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A Strange Place for Comfort: Crossing Paths with Carolyn Ryder Cooley and Carla Bozulich

May 1st, 20116:28 pm @ Jason Yellen


"Passage", Ryder Cooley

For me, one of the most fascinating and constructive elements of art is the ability of certain artist to create a new working atmosphere through their artwork. When this is done successfully, reality becomes existent within the work itself and admirers can find themselves maneuvering within the new rules developed by the artist. In certain instances, two different works can inadvertently cross paths and channel each other during their separate creations. Two such works are Carolyn Ryder Cooley’s etched mono-print Passage and Carla Bozulich’s experimental gothic/noise band Evangelista. Although they are different art forms, both Cooley and Bozulich are able to create dark haunting atmospheres where the idea of escape is essentially absent. Despite this, within both works, the artist instill a strange hint of comfort and level of flexibility that allows for a living space that can contain a large scope of human emotion and experience.

Carolyn Ryder Cooley’s Passage is a faintly colored work; it is comprised of different shades of gray on an off-white background. The work itself has an antique air about it, a sort of relic-like image it casts a feeling of familiarity although it is entirely new. “Passage” depicts a gently sailing boat atop a soft cloud, perched at the front of the ship is a blindfolded bird, the navigator. Centered across the body of the boat is the word “Refuge.” The ship is the central focus of the work, at its outside, the ship is framed by twisted vegetation catching itself in a rectangular border. At the bottom, in its own frame, are the words, “escorted by sightless birds they sailed into the Netherworld.” And at the top of the frame, in an almost welcoming way, it states “The Netherworlds.”

If you do not take the work at a glance, that is to say, if you do not take the work for granted, there is to be discovered an interesting contrast occurring in Cooley’s work.  When considering the only stated destination, The Netherworld—the underworld of the dead, framed as to be definite, the image becomes haunting. Here you are traveling hell bound, but gently so. The only sign of life, a “sightless bird” that is your escort.  We are inevitably sailing into doom and yet, where is the panic? The word “Refuge” protects us, it sits there centered on the ghostly ship moving with us and there is no need to flee. All the comfort in this world, built by Cooley, exists inside the ship and that may very well be frightening in the sheer dearth of comfort, but there is indeed a haven to keep us sheltered.  The image then accepts darkness, but with this acceptance it does not simply stop to conclude, but instead it moves on. It is here Cooley and Carla Bozulich cross paths.

Starting in 2006, Carla Bozulich’s Evangelista came to life with a haunting new sound and approach to song. Led by heavy improvisation, the music is like a storm of sounds leering sharply from ear to ear. Heavy distortions, sharp strings, off-rhythm percussion and varying electronics implode together creating an intensity that surrounds Bozulich’s vocals that range from soft and calm to intense passion-filled screams. She explains, “If something’s really good and loud and atonal, it can shoot through you like a beam of light and you don’t have to think.” Her frequent tonal shifts and highly visceral and visual lyrical content lead the songs justifying the intensity and off-kilter song structure. With certain songs spanning well over the 3-4 minute limit of popular song, the music is dense and uncompromising, it asks for the full-undivided attention of the listener.

When delving inside Evangelista’s music, you can notice great similarities to Carolyn Ryder Cooley’s abovementioned Passage. Keep in mind the given dissonance of the music; the seemingly unharmonious implosion of sounds creates an atmosphere where the norm is chaos. We are moving through an intense and deadly environment, “dust and wind bleed out the skies.” In this setting, we are the harrowing “voyagers” seemingly homeless as we’re “burning out our hopeful eyes,” but even still we are moving. We are the blind escorts of each other surrounded by the rubble of the now broken monuments of human culture. All the objects that made humans seem relevant and permanent are now at our feet. Interestingly, this scene that forms in many of Evangelista’s songs, in one way or another, only forms the border, it keeps us within and from there we must find motion. In the song “How to Survive Being Struck by Lightening,” Bozulich illustrates a scene where a “bright white knife” is essentially impaling two characters. Within the distorted noise and static feedback she sings, “Let me crawl inside of you. We’ll be safe inside each other. Eating white light passes thru us like water. Shaking shaking sharing breath by breath.” For Bozulich, on the passage to our destruction, externally speaking, there is still a vessel to shelter us, our joined bodies. We are marching into doom and Bozulich only welcomes us to “our dusty dying jewel.”

To be more explicit, in both Cooley and Bozulich’s work, we are provided with no alternative destinations. We are framed, either being unearthed in the Netherworld or homeless voyagers in the chaos of the hell on earth. If we accept this, as we accordingly must, it seems both artists are, in their own way, asking a very similar question, if we are indeed surrounded by chaos and the truth of death and darkness, what becomes of us? The earthbound symbols of human life may have very well decayed, but we have not, so what do we do? Cooley and Bozulich then both take hell for granted; it is our external reality and therefore is something we must deal with.

As stated earlier, Cooley’s Passage leads us calmly through the Netherworld. The ship is the shelter, we know that because the word “Refuge.” If we are taking refuge on this ship, we must be something similar to a refugee and this means we are sort of homogenized into a collective existence. To bring this further, we are being welcomed into a new world, the Netherworld, and so it is here we must begin. We are now essentially discreet individuals detached from any common ground. To reclaim ourselves we must be redefined within the new framework that is available in the Netherworld.

Similarly, In Bozulich’s world, the truth is “we are not going to survive,” but again we are being led through the chaos by Bozulich’s voice that is making sense of the chaos and destruction. This is not catharsis. Bozulich is ripping our history, culture, and future from us, “Death is bound to come Dragging chains through the trees and it sounds like a party. The biggest one ever! All set for you and me.” And here we are all strangers alike, our shared memory and collective conscious has all drowned in the “rubble and blood” that surrounds us, and even stains our hands. But now that we are together, those we love and those we do not, we must now together engage the new scene of externality, the hell on earth. For Bozulich, the way to do this is to live within each other, because it is in the dearth of comfort that the intensity of human relationships can really take place. This is perhaps most telling on the second Evangelista album Hello, Voyager, the album ends as the chaotic sounds go silent and you are left with only Bozulich’s voice, after declaring all hope gone, she ends with “There’s only one word that hasn’t dried completely in your parched throat. Can you say it with me? The word is love.”

Perhaps the most haunting element, for me, in Cooley’s Passage and Bozulich’s Evangelista, is the strange element of comfort that is to be found in the dark premises of the works. Their unwillingness to conclude and avoid ambiguities gives both works an endless ability to be in motion. It is as if there is no space to regret, but only a need to survive as long as it is still possible because there is still so much beauty to be found, even in darkness. Cooley and Bozulich are able to cross paths on this strange ground, and in doing so they are both able to create highly visceral and yet highly lucid works that never lose the appreciation for the complexity of human affairs.


Jason Yellen


Carolyn Ryder Cooley: carolynrydercooley.com/

Carla Bozulich: www.carlabozulich.com/

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Tags:  Carla Bozulich, Carolyn Ryder Cooley, Evagelista, Passage

5 Comments → “A Strange Place for Comfort: Crossing Paths with Carolyn Ryder Cooley and Carla Bozulich”

  1. Michael Shea

    9 months ago


    Yours is a remarkable kind of writing. The tone is hard to describe: a kind of gentleness yet pragmatism in the piece that offers such a wonderful citing and sighting of the American Pragmatists; the impassioned and courageous vulnerability of the poetry; and now this piece of criticism that brings together eye and ear–as all good writing does.

    If the finest kind of knowing is that of appreciation in its fullest sense, then you know and love these pieces. The richness and dynamics of your sentences pay intimate attention to the pieces they honor, and, so, in their turn, they are an honor to read.

    Many thanks.


  2. mikerosss

    10 months ago

    Thanks for an idea, you sparked at thought from a angle I hadn’t given thoguht to yet. Now lets see if I can do something with it.


    • Jason Yellen

      9 months ago

      Great! Good luck with developing your idea. Thanks for reading.


  3. cybermagnetik

    10 months ago

    What a great web log. I spend hours on the net reading blogs, about tons of various subjects. I have to first of all give praise to whoever created your theme and second of all to you for writing what i can only describe as an fabulous article. I honestly believe there is a skill to writing articles that only very few posses and honestly you got it. The combining of demonstrative and upper-class content is by all odds super rare with the astronomic amount of blogs on the cyberspace.


    • Jason Yellen

      9 months ago

      It was an experiment trying to write something like this, I am glad it struck someone. Thank you for reading and also for your kind words.


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