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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

Whilst I’m not averse to a bit of alcohol assisted mum dancing (like dad dancing only louder and, I like to think, more co-ordinated), dancing as a form of ‘art’ has always seemed like pretentious poncing about to me. Until I was unexpectedly moved to tears by the brilliance and emotional intensity of a flamenco dance in a cave in Granada and some weeks later to tears of laughter by an exhilarating, impromptu ‘interpretive dance’ with ‘shaky egg’ at Croatia’s Ethnoambient festival: two transcendent moments.

And now my friend Karen Ruimy, living proof that bankers can redeem themselves as she left a high-flying job in finance to become a singer and flamenco dancer, tells me that whilst she’s rehearsing, she often experiences a feeling of being connected to something beyond the self, a feeling of being ‘in the flow’, particularly with her latest show as she mines her own Moroccan Jewish roots in exploration of the origins of the music.

Lots of musicians have told me about similar experiences whilst composing. I’ve heard this ‘flow’ described so many times that it’s difficult to doubt it exists. I wonder if an artist’s connection to ‘flow’ is linked to the potential in art to facilitate moments of transcendence in us.

And so, wary of hippy-shit in hessian and dull rainbow stripes, I turn to the comforting corduroy of science. And the late Candace B. Pert, PH.D, chief of brain biochemistry at the US National Institutes for Health, an acclaimed AIDS researcher, whose work on peptides was a breakthrough in its treatment. In her book Molecules Of Emotion she writes:

“We have a biochemical psychosomatic network run by intelligence, an intelligence that has no bounds and that is not owned by any individual, but shared among all of us in a bigger network, the macrocosm to our microcosm, the ‘big psychosomatic network in the sky.’” We have, she explains, “receptors on our cells that vibrate in response to “extracorporeal peptide reaching – a phenomenon analogous to the strings of a resting violin responding when another violins strings are played.” It’s a process called emotional resonance. And it’s our means of connection to that larger intelligence, the ‘psychosomatic network in the sky’.

The arts are a conduit of emotion that can facilitate that connection. Pert explains that to forget that connection is to suffer, “to experience the stresses of separation from our source.” Karen says these stresses spring from an initial sense of severance from that source at birth which is “the engine of all human dramas.” We seek all our lives to feel that belonging again. But separation, as Pert argues, is an illusion. When we experience transcendence through art in whatever form, we realise this. Transcendence takes us first inside ourselves and then beyond as we resonate with Pert’s macrocosm – ‘the flow’ I’m saying, (others might call it divine) where we experience deep belonging, oneness.

Karen’s latest show is called ZIK’R’, Arabic for ‘remembrance of God’, which I’m learning, is really in molecules in and outside each and every one of us. As I shall point out, when people mock my ‘mum-dancing’.

Elizabeth Kinder


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