by Richard Marcus
"Pierson is a serious artist who deserves to be given the respect and accord given to anyone who translates a creative process from idea to actuality"
Nerve Bumps: A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction by Dax Pierson is the latest release from the Oakland based collective Ratskin Records. Co-produced with Dark Entries Records, this collection of electronic music pieces pushes against the listener’s desire to plop an easy definition on music and the creative process.
Once people find out that Pierson is a quadriplegic, who spends most of his days confined to a wheelchair, whether they want to admit it or not, their perceptions of his music will immediately be coloured by this information. Some little voice in your head is going to say, no matter how deeply buried, wow that's fucking amazing for a guy like him. In other words we immediately qualify his accomplishment based on our own presumptions of what someone with a major disability is capable of.
I say we, but as a person who suffers from a disability myself I know how hard it is to struggle against being defined by it. Shit, it's taken me years to get over defining myself by my own disability. That doesn't mean you ignore it, because - let's be real - you can't, but it does mean you're more than that.
Pierson is a serious artist who deserves to be given the respect and accord given to anyone who translates a creative process from idea to actuality, and not because he's in a wheelchair. His music utilizes all of the tools at the disposal of today's electronic creators: synthesizers, drum machines, and computer software. It's what he does with them that makes his work special.
This isn't easy listening music by any means. It gets under your skin and disrupts things. It will leave you uncomfortable and disconcerted. He uses layers of rhythm that build upon each other to make textures that push and pull. You will feel compelled to move and stagger to a stop simultaneously.
Now here's the part where you need to parse the difference between calling someone a disabled artist and somebody drawing upon their disability for inspiration. Pierson can't ignore the fact he's African American, Queer and disabled. Hell, in today's America it's hard to image a three-strikes-against-you combo much worse except if you are a woman or transgender.
However, if he ignored who he was, his music wouldn't be as honest and effective as it is. Your art is naturally going to reflect the lens you see the world through, and Pierson's certainly does. You can't listen to pieces like "I Slay The Pain" or "Keflex" without hearing and feeling something of his experience as a person.
That is what art should do after all. It should communicate an artist's view of the world, to their audience, in as universal a way as possible, so it can be understood by anyone who cares to listen. Pierson's ability to do this is testament to his abilities as a musician and composer. He creates atmospheres that absorb the listener and immerse them in the artist's reality. We're never going to be able to experience what another person experiences, but a good artist can at least explain it to us. Pierson does just that.
With Nerve Bumps A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction, Dax Pierson has created a beautiful series of musical pieces that will inspire and enlighten. If you're brave enough to listen closely you might even learn something.
If you want to listen to Dax Pierson's album, and other releases from Ratskin Records, visit their bandcamp.
Richard Marcus contributes to Blog Critics as well as editing their books section. He is also a monthly contributor to Qantara. He currently lives with his musician/poet/painter wife and two incredibly demanding cats in Kingston Ontario, Canada.