On May 8th, 2020 Anne Waldman digitally released her new album Sciamachy on her label Fast Speaking Music. Derived from Greek the word sciamachy means “shadow war”– an apt title for a music that embodies this shadow-fighting intent with Waldman’s voice undulating between void lit ambiance and doom metal-inspired bass lines. The “waterfall” painting by the American painter Pat Steir, which serves as the album’s cover, also a fitting image as it echoes, shadows and fades.
I’m reminded of the ‘shadow archetype’ in Jungian psychology, being the unconscious aspect of personality, the unknown, but also the parts of self which we would rather not acknowledge. Maybe what Waldman is addressing in this album is the shadow self of the socio-political conditions we are navigating, the darkness which we would rather not address but also must. Rooted in a profoundly activist discourse, Sciamachy addresses subjects such as ecological ruin and war-mongering. It is, as Patti Smith has called it, “a psychic shield for our times.”
In keeping with Waldman’s life-long ethos of cross-disciplinary collaboration, Sciamachy features Laurie Anderson on electric violin, Deb Googe (of My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream) on baritone bass, free jazz legend William Parker on n’goni, Guro Moe and Havard Skaset (of the Norweigan hardcore group MoE) on electric bass and guitar, Waldman’s son Ambrose Bye on synthesizer, and her nephew Devin Brahja Waldman on saxophone, drums and production. The inflections offered here by musicians coming from different realms is fused together on this record to create an aural landscape as powerful as it is profound. Poetry and jazz offer incursions into the realm of the experimental, maybe this is why there has been a long-standing marriage between the two. Following in this interdisciplinary and avant-garde lineage, Waldman’s album yokes words with music, her poetry bolstered by a sonic energy that complements and follows it, like a shadow.
The single of the album, “Extinction Aria,” casts its searing gaze at the dark intersection of colonialism, racism, capitalism and perpetual war. The song warns us: “Enemy is the creation of the warring god realm: of becoming embattled, isolated, into a kind of ghostly corporeality.” Extinction Aria is, in the words of Waldman, “a cry for an antithesis reality” —a reality which can only be achieved through “waking ourselves up to the world.” This luminous poem maps the consciousness of the warring god realm: a mind out of control, seduced by power and greed, a mind which enacts language as a spell against humanity, which imprisons the rest of the world in a hell of its own creation, and sets forth an inevitable catastrophic cause and effect. Moving gradually through amorphous shapes of consciousness, “Extinction Aria’s” last line, “The sky is not blue and will not hold,” ultimately puts everything we take to be true into question. The poem can be seen as a meditation on dystopia well-suited for our current global crisis. Waldman implicitly urges the artist, the philosopher, the thinker to transmute the downfall of humanity into an alternative conception of the world —one which could be alchemized and manifested if we made ourselves impervious to the mad, patriarchal psyche tricking its way into power. For this reason, in order to counter it, it is of dire importance to envisage the psychological schematics which produce the “warring god realm.” It is necessary for us to face our shadows.