The quote that accompanies Ricardo Donoso‘s latest album comes from former hostage Terry Waite, who when asked what he had learned from his captivity, answered “Contemporary humanity has lost the ability to engage in productive solitude.” The quote is all the more relevant as the world has been plunged into an enforced solitude ~ not captivity, but restriction. The edges are already fraying, calling to mind the words of poet John Berryman: “I conclude now I have no inner resources, because I am heavy bored.”
The cover images of curtains and a boulder do seem incredibly boring. But curtains received their due in the meditations of Jean-Dominique Bauby, paralyzed save for his left eye, in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and rocks inspired geology. The title of the album sparks reference to religion as well: the statement of the imprisoned Paul that “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12).
Most of us are not paralyzed, imprisoned, or held captive; and yet, we still have difficulty with solitude. If we did not already know Donoso, we would suspect that this might be an ambient album, conducive to meditation. Instead, the album is aggressive, lively and colorful, which is exactly what one needs to activate the imagination. The mastering is crisp, devoid of blurred edges. The timbres include rapid-fire beats, Middle Eastern melodies, stabbing synths, crashes and crunches. Depending on one’s perspective, the music is either angry (looking outward) or reflective of torture (looking inward).
How would we survive without Netflix? This modern question, meant to be facetious, shines a light on the primary practice of the restless and quarantined. Little thought is given to reading, even less to creating, and even less to creative meditation, which is what the fortuitously named Waite was stuck with until he turned his crutch into a tool. In the lead single, “A Consensual Hallucination,” mallet melodies alternate with drone and flicker like fists and broken lights. But then the prisoner seems to escape into the hands of a classical sub-theme, accompanied by drums. The mind is sometimes its own prison, but the mind also holds the key to the box.
In “Lexical,” the percussion sounds like a metal rod clanking on a prison cell bar; one imagines a detainee searching for rhythms in the repetitions of the everyday. In “Simulation & Modeling,” the music comes to a complete stop, then restarts, implying the division of similar days. David Foster Wallace’s monologue in “Forking Path” underlines unhealthy forms of worship, the dearth of truth, and the “important kind of freedom (that) involves compassion and awareness and discipline and being able to care about other people and to sacrifice for other people, over and over.” In the next piece, crowd noise hammers the point home.
This political shift causes one to reevaluate the title. What began as a lesson in contentment ~ finding a way to survive in solitude ~ led to an indictment of the modern, overly contented world, in which too many inequities remain unchallenged. As such, it’s a call to action, in which we might be judged, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by the “content of our character.” (Richard Allen)