toward a more pure rationality, intellectualism, science, masculine force, and the manipulation of the natural world.

➢    Development of the story of Lir, omission of the “wild” swans, the role of music (and child-like innocence) as the intermediary antidote (breaking the [evil] spell); and, the subsequent role of women, notably, the absence of a Mrs. Lear in Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear.
➢    Architecture, Greek: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian columns; the “problem” of vertical meeting horizontal
➢     “Everyday Use”: generations, siblings, culture, art v. life; art as practical, art as history, heritage, art and culture as “naming”, marking its source and evolution, life and lifestyle
➢    Narrative/History: Power, Freedom, Belonging, Fun and their opposites (antitheses).
➢    Fun = play, pleasure, health, well-being, beauty, joy, ecstasy.

Video: “Dance and Human History” VHS

➢    A primal, “bio-basic” language; a movement grammar and lexicon
➢    An analysis of spatial ‘trace forms’ (1-dimensional [line], 2-dimensional [curvilinear], 3-dimensional [spiral/spiral-cyclic]); and, body posture  (single-unit and multi-unit).
➢    Agrarian (pre-industrial), “bio-basic”; dances reinforce life, beliefs, mores, etc.
➢    Primal, a direct expression of culture; not “art”.
➢    Culture as participatory vs. theatrical
➢    Dance as culture; culture as language—6,000 languages; 6,000 dances


Lecture 2: 10/9/08

Sensorimotor and Sociocultural Feedback

Note: The Thursday 10/9 lecture was dominated by an interesting class discussion on the relationship of Power and Freedom. The question involved the possible outcomes of a condition of unlimited Power and unlimited Freedom, without consideration of Belonging and Fun.

My agenda for this lecture was not completed; I felt the discussion was important and fruitful, and did not want to cut it short.

On 10/13 we will continue to deepen the ideas of tabula rasa, the Aeolian harp, and reunion with ‘the source’, particularly as it relates to the Week Three’s premise: The Body and Healing.

Essentially, Power-Freedom-Belonging-Fun is the motivating energy, the force stimulating or playing the Aeolian harp of the alert, receptive soma. The balance of these drives and needs constitutes a state of personal and collective health.

Awareness of the dynamics of power and powerlessness, freedom and bondage, belonging and alienation, and, well-being and dis-ease is mediated through another “big four” code: sensation, feeling, thought, and movement.

Since the (subjective) soma is always unique, and the objective body is always universal, we can posit the following. We can say that all people sense, feel, think, and move, but we cannot dictate or predetermine how. Different persons and different cultures understand and respond to color, taste, time, space, emotion, gesture, ideation, ideology,  etc., in different ways. The unifying measure of peaceful coexistence is the balance of power, freedom, belonging, and fun. Much of this is described in Edward Hall’s The Silent Language.

Our 10/9 class discussion revealed the difficulty in separating power and freedom from the other dimensions of belonging and well-being. Power-Freedom-Belonging-Fun constitutes a gestalt.

The sensorimotor feedback loop is described in Somatics (Hanna), Introduction & Chapters 1-5.

Sensory and motor nerves that are separate in the spine are integrated in the brain.  

We respond to a sensory stimulus with movement, which itself produces a flow of sensory stimuli until the gesture (or movement behavior) is complete.  

The integration of sensory and motor sensitivity is the neuromuscular basis for the somatic axiom: awareness is control and control is awareness.

How does this relate to art? Once an artistic statement or gesture is initiated, the potential energy of tabula rasa and the impulsive energy of Aeolian tension become active, kinetic, and specific. A continuing flow of related gesture ensues, leading to:

Sociocultural Feedback

Homologous to the sensorimotor feedback loop, I posit a larger, sociocultural one. The art object, once performed or projected into the culture, becomes a stimulus for further aesthetic commentary.

The internal cleansing (tabula rasa) achieved through progressive relaxation, together with the tuning and stimulation of awareness/control (Aeolian harp) in somatics is projected into space as a kind of dynamic architecture.

Tabula Rasa (redux)

I would like to deepen the concepts of tabula rasa and the Aeolian harp—the artist’s preeminent state of receptivity.  Here are three conditions to help clarify observation and analysis of character and situation.

1.    Non-judgment
2.    Unconditional positive regard
3.    Willingness and ability to allow characters and situations to be and speak for themselves

We will use all of the above to segue into a more therapeutic approach to mind-body work in Week Three.


Aeolian harp