Be it during daylight or by night, Phosphenes is haunting music. A phosphene is described as ‘the phenomenon of seeing light without light entering the eye’, and the violin is at the heart of its music. The violin – distorted, amplified, ghostly, altered in form and texture – is at the nexus of Jessica’s musical world. Everything else stems from its dark shape.
Jessica Moss is an experienced musician, both in her past collaborative work and in her solo music, and the composer and violinist’s third solo album under Constellation navigates the terrain of mourning and the appearance of a gleaming shield of light, moving between lengthy, rooted dissonance and something resembling harmonic comfort. An intense, foreboding atmosphere runs throughout the record, and it only darkens further, but there are possibilities of hope in the violin’s tones. The strings reverberate in the air, creating deep wells of echoing sounds, its music appearing to be both refined and yet darkened by tragedy or hopelessness. But the violin is also capable of producing a gleam of light – a phosphene that lights up the dark.
On the ramifications of the ongoing pandemic and life in lockdown, which saw musicians lose their audiences, the chance to perform live, and the starvation of much of their income, Moss mentions that it was ‘like when you press your fists hard against your eyes and eventually there is fireworks’. Some of this frustration appears in her music, and the beams of sustained light, flashing before the eyes, can be seen in the violin’s elongated notes, streaking past one after the other. The thin lines of light appear as ghostly, temporary forms. In reality, the light is absent, but the imagination mushrooms to create its own imagery. When much of the world was couped up inside, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and with social isolation and loneliness producing damaging short and long-term impacts on mental and physical health, imagination was a port-of-call for millions of people; a lit firework in the dark.
Recorded at home in isolation, in her rehearsal space, and at Hotel2Tango Studios in Montreal as restrictions were lifted, Phosphenes is a sensitive record, aware of its experiences and the experiences of others, lighting up and offering gentle glimmers of hope in a scarred world.