A flower grew out of the ocean

“Someone fond of paradoxes, sufficiently stubborn and guided by belief, could go on doubting that the ocean was a living being. But it was impossible to deny the existence of its mind, whatever could be understood by the term. It had become quite clear that it was only too aware of our presence above it…” 

“But what am I going to see?”

“I don’t know. In a certain sense it depends entirely on you. It’s visioning seems symbiotic, a form of communion: what you see is created from what it can see in you and what you are willing to know about both yourself and its consciousness.”

A flower grew out of the ocean is a music/sound/spoken text/media performance in four parts that premiered on October 21, 2023 at the Crypt below the Church of the Intercession on W155th St, NYC. The texts are excerpts from Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris.

Each section can be accessed by scrolling over the timeline in the embedded video. Below are direct links to specific sections (that will open in their own windows), and the excerpted texts.

Handmade Electronic Instruments: Lucas Yasunaga
Vocalists:  Hilary Baboukis Holly Druckman
Live Video Projection: Lili Maya
Electronic Music/Composition: James Rouvelle

Azmi Mert Erdem and Michael Wilson 

If you’d like a brief introduction to the work we suggest starting with Part IV – by either scrolling to that part’s location on the timeline above, or clicking this direct link: (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=36m15s)

Part I
Introduction (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=0m0s)
Interlude (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=3m57s)
Text Excerpt 1 (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=8m9s)

We exchanged no further words. I slid the transparent canopy shut, gave him the signal, and he set the lift going. I emerged onto the Station roof; the motor burst into life; the three blades turned and the machine rose, strangely light, into the air. Soon the Station had fallen far behind.

Alone over the ocean, I saw it with a different eye. I was flying quite low, at about a hundred feet, and for the first time I felt a sensation often described by the explorers but which I had never noticed from the height of the Station, the alternating motion of the gleaming waves was not at all like the undulation of the sea or the billowing of clouds. It was like the crawling skin of an animal. The incessant, slow-motion contractions of muscular flesh, secreting a crimson foam.

When I started to bank towards the drifting mimoid, the sun shone into my eyes and blood-red flashes struck the curved canopy. The dark ocean, flickering with sombre flames, was tinged with blue.

The flitter came around too wide, and I was carried a long way down wind from the mimoid. It was a long irregular silhouette looming out of the ocean. Emerging from the mist, the mimoid was no longer pink, but a yellowish grey. I lost sight of it momentarily, and glimpsed the Station, which seemed to be sitting on the horizon, and whose outline was reminiscent of an ancient zeppelin. I changed course, and the sheer mass of the mimoid grew in my line of vision, a baroque sculpture. I was afraid of crashing into the bulbous swellings, and pulled the flitter up so brutally that it lost speed and started to lurch; but my caution was unnecessary, for the rounded peaks of those fantastic towers were subsiding.

Part II
Interlude (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=11m37s)
Text Excerpt 2 (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=16m55s)

I flew past the island. Slowly, yard by yard, I descended to the level of the eroded peaks. The mimoid was not large. It measured about three quarters of a mile from end to end, and was a few hundred yards wide. In some places it was close to splitting apart. This mimoid was obviously a fragment of a far larger formation. On the scale of Solaris it was only a tiny splinter, weeks or perhaps months old.

Among the mottled crags overhanging the ocean, I found a kind of beach, a sloping, fairly even surface a few yards square. I steered towards it. The rotors almost hit a cliff that reared up suddenly in my path, but I landed safely, cut the motor and slid back the canopy. Standing on the fuselage I made sure that there was no chance of the flitter sliding into the ocean. Waves were licking at the jagged bank about fifteen paces away, but the machine rested solidly on its legs. I jumped to the ground.

The cliff I had almost hit was a huge bony membrane pierced with holes, and full of knotty swellings. A crack several yards wide split this wall diagonally and enabled me to examine the interior of the island, already glimpsed through the apertures in the membrane. I edged warily onto the nearest ledge, but my boots showed no tendency to slide and the suit did not impede my movements, and I went on climbing until I had reached a height of about four stories above the ocean, and could see a broad stretch of petrified landscape stretching back until it was lost from sight in the depths of the mimoid.

Part III
Interlude (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=19m19s)
Text Excerpt 3 (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=29m31s)

It was like looking at the ruins of an ancient town. A Moroccan city tens of centuries old. Convulsed by an earthquake or some other disaster. I made out a tangled web of winding side-streets choked with debris, and alleyways which fell abruptly towards the oily foam that floated close to the shore. In the middle distance, great battlements stood intact, sustained by ossified buttresses. There were dark openings in the swollen and sunken walls. Traces of windows or loop-holes. The whole of this floating town rocked like a foundering ship. It pitched and turned slowly, with the sun casting continually moving shadows creeping among the ruined alleys.

Now and again a polished surface caught and reflected the light. I took the risk of climbing higher, then stopped; rivulets of fine sand were beginning to trickle down the rocks above my head, cascading into ravines and alleyways and rebounding in swirling clouds of dust. The mimoid is not made of stone, and to dispel the illusion one only has to pick up a piece of it to discover that it is lighter than pumice, and composed of small, very porous cells.

Now I was high enough to feel the swaying of the mimoid. It was moving forward, propelled by the dark muscles of the ocean towards an unknown destination, but its inclination varied. It rolled from side to side, and the languid oscillation was accompanied by the gentle rustling sound of the yellow and grey foam which streamed off the emerging shore. The mimoid had acquired its swinging motion long before, probably at its birth, and even while it grew and broke up it had retained its initial pattern.

Only now did I realize that I was not in the least concerned with the mimoid, and that I had flown here not to explore it’s formation, but to acquaint myself with the ocean.

Part IV
Text Excerpt 4 (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=36m15s)
Postlude (https://vimeo.com/898683817#t=39m44s)

With the flitter a few paces behind me, I sat on the rough, fissured beach. A heavy black wave broke over the edge of the bank and spread out, not black, but a dirty green. The ebbing wave left viscous streamlets behind, which flowed back quivering towards the ocean. I went closer, and when the next wave came I held out my hand. What followed was a faithful reproduction of a phenomenon which had been analyzed a century before: the wave hesitated, recoiled, then enveloped my hand without touching it, so that a thin covering of ‘air’ separated my glove inside a cavity which had been fluid a moment previously, and now had a fleshy consistency. I raised my hand slowly, and the wave, or rather an outcrop of the wave, rose at the same time, enfolding my hand in a translucent cyst with greenish reflections. I stood up, so as to raise my hand still higher, and the gelatinous substance stretched like a rope, but did not break. The main body of the wave remained motionless on the shore, surrounding my feet without touching them, like some strange beast patiently waiting for the experiment to finish. A flower had grown out of the ocean, and its calyx was moulded to my fingers. I stepped back. The stem trembled, stirred uncertainly and fell back into the wave, which gathered it and receded.

I repeated the game several times, until — as the first experimenter had observed — a wave arrived which avoided me indifferently, as if bored with a too familiar sensation. I knew that to revive the ‘curiosity’ of the ocean I would have to wait several hours. Disturbed by the phenomenon I had stimulated, I sat down again. Although I had read numerous accounts of it, none of them had prepared me for the experience as I had lived it, and I felt somehow changed.

In all their movements, taken together or singly, each of these branches reaching out of the ocean seemed to display a kind of cautious but not feral alertness, a curiosity avid for quick apprehension of a new, unexpected form, and regretful at having to retreat, unable to exceed the limits set by a mysterious law. The contrast was inexpressible between that lively curiosity and the shimmering immensity of the ocean that stretched away out of sight … I had never felt its gigantic presence so strongly, or its powerful changeless silence, or the secret forces that gave the waves their regular rise and fall. I sat unseeing, and sank into a universe of inertia, glided down an irresistible slope and identified myself with the dumb, fluid colossus; it was as if I had forgiven it everything.

Without the slightest effort of word or thought.