Com-possession (… daemonic afterimages in the theatre of transitory states…) (1980)

John Rea

violin, viola, cello, guitar, guitar with bow, and fixed medium

Com-possession (1980) (…demoniac afterimages in the theatre of transitory states…)

Say, where were you bitten by the spider?
Just beneath the hem of my skirt…
Oh, my Saint Paul of the spiders
Who bites all the girls
And makes them saintly.

Lyrics sung by a possessed
woman, in Puglia (Italy)

The sound of an old tin-foil cylinder phonograph, like the looking-glass through which Alice walked, opens into a world of collective hysteria, of communal delirium, and leads into the dance/trance of identificatory possession. An ancient exorcism is underway, … in media res…, for the correct tune has already been found, that medicinal melody which the victim/adept herself selected and indicated as “belonging” to the spider. Dancing frenetically to the point of unconsciousness, she experiences a … collapse and ritual death… which brings on “dreams of phantom encounters”: the occasion of the first bite (primo morso) occurring at midday (ora canonica); the unleashing of the symptoms of possession, the “toxic state”; her confusion upon hearing the “voices”; her mood while experiencing the rhythmic “sonic driving”. A “recollection” of her diagnostic search for the correct tune in the therapeutic repertory of the iatromusicians (that is, the healing or medicinal musicians) and its final selection provokes a … momentary return and relapse…, a brief awakening from, and return to, sleep as she feels the “sonic driving” once again and behaves like a “taranta-libertina”, going to far as to identify herself with a musical instrument (corpo-strumento); she hears the “voices” again, or is it she herself who speaks (taranta-canterina)? She dreams of her decision to reveal her “rimorso” occurring also at midday (ora ellectiva), thus jolting her back to a … sudden awakening and release…, for her renewed dancing (corpo-ballerina) suggests that the moment of grace approaches: she becomes the spider (corpo-taranta), and the expulsion of the malicious spirit (cattivo passato) is at hand. Signaled by a terrifying “cry of the crises”, the final, liberating collapse indicates the end of the exorcism.

This work received the Governor-General Award (Prix Jules-Léger) in 1981.