Enter the Vivarium, a place forgotten, lost in the folds of the subconscious like a J.M. Barrie memory. This is the land to which one escaped as a child: a colorful wonderland of imagination and endless possibility. Sometimes the vivarium was familiar, comforting, a welcome escape; other times it could be fantastical, mysterious, or dangerous. Angus MacRae has spent years “trying to capture the emotional experience of (his) childhood imagination;” the sonic results are found here. Just as an Alzheimer’s patient may find recovery in song, MacRae’s synapses were sparked through the process of composition.
MacRae laments the “starker realities of adulthood” and the ways in which one’s grown-up life can turn into rote rumination. He imagines his younger life as a series of bell jars, and constructs the album as a score, aided by his background in film, television and dance. The advantage of composing such an album is the ability to construct – or in this case, reconstruct – one’s own narrative, unrestricted by the demand to repeat cues. Instead, every piece is distinct while remaining part of the whole. A small orchestra is present to enhance his vision, operating as a sonic magnifying glass. Where is the door that leads to Narnia? How can I find another magic button? If I step out the window, will I be able to fly?
Each track blends into the next, a welcoming suite, inviting one to drift away ~ to access a practice all too often fallen into disuse. MacRae reverses the famous line in Hamlet’s soliloquy, implying a desire to dream, perchance to sleep. The modern era urges us to fill free time and liminal spaces with pre-packaged entertainment, leaving little room for the imagination to roam. Even free play seems endangered. Yet something is lost: the opportunity to discover an “Amulet” and to muse on its possible history, its composition, its powers. There it is, floating on the “Memory Sea.”
Occasional lullaby vocals create another connection to childhood. Before one understands words, one understands tone. The sweetness in these songs echoes early parenthood. To a child in a crib, every possibility is open, although they don’t know it yet. To a toddler, the world offers a treasure trove of discovery. A young child tests the limits of their abilities; a teenager dreams of being on their own, conquering universes. And then, not always, but often, an adult falls flat, “puts aside childish things,” settles into a life of tedium, and even worse, looks down upon the young for entertaining the same fancies they once held themselves.
MacRae wakes up, looks in the mirror, realizes he has aged and is aging still. He heads in the opposite direction, following the notes like bread crumbs, back to the dusty bell jars in the cellar. In one he finds a key, in another a match. Every note produces a spark, every melody a “Flame.” How did he ever forget? How did we forget? The vivarium awaits, impassive, glass clouding, contents corroding, slowly turning to sand. (Richard Allen)