Date of Submission
Academic Programs and Concentrations
Project Advisor 1
This Limitless Empty
An Atmospheric Lyricplay; An Experimental Circus
Senior Project Submitted to
The Division of Arts
of Bard College
Artist’s Statement: This Limitless Empty
This Limitless Empty started as my kooky brainchild during the second half of my hardest year thus far. First semester of junior year, with it’s sudden spell of long lasting insomnia and never-ending pneumonia, left my mind clouded with a thick, humid smoke of self concern. I largely forgot about the needs of those around me and alienated myself as I wallowed in my malaise. In March, the death of Karolina, who I had perceived to be the strongest, most self-assured and star-charged human, left myself and everyone around me at a loss. It seemed as though our sky was cracking; if this light in our life would willingly extinguish itself, how could we hope to find light in ourselves? Then came the heartbreak.
During this time, I was taking a great deal of Buddhism classes and studying it on my own regularly. I meditated most days and found a huge amount of comfort in the idea of eliminating pain by eliminating the concept of reality entirely. It was a sudden relief to assign equal weight to every occurrence in the universe. I became ritualistic, filling my offering bowls every day and pushing my mala beads to the cyclic rhythm of “om mani peme om.” For the first time in my life, I was religious.
I had always wanted my senior concert to be big and to follow a storyline. When I began writing, I intended to write songs that followed a character from a period in their life of intense, but temporary suffering, to gaining relief from the realization of the relative and forever fluxing nature of the universe through Buddhism. At the time, the only thing that was keeping my sudden newfound religiosity at bay was the strict nature of ritual. I had explored many different sects of Buddhism in my studies, each with their own unique sets of rituals reinforcing and dressing up the same underlying philosophy. Each sect took their own rituals very seriously. I found that especially the teacher under whom I was primarily studying was very strict about following the rituals of her lineage exactly, and discouraged me from finding my own means of practicing that best served me.
Over the summer, a conversation with a new friend left me once again hyper-interested in the link between Einstein’s theory of relativity and the fundamental philosophy underlying Buddhism. It was an idea that I had explored before in the past and it had initially drawn me to Buddhism, but I realized then that I wanted to the storyline of my concert to instead follow the character’s discovery of Buddhism through the exploration of the science that lends the philosophy legitimacy.
I then discovered Taoism, which to my current understanding took most of the philosophy underlying Buddhism and allowed it to stand on it’s own, not shrouded by an outward appearance of religiosity and ritual. While studying Buddhism, I had always felt the need to keep myself hyper aware of the fact that the Buddha had never initially intended for his teachings to become religion. When I discovered that it really was possible to pay attention to the philosophy alone, I felt that pressure to ignore the less appealing aspects of Buddhism go away. In terms of my concert though, this new finding left me in a temporary crisis. I had created a muse figure that throughout the concert teaches the character about Buddhist philosophy in the same way that a religious lama would. This muse figure instead became another side of the character’s conscience; a voice in their head that tends the mind to think beyond the self and helps them place themselves in the greater scheme of the universe and the illusion of reality. This conscience is juxtaposed against a childlike presence, dressed in white, who represents a painful naivety of allowing oneself to get caught up in selfish suffering. The naïve figure appears during the first four songs of the show, songs that spiral the character through loss and heartbreak down to rock bottom misery. When the character implores to the void, “Do you know the way to nowhere?!” the wise other half of consciousness answers that nowhere and nothingness is all that exists around us, but that it’s truth can only be found when one stops looking for it. The conscience gives the character a taste of Buddhism, with it’s beautiful message shrouded by layers of ritual and a hierarchy of the knowledgeable and powerful. When the character asks, “But what happens if we strip all the extra fluff away?” the songs move on to explore the emptiness of reality, and the way that everything we perceive is shaped by language and previous experience. Once the main character has discovered and come to understand the emptiness of reality purely through thought and without reference to religion, the veil of personal suffering is lifted and the show climaxes with a joyous finish.
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Overing, Alexandra M., "This Limitless Empty" (2014). Senior Projects Spring 2014. 89.