Singing Masks:
elliptical thoughts re: Interface
by Norman Lowrey
Poor pun. Perhaps. Mask as inter/face. Between realities. Non-human/Human. Science/Art. Past/Present. Space/Time. Music/Dance. Language/Language. Mind/Body. Disolver of dualities.

Singing mask: specific accretion of serendiptitous synchronicities. (Newage jargon). Co-operative venture. Sculpture/sound. Clay's sonic potential. Vessel flutes. Sculptural forms. Flute as mask. Eureka! Mask as flute. Mask assumes voice. Image speaks. Sounds mythologies through performance/ceremonies: Creation (Earth-Song); Death/Rebirth (Shamanic Voices); Origins (phases of the moon, winter holidays, flute masks); Journey to the Spirit World (Inside/Out). Inua Yua. Image's Person. Personna. Mask. Spirit. Voce. Vox. Verbum.

Propensity of clay to suggest images. Delicate balance between emergence and imposition. Same with wood. Discovering image. Life/force. Discovering individual voice. Each image its unique sound. Con-figuration and patterning. Morphogenetic field. Primal epigrams. Hieroglyphs. Of the subconscious. DNA. RNA. Hologram.
(>MF masque>ML masc(us), mascus ghost, masca witch>?)

false face concealment representaton disguise ("Who was that masked man?") pretense revel facial likeness

Paradox. I put on a mask to better reveal myself. To myself. The mask narrows my vision. Literally. Yet I become something other. Spirit of the Dream Time. Earth-Song. Raven. Bear. Blue Oracle. Spiral. My assumptions about language are challenged.

I speak with another voice. I join my tribal brothers and sisters in reenacting the archaic mysteries. This is an exploration. A Science. An art. Neither. Pre-verbal. An inter-species communication. Conversation. A turning around.

Closure. Autonomy and community. Bud flowering. Coalescing of atoms. The singing mask, as I have developed it over the past ten years, is a means for enfolding past/ present/ science/ art/ human/ nonhuman.

The Origin of Singing Masks

People ask where the idea for singing masks came from, and I usually say that it was the result of making ceramic vessel flutes in sculpural forms and realizing one day that these were covering my face. It was then just an obvious step to make them large enough to cover the entire face. Hence the flutes became masks. That's what I usually
say. But here's the the real story:

Now one day, Sun was out dancing through the Sky, dancing to the drumming, as usual, when Old Void came along. Old Void was angry because, while everything was made out of Void, Old Void felt ignored and hated. Old Void thought that everyone else thought Void was ugly and maybe even evil. So Old Void went around stealing everyone's drum. It took a long time, but eventually there wasn't any drumming anymore, and just as had been predicted, life stopped.

You can imagine what it was like. A big silence. No life. Nothing. Just the Void. After awhile, Old Void began to think that this wasn't such a good idea. Now there wasn't anyone or anything around to pay any kind of attention to Void, and so Old Void began to get lonely.
Things seemed empty and sad.

But what Old Void didn't know was that there were things behind the silence and behind Void, hiding, gathering together, slowly forming a new kind of life. They came out of Nothing and started planning how
they could get the drums back. They knew Old Void would be curious about any kind of sound, so what they did was to learn how to sing. It came slowly, but finally Spiral learned how to hum. It came out of Nowhere, just like the drumming had, and it seemed pretty effective. So
others learned how to do it. Spirit of the Dream Time began singing, then Bear joined in, and Earth-Song. Also Fox and Raven.

Soon everyone was in on it.

Now life was going again and everything singing. Old Void heard the singing and so intriqued, went to see what it was about. Old Void liked the sound so much that Old Void agreed to never steal the drums again if they would teach Void how to sing. So they did. And Void gave
the drums back and began singing. And now everything accepted Old Void for what Void was and no longer thought Void was so ugly. They realized Old Void had just been lonely.

So to the people, Spiral said: "You must keep on singing and drumming. These things will keep you alive and will keep you from being afraid of Old Void." And Spiral, together with all the others, taught the people how to
make images of everything that could sing, so they could remember what life was about and how to keep it going. And how to have courage. So the people made masks and learned how to do this ceremony.

This is why we have masks that sing.
This is why we tell this story.
So we may remember.
So we may have courage.
This is the way it should be in our mind.

Extended ellipsis:

One of the most startling and mysterious experiences I had in the making of a mask involved a dream, an outing, and a bird. Sometime during my sabbatical leave from Drew University (1984-85), Peeka and I were away from our temporary home in upstate New York for the day. When we returned, walking up the path to our front door, we came upon a dead yellow-shafted flicker lying on the ground. Its presence there was a mystery, since our cats were indoors and there was nothing for the bird to fly into above where it was lying. But we accepted it as a gift: we had been collecting feathers for masks and costumes. I had not, however, plucked a whole bird before, and I didn't feel up to dealing with it right then. So I put it in the basement, fully intending to remove the feathers the next day. Several days passed.

I kept putting off doing anything with the bird. Then I had a dream. I met an old friend outside a movie theatre. She said it was about time I did something with that flicker, since it was beginning to stink. So, in the dream, I did go down to the basement and clipped the flicker's wings and defeathered it. I'd noticed nothing unusual during this process, but when I was finished, I saw a spot of blood in the palm of my left hand. I thought that this was peculiar, not having seen any blood from the bird. Then I realized that the blood was from my own nose. I thought: this is just like what happened at South Hill. Then I awakened.

Two years prior to this dream, Peeka, Lee, Scott and I were on an outing to explore South Hill, a place overlooking Canandaigua Lake, which several sources refer to as the legendary birthplace of the Seneca Nation. We'd been there two or three hours and were returning to the car, scattered around a big field. I was walking through a patch of tall grasses and suddenly came upon a bare spot of earth that had a collection of small bones in it. I leaned down to examine the bones, picked one or two of them up, and my nose started to bleed all over the pile. I didn't have a cold. I hadn't bumped my nose on anything. I hadn't had a nosebleed for years. This was the incident referred to in the flicker dream.

The day after my dream, I did indeed take care of the flicker. Because of the dream, I was careful to observe whether or not there was any bleeding. I saw none. But when I was finished clipping its wings and defeathering it, I noticed a patch of blood in the palm of my right hand. The blood was not from my nose, but a close reexamination of the bird revealed there was a bit of blood coming from its nostrils.

The wings of this bird are incorporated into my Flicker Spirit mask.

This discussion represents a descriptive summarization of the evolution of singing masks and a sounding out of mysteries yet unexplained. It is another form of mask.

A groping for understanding, which may not be forthcoming but in further mask-making.

This is another form of generating resonances.