"Every disease is a musical problem; every cure is a musical solution."--Novalis

The saint with her famed violetta. Acrylic on Panel 18x24.


In the Church of Corpus Domini, Bologna, Santa Caterina de Vigri sits upright on view, her flesh-color ranging from a brick-red to black and still cleaving to her bones though she died in 1463. She is the only such saint to sit upright, and her shrine miraculously survived the same bombing raids of 1943 which destroyed all the surrounding decorations and building. Next to her sits her violetta, created by Andrea Amati (1413-63), which is the oldest known surviving stringed instrument. So, the saint, uncorrupted, and her instrument, also able to out-survive its contemporaries.


According to Marina Warner, in her well-packed and fascinating book Phantasmagoria, "The word 'galvanize' has at least two meanings: applied to metals, it means coating iron or steel with zinc through an electrolytic process in order to protect it from corrosion [italics mine]; figuratively, it means something closer to [Luigi] Galvani's work, the revitalization of a moribund or torpid organism: 'I was galvanized into action.'" These two meanings, both relating quite well to the hope presented by the incorrupt body of a saint that waits its resurrection with its bones still holding it together, and also both relating to her violetta in a manner we will attend to momentarily, are especially interesting here because Mr. Luigi Galvani himself is entombed right across the nave from her.

Luigi Galvani (1737-98) was a physiologist and professor of medicine, the one who first introduced an electric shock into a frog’s corpse and beheld that it caused the animal to kick its legs. This opened up a variety of excited questions about a possibly attainable source of life-force, leading to all sorts of other experiments, and tales like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Luigi’s nephew, Giovanni Aldini, tried this same electrification on human corpses, bringing their limbs to jump and their faces to become quite expressive, and then moved the process to the living via the mentally-ill, thus beginning electroshock therapy in an attempt to bring life back to a frozen (terrified, confused, overwhelmed) mind.
“In England, such [medical] applications were encouraged by Newton’s suggestions, thrown out in a number of queries at the end of the 1713 edition of his Optics, that the animal spirits or nervous fluid which communicated impulses from the brain to the muscles might be related to a subtle ethereal or electrical fluid that constituted a kind of universal medium in the universe. Hints such as these, combined with the strong inherited tendency to think of electricity as a vapor or effluvium, made it easy to see electricity as a mediator between microcosm and macrocosm, and as the principle of life itself. In America, where electrotherapies formed a strong field of what has been called “electrical humanitarianism,” Dr. T. Gale wrote in his Electricity, Or Etherial Fire, Considered (1802) that electricity was a kind of universal atmosphere, which all living creatures inhabited and respired.” --Steven Connor.

And then came Mesmer, with his flowing silk robes and shiny gold slippers, pouring all of his electric personality into large vats, like batteries, which he would position his numerous patients around in an attempt to heal as many people at once as possible. They leaned their ailing bodies against the protruding iron rods and watched him as he prowled around them, gazing at them dramatically. Once they were sufficiently aroused, he waved his magnetized wand over them, sending them into 'curative' fits and convulsions.

Now, it is still true that we use electric paddles to try to revive a (very recently deceased) corpse even today, and very often with success. The question is mainly how to navigate that shadowy, sometimes grisly space between life-saving techniques and Frankenstein, while also somehow sidestepping the messier areas of mass-hysteria and public fainting-spells. But inside that space is a fascinating realm involving the electric impulses that communicate information between synapses in your brain and, again, music. Oliver Sacks thoroughly explores this realm in his book Musicophilia.

He describes, for example, a man who discovered his first interest and immense talent in his late forties, directly after being struck by lightning. He also describes various epileptic patients whose seizures are brought on by the sound of church bells, or by low notes on a violin, or swing music. Some seizures begin with their very own music, recognizable to the patient only, like dream music--nothing that can be brought back and described precisely to anyone else. He also discovered that many of these patients experienced a 'doubling of consciousness,' and could continue with mechanical actions, much like an automaton,without creating any memories of those activities, as the memories they're creating are those being lived on some other plane--perhaps a scene of dancing that never 'actually' occurred, or an afternoon in a potato field just like the one in which the first seizure was suffered.
That doubling of consciousness is what I'm imagining here, under the spell of St. Caterina's electric violin. What was once the saint and some paper dolls is now her and dancers--real, alive--, her as part of the show, the musician for the dancers, the one giving them their rhythm, storyline, electricity. She is part of something, something that matters. That’s the other consciousness, the one outside of the four sides of her box.

So, electricity is everywhere. Trees make a little bit, running it through their bark. Your heart works via electricity it generates from potassium, sodium and calcium. Communication is run between the synapses in your brain via electricity. There’s of course lightning. And humans are making more and more electricity even outside of their bodies using a variety of tools. And all of this has a music to it.
Christina Kubisch is an artist who explores this connection between electricity and music from a completely different direction than Galvani, Sacks, Shelley, or even Santa Caterina. She has had a certain type of headphones created which a user takes along with a map of an area (meant only as an inspiration and a guide, but in no way a limiting force) in order to hear the music created by all the electric fields surrounding us every day.
The headphones create an electromagnetic field which allows the wearer to pick up the sounds of other electromagnetic fields. She finds complicated chords played by the tram in Bratislava; a subway in China that sounds like 70s electronic music; the thin, high, noisiness of a plane...
Somehow, electricity is there in the force of life, and somehow, music is involved. Think about shamanic, hypnotic drumming, about the heights of ecstasy some reach at jam sessions of their favorite bands--such heights that they are willing to drop everything and follow the band around. Think about the chanters in ancient masses, about techno-music, about binaural beats. And that makes the quote at the top of this essay make more sense: problems occur when the rhythm of your life gets out of whack--somehow, the vibrations are off, the energy isn’t there, the organs falter and the synapses sleep late because the alarm never went off.
In an interview with Steve Silberman of Wired Magazine about the studies that went into Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks stated : "The therapeutic power of music hit me dramatically in 1966, when I started working with the Awakenings patients at Beth Abraham in the Bronx. I saw post-encephalitics who seemed frozen, transfixed, unable to take a step. But with music to give them a flow, they could sing, dance, and be active again. For Parkinsonian patients, the ability to perform actions in sequence is impaired. They need temporal structure and organization, and the rhythm of music can be crucial. For people with Alzheimer's, music incites recall, bringing the past back like nothing else."
There it is again, that image of re-infusing a corpse with life, and this time the electricity is created with music--its flow (like electricity) and its rhythmic pulse.It is the first step those post-encephalitics were unable to take; once the music gave them that first step and a current to follow, they were able to ride it.There was another thought I was chewing on here, with the saint and her violin:
There is a difference between skill and possession. And what you want (even, I would argue, as a doctor) is possession, because if a person is ill, it is from not following the logic (rites, rituals, rules, rhythms) of the reigning forces or melodies (‘gods’) of existence. Only that force understands its own logic, or those in choreography with it. And everything you see is a symbolic aspect of that logic, including illness. Music historically has much to do with trance, both as a result of possession or not. That trance is the opportunity for something higher and more general than your ego to take over your body. That is the electricity created. In the painting above, St. Caterina is possessed. She is an electric force, radiating. And she is bringing that electricity into the forms, making them alive through her music, infusing the air and their limbs with the tango of their love, that “fire that consumes without leaving ashes” (Vannoccio Biringuccio, 1540). of their love, that “fire that consumes without leaving ashes” (Vannoccio Biringuccio, 1540).




“Leap, and the net will appear.” --variously attributed to American naturalist John Burroughs, Gaelyn Foley, Julia Cameron, and also an “unknown” Zen source.





come on
your wing
the gravity 
with your
lovely personality
don’t feed 
the fear
not even 
with a bite
just fly baby
enjoy the flight







In the Church of Corpus Domini, Bologna, Santa Caterina de Vigri sits upright on view, her flesh ranging from a brick-red to black and still cleaving to her bones, though she died in 1463. She is the only such saint to sit upright, and her shrine miraculously survived the bombing raids of 1943 which destroyed the building in which she sits. Next to her sits her violetta, created by Andrea Amati (1413-63), which is the oldest known surviving stringed instrument. So, the saint, uncorrupted, remains with her instrument, a fellow-survivor. She sits across the nave from the tomb of Luigi Galvani, famous for his attempts to show electricity as the ‘spark’ of life with his seizing frogs, experiments which led later to tales like Frankenstein and the reality of electroshock therapy and cardiac paddles. His life gave meaning to the word galvanize, which means not only to give life to the moribund but also to protect from corrosion. The elements of this nave scene led me to consider the connections between electricity, music, and incorruptibility.

The mysterious creative power of music has been expressed visually in several of my favorite Remedios Varo paintings: for example the mother-of-pearl-faced musician creating a structure from the sounds of his clarinet, or the musician freeing birds from crystal cages by playing her bow across beams of sunlight. Might music itself be the life-spark that Galvani was looking for? The source of the rhythm and melody that synchronize us into being, harmonize into personality and memory, the whole cloth of our existence?

In This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin explains:

"Contrary to the old, simplistic notion that art and music are processed in the right hemisphere of our brains, with language and mathematics in the left, recent findings from my laboratory and those of my colleagues are showing us that music is distributed throughout the brain. Through studies of people with brain damage, we’ve seen patients who have lost the ability to read a newspaper but can still read music, or individuals who can play the piano but lack the motor coordination to button their own sweater. Music listening, performance, and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have so far identified, and involve nearly every neural subsystem. Could this fact account for claims that music listening exercises other parts of our minds; that listening to Mozart twenty minutes a day will make us smarter?"

Could it even be that the music itself is the method by which the pieces of our brain communicate with each other? If each neuron gives off a spark, like electricity, wouldn’t that electricity have its own beat and lyricism, just like all the other currents of electricity that surround us invisibly in our world, which Kubisch gave voice to with her headphones? And if so, then it would be important to keep those elements in sync with each other, in rhythm. To have concordance between the left brain and the right, between the amygdala and the cerebellum, between the serotonin and the dopamine. Perhaps this is why pharmaceuticals have had such a large failure rate with emotional and mental illnesses--it’s not a matter of a certain number of neurons or interactions; it’s a matter of harmony. Even with just an octave’s worth of notes, Levitin tells us, there are endless possibilities for a melodic line and its harmonizations, and when you add in tempo, rhythm and timbre, the possible variances multiply exponentially. It makes sense that each of us would have a unique balance; it makes sense that each of us would be our own song. Now, studies show that Alzheimer’s patients and parkinsonian patients as well as patients with the inability to form new memories can miraculously function under particular musical circumstances. In his Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks describes the 

“extraordinary powers of music with our post-encephalitic patients--its power to ‘awaken them at every level: to alertness when they were lethargic, to normal movements when they were frozen, and, most uncannily, to vivid emotions and memories, fantasies, whole identities which were, for the most part, unavailable to them....[And] It is music that the parkinsonian needs, for only music, which is rigorous yet spacious, sinuous and alive, can evoke responses that are equally so. And he needs not only the metrical structure of rhythm and the free movement of melody--its contours and trajectories, its ups and downs, its tensions and relaxations--but the ‘will’ and intentionality of music, to allow him to regain the freedom of his own kinetic melody.”


And what about the expansion of perception? Levitin tells us:

“[Miles] Davis famously described his improvisational technique as parallel to the way that Picasso described his use of a canvas: The most critical aspect of the work, both artists said, was not the objects themselves, but the space between objects. In Miles’s case, he described the most important part of his solos as the empty space between notes, the “air” that he placed between one note and the next. Knowing precisely when to hit the next note, and allowing the listener time to anticipate it, is a hallmark of Davis’s genius. This is particularly apparent in his album Kind of Blue.”

It’s as if that’s the way they create a new path in the world, because the spaces between the notes or the objects is where your expectations are formed. Those spaces, instead of just handing you something, are rather training your mind to expect that thing, and then reinforcing that expectation. They change your perceptual reality by changing your expectations--then you look away from the paintings or step away from the speakers, and all of your brain, which was involved in that experience of listening, as stated above, has been nudged in a new direction, which has repercussions: symbolic, perhaps, but you are now operating with a new broadness of rhythmic or tonic possibility. The electricity of your mind, your being’s music, now opens to more than it did before. 

For the drawing, I was focusing on the idea of music being the animating electricity that Galvani was talking about, because it’s what gives us the ‘spark.’ If electricity is how a person’s billions of neurons communicate, and the rhythmic coherence of all their firings is what holds a body together; if Christina Kubisch has shown thatelectricity always has sound, its own music even though outside our limited range of hearing; then couldn’t you see music as the juice giving life to the body--or even see the body, or the less tangible ‘person,’ as an expression of a particular music? And that music is how we communicate with the entire universe (even a black hole is a low B flat), being in sync or out, discordant or concordant, and how well our lives “go” probably has a lot to do with that.   The idea of the ink is the connectedness, in both negative and positive space, of all of it: the birds singing, the man conducting even as he leaps into the void, the girl sailing out of the void--perhaps because of the motion of his arms or the sound of the violin, or the rhythm of the swirling birds, or some mixture of all of that together with whatever the tree’s input happens to be --but she's not just falling in a terrifying swoop. That electricity slowly rises, through granite, through roots, through the biped, through the birds, and into the universe as pure song.

If we do understand music to be our essence, how can we consent to live without harmony, to bludgeon our own internal rhythm and spark with the mechanized drumbeat of unchosen routine? An awareness of our lives as a symphony with the universe must surely persuade us to take the chance, to expand the harmonies and concordant possibilities in our own contribution to its music.


The idea is to stop. Listen to the birds, to your heartbeat, to your own breath. Listen to the pull your whole being has towards something. Ignore the part of you that’s focused on what you want to escape, and pay attention to the part of you that has a magnetic pull, a pulse, a compulsion, however senseless, towards. Play that tune. Dance. Leap.

James Rhodes, who is performing at the Soho Theater this summer was the first classical pianist to be signed to Warner Bros records--the world’s largest rock label, and under their label put out ‘Bullets and Lullabies’, a number one iTunes album, in 2010. He wrote aneditorial for the April 26, 2013 issue of the Guardian which he titled with the great words of Charles Bukowski: ‘Find what you love and let it kill you,’ where he exhorts us to : 

“Do the maths. We can function - sometimes quite brilliantly - on six hours' sleep a night. Eight hours of work was more than good enough for centuries (oh the desperate irony that we actually work longer hours since the invention of the internet and smartphones). Four hours will amply cover picking the kids up, cleaning the flat, eating, washing and the various etceteras. We are left with six hours. 360 minutes to do whatever we want. Is what we want simply to numb out and give Simon Cowell even more money? To scroll through Twitter and Facebook looking for romance, bromance, cats, weather reports, obituaries and gossip? To get nostalgically, painfully drunk in a pub where you can't even smoke?”…“What if you could know everything there is to know about playing the piano in under an hour (something the late, great Glenn Gouldclaimed, correctly I believe, was true)? The basics of how to practise and how to read music, the physical mechanics of finger movement and posture, all the tools necessary to actually play a piece - these can be written down and imparted like a flat-pack furniture how-to-build-it manual; it then is down to you to scream and howl and hammer nails through fingers in the hope of deciphering something unutterably alien until, if you're very lucky, you end up with something halfway resembling the end product.”…“What if, rather than paying £70 a month for a gym membership that delights in making you feel fat, guilty and a world away from the man your wife married you bought a few blank canvases and some paints and spent time each day painting your version of "I love you" until you realised that any woman worth keeping would jump you then and there just for that, despite your lack of a six-pack? I didn't play the piano for 10 years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, Don Draper albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven – to be a concert pianist. Admittedly I went a little extreme – no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about 35lbs in weight. And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I'd envisaged as I lay in bed aged 10 listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall.”

And yet, it gives him more than the years of greed in the city; it gives him so much, he would never turn back. It gives him so much, he’s hollering for the rest of us to come join him--not on his path, but on our own. It’s worth it, he says.   

Do not miss his video here--either the introduction or the playing.

Leap, and the net will appear.santa_caterina_trio



The awareness of your existence
a smile after smile on my face
Feeling filthy rich
like an arabian princess
Smile is a new currency
It is all mixed up
The economy and the fantasy
I am almost sure
we are not crazy

Vesna ©



















(Above: Acrylic on Panel 18 x 24)

“A 24-year-old woman was first seen in 1950, because of seizures. From early childhood she had been unusually fond of music and had always felt a strong desire to express her emotions in dancing. At the age of 16 she was a tall, gaunt girl who felt both inferior and aloof. At this time she would often dance in the living room and her father would tease her about her ‘jitterbug antics.’ Offended, she would withdraw to her room and in solitude play records by the hour. She felt transported by loud ‘swing’ music and discovered that by concentrating intensely she could ‘see visions.’ These usually were of a blond woman and a dark man. They were dressed in various fashions but usually wore evening clothes, as if they were about to attend a formal dance. The couple seemed to be dancing together. The patient mentioned this phenomenon casually to her parents and friends, none of whom believed her. She rather enjoyed the vision and the accompanying trancelike state which she entered after prolonged listening. She continued to induce these episodes for the next 2 years.

In 1945, the patient struck her head in an automobile accident; however, there was no alteration of consciousness or signs of external injury. She was in bed for the next 5 days because of ‘shock.’ Six months later she had a nocturnal generalized convulsion. Shortly thereafter the visual hallucinations began to appear whenever she heard certain music, even though she had not consciously willed them. This inexorable recurrence reduced her to panic at the sound of jazz music...” {Source: Musicogenic Epilepsy: Report of 3 Cases; David D. Daly, MD and Maurice J Barry, Jr., MD; Psychosomatic Medicine, September 1957, 19: 399-408}.


Did her desire, her focus, her need--and the music--bring her in contact with some other reality, in which a woman danced with a partner, instead of alone and subject to ridicule? It is important to notice the difference between a fantasy or daydream and a hallucination, the latter affecting all the senses and being something that our entire being sinks into. 

And what happened after the accident? All of a sudden the existence of that other pair no longer depended upon her if they really did exist on their own...

If there really are unlimited streams of reality, where could they all be hiding, other than inside the mind? As we trace the electricity of our brains and bodies and the music of that electricity, can we discover wormholes to other universes, other iterations of our selves?

One Tango dancer grasps the bow and the other the viola, all four characters involved in the same rhythmic event though from different planes of reality; out of darkness, out of light, the electricity brings them together and to life. Who is calling whom? Who is real and who is not?