The MESMERISM WRITER-IN-RESIDENCE, Stephen Wright (Nimbin) penned an essay for the Sumer Festival in February 2015, based on his week spending time within the rehearsal rooms and technical set ups within the spaces of Judith Wright Centre. It was handed out as a little booklet to everyone that came. Here’s what it said:

/// /\/\ E S /\/\ E R I S /\/\ \\\ \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\
\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ AN ATMOSPHERIC GUIDE

prepared by Stephen Wright,
writer-in-residence at MESMERISM SUMMER FESTIVAL
and collaborator with Luke Jaaniste
February 2015


When the earthquake hammered its way across Queensland a few days ago, Luke’s ten year old daughter awoke just before the event with a feeling of pressure at the back of her skull.

Earthquakes draw forth a cascade of responses from the earth as the P-Wave surges; Strange lights appear in the sky, animals fall silent, weird cloud formations gather and disperse, children awaken.

The P-Wave is the sub-sonic event that precedes the quake itself, the S-Wave. It can disappear into the Shadow Zone, an area of the Earth’s surface that temporarily deadens the P-Wave and from whose existence it was deduced that the planet has a liquid outer core.

To ‘mesmerise’ is to place someone in a hypnotic state. But Franz Mesmer (d.1815) from whom we derive the term, believed he had discovered a basic process of energy transference occurring between all phenomena, both animate and inanimate. This was the original meaning of ‘mesmerism’.

Mesmerism is full of P-Waves and S-Waves, the ones you register but don’t feel and the ones you feel before you register them.

We can try to devise languages, sciences and arcane methodologies as methods of tracking what is passing through us. And the observation of your self by yourself is not without its uses.

The Mesmerism you experience happens inside you. After all, vibrating air molecules have no intrinsic meaning in them whatsoever. Look under every cushion, inside the piano or the double-bass. There is no Mesmerism there.

But if Mesmerism occurs inside you, and you are a Shadow Zone where sonic events disappear and cannot be observed, tell me, what is happening there?


Where are we now, geographically, temporally? Fortitude Valley is the land of the Turrbal people. That’s the first thing, and the last thing too. I’ll get back to that.

The land of the Turrbal people is also undergoing another spectacular (seismic) upheaval. If there were seismologists who measured geographical change in measures of changing real estate values or scales of hideous steel and glass residential blocks, their instruments would be redlining.

And perhaps we could say that the systems we have devised for exploiting the world and for enacting our rapacious economic desires only created an infinite number of typologies of loneliness, typologies that could be classified in a mad encyclopedia or in a museum of relics and imagination, a labyrinth in which we are displayed all the diverse species of loneliness we have invented and all those yet to be imagined.

In noir fiction the detective and the topography become embodiments of place, of the specifics of urban historiography. They trace the lineages of cause and effect through the lens of politics. Events don’t take place in the abstract. Human agency is everywhere.

Place saturates us, and we saturate each other, and Mesmerism can make that visible. You are not ‘out there’ and I am not ‘in here’.

Mesmerism can’t be picked up, transported and set down elsewhere without being transformed. You are not shopping and we are not selling.


And when I’m walking on Aboriginal land, – as I always am, and you always are – an act that brings in to question the foundations of identity (knowledges that arrive first as P-Wave before the crippling insight), I often think of the ngangkari, the tribal healers of the people of the Western Desert.

The work of the ngangkari is founded on the idea and the reality of kurunpa. Kurunpa gets translated as ‘spirit, will, self’. But when we start looking at these strange and unwieldy glosses, the act of thinking about them seems to be characterised by incessant slippage.

Kurunpa is both owned by you and constitutes you. Kurunpa can leave you, an event so critical to your well-being that it immediately has to be located and returned to you. They are easily dislodged by shock or violence and wander around like slightly doofus birds, pigeons that don’t know how to get home.

When you die your kurunpa can be placed inside the person who grieves for you so that it can be cared for.

If the self had the sensitivity of the inner ear, you would become dizzy when you attempted to think on kurunpa. And though these glimpses of who we are appear like flashes of lightning in a sky that has turned a strange colour like the sky before the earthquake, they can cause the disintegration of states of perception that are as fixed as concrete bollards.

When I look down Brunswick Street, endlessly peopled, it seems entirely possible that the buildings are festooned like Hills hoists with the kurunpa of those passing on the street, like those peaks of the Himalayas where prayer flags hang in reams like the pages of books.

So now we have some idea of where we are, at least in space and time; gathered on Turrbal land, before the moving chicane of steel and glass, under the earthquake weather, our kurunpa gathered in untidy flocks among the eaves of the Judith Wright Centre.


I walked around Turrbal land for hours, an individuated self with an all-consuming interior life, among thousands of individuated others, every face a way into a labyrinth and a Shadow Zone.

And I had this thought: When the complex Indigenous civilizations of the world were being dismembered, perhaps one of the things that bewildered them was the transmission of an unimaginable knowledge of loneliness, that overwhelmed them with its false yet implacable sense of a reality that can be neither endured nor escaped.

It is not possible to be part of an assembly of human beings and not resonate in some way, not experience some wave of sub-sonic speech, blowing through you like rain.

My own way into Mesmerism – feeling kinda lonely out on the floor of the JWC Music Rehearsal Room – was like this:

listening to Luke and Kate pounding on the Kawai Grand like Phillip Glass’s demented mutant offspring, the piano raised on its Y-trolley looking like a sardine can someone has clumsily opened, abandoning the attempt while they repair a severed finger;

when I told Seamus that he played guitar like Robert Fripp with a shitty attitude;

when Kate, supine in front of the Kawai Grand while Luke whammered through a series of deafening tremolos, said that if her mind wandered from the sound she felt like a floating husk;

when the four guitarists suddenly discovered how to be equidistant between solitude and listening;

and when Michaela and Kate, face to face like electronic mendicants, padded each other up with electrodes and transformed themselves into unearthly sounds.

Mesmerism is a part of all the ways we begin to undermine loneliness.


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