Last year, a filmmaker wrote a part for me in her film, “Transients”. The film was about a deaf musician and poet and his interaction with a paraplegic sculpture artist at an arts festival. I played “Gabe”, the musician's best friend and I also wrote the music and songs for the film, one of which we perform live in one of the scenes. Two of these songs appear on my new album (“In Pictures” and “Transient”). The lead actor in the film is a deaf actor. The director is deaf. The DP is deaf. And about half the crew was deaf. Being on that set changed my life. The first thing I noticed being around deaf people is that they are the absolute best listeners. When deaf people communicate, they aren’t hearing - but they are receiving. On set, there were about a dozen different ASL interpreters – so those of us that didn’t know sign language could still communicate with those that were deaf. Imagine that, there I was, a musician, singer and songwriter – someone who is not only dependent on SOUND, but someone who had built much of his artistic identity around it. Musicians tune in so deeply into sound textures, harmony, scales, notes – things being in “key”.
And here I was acting in & writing MUSIC for this film – a film where most of its artists, crew, actors and audience would never hear what I was sonically creating. At first, this came with enormous challenges. How could I get the lead actor to play a drum in time? Half the time, I can’t even get hearing drummers to play in time! How would I write music that was true to the project and these beautiful people? How would I write music that honored what I was experiencing? I started by throwing traditional rhythm out the window – adding extra beats and taking some away – focusing more on the feeling. Then I realized I could do away with song structure all together; and finally, melodically, I began to feel my way around new territory – sometimes it didn’t make any musical sense at all – except that it did because all I had left was a FEELING. The space between notes became infinitely more important than the actual notes. Silence and Music are not separate at all. They are like PB&J.
On that set, I had a conversation (via interpreter) with Lauren Ridloff, a deaf woman who is the wife of Doug Ridloff, the lead actor. She began to tell of her father, a songwriter, and told me that I reminded her of him. He had passed away. My first feeling was sadness, and I thought: “How would I feel if I had a daughter who could not hear my music?” But as Lauren continued, I was flooded with unexpected emotion and clarity. She began to describe how she would sit for hours with her father while he wrote and played music, how her favorite thing in the world was to watch him perform, how she felt that she only really got to know him deeply and spiritually – through his music. She continued about her passion for music in general, her favorite artists (Paul Simon was one) and how connected she felt to music. I want to be clear. This is someone who was born deaf. She has never experienced hearing in the way that we have – in her life, she has never heard a sound. And yet, I knew absolutely, that her experience of music was just as powerful, connected, authentic and inspired as mine.
Something in my heart integrated and locked in to place in such a way in these moments. Something fundamental inside of me shifted. It was information I already understood mentally – but this moment was an accelerated enlightenment. Sound does not actually matter. What we see with our eyes does not actually matter. Nothing that is physical and tangible actually matters. There is a spirit inside of us – a force – and although it is something we cannot understand, it is something we can allow to lead us, our lives, and most importantly, our expression. When we honor this, something gets communicated that is bigger than any of our normal senses - it is the vibration of spirit.
I have spent so much of my life focusing on the wrong things – namely, concerns such as is my voice strong enough? Am I singing in pitch? Is the music original enough? Is it a “good” song? Etc. Etc… All these are distractions from what I have always known – that all of this makes up about 1% of what is actually going on during artistic expression. When we are connected to spirit, we are infinite and we transcend pitch, sound, tone, range. I am not saying that as a singer I should completely throw those out the window – only that they require a very tiny amount of my focus. When I am in the flow and inspiration comes through me – those things work themselves out without my attention. They are just mechanical processes… As such, they are useless without the creative intelligence behind them. Have you ever heard a technically perfect singer who is soul-less – and you were not moved? Conversely, have you ever heard a less technically proficient singer who nonetheless had some quality that moved you to tears?
Since then, every time I sing or play guitar, I imagine that my entire audience is deaf. It immediately snaps me back to the heart of the matter – that my job as an artist is to express from the depth of my soul – and to forget about "how I sound" – that's all ego. I pray each time that I will be carried. I surrender to the creative intelligence and constantly work to turn off my brain – that useless voice that overwhelms me with judgment or contrived problems. This is why I practice meditation – so that I may more efficiently access this better way to reach those that would humble me and witness my artistic expression. So that my heart can clear a path.
In our Silence and Stillness, there is so much power. We should honor it more – much more – and I am grateful to have learned this from my friends in the deaf community.
August Light is available everywhere on August 11th. Visit MarcoAielloMusic.com
“When you become aware of silence, immediately there is a state of inner still alertness. You are present. You have stepped outside of thousands of years of collective human conditioning.” – Eckhart Tolle