One of the most intriguing dynamic notations in Western classical music is diminuendo al niente (fade away to nothing, ø). When have we arrived? When did it end? Or is it the silent “glue” to the next idea. Too frequently, today’s “modern” performers slap over their music sheets and launch the next movement before the “moment” of artistic void has been achieved; to show that they realize when greatness has been “heard,” equally insensitive audiences clap thunderously while bows still hover over the strings. We live in a world that more and more cannot stand the absence of “something” to distract us from the emptiness of soul fronted by designer-driven outer shells that embody ourselves.
With ZERO the inside story, Elida Schogt challenges humanity to come to grips with its epidemic façade of living for and through others instead of facing internal demons, bringing them to light so that real life can begin. It is a spectacular personal and artistic achievement that belies its thoughtful, quiet rhythm that, like master composers before her, can have a huge impact for those who choose to hear the message. Repeated viewings are recommended, such is the multi-dimensional depth of her vision.
Music plays a key part in this journey into hidden self, unlocked by drilling down into the relationship of zero to nothingness. Tom Third’s score is a marvel of audio augmentation of Schogt’s thoughtful near-hypnotic pacing. The Milhaud-like saxophone emerges hauntingly from a bed of low strings, first alone, later partnered with another single-reed mate.
During the more pedantic opening moments the “woman” (Kate Alton whose tone and timing complements both the daringly sparse frames and the soundscape’s flow), using third person pronouns to add yet another layer of distance, lets the explanations of the subject matter espoused by mathematician, Trueman MacHenry and Hindu philosopher, Amitabh Bhattacharyg reach into her self as she takes step after step after step to her deepest secret: trapped for decades in her own personal infinity.
But the solution can only come from India where the concept of zero was delivered centuries ago by journeying Babylonians where it rested and permeated many cultures before being exported to Europe. The transition to the sub-continent is the orchestral “A” sounding above the unseen musician’s cackle—a subtle zero lodged on the second space of the treble clef seamlessly links East and West.
Once safely in Varanasi (Benares, the City of Light) the woman’s darkness feels the confidence to show itself further. Steps (steep ghats) must be climbed, hundreds, thousands—always half-way closer to the truth, but not before pain and despair burble to the surface.
“I am dirt, I am garbage, I hate myself.”
And contradictions abound; things can’t be simultaneously true and false:
“I must speak, I cannot speak.”
In extreme close-up, her mouth becomes a human zero, both the keeper and releaser of the void within, waiting in the mystical city, on the often fetid shore of Mother Ganges, wanting part of herself die so that “she can live again.”
Bright orange floods the screen (unintentionally evoking the horror of Agent Orange, so disturbingly depicted in Aftermath: Remnants of War while the distant sun flexes its circular power. Those below drape themselves in its hue (evoking the memory of her brother’s quilt) and offer fire to their God, Shiva, in hopes that internal light will be returned in the bargain.
A lip-framed countdown is the final push over the precipice of revelation – no sound but the pent up words; the notion more important than the content.
The strings reappear and, in an unforgettable sequence where sight and sound combine into touch, the narrator’s voice becomes the melody weaving its thoughts onto the fabric of the mind before the flutes lift everything ethereally, leaving us to reflect with the sunbeams skittering incongruously over the dank water.
Now—finally face forward—the next journey begins, every arrival being another departure, filled with infinite possibility, ∞ …