Heart Shaped Hole

I recently completed a song called “Heart-shaped Hole” for my upcoming album. That song evolved from my understanding that despite a general sense of the world falling apart (it’s hard to ignore the headlines today), that this is a perfect time for us to start moving forward by staying true to ourselves. Be the positive energy in the darkness, per se. There is a direct connection between this song and the idea of people joining together to create a better world and becoming a universe of heart-shaped holes.

Music is one of the most primal and fundamental aspects of human culture with many researchers even arguing that it (at least in a primitive form) pre-dates the emergence of language itself. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once observed, “….music is the universal language of mankind.” That is what was inspired me and finally became the idea of the song—the fact of a “doesn’t really exist” connection within all of us, one allowing us to find that perfect spot, be at peace, be yourself with an intrinsic ability to listen to others. Instead of endless fighting—physically or with words—we have to find common ground before we end up as people from Babylon. It starts from little steps like not overplaying the idea of appropriation by artists from a different culture to express diversity in a song. Instead, lets allow the sharing ofcultural strength by inviting others to treasure these sounds, and end up with ideas that we all come from the same pot, that love and kindness of our neighbors, friends—and animals—is the answer and key to a “Heart-shaped Hole.”

Sonically, “Heart-shaped Hole” stands out from the other tracks on my upcoming album. The rest of my work on the album draws on a mixture of my cultures: I am Russian and have a mix of Asian/Eastern in my blood. Yes, in “Heart-shaped Hole,” I created less ethnic sounds than the other tracks.  I had my doubts about it and originally did not plan to release it as the first single, nor even if it even made sense to include it on the album because of its distinct aural essence.  But the feedback from those I trust was very strong, and the opening track for the Alya project was born.

The late Robin Williams said: “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

When I left journalism, music and songwriting became my voice, but I was always unsure that it would be loud enough to change anything. With “Heart-shaped Hole” something new came to me. I got that absolutely amazing peace in my soul and clear vision of my path.  Given that fact, from now on I try in my own music to illicit in people a desire to do good works in this world, myself included.  With my husband we joined Giving Pledge, started by Bill and Melinda Gates, and started focusing on our three family Foundations. Today, we are trying to make higher education more effective and inexpensive, placing textbooks online for college students who cannot afford them, as well as other interactive content. This year, we started to teach in some California colleges and universities an Intellectual Property course.  Michelson’s Found Animals Foundation, which runs a website promoting pet adoption and advice on microchips, among other things, is offering $50 million in grant research funds as well as a $25 million prize to scientists who can discover a way to chemically spay and neuter animals with a single, low-cost injection.  To this point in its existence, Found Animals has helped approximately 1.5 million pets. And, finally, we are creating a convergent bioscience center at the University of Southern California in hopes of producing medical breakthroughs. We’re going to cure cancer; we’re going to cure heart disease. There’s stuff going on there right now that’s going to change the world. And we here to prove it. 

Silence of creativity

In March, President Trump’s 2018 federal budget was presented and in it he proposed the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. Should this budget be approved, the arts will see a cut in all funding for communities through the United States. Since 1965, the NEA has independently funded and supported Americans in all sectors, celebrating the creative potential here in this nation. 

This potential stifling of artistic creativity is just one of the latest hammers to bash down on free thought (and free will) here in the US. Art is not some extracurricular hobby in this country. As a matter of fact, free expression—be it painting, sculpting, filmmaking, acting, dance, singing or playing an instrument, reciting poetry, dance and more—offers an escape from the current states of anger, frustration and instability of our nation today. Artists are not just free spirits, they are peacemakers, or should be.

As an artist myself, I take it as my personal mission through my work—both aural and visual—to continue to express the comfortable and the uncomfortable so that others may be inspired to bring forth their own beliefs and vision. I also want everyone to distract themselves with what I offer. I’m certain that my drive to express myself artistically comes from the fact that I grew up in Russia, where real constitutional “freedom” does not exist. 

So what does freedom look like in these days? There’s that old philosophy: “Think globally, act locally.” First, in my personal creative sphere, I feel compelled to make music and videos, takephotographs, and to dance in order to expel the various messages and thoughts I have inside me every day. But most importantly, my personal protest movement is in the form of the Aylauntes, my mummy-wrapped band members. They are my freedom, and my attempt to test it. Look, it is a dichotomy, for sure, that a covered entity could express personal freedom. Yet, being hidden like they are allows me to essentially “cover my face,” and takes away the potential for judgment. I can boldly go further than if I was alone, and exposed.  

There is a saying in Russia that says that people judge you by your clothing before listening. As a result, I find that covering or changing your face, whether it’s mine or my minions, the Alyauntes, allows us to become better versions of ourselves, and in many cases that we’ve been able to demonstrate in our Instagram photos, pretend to be someone different either in a recreation of a familiar image, or to express ourselves in another context.  Being covered, or wrapped, allows people the freedom not to expect anything in particular from us. We are faceless, free, and in essence, mirrors of those who glance upon us. 

For years, in my former life as a journalist, I reported on the world’s ills objectively. All the while, my true self was exploring my music, and I yearned for the ability to shed the skin that others saw everyday with that other profession. That was not freedom. 

To break it down even simpler, think of how we wrap ourselves in our daily lives, with fabric of our clothingand our jobs. I was learning that creativity from the soul is the purist form of communication. 

Finally, I left that old life behind and started to nurture the creative seed I had planted with music.

Obviously, I follow my own muse with my art. Trends are a reflection of others, a convenient and sustainable way of living, and the easy way to move forward. I challenge myself to be an individual, manifest my dream life in photos, videos, dance and music, both live and recorded. It’s only in doing this that the work can touch others and hopefully, be remembered. 

It is human nature to yearn for personal acceptance. But applying that desire to creativity is a sure path to mediocrity. That’s not freedom. I reject the concept of creating art to fit in, and be safe. I believe in myself, and I want to move away from the safety net, touch on the wonderment of something that feels new and exciting, a design that is out of my comfort zone.

In essence, I understand that contemporary art and pop culture need to be a synergy of expressing myself. I can push the envelope, maintain a loose connection with reality, but also cooperate with topics of the current times, like the fact that arts in this country are in jeopardy. Only by be being free in our own lives, will we be able to fight the forces that threatened to silence our creativity.