Jamaica Queens born artist Rat Porridge’s work is layered, complex and presents multiple entry points from which one can absorb its potent combination of intensities. One of these is the translucent green of the cassette tape and cover artwork that hold her inaugural release on Voluminous Arts in physical form. Another is the title of this debut album, Live from the Plant. Together these two creative choices already present an interwoven set of meanings and associations that allow entry to the depths that lie within her surging condensations of sonic information. The color green evokes both effusive botanical growth and the toxic sludge produced by manufacturing, while the words “Live” and “Plant” evoke similar associations through language. In her own words, “it’s very multi-meaning, the ‘plant’ is the organic plant of earth, and then there’s the ‘plant’ of the industrial plant. The plant could be a lot of different things, and it’s all those things.”
On Live from the Plant, Rat Porridge uses the permeable and malleable properties of sound to engage the relationships between these multiple meanings in ways that orient themselves towards healing and towards ancestral time, rather than colonial models of binary opposition and categorization. Space and its relationship to the body is a core concept connecting multiple threads of meanings in Rat’s work. Her songs are permeated by field recordings, gathered from spaces, such as shuttered shopping areas, within her environment that have been left empty of commerce and full of possibility after outliving their use to extractive commodity-based market interests. They also reverberate with the physical spaces in which they were recorded; bedroom and basement, critical and traditional sites of underground artistic exploration and community building. Her voice resonates from within the space of her physical body and echoes back from the rooms she works in, creating one of many cumulative forms of repetition present in the work. Repetition also plays a role in her lyrics, which repeat enough times to give listeners added meaning with each engagement. This awareness of space, and of one’s place and power within it grows from her engagement with performance art, activism and the communities she is a part of. As one listens to the album, it becomes a transcription of these interrelated activities, one that charts a trajectory of both individual and collective healing as she ecstatically expands on the rhythmic cycling present in both dance floor oriented music and what mental health practitioners refer to as “circular thinking”. With repetition and a circular continuity at their pulsing core, Rat Porridge’s works on Live from the Plant unleash a regimentation-shattering energy that is saturated with multiple temporalities, locations and emotions. Rat’s music, with all of its texture and performance, subverts expectations of what healing art should be: “I feel like there’s an association with so-called ‘healing’ music that it should only be soft, ambient or like easy listening or something like that… relaxing… I listen to things like that, and it's not like I’m not using some of those sounds… but there’s something with just like addressing the brokenness, or addressing the really difficult parts as well, that is like, a step towards the deeper healing.... I’m opening up and so is the art.”
Long ago, in the days before Rayna quit drinking, one of her favorite cocktails was something of her own invention called a “Saint Teresa”; iced chamomile tea and gin, usually Crystal Palace brand. To call it a cocktail is ridiculous, considering her technique was to mix it in an old orange juice bottle and carry that around all night. Something about the botanicals used in distilling the gin and mixing the chamomile leaves and flowers produced a mildly psychedelic effect before the inevitable blackout. The drink’s name came from the fascination-bordering-on-obsession Rayna developed for the story and writings of Saint Teresa of Ávila. She sought these out after being shown Bernini’s sculptural rendering of St Teresa’s experience of being penetrated by the Holy Spirit in an art history class in the early 90’s. She often spent most of that class sitting next to her girlfriend so they could fondle each other in the darkened lecture hall; the mix of religious ecstasy, sexuality and attention to detail in the sculpture lodged deeply in her consciousness. As a deeply spiritual and often extremely solitary and private person, her love of the story that animated Bernini’s hand has continued to grow throughout her life, especially after multiple visits in the late 90’s and early 2000’s to the chapel of Santa Maria de la Vittoria in Rome where the sculpture is currently kept. Transverberation sees her returning to that story as a sober woman in her mid 40’s, initiated into several spiritual traditions that specifically work with the energy of saints. The 9 works that comprise this release are also informed by her experiences of quarantine and social distancing. In an environment of enforced solitude and ramping collective horniness, the idea and practice of sexual intimacy with god became deep, complex and necessary.
As a sober person with much experience of the psychedelic, Rayna’s connection with and development of spirituality as an expansive, living energy has been vital. The idea that intimacy with god could have a sexual dimension, or could even be contextualized by sexuality has been an important component of this connection and development, one that sets the experiences of the divine she sonically describes on Transverberation very far from the staunch conservatism of Chistinaity in its colonial forms. Rayna’s spirituality affirms the body and all of its desires and fantasies, and it was for this reason that St Teresa’s writing, and the fantastical and erotic webs it weaves spoke to her and continues to be a reference point. When she no longer had the ecstatic effects of drugs and alcohol to draw on for a sense of connectedness, she found that her body’s demands for connection through channels of sexuality increased, and that a simplistic understanding of sexuality was no longer sustainable. In the isolation of quarantine, this imperative to shift sexuality from the rigid and compartmentalized definitions that its commodification in our shame based culture has created to an expansive method of connection with the creative energies of the universe increased. It became a method of survival and sustainability. While this connection sometimes took the form of engagement with other individuals and their bodies or with the images and descriptions of them as transmitted via text messages, voice notes, pictures or webcam feeds, its anchor was in the connection to a sustainability affirming divine source. Engagement with another individual, although welcomed, was not necessary to experience connection with this source. It was simply one manifestation of it. At the center, anchoring her during this time, which continues to unfold, was the knowing that her creator could be as near to her as she was willing to have that energy be, and that included both its admission into her body and the opening of that energy force to her body’s deepest sexual desires.
Transverberation describes an embodied and self-determined spirituality, one that embraces and entwines with rich and creative sexualities rather than compartmentalizing them. This avenue of spiritual experience connects with the lives of the Saints, especially St. Teresa, not through the gateway guarded by the church but directly through the vinculum of the ecstatic. Its sonically immersive descriptions map a spirituality that reclaims ritual and resides within the sexual as a communion with divine creative forces and their residues that manifest in nature, resistance and the spirit world. As both a digital album with tracks separated and discreet, or as a cassette tape where they blend together into a contiguous landscape on each side, the album unfolds itself like a rosary, reminiscent of St Teresa’s concept of the interior castle in which deepening experiences of prayer lead one through a complex of mansions where increasingly profound modes of connection become possible. Sounds, more spun than woven, evoke echoing hallways, intimate breaths, silent faces and disembodied voices. In ringing tones one hears and feels not only the reverberant bell but the wand that strikes it and the grip of the hand that holds the wand. There are moments of wailing, mourning, screaming, bleeding, cumming, dying and birthing. This passionate energy, although it celebrates the fluidity of sexuality, does not pursue transgression as much as it proposes that the strictures that religion, in collusion with capital and the state, put on sexuality are themselves transgressions against the body. Through sound, composed in time, Transverberation constructs another type of interior architecture, one in which the supervision and punitive prudishness of colonialism are absent, and an unconditionally loving, gorgeous, horny and perverse divine power is palpably present.
Voluminous Arts presents Halloquium 2020, “Breathing the Worlds that Are, Dreaming the Worlds to Come, Weaving the Bridges Between”, a queer and trans led gathering of voices around the subject of nightlife. This two day virtual conference, taking place Oct 31st and Nov 1st, brings together performances, discussions and presentations in the service of taking a sacred pause in the midst of tremendous uncertainty, to look at the ways in which nightlife has both met and not met the needs of our communities, for whom it has always been a critical resource. Using the virtual conference platform Remo, this event is designed to facilitate and support conversations amongst its attendees by presenting moderated conversations between folks with deep spiritual investments in and connections to the spaces and practices of nightlife.
These conversations will look at several questions:
Full program below.
If you are able to purchase a full price $100 registration, please do so.
If you are unable to purchase a full price registration, no one will be turned away from attending this event for lack of funds. If you wish to purchase a sliding scale registration please email email@example.com and we will arrange it for you regardless of your financial situation.
If you would like to support this event beyond the purchase of a full price ticket, please donate to our fundraising campaign Your donation will help to balance sliding scale tickets for those who need them, as well as support the artists who are presenting their work and thoughts at the Halloquium, and the ongoing work of Voluminous Arts.
If you have accessibility needs, please also contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Halloquium will have ASL interpreters for all moderated conversations with the exception of open conversations (with attendees) and performances. Should you need extra accessibility, please let us know and we will do our very best to ensure your needs are met.
It’s a strange time for the club; the live streams that have stepped in, attempting to hold space for all clubs used to do, are fraught with problems including accessibility barriers and surveillance. Online alternatives also seem to leave out several languages of the body; rhythmic codes, which grew deep from the roots of club culture, resonating in our cavities and on our skin, bridging the gaps between the ancestral and the immediate. The environment of the club is impossible to replicate alone. Sharing physical space on a dance floor, as was once the default, is no longer a viable option. Will it ever be again? Whether this shift is temporary or permanent, there are needs that must be met. Those of us who have traditionally found meaning, purpose, healing and connection in the dark amid the lights, sounds and bodies will need to dream new forms through which to meet those needs. This release, both for the way it speaks to the body in the present, and for the way in which it speaks to a powerful moment from the recent past, offers material for that dreaming.
Like any good track for a club, “Bloodshock” is a test of endurance; the track is dynamic and has moments for pause, before coming back up again, all while maintaining a relentless groove that mandates exploration and investment with all of one’s body. The alternate mixes (“Stripped” and “Goth Girl”) tease out different aspects of this complex and pumping web. The former homes in on those glitching, short-stopped fuzz-as-percussion sounds that punctuate growling, pulsating and re-emerging washes of synth. The latter puts emotions on suspense with a ticking clock and low passed throb, gripping you and demanding you stay put until it gives into a sensuously unfolding, dark candy arpeggios syncopating for most of the bar, then lining up with the beat by the end, wielding tension and release, denial and reward like a skilled dominatrix. Outlier B-side “Blessed” receives a PhD in not giving a fuck for its obsessive embrace of repetition’s ability to provoke ecstasy, as screaming bursts of synth streak across the frequency spectrum within a tightly held grid of pulsing kicks and hats. Each meditation on "Bloodshock" demands attention while also allowing a fluid expanse of experiences to grow out, in manifold ways, from its discrete set of source materials.
The tracks on Bloodshock turned up while Rayna was searching through old hard drives. They come from some point in the stretch of years when she was doing a monthly residency at Brooklyn’s Bossa Nova Civic Club. The fact that her studio was across the street meant she could work fluidly between the roles of DJ and producer, often testing out a track during an earlier set, tweaking it in her studio during a break and trying an improved version during a second set later the same night. Bossa at that time was a special place, one where the poetics and social frameworks of hip hop, punk, goth and dance music were reconnecting and mingling authentically after being segregated and commodified through whitened market interests in the previous two decades. It was an important gathering spot for a whole wave of New Yorkers in need of somewhere to be complex and real. The material on this EP didn’t fit into Rayna’s discography at the time, so these tracks were relegated to making occasional appearances in her DJ sets until the launch of Voluminous Arts created the opportunity to publicly present a more authentic picture of her expansive vision.
The team at Voluminous Arts had a meeting about this release and Rayna said, “well this is a club banger, but what’s a club banger for in a world without clubs? I think a ‘live stream banger’ is maybe something different”. We all laughed but the heartbreak was also palpable
During periods of grieving and revelation such as this, it can be difficult to know which course to take. Sometimes only the next step is visible, sometimes not even that. The fundamental groundlessness and basic uncertainty of the human experience are brought to life and it becomes palpably clear that the dead do in fact walk among us and must be reckoned with. Conversations become critical modes of engagement with the unknown. Drawing on decades of using the creative medium to interrogate and challenge colonialism, capitalism and their carceral mechanisms, Gavilán Rayna Russom delivers a sonic gesture painting entitled “Road Trip Tape Summer 2020” as a contribution to those conversations. Rayna’s work often opens expanses of fluid and non-hierarchical investigation and this work, composed of two long-form pieces, is no exception. Conceived as the soundtrack to a road trip across a wounded but healing landscape, a journey that does not require physical movement but does insist upon spiritual growth, these pieces are the audible byproduct of the dynamic shift in Rayna’s life described in her essay “Sick” (published in Love Injection fanzine in May). Specifically, these works are an invitation to direct the drift and seeking energies associated with road trips towards an acknowledgment of the haunted shadow world that one of necessity moves through when travelling in the 21st century. That travel may be across land marred by interstates and checkpoints, through the streets of a city or town, within one’s own mind and body, through the multiple webs of data held by the internet or across oceans and vast stretches only possible to traverse by flight but it always involves negotiating with both the violent realities brought on by the colonial process and the ghosts that violence has created. Use these sounds as you would like, but Voluminous Arts hopes that releasing them publicly might provide restoration for those who have been using their strength to bring us to the crossroads at which we currently stand, inspiration for those conceiving of new forms, structures and worlds, sustenance for those committed to the long haul and permission for those needing to shed skins and old ideas.