Mary and Percy Shelley (E)
Cognitive Dissonance is a term used in psychology to represent a state of mind in which we attempt to simultaneously hold on to contradictory ideas. This term comes to mind when I think about the environment. We all love to be out in nature. We find beauty, peace, serenity. It is generally calming and regenerative. But at the same time, most of us live in a way that is gradually destroying that very world that we value so much. Indeed, it would be hard to live otherwise without renouncing the entire modern world as it exists today. Cognitive Dissonance attempts to embody this conflict in musical and aesthetic terms. Scored for baritone, trumpet, trombone bass clarinet, and electronic samples, it combines texts from two writers who happen to also have been husband and wife: Percy and Mary Shelley. The texts stand in implicit opposition to one another.
The Percy Shelley is taken from a poem that describes a walk with a friend in a wooded area by the sea and how the environment created a sense of tranquility and well-being. The natural world serving as place of spiritual renewal was a dominant trope of early Romanticism. The Mary Shelley embodies a very different viewpoint. The text is excerpted from her second novel, The Last Man. Unlike Frankenstein, it has received little attention over the years since she wrote it. Written in 1826, it is an apocalyptic, dystopian science-fiction novel, set in the late 21st century: a first person account of the last surviving human on earth after the human race has been ravaged by a mysterious plague-like illness, as well as with intense storms and unexplained environmental disturbances. In the introduction to the novel, Mary Shelley states that while in Naples in 1818 she discovered the prophetic writings of the Cumaean Sibyl, which she then edited into the present form. The novel begins in 2073. It is prescient in its depiction of movement toward a post-human world, anticipating the idea of the Anthropocene.
As Mary Shelley’s novel represents the Sibyl’s prophecies, my conceit in Cognitive Dissonance is to be the mouthpiece for Mary Shelley’s voice. The piece alternates between sung portions of Percy Shelley’s text and a prerecorded spoken voice channeling the words of Mary Shelley. The sound worlds of the music accompanying the two texts contrast harshly and irreconcilably, creating a musical analogue to the idea of cognitive dissonance. It is my attempt to represent the deep contradiction we all face in living our lives today in the face of a bleak world we are starting to see in the not-so-distant future. We can only hope to resolve this dissonance by managing to live differently.