Dancing In The Unknowable with Clarissa Connelly

Dancing In The Unknowable with Clarissa Connelly

Words: Matt Marble
Imagery: Stephanie Staal,  Mads Axelsen & Oliver Laumann

5502 words, 00:18:20

In tandem with the debut of “Wee Rosebud,” her new single and first release with Warp Records, composer/performer Clarissa Connelly recently spoke with Matt Marble, artist, musicologist, and director of the American Museum of Paramusicology. Matt’s research comparatively examines how musicians apply spiritual imagination and intuitive discipline in their creative process, as shared on his serial podcast Secret Sound. In the following essay, he explores Clarissa’s music through the lens of metaphysics, offering historical contexts and resonances from his research. While Clarissa shares insights into her influences and creative process. Along the way we look at how her music has been shaped by magical childhood memories and folk tradition, as well as consciously induced dream states, visionary literature, and inner listening.

Listen:

Clarissa Connellyˇ

Wee Rosebud

00:04:21

When I first heard the songs of Scottish-Danish composer Clarissa Connelly, I think I said "thank you" out loud. Like unsuspecting medicine, the debut of her EP Tech Duinn (2018) inoculated whatever tensions I’d been carrying with me at the time. And while the standout track, “De Novo,” makes clear homage to Enya, I instantly heard the incomparable voice of a powerfully present artist. The title and track names of this album also added an air of mystery. To those unfamiliar with the Irish place name of Tech Duinn, the word “tech” will likely suggest “technology,” a suggestion underscored by Clarissa’s use of synthesizers, pop styles, and experimental techniques. But, traditionally, the ancient meaning of Tech Duinn [“House of Donn”] refers us to a metaphysical gateway and the dwelling place of spirits in Celtic mythology. Beyond this album, these ancestral and spiritual touchstones are reflected in Clarissa’s broader work, which joins the above with Celtic and Nordic folk traditions, as well as visionary literature, mythology, and twilight modes of consciousness. And it’s this fusion of future-forward experimentation with the mythos of ancient and inner traditions that forms the quintessence of her unique sound.

       ​There’s a sense of freedom and playfulness, imagination and mystery that only the child within us can tune into. Weathered by life's ups and downs, we often lose touch with our inner child as we age. This is something I’m grateful to hear in Clarissa’s music—in her playful experiments with instrumentation and effects, her flashes of humor, her wonderous lyrics, and in her stylistic freedom born of bliss and curiosity. And Clarissa is not slow to acknowledge how early childhood experiences have remained important in her life. In fact, she actively tries to recreate these memories through her music. “I've had these moments of peace with music, a feeling of the world opening up,” she reflects, “often in situations where I've been alone.” And from a very young age, her auditory imagination heard something magical in the background sounds that others might ignore.  

I remember going to a cèilidh [pronounced "kay-lee"]—it's a Scottish dance party or gathering. There's often a cèilidh when people are getting married or celebrating birthdays. And there were these cèilidhs that happened at this barn close to where we lived [Fife, Scotland]. We were sometimes at these cèilidhs, where the children were put to bed in a room beside the big dance room where people were playing music and dancing Scottish folk dances.

I remember being put to bed and not being able to fall asleep, listening to the muffled folk music and the tramping on the floor from next door. And falling asleep to these sounds. When muffled through walls, sound tends to bend—or, the ear can create extra notes. It's something I've often thought about when sounds are distant or in movement, going through walls or doors. And I think one of my childhood experiences is laying in this room trying to fall asleep and the music feeling bent or turned. Other chords were happening that I don't actually think were happening. But my imagination was swirling around the music.

 ​Over a century prior, Scottish priest, musician, historian, and topographer Rev. Thomas Ratcliffe Barnett reflected on the child’s experience at a céilidh as follows: “…the little-bairns [Sc. “children”] who were supposed to be bedded long since in the loft, crept from the blankets and lay listening, open-eyed and in a trance, at the weird legendry… [as] the ancient tales went round in the good Gaelic.” While other children may leave such memories behind, this entrancing experience stayed with Clarissa, and it lives in her music. The video for her latest single, “Wee Rosebud,” depicts herself and a group of friends festively dancing at a small cèilidh.        ​

But when Clarissa was listening into the muffled cèilidh sounds of her childhood, something else was going on. She was actively engaging music as a tool or vehicle of the imagination and in a kind of “trance” state, as Rev. Barnett alluded to. But rather than getting lost in the music, it’s more like discovering a hidden pathway within it. Experimentally adorned with childhood memories, folk tradition, compositional studies, and life experiences, it’s these imaginal pathways and altered modes of consciousness that have shaped Clarissa’s musical landscape.

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Another early experience revealed to her the immersive power of music. Enya’s soft synth rapture and Celtic air is no stranger to our admiration, or parody, but to an 8-year-old Clarissa it offered an early experience of musical ecstasy.

I remember coming to Denmark when I was about 8 years old, and I had Enya's Paint the Sky with Stars, her greatest hits album. I was at this afterschool program that had a lock on the door. And I locked myself in this room many times—when I could get away with it! The teachers would come and say, "You can't lock the door, Clarissa!" But I locked the door, had the boombox with me and put on the Enya CD. In this big classroom I pushed all the tables and chairs aside. And then I just danced, for hours and hours, and I played the CD again, and again, and again. I've dreamt of that, since then—being in big rooms with amazing music and just dancing…

       ​Immersive repetition in a ceremonially cleared space—this is not a far cry from how trance states are induced in various sacred dance and music traditions throughout global history. Whether imagining other worlds through eavesdropped sound or dancing blissfully for hours on end, in these open and ecstatic moments the solo child is akin to the shaman or is privy to a shared illumination. As Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa notes, “The child’s world has no beginning or end…The golden mountain is solid and unchanging. The ruby sun is all-pervading. The crystal moon watches over millions of stars. The child exists without preconceptions.”

       ​Growing up in Fife, Scotland, Clarissa was raised in a “strictly Catholic” home. Though she no longer identifies as Catholic, there are aspect of this upbringing that have stayed with her. She recalls at very young age silently sitting with her family and watching a sunset, becoming conscious of a reverence for natural beauty for the first time. This observation of beauty in Nature along with a prayerful gratitude are childhood teachings that continue to guide her today.  

We had evening prayers, often saying the "Hail Mary" before going to bed. And we were encouraged to pray alone in bed before going to sleep. I remember asking, "Well, what do we pray for?" And my father always told us it was about being grateful. And what we should pray about wasn't what we wanted, but about what we had that we were really grateful for. So, I remember being reminded often, when saying my evening prayers, what I was grateful for. And that was a very big part of our upbringing. It was about being grateful for the beauty around us.  

Life can be tough. Terrible things are happening around the world as we speak. But gratitude for where you are—when going for walk, for example, looking at the trees around you—that's a perspective I still value.

       ​Easily taken for granted, this gratitude and observational awareness is vital to our wellbeing and creative agency. When studying the archival notebooks of composer Arthur Russell, for example, the importance he gave to paying attention to one’s surroundings was pervasive. He collected all manner of observational fragments in his notebooks—signs on the street, a joke, leaves turning in the fall, a conversation, a childhood memory, the news, lights shimmering off the Hudson River—immediate phenomena and juxtapositions of all kinds. Planting them like seeds in his imagination and nurturing them through mantric repetition, Arthur’s wildflower music naturally bloomed. From this perspective, everything becomes a potential source of insight or a doorway to a greater beauty, if only we give it the proper space and attention to ring true. Or, as Bob Dylan once quipped to a Times reporter, “the truth is just a plain picture.”       

​As we rush to get where we think we’re supposed to go and cling to our biases, we easily miss the raw truths and living poetry in the world around us. But Clarissa is insistent on not losing sight of this in her own life and work. Seeing things as they are is nevertheless always a vision peculiar to how it is framed or resonates in the individual. And with her perspective on outer observation and gratitude Clarissa joins a unique practice of inner or liminal listening, something which she speaks about with great lucidity over the next few pages.

You can't listen to your inner music without divesting what you think you're "supposed" to do or what you feel you "have" to do. We all have these layers of unconscious speech or melody going on—if you're a musician, you hear music. If you're a poet, it might be words. I think there's so much there, if we open our ears towards the layers deeper down in our consciousness. It's just about listening to it and being open to what it is.

A certain focus and stillness is required for this kind of listening. At the same time, especially through ongoing practice, we can notice these deeper layers of consciousness arising in our day-to-day life. Walking—also, running and dancing—is key to Clarissa’s creative process. And it’s in this motion, this movement between things, places, or ideas that insight often strikes.

Of course, you spend lots of time listening and playing the piano, having music flow through you during the day. But it's often on my way back home, on my bicycle, while moving from one place to another—it's in the in-between spaces where I have the opportunity to listen to how I put the notes together. I can't do that sitting by the piano and forcing myself to do it. Sometimes it happens that way, but it's still in an in-between state. Like it's on my way to get coffee during a break [from the piano], that's where it happens. And then I run back and record it. And I think that's how nearly everyone works. But it's a way of describing it. It's in the in-between space that I can listen to music inside my imagination.

The best melodies come to me when everything is open and nothing has to be done. That's when my mind expands into new ideas. And I think most people work like that, actually. Songs or ideas are heard in a dream-like state while walking, waking up, taking a bath, biking to school—it can be whenever. There just has to be a state of openness in my mind. It's like listening to a recording, but then I have to recreate it 1:1 again. I have to keep those thoughts and recreate them with my synths or voice. It's about finding the sound again.

Many artists do work precisely in this manner. However, not many are aware of this or know how to put words to their experience. Clarissa is clearly paying attention, both externally and internally. And while this may come natural to her or by way of her upbringing, she also makes the necessary effort to maintain that open awareness. And one way she does this is by giving her auditory imagination as much or more attention than her, already skillful, technical performance.       

​The unsung pioneer of modern music therapy, Harriet Ayer Seymour, insisted on prioritizing mind over performance technique when learning music. As she wrote in her book How to Think Music (1910): “The study of music, to be of any value, must consist, first of all, of an inward process.” Inspired by metaphysical perspectives, her approach to music education popularly focused on “inward listening,” “thinking melodies,” and “musical meditations.” This anticipates similar efforts by the late composer Pauline Oliveros who spent her life, well into the 21st century, developing and teaching her practical philosophy of “deep listening.” Much of her work was aimed at stimulating the auditory imagination as much as aural observation.

 ​Both Seymour and Oliveros drew from a larger history of metaphysical modes of audition, broadly termed “clairaudience.” Clairaudience (Fr. “clear hearing”) is the auditory equivalent to the more familiar clairvoyance (“clear seeing”). While this term is most associated with the 19th century spiritualist movement (e.g. psychics, mediumship, and séances), such a mode of listening has an ancient and global history. Even within orthodox Christianity, one can point to methodical auditions of the logos, the “still small voice” of God, or angelic hierarchies. Across all its manifestations, clairaudience persists as a prayerful, meditative listening beyond the audible or acoustic. It’s a necessarily imaginal or liminal audition which reads symbolic meaning into sonorous ideas that arise spontaneously or by synchronicity. One could reduce it to more commonplace intuition or imagination, but clairaudience is often guided by certain philosophical principles and their poetic resonances, which the listener actively nurtures. 

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Clairaudience (Fr. “clear hearing”) is the auditory equivalent to the more familiar clairvoyance (“clear seeing”). While this term is most associated with the 19th century spiritualist movement (e.g. psychics, mediumship, and séances), such a mode of listening has an ancient and global history. Even within orthodox Christianity, one can point to methodical auditions of the logos, the “still small voice” of God, or angelic hierarchies. Across all its manifestations, clairaudience persists as a prayerful, meditative listening beyond the audible or acoustic. It’s a necessarily imaginal or liminal audition which reads symbolic meaning into sonorous ideas that arise spontaneously or by synchronicity. One could reduce it to more commonplace intuition or imagination, but clairaudience is often guided by certain philosophical principles and their poetic resonances, which the listener actively nurtures. 

       ​Clarissa’s inner listening finds historical precedence in this broader phenomenon of metaphysical audition. But she’s come to her own inner listening practice through personal experience and experimentation. And she is clear about prioritising this listening-based approach in her creative process. “All my songs,” she emphasises, “are written this way. I never sit by the piano and just ‘la-la-la...’ No, that's just not how I write songs [laughter]. It'd be too over-thought. The best melodies come when listening and not necessarily when playing. There has to be an openness. That’s when my mind expands into new ideas.”

       ​Having explored Celtic mythology through the metaphysical landmark of Tech Duinn on the EP by that name, with her second album, The Voyager (2020), Clarissa explored the physical landscape of her Danish environment. Engaging ancient pre-Christian sites, she reanimated magical childhood experiences, devised listening strategies and melodic games, and tuned her ear into the soul of the land. The child who’d heard imaginary music in a muffled céilidh and blissed-out to Enya in a locked classroom was now channelling melodies in the hills of Denmark.        ​

Going for walks alone, being by myself, and not having anything other to do than just walk and be with my surroundings is a big part of my practice. It's not directly a "walking meditation," but a letting go of language and going underneath the speech of your thoughts. There are sounds, melodies, music that arise—sometimes it's silent too.

The musical landscape of The Voyager was written from melodies that happened during these walks through specific sites in Denmark. The words came from describing the landscape. And I wanted to write to different sites that I loved walking, especially Hærvejen [pronounced "Hare-vine"]. Hærvejen is this long path down the spine of Jutland; it goes all the way to Rome, Italy. It's a very old path. And during this walk there were specific sites I especially fell in love with. There's lots of purple heather that grows around the center of Jutland. It's near where I lived, around the ages of 12-15, when I was running a lot around this purple heather. And then I was walking Hærvejen during 2019 and 2020 and came back through this huge area of purple heather again. And that inspired some of the songs on The Voyager. It was magical. I was just running around the hills and writing melodies [laughter].

Wherever you walk, whether there are large stones around you or if its bouncy heather, it effects the melodies and chords that come to you while walking (or running). And I played all kinds of games—doing all these memos for The Voyager—like counting stones or how many steps there were in a melody. Jumping around on 10 different stones, each stone had a note. I played all kinds of games out there in the landscape, walking down Jutland.

       ​This “letting go of language” and getting “underneath your thoughts” that Clarissa refers to is central to her listening practice. It favours a kind of abstraction and a mode of consciousness that is not rooted in the familiar or the knowable, but one that creates a safe space for an inner voice to arise of its own nature. In some of the songs on the album there are moments where it seems like ancestral spirits are speaking to Clarissa and/or to us. I hear this in “The Fallen Land,” where one particular lyric is uniquely accentuated by echoic otherness: “Oh, my love, won’t you bring for me a silver spoon, and let the winds carry you back through the years?” And at the end of the album, there is the breathtaking acapella track, “The Hills are Crying.” Here again, Clarissa channels spiritual inquiry through ancestral resonance. The lyrics for this song are chorally overlapped, abstracting one another like transparent clouds crossing paths or two loving friends talking at the same time. Here are the lines in isolation, all leading to an elliptical question:

The hills are crying out your name, until you’ll be back again. The wind runs through your veins, awaiting you, our saviour’s claim. We’ve lost the youth. No son is born. The shining through won’t reach their shores. If love is true and the hills are sure, how come the mountains don’t move no more?

When Clarissa first described her “listening-underneath-thought” to me, I couldn’t help but think of Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam, who spoke of his creative process in a similar way. Mandelstam referred to his practice as “secret hearing,” which he described as “an intermediary activity between the act of listening and the act of speech delivery." As in general clairaudient tradition which filters one’s listening through certain philosophical ambiances, Clarissa describes her process as being specifically guided by an aspirational tranquillity. This developed, in part, out of an inner necessity for self-care, by which prayerful and tranquil listening proved effective and inspiring. Regardless, it’s in this ambiance of calm that much of Clarissa’s music arises, as if in a dream.

In times when lots of things are going on, when I'm not at peace, I often wake up in the morning with a very fast heart rate and thoughts about everything going wrong. It's a feeling I can fall into easily, perhaps due to a chaotic childhood. So, I try to dive into the opposite feeling to calm myself down. I fall into a state of calmness and let go of everything. That is a dream state—there's many dream states.

       ​We typically think of dreams in terms of nocturnal REM sleep, where we have no control but are gifted chance offerings, often of a cryptic nature. Or lucid dreaming, where we take control but tend to simply indulge our fantasies. And then daydreaming, where we can effectively let go but often merely meander. These can all be deeply meaningful or totally inconsequential experiences, depending on what they present and how we pay attention to them. But to unpack or share their meaningfulness, looking to a dream dictionary won’t necessarily help; creative participation is required.       

​Virtuosic multi-instrumentalist and self-described composer of black classical music, Rahsaan Roland Kirk prioritized dreams in his life and music. He began simultaneously playing multiple instruments—a virtuosic feet he became known for—after first having done so in a dream. He also changed his name to “Rahsaan” after being given the suggestion in a dream. And when asked what his religion was, he replied, “the religion of dreams.” Meanwhile, many of the most admired songwriters in pop history—from Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix to Taylor Swift and Pharrell Williams—have been gifted their songs through the unconscious pathway of dreams.        ​

On the other hand, while an artist like David Lynch is often “accused” of drawing his films and art from his dreams, he often downplays this claim. “I don’t remember my dreams too much,” he clarifies, “but I love daydreaming and dream logic.” Inspired by his experience with Transcendental Meditation (TM), Lynch often compares creativity to fishing for ideas—a still mind is able to enter into the deeper layers of consciousness to catch the “big fish.”        ​

Clarissa has drawn inspiration for her music from her nocturnal dreaming. But, not unlike Lynch—though without the aid of TM—she prefers to actively explore dream-like modes of consciousness while awake. And it’s in those wakeful in-between spaces, when she’s not listening for anything in particular, that something is gifted to her.  

I try to fall into these unconscious states while writing new melodies and chords. I often write long melodies that keep on going and come out some place where the tonality changes, but then it comes back again. And often when that circle is done, if the circle is too short or I want a new part to be introduced in the song, then I have to fall into that dream state. And, then, it's given to me.

This perspective not only concerns the inception of a song, but also its development. Repetition is key to the process, but so is leaving space, even a kind of forgetting. Referring to the Talmud’s “angel of forgetfulness” when describing his creative process, composer Morton Feldman claimed his “broken memory makes possible the never ending stopping of my pen. It is that which you repeat,” he clarifies, “not from memory but from the lack of it which is the ‘substance’ that interests me most.” As Clarissa develops a given track, she echoes that substantial interest while favouring her own requisite of amnesia.

I can't listen to a song once I've started production. I know people tend to listen to what they're writing all the time. Like, on the way back from the studio they bounce it down, and they'll listen to it again. I never do that. That would be such a waste of the surprise of listening to it again where new ideas are created. So, if I have to write a new part for a song, then I don't listen to it for weeks. I have to completely forget it. Then I listen to it again, and the new idea will come back. During that day or the next day, maybe when waking up in the morning—that's where the dream comes in, if the piece has settled in my consciousness, which it does. So, I've allowed the music to awaken again. And then I can write a natural and surprising finish for it that I'm happy about.

I try to fall into these unconscious states while writing new melodies and chords. I often write long melodies that keep on going and come out some place where the tonality changes, but then it comes back again. And often when that circle is done, if the circle is too short or I want a new part to be introduced in the song, then I have to fall into that dream state. And, then, it's given to me.

Clarissa Connelly
Hildegaard receiving a vision, from Scivias 1152
Hildegaard receiving a vision, from Scivias 1152

Creatively we often get in our own way. When we land on something that appeals to us, we attach ourselves to it. And in that attachment, we naturally close off other opportunities and discoveries. To a certain extent we must do this, or we’d never finish or sustain anything. At the same time, the creative process benefits from tremendous openness and non-attachment. Clarissa speaks to this so well when reflecting further on her process.

For me, I often fall into that state when I want to find peace, when I'm in deep gratitude. That is when I listen, and words and music come up. The words often happen simultaneously, and I have to put the pieces together to make it fit. When writing I have to think, "what is this really about?" Because the layers on top of your thinking want to direct what you're doing all the time to make it fit into how you see yourself. And that's often something I have to be very aware of when writing. It's difficult to try and create a space where you can listen to it again and figure out... not what you want to say, but what is being said. Because I often push it in a direction that fits how I see myself. And that's not what I'm interested in.

This perspective is in keeping with visionary and medial artists of all stripes. You get out of your own way to allow a more subtle spirit or a less encumbered version of the Self to take the wheel. “Consciousness,” Clarissa notes, “wants to guide everything in the right direction.” More than just acknowledging this, she seeks to actively facilitate it. “I want to live a life where I’m in contact with these decisions more clearly,” she says, “And that’s something we all can learn to be more in contact with.” One way we’ve historically tuned-in to our inner experience in this way is by engaging the diverse examples of visionary art and literature. Such works can serve as models. And though they may be bewildering at first, they can provide us with the symbolic language, imagery, and frameworks that can help us navigate our own interiors.       

​Clarissa has found inspiration in visionary figures like Hildegard von Bingen, St. Teresa of Ávila, and William Blake. Each developed their own symbolic language or mythology to express their visionary experiences. But the poetic and symbolic nature of visionary communication is uniquely capable of inspiring similar experiences in their receiver—inspiration is infectious. Recognizing this, St. Teresa and Hildegard both communicated their visions into practical exercises, illustrations, or hymns to help ensure that others might attain their own inner gnosis or divine awareness (see, respectively, Book of Divine Works, 1174; The Interior Castle, 1588). While William Blake’s mythological imagination offered symbolic depictions of spiritual principles and their struggle for worldly expression (e.g. Vala, or The Four Zoas, 1802). In her song “Grain of Sand,” from The Voyager, Clarissa set to music one of Blake’s most beloved poems, “Auguries of Innocence”:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour

And her recent single, “Wee Rosebud,” celebrates this prophetic and eternal innocence. Describing a young rosebud delighting in its own blooming, this song also seems to offer a thriving, regenerated alternative to Blake’s “The Sick Rose.” More broadly reflecting these visionary practices, Clarissa offers this rose as a symbolically affirmational version of herself, the listener, or both: “I’ll be ye rosebud, while I may…” she sings, “I’ll be ye.”        ​

Though it runs through all her music, Clarissa’s recent work can be heard as a more direct form of spiritual inquiry and offering. While sharing her dream-channelled states of calm, she’s also reflecting on her own life experiences, especially those treasured ecstatic experiences of listening, performing, and creating music. She recognizes the numinous character of these experiences, but she questions its nature. These experiences feel sacred, but are they? And, if so, what does it really mean to affirm this?       

​Another author who’s helped Clarissa navigate this inquiry into the ecstatic is French philosopher George Bataille. I first discovered Bataille in the 1990s, when I read an interview with Björk who listed his Story of the Eye as her favourite book. It was shocking for me to read that book at such a young age (I was 16). It didn’t disgust me, as its' controversial nature does many. Rather, it left me asking questions about death, desire, and the sacred—interconnected themes that are central to Bataille's broader perspective (and to our lives). But Batailleunderstood the sacred in terms of the ecstatic, whose experiential potency he deemed an excess of limitation. And he fundamentally equates ecstatic experience, including death and eros, to cultural taboo.  

I certainly don't agree with everything he says. But as I've interpreted it, we live in a physical world where this ecstatic movement can happen. Our physical boundaries are pushed to their limits, for example, when fasting or praying. And it's a circular movement, it's repetition, as in music. When music "happens," it's also a state of ecstasy for me. And I find this through walking and running and through prayer.

What is that... when that movement happens and that acceleration begins, when the ceiling pops off the building or the ground beneath you opens...? That's what I'm asking. I'm not sure whether that's our physical boundaries being pushed over the limit, or if it's truly magical, or a greater beauty, or something bigger than us. I'm pretty sure it is, but I don't know how. It's a question that we can't answer. But these are the questions I'm asking.

       ​These unanswerable questions speak to the unknowability which necessarily underlies the creative process, both in our personal lives as well as in the broader cosmic scheme. But by creatively opening ourselves up to that underlying mystery, or by listening into those deeper levels of consciousness, we can sense the numinous. Regardless of whether we can define, explain, or even believe in it, humans have been graced with such experiences for centuries. What we can do is affirm the poetry of our experience. Fortunately for us, Clarissa does this with celebratory conviction and all her dials tuned-in to emergent or rogue beauty.

       ​One thing I’ve always loved about Clarissa’s music is the full spectrum of expression that she embraces, beyond all concerns of genre. Listening across her discography is like reflecting upon a mythic quest. There are blisteringly transcendent climaxes, where she totally captures that ecstatic sense of the ground opening beneath you. There are moments of exquisitely hushed serenity that bring a tear of joy to the eye, and haunted moments that wade through shadows. There are lighthearted tunes that coax a tender smile, as well as sonic hijinks and visual imagery that make me laugh out loud. And listening to Clarissa’s latest single, "Wee Rosebud,” we meet a mosaic of enchanted melodies, infused with a Renaissance air and celebrating the reflections of a newborn rose. Here Clarissa’s voice explores its wider range through belted melismatic ornamentations, hypnotically repeated cooing, and magical motifs. As mentioned, the video features a small céilidh, which is ultimately resolved by the ringing of a handbell whose cartoon tongue is a welcome smile-maker. Beyond being her latest single, “Wee Rosebud” is the key to some of her recent work, which is not so much a puzzle to be solved as a path to wonder upon.

       ​In the céilidh tradition, which often involved storytelling and poetry recitation alongside singing and dancing, participants would also sometimes offer up conundrums or riddles. Like Zen koans, these are questions which evade a definitive answer but stir up the mind and heart. In much the same way, the questions Clarissa is asking don't ultimately require resolutions. Without forcing an answer, the inquiry itself awakens a vital kind of awareness that we take for granted in day-to-day life. By following the ecstatic movements and liminal spaces that Clarissa has crafted and inquired into, the numinous is invoked, the inner rose awakens. Stepping back, I can clearly see Clarissa as part of a broader diasporic lineage of artists who consciously bridge the real and the unreal, the phenomenal and the imaginal, the world as worn appearance and its luminous voice within. As a céilidh dancer spins around the melodies of their ancestral mythology, Clarissa’s music dreams and dances around the unknowable, out of which all myth is spun.

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