Musique Concrete

As a schizophrenic, I might ask– what is reality? What am I really experiencing? Is it authentic? If I share my experiences with others, will they invalidate or deny them?

I would suggest that in today’s world, it is getting harder and harder to distinguish reality from artifice, more and more difficult to establish what is authentic. This can be disorienting for anyone– and is especially so for a schizophrenic.

One example of the blurred lines between things is the type of music called “musique concrete”. In traditional “abstract” music, actual instruments or voices are used. A musician, or musicians, sing or play instruments in tandem.

In the modern era, recording techniques have led to the emergence of Musique Concrete, in which recorded portions of sound are used as components. Often, musicians do not play the music at all– it is assembled, or mapped out in a software program– as segments of audio that are manipulated and arranged.

This can be somewhat disorienting. A non-instrumentalist can make a song that makes him or her sound like they play in an orchestra. A man can use a female voice, or effect his voice to make it sound effeminate– or, he can make it deeper, more masculine. Traditional musical sounds can appear alongside other sounds– field recordings, sound effects, and so forth. A musician can use “loops” (or repeating pieces of sound), to create the impression that the same phrase has been played again and again.

As a result, it is hard for me to say what I am hearing, and how it was created. I literally have no idea how much of a piece is “authentic”, and how much is “artificial”, or somehow canned.

I find that this kind of music is not altogether unpleasant, but it does raise questions.

Musique concrete represents one of many ways that modern reality works against traditional experiences, which, again, can be confusing for mentally ill people (and, frankly, for healthy people, too).

A person has to either be extremely sharp and prepared, or they need to let go, no longer worrying about the authenticity of what they see and hear– giving in to the levels of artifice present in today’s world.

MTV

I wrote a bit earlier about the disjointed nature of modern life– the quick transitions from world to world, setting to setting.

Back in the 1980’s, when I was a teenager, a new network emerged called MTV. This was a music channel that displayed music videos– often back to back for longer periods of time. Music videos were new to the world, and so was this kind of programming.

It spoke to the increasingly jarring nature of reality. Instead of slower-paced dramas or sitcoms, using the same characters over months or even years, programming was comprised of short snippets of media, perhaps shown again but appearing in different sequences.

The music was loud, there were lots of new sounds, and there was lots of rock and roll.

MTV-man-on-moon

MTV lessened the strain on our attention spans– and it also spoke to the rapid pace and quick transitions that are so characteristic of modern life– and that can be so difficult for schizophrenics to navigate. I can testify that, with my diagnosis, it can take some time and energy to assimilate to new situations and environments. Life can feel more like MTV than a soap opera.

Later on, MTV changed their format, and explored the world or reality television. Again, this was innovative. It brought up a new idea– putting “normal” people in front of cameras for prolonged periods of time.

I would suggest that this was an abnormal phenomenon. Being on camera is different than being off. A person tends to be aware that they are being watched– they hold themselves differently, their speech is more contrived– they tend to be more on edge– even paranoid. Reality television is not really “reality” as we know it– it represents a new kind of reality– a televised reality.

In fact, my paranoia often feels a lot like I am on camera. I sense that others are somehow watching me, listening to me, tuning in. When I am alone, I am rather part of a community, a network. The sensation is pretty convincing. It reinforces the notion that MTV accurately depicted ways that modern people think– be they natural and healthy or no.

Sense Of Self

A symptom of schizophrenia can be “a change in sense of self”. The patient views him or herself differently, after onset.

When I was initially diagnosed, the psychiatrist suggested that I thought I was Jesus Christ. I was sure I wasn’t, but there must have been something strange about the way I was coming across.

One change was that I stopped seeing myself as a discrete and whole entity. I was no longer an “acting figure” in life. I became very submissive. I was interested in saying only the right things at the right times, as others willed them to be.

Trying to please everybody is a trait I still have– it’s something I struggle with. I think, in a way, it shows that I care. But people pleasing can go too far– it can seem false, or make people feel uncomfortable.

I have seen this in other schizophrenics– they always have to be the friendliest people in the room, and they are often very deferential. Mentally ill people need to give themselves credit, no matter what life or diagnoses suggest.

We need to remember that we are people, too– that we have roles to play, and places in the bigger picture. We can make changes happen, in big and small ways.

In short, schizophrenics need to be– gulp– assertive.

Martin Luther

A figure who was a helper to me on my path was Martin Luther. I mention him not because he was critical of the Catholic Church. Rather I mention him because of his intense spiritual struggle, and the solution that he found.

History suggests that Martin as a young man was wracked with guilt– guilt that never went away. To remedy his spiritual situation, he tried a number of strategies. He flagellated himself. He fasted. He sang hymns for hours on end. He prayed. He confessed.

Finally, Luther arrived at a solution which had personal and spiritual ramifications. He conceived that Christ (and therefor God), was outside of himself. Christ abides, according to Luther, in Heaven, and Luther himself, in his own body and mind, can only gesture towards Christ– to praise him, pray to him, and so forth.

By differentiating himself from Christ, Luther was able to forgive himself, and to more effectively ask for God’s grace.

As a schizophrenic, if I can distinguish my own mind and body from that of God, I can more readily understand the world around me, the people in it, and the universe at large. Incidentally, I am not the first mentally ill person to reach this conclusion, both about Luther, and as Luther did.

Gestalt Theory

Gestalt Theory suggests, as I understand it, that we humans tend to perceive to some degree what we expect to perceive. For example, if I am thinking about the color red, there is a good chance I will notice instances of the color red in the world around me, more than if I had not been thinking of it.

Schizophrenics are known for having false ideas, and I wonder how many of these are bound up with a form of Gestalt. If a patient already thinks the FBI is tapping their phone, and a funny noise comes through the signal during a call, that will only corroborate their theory.

Even if the sound had to do with a cell signal issue, some storm somewhere, because the patient has this theory, their perceptions will fit that theory. They will attribute what they see, hear and experience to their expectations.

I feel that Gestalt Theory has good and bad aspects. On the one hand, we really do shape the way we take in the world around us, we have some authorship. On the other hand, we can become trapped in the world as we interpret it, bound to own own interpretations, which may be limiting at times, or false.

Keeping an open mind, and engaging in dialogue with others, would be good tools to combat the negative sides of Gestalt-style thinking.

Going Blank Again

There is a symptom of schizophrenia called “a poverty of thought”. In other words, the patient simply has fewer thought processes going on than healthier people. Hence, they might seem disengaged, helpless, staring off into space, and so forth.

I felt that I was experiencing this for a period of time. I would attribute it to a general feeling of hopelessness. Why mull over the problems of the world when life is so absurd, and there are so many issues? Maybe it is best just to put them out of one’s mind.

I eventually felt that this was not the best of habits, so I tried to re-engage, finding various activities, creative and otherwise, to think about. Being married, and having 2 cats, also helps in this regard.

That being said, I would say that feeling guilty about empty or quiet states of mind is ultimately a bad idea. If a person feels at peace, that is really ok. If a person can’t connect at all, can’t function, then, obviously there is an issue. Otherwise, I wish I had never worried about the poverty of thought symptom.

Just today, I was feeling tired and out of ideas. I tried not to be concerned about it, and let it happen, and I am still fine.

Talking To Myself

As I have mentioned, my main symptom is that I hear voices.

Usually, I am able to recognize that they are just thoughts in my head. On occasion, though, when I am alone, I start to vocalize words– to converse back and forth with myself.

This must seem strange to people, and when my wife discovers me doing this, coming home unawares, or hearing me in the shower, I feel ashamed. Encountering another person, a living breathing human, reminds me that the voices are like pretend ghosts, and that it is silly for me to acknowledge them.

Being in the company of others is one of the best remedies for the voices. The tendency for schizophrenics to isolate can be tragic, as that tends to be one of the worst things we can do. We lose focus, loosen our grip(s). We drift off, our symptoms begin to appear.

Sometimes when I am working, or moving about in public, I come across people who verbalize their voices freely, even when others are around. I feel bad for these people, though I know how that can happen.

I would conjecture that a keener awareness of the presence of others, and its significance, might help these people to become more still, to calm or silence the impulses that compel them to speak out loud to themselves.