Psychonaut: Senior Concert excavates the unconscious

By Forest Purnell '13

The senior concert is among the most visible of all types of “advanced work” that Bennington students complete. For a month leading up to the end of term, music students and their multiple, volunteer performers fill the various campus music venues with a showcase of skill developed over the course of four years. Seniors often feel compelled to get involved in this work not just as musicians, but also as facilitators, designers, and directors of a “total work of art.” It’s easy for the choices to become unmanageable. In a cultural climate that places increasing value on not just quality of experience but also novelty, it’s a challenge to strike a balance between old and new—between exploring with ideas about performativity and just making the damn music. Riley Skinner ’13 has taken much of this into consideration, and she’s resolute. “The idea of Psychonaut is… to have some kind of experience with my ensemble and with the audience that is a shared dreamscape.”

Skinner is adamant about using the work to open up space for her participants, and to “create something together that we couldn’t create without all of [us].” The same way a psychonaut, an explorer of the unconscious, exhumes a dreamworld into waking existence, Psyconaut, Skinner suggests, will achieve a musical communion of performers, audience and collaborators. No wonder then that it’s also the largest group Skinner has ever worked with. “It’s a large ensemble. I’m working with six female singers, cellist, trombone, drums, synth, electric, upright bass… myself and whatever I’m playing, and four male vocalists as well—sometimes a fiddle player…” Skinner pauses to consider additions to the list, and then explains that this concert is much more “curated” than something she could show performing alone. She also believes it will mark a clear contrast with her current musical reputation on campus. “I feel like I’ve been pretty pigeon-holed here as the person who does singer-songwriter music, you know the girl who sings and plays ukulele. But I don’t study that here, that’s not actually what I’ve done in the music department… This is a chance to share what I’ve done here academically and personally.Psychonaut aspires to be one total experience, or as Skinner puts it, a “journey.”

Malia Guyer-Stevens