THE MUSIC ISSUE
The week of March 15, 2015
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The mythic universe of Sorne

By Doug Freeman

Like all myths, it’s difficult to discern just how the story began.

In some sense, it’s a story that that has always already been told. In another, it’s a story that will never be fully told, continually evolving and mutating and living beyond itself. And in many ways, Morgan Sorne is less the creator of “House of Stone”—his ever-evolving multimedia saga—and more its oracle, a mystical creative shaman piecing together disparate cultural shards into a vessel that can not possibly contain its own immensity.

Sitting calmly in his home in north Austin, Texas, surrounded by his artwork and instruments, Sorne attempts to outline the expanse of his vision with a deliberate but inevitably digressing intensity. The conversation leaps from Joseph Campbell to Björk, Star Wars to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, Hayao Miyazaki’s anime to Robert Farris Thompson’s Flash of the Spirit. And yet they’re all pieces of the same saga, all swirling and collaging into the multimedia centrifuge of Sorne’s “House of Stone.”

“To compartmentalize is really difficult for me as a personality, I’m just not that kind of person,” admits the 31-year-old musician, visual artist, filmmaker, and writer. “My mind just kinds of runs like a river, and all of the stuff just chaotically collides in on itself.”

When Sorne released his debut House of Stone album in 2011, few fans could have realized the sheer scope of what he was building. The 13 songs seemed simply an extension of his mesmerizing live show, tribal and trance-like, with an aggressive energy wound and released through his perfect-pitched, four-octave range. 

It’s a story that will never be fully told, continually evolving and mutating and living beyond itself.

House of Stone was a mere overture, however, a prelude to the epic narrative to follow. Last year, Sorne unfurled Death I and Death II, the first two chapters of the planned five-LP series that he aims to have completed this year. With those albums, the narrative began to unfold more clearly, revealing the encompassing audacity of his developing universe.

 “For me, what excited me truly was the idea that instead of just doing an album, what if it was an album that told a story where you could dig deeper and there might be other pieces of discovery—that might be art or performance—to create something that isn’t just a passive listen or a passive experience,” he says. “And if you dig deeper, it’s like excavating a Mayan city. You’re uncovering. To me that element of discovery is really exciting.”

Sorne first began outlining the concept for “House of Stone” while still a teenager. Growing up in Tallahassee, Fla., both his parents had operatic voices and worked in theater, bestowing upon him an ingrained penchant for the epically dramatic. The archetypes for the narrative began to emerge in his artwork and writing—the First Born, the Black Sister, the Second Sun, and their murder of their father and king in reclamation of the kingdom.

After earning his degree in fine arts from the University of Florida, Sorne moved to Austin in 2007 and found inspiration in the vast expanses of Texas, the setting of the Dead Desert evolving the myth and evoking a world both pre-civilization and post-apocalyptic.

In 2009, his artwork was selected for show in the prestigious Texas Biennial, and he created the short film Children of the Black Mountain. His live shows garnered attention for their increasingly intense and enveloping experience, winning him best avant garde artist at last year’s Austin Music Awards during SXSW. Sorne’s universe began to unfold through every available medium, and with the release of Death I and Death II, he relaunched his website to present the story to an even wider audience. 

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An excerpt from “House of Stone”

“What was exciting to me, and what’s still exciting to me, is the idea that one could find the perfect fusion of multiple mediums to create that world,” attests Sorne. “Especially on the point of technology, I think about what makes cultures beautiful. Being a humanist, I think a lot about what makes a culture, and how is that culture protected and lost and regained. As new things become available, we’re interested in exploring how that medium can complement the philosophies behind the rest of the work. Ultimately it goes back to that idea of connecting with people and relating to the culture.”

“My mind just kinds of runs like a river, and all of the stuff just chaotically collides in on itself.”

As he lays out the myth, Sorne is careful not impose too strict a reading on his work. It’s intentionally ambiguous, more an archetypal framework for the ever-expanding world he’s fostering than a fully formed narrative. He wants to allow the myth to evolve naturally and beyond himself, and his fans have begun to contribute their own pieces to the story, giving his universe a life of its own.

“On purpose, I have withheld that story for many years now,” he continues. “I’ve got my beginning, my middle, and my end, but everything in between, that’s all subject to change. And the beautiful part of it is, what’s happened with ‘House of Stone’ over the years as I’ve met fans and people and we’ve talked about it, things have mutated and changed. I think that kind of kinetic energy is so important for storytelling.

“I’ll go to Minnesota and a 20-year-old will come up to me with an entire narrative that she’s written based on my story without knowing any of the content,” he continues. “People make me clothes with my designs embroidered on them, handmade. I get videos of choreography groups sending me their movement to my songs. It’s like sitting around campfire, and when you say the thing it comes back to you and it’s something completely different. There’s a beauty in that for me.”

This spring, Sorne will move to Los Angeles, considering the media and entertainment mecca to be the next logical step in developing his work. His full ambition for “House of Stone” is characteristically grand. He plans to create a book when the album series is finished but also wants to produce a full operatic show that he can tour, incorporating his artwork and music and film into a comprehensive stage experience that extends to the audience.

“The true goal is to authentically connect with the audience member no matter where they are in their life, create something that is undeniably touching,” offers Sorne. “I feel like some of the greatest shows I’ve been to, I’ve been a little bit scared, been pushed outside of my comfort zone. That’s the exciting part of that experience. I’ve always loved the idea that good art comes from a need, but also allows for the viewer to come into the room and get comfortable. You can imbue it with your potential, your history. To me, that’s good dialogue in an art piece.

“And if you dig deeper, it’s like excavating a Mayan city. You’re uncovering.”

“My whole mission statement as a creative is to create an experience that goes deeper than just going to a show. I really want to have that be there but also offer things like workshops or elements in the experience that allow for the fan to feel like they have a bit ownership in the piece.”

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Just as the “House of Stone” myth represents a framework for Sorne to explore the possibilities in his art, he considers his artwork to be as much about providing a catalyst of experience for others. Ultimately, the universe that Sorne is creating is not the mythic world of “House of Stone,” but the threads between communities of creativity across the world—nodes connected both virtually and in real life.

“I feel the desire as part of my life’s purpose to help light people up, and see them creating at their highest potential, and like to see that as part of the tour model, where there is that community globally, so you know wherever you go you can charge people up,” envisions Sorne. “It doesn’t even have to be the arts. It’s about finding your voice, whatever it is. People want to have purpose—they want to connect. We’re looking to find our purpose; we all want that. And if I can provide a spark to find that purpose, then I feel like I’m doing my job.”

All photos via Morgan Sorne