Melissa Achten: Ritual Schizophonia

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Schizophonia, from the Greek; schizo– to split / phonia– sound | the splitting of sound from its original source | The twentieth century development of sound reproduction and its cultural impact on society prompted Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer to coin the term schizophonia, writing that “…it was intended to be a nervous word… I intended it to convey…(a) sense of aberration and drama…” In his experimental theater work for harp, “The Crown of Ariadne”, Schafer employs schizophonia to mirror the trauma and violence of a Greek myth in the relationship between instrument and performer. Centered around that pivotal work, this program descends further into the labyrinth, exploring how the physical mechanism of the harp invites the use of schizophonic gestures to establish dislocated soundscapes. Each work is based on a unique choreography of sonic obfuscation where performative movement shapes new meaning and sounds, leaning into the aberration that Schafer spoke of. The harp is decontextualized, allowing it to evoke aching tenderness and brutal destruction simultaneously. Within this unsettling atmosphere, the instrument is transformed, taking the severance of sound and turning it into a ritual for understanding the ugliness and beauty of life. 

Melissa Achten is a Los Angeles based harpist focused on experimentation and immersive musical ritual. Her performances directly engage with the listener, blurring the relationship between bodies, instruments, and sound to destabilize and thereby reveal hidden meaning. Within carefully conjured atmospheres, she explores the nuances of surrealism, fantasy, mythology, and the occult and what these say about the human condition. In her hands, the harp is untangled from convention and remade as a divining tool for channeling work that is diaristic, intimate, and cathartic. Drawn to interdisciplinary form, Melissa frequently collaborates with performers, composers, and other artists to realize their work and her own.