17th of December 2021
I have been working on this record for such a long time.
In fact, it has been so long that all understandings of time and form have been suspended entirely, and I have been asked to give up on wanting it to be anything at all. The music has told me it cannot hurried or coerced, that it will evolve on its own, and I have finally come to trust that process. There are a lot of songs. The first few I wrote over ten years ago. Being almost 29 years of age, that is a third of my life. I have tried to turn this world in my head into a record about five different times, each with different production approaches, track lists and notions of how it would be. Each attempt fizzled out as I struggled to faithfully represent the spirit of the songs.
I realise now that I was not ready to tell those stories, but at the time was so desperate to say something meaningful of my own. Over the last five years and the last two in particular, I have thrown off and surrendered all that was not needed – the judgements, the unworthiness, the fears of failing or being misunderstood or dying impoverished, and a million other excuses not to be right here and now in loving presence. In this time I finished writing a lot of music, much of it suddenly falling into place overnight after releasing some sort of illusory model of myself or the world, usually related to guilt, shame or fear. Some songs came to me almost fully formed but were rejected because their truths were too much to bear. Others came in pieces and were slowly put together as the mysterious puzzle of my life unfolded. Some songs came from dreams and some were born from mystical visions. There is so much here, and I know that if you are open-minded, there will be something here for you. I can say this with confidence, because like many artists over the centuries have said, I feel as though I didn’t make anything. The songs simply appeared the moment I was able to step out of the way enough to reveal them. If we are really honest with ourselves, creating a work of art is more like an excavation of a forgotten truth than the making of something new. Everything already exists. Artists simply prepare themselves and illuminate it.
In March 2021, I began performing this music for friends, naming the shows after what the full album of songs will be called: Dreamfolk. It has been met with such a loving reception that I feel deeply reassured in knowing it will be understood. I am ready to ask for help in bringing this music into the world, and will soon set up a fundraising campaign to finance the studio time and production costs.
The album will be released in three chapters: two EPs, each with a unique song of their own, followed by the full journey of Dreamfolk in the form of what will probably be a rather lengthy album. I have enlisted the talents of some of my closest friends in creating the art for each record, and will release a heap of supporting material in the form of poetry, stories, art, sketches and videos.
I think the first EP will be entitled Painted-On Clouds after the title track. This is perhaps the first song I ever wrote. Please check back here for regular updates on the recording and production process. I hope to have it in your hands by April 2022.
- The Heart of the Song
There is a thing which I call the “heart of the song”. I have been meaning to tell you about it for a while now, and most people who have worked with me musically will know that it is my greatest motivator. In fact, I would say that if I have any talent at all, it is in finding the heart of the song. When I am collaborating with someone else, there is usually a period of one or both of us being awkward and uncomfortable until such a time as we stumble upon it, when suddenly the fog clears and everything makes perfect sense. Funnily enough, when you find what it is that I am talking about, you discover that you are not actually doing anything except transcribing the amazing and bewildering inspiration pouring in forever through this other place, so to say I am good at finding it is merely like saying that I have found a door to a really really nice place. Would you like to take a look inside?
The heart of the song is my term for the essence of creation, or alternatively, the fulfilment of limitless unborn potential. It is similar to what is known in spirituality as truth, the way, the Tao, or intuitive guidance, but it is different to those terms as well. Sometimes it is obvious, and other times it requires intense, yet sensitive excavation, like an archeological dig uncovering an ancient and precious jungle temple. When it comes to finding the heart of the song in collaboration with another human being, it can be an incredibly vulnerable and difficult experience, because to find it you have to be one hundred percent humble, or you get nothing but discomfort, and as we all know it is rather difficult to surrender our egos completely.
When I find myself in a position to be able express it, everyone within proximity understands perfectly what it is I am communicating, though it will have a different personal meaning from their perspective. Time ceases to have any stable reality, and the boundaries between myself and the world perceived beyond my skin disappear. Many people have touched this experience in lots of different ways for a long time, as I am sure have you, but today I would like to talk about the heart of the song as it relates to composing and capturing a piece of music.
Music is an ephemeral, spiritual substance. Like smoke, it slinks through your fingers as you try to catch it, and whilst it is always shifting and changing, it does have a form. Still, even if you listen to the same piece of music on the same sound system you will never hear the same thing twice. Even in that most controlled listening environment, our relationship to it is still fickle. Now imagine yourself writing a piece of music. Perhaps it starts with a chord progression. You like the way the first chord seems like solid ground, then your music moves onward in a natural evolution to the next chord. That particular movement feels cool, like a camera panning left and providing a new perspective on your original idea, and the way you emphasise certain notes within those chords seems to make an emotional difference. Then between the second and the third chords there is a sudden sense of suspension and mystery, of unresolved business that reminds you of a weird feeling you had during an unresolved conversation that occurred ten years ago.
Now you see what I am getting at. That is the heart of the song speaking. It is a pre-verbal, experiential world that is felt before concepts arise in the mind. It occurs to the whole mind-body-heart system, to our entire being, and is similar to the “aha!” feeling you get, a lightning bolt of ignition that comes with deep insight. For me it also occurs frequently in empathetic response to others.
This is my guiding light, the thing that anchors me to everything I do creatively. I know when I am on track when I am frequently feeling aligned with these insights. In fact, I am feeling it right now as I am writing these words, so I know I am onto something. There is an increased electrical charge in my system, a loss of inhibitions, and that charge subsides a little when I take breaks to pause. When I just let the flow occur, it continues. I know when I am off course when I feel tired, uninspired, sad, grumpy, or fall into negative thought loops that are not true or helpful. Thoughts like, “Argh! Nothing is happening! I usually do so much better than this…” and “I have been working on this all day and have nothing to show for it” are pretty normal. One big belief I used to live inside of (which was honestly a kind of personal hell) was that I was lazy, started music too late, and had fallen many years behind my peers. Later I would find out that one simply has to make contact with that place inside and immediately all time and effort on the physical plane is transcended, and pure creativity flows unending. That was quite a relief to discover.
Intangible as it is, this river of dreams, flow of life, and heart of the song does have qualities, but they are not in a form you can easily point to. They are qualities like goodness, truthfulness, lovingness, power, beauty, wonderment, magic, wisdom, curiosity, depth, colour, texture, symmetry, mystery, and so on. These are the ones that I admire the most, but there are many more words you could use to describe it. It arises in the natural world in treasures like the harmonic series, the golden ratio, or the beauty of a fern, a flower or an iris. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about it is that it lies within unlimited means, and could be anything. That creates the surprise of life.
So, if it occurs naturally, and is born of infinite potential, then the question arises: “what causes it not to occur?” The answer is quite simple. Self-consciousness. When we try to control. When we hold back. When we do not feel worthy, when we feel shame or guilt. When we act out of fear – of being judged, of failing, of dying impoverished and hungry and alone. All of these distortions arise in us and interrupt the flow of pure creation which, according to most spiritual traditions (and I would have to agree), is our natural state. When we carry forward the unresolved negative feedback of the past in the form of generational trauma, childhood abuse, or our more mature sufferings, self-consciousness arises and represses the spark of life. An amazing realisation to have is that all of that trauma is itself an innocent and perfectly natural part of our evolution, and there is fundamentally nothing wrong. We are, however, responsible for what happens next, and have the power to untangle it.
As you may know, I have been working on the body of work I am now calling Dreamfolk for over ten years. In that time I have written a lot of songs. There are about 17 at the moment, and more keep coming. I am always writing something, little bits of stuff floating about my head. When I have those initial ignitions and often again later when I go over the same ideas, these feelings, this connection to the heart of the song is present. Generally speaking, unless I am feeling deeply self-conscious, in performance I am usually able to produce a good likeness of the heart of it, and sometimes I am even surprised by how much I love the sounds coming out of my voice and my instruments I play. It feels easier to let go in performance because mistakes happen within time, and can thus be forgotten. You also have the pressure of everyone watching you on a stage, so it truly is sink or swim, and if you can completely get out of the way, you take full flight. But when it comes to singing into a condenser microphone and recording those same songs into digitised sound waves that will remain the same and potentially be shared many times across the world, the bottom falls out completely.
When it comes to recording, so much unresolved psychological material comes to the surface that it makes finding the heart of the song draining and, at times, a rather ugly affair. Self-consciousness of all forms is the ultimate block to creative expression, and so long as it is there, a direct connection cannot be made. I am actually still continually surprised that I have persevered to end up where I am, such has been the depth of my experience of confusion, shame, despair, anger and inadequacy. I guess the power of the pleasure and heart of music has always been enough to keep me moving forward. So when you imagine musicians in a recording studio, you might not picture them with their heads in the hands, suffering from profound mental anguish, but that is exactly what I have looked like for a lot of my time making music. When I am flowing I am chain lightning, a rush of beautiful ideas soaring through technicolour dreamscapes. When I am stuck I am a polluted swamp where sick birds come to die. I know that sounds rough, but that is how I feel in those moments.
When making a record there are so many details to fuss over, and in searching for a greater degree of clarity, accuracy and perfection, we easily lose sight of the thing we truly seek. I do believe that professional excellence is something that can actually be striven for in the service of the heart of the song, however that is a subtle edge that must be watched carefully, for it is easy to become too controlling and choke the flow of pure emotional response. These days I find it is easier for me to observe and keep a balance of my internal world without falling off the wagon completely. Having said that, over the last couple days, my first return to writing music after 2 months off saw me spend a day subtly held by an unconscious belief of how a particular set of music should unfold, a rigid and stubborn idea of a structure that bound the inspiration so tightly that it could not breathe. As soon as I got within sight of the heart of the song however, these illusions fell away and I found myself seeing through the trance I had been bound in. I found it very amusing at the time. It is important to remember that these small ideas are much like little children. They are very fragile in their early days, and their innocence needs to be defended until they grow in their strength and can stand up on their own. At that point (as when I saw the heart of this music), their truths will be self-evident, and they will unfold in spite of us.
Telling the truth
A phrase that goes with the heart of the song is “telling the truth”. This is what I call sincerity or authenticity in musical performance. If the heart of the song is the essence, then telling the truth is expressing it. There are many musicians who have honed their craft to an impressive technical prowess, but I have never been interested in that. Even as a metalhead, melodic and powerful sounding guitar solos far surpass blistering speed, pinch harmonics and all that tapping stuff, cool as it is in principle. No, what I really want to hear is someone singing their heart out, regardless of their pitch accuracy or diction or whatever it is. If I hear someone really telling the truth, telling me who they are, I should understand who they are, even beyond their human form. In fact, it should tell me who I am, and who we all are. The thing about the truth is it is true on all levels of reality, not just yours or mine. The truth is the true no matter where you are standing. I believe that is where its immense power comes from. The reality behind “have faith and ye shall move mountains” is that if you have faith in ultimate truth (whatever that means for you) your actions and speech will have immense gravity. Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi are excellent examples of this: men of few words whose actions produced seismic shifts in human consciousness.
I aspire to tell the truth in this way. I see no better use for a human life. I want to write and record and play music that is always true, that changes lives. It might mean that to find the heart of the song I will have to let go all that obscures my vision of the truth, and that might be indescribably difficult to accomplish. But honestly, what else would you rather have than a true understanding of reality as it is? To know the true nature of yourself and the world. To know and be in direct communication the divine essence beyond form that is pure imagination and potential, the spark of life itself.
This is why it takes me so long to finish my records. I am trying to find and tell the truth.
Sorry for the wait. It will be worth it in the end.
I will leave you with Alan Watts’ timeless advice on writing. You may replace the word “writing” with whatever makes you happy:
Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone.
- Who’ll Wait? Live Video
Recorded live at Sawtooth Studios, Newcastle
Written and performed by Christopher Sutherland
Engineered by Clint Topic
Mixed and mastered by Christopher Sutherland
Filmed and edited by Alpha Sierra
Lovingly funded by friends and family. If you wish to support the creation of more beautiful things, you can make a donation at www.gofundme.com/dreamfolk.
This song will be released as part of the upcoming EP ‘Painted-On Clouds’, and is a part of the Dreamfolk saga.
Created on the traditional land of the Awabakal people. We pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging. Let us not forget that we come from this earth in one unbroken line. Let us not forget that we are one.
- Dreamfolk Crowdfunding
I’m making a big record and a couple of smaller ones. It’s kinda expensive, so I could use some help.
Here’s where your generosity will go:
- Studio hire – $500
- Filming and photography – $500
- Mastering – $400
- Musicians wages – $1000
- Artwork and graphic design – $500
- Printing – $250
All of this goes towards the complete production of the first EP and will get the album as a whole moving in a big way. Anyone who supports this campaign will receive a free ticket to the Newcastle EP launch. If you can’t make that, I’ll find something else nice for you.
After donating you will be able to see regular updates on the production process on the page. You can also keep up to date here at abhayasky.com.
Thank you for your love and support!