Liminal phenomena and liminoid states are transitional phases in which a familiar order sees its values and symbols destabilised; norms are suspended or turned on their heads. They thrust us into the grey zone between the two sides of a supposedly clear demarcation. We find ourselves in ambiguous spaces, somewhere between a past that is no longer valid and an ever-becoming future.
Liminality characterises spiritual practices and social rituals as well as aesthetic, psychedelic, and other transformative experiences. It marks technological upheaval and social, cultural, and political change. In music, boundary-disturbing experiences and acts of transgression are perpetually negotiated and re-negotiated, be it through the lifestyles and identities associated with music cultures, in practices of intoxication and of altered states closely associated with music, its transcultural hybridity and digital fluidity, or in the multisensory experience of sound itself.
Such liminal spaces are zones whose limits and scope remain unknown. The liminal is the fundamental challenging of norms and identities. At the same time it is a place of heightened sensitivity, of undirected experimentation, and of new potential communities. As such, it is a contact zone with the "other," the unconscious, and altered forms of being, which can trigger regenerative or transformative effects. In this respect, one can try to avoid them or actively seek them out and engage with them. In times of crisis, we are inevitably thrust into them. It isn’t difficult to identify the liminal nature of our present time, which is challenged on almost all fronts and scales by far-reaching processes of transformation such as climate change, post-democracy, re-nationalisation, globalisation, migration, hybridisation, or digitisation. All currently pressing conflicts demand a (re)negotiation of borders and demarcations, always confirming that the old is no longer possible and the new is not yet imaginable. The well-known and familiar no longer promise stability or certainty, but the solutions for an encouraging future often remain out of sight, or are only hinted towards on the horizon.
We are in between. Amidst ambivalence and perpetual shift, we drift without assurance nor certainty. How and in what form will we emerge? What will we encounter along the way? Is there anything beyond this liminal zone? As open as liminoid experiences can appear, and as unrestricted as liminal spaces may seem, they always remain tied to the notion of boundaries. Preoccupations with the liminal inevitably are entangled with borders—with the existence, perception, transgression, invalidation, and creation of demarcations of all kinds. And they prompt urgent questions about their political utilisation and economic exploitation.
The celebration of liminality, hybridisation, and transgression is not enough in and of itself. Rather, praise should be supplemented with critical evaluation of potentials, ambivalences, trajectories, and exclusions. How do such experiences and practises affect political and cultural dichotomies? When do they merely serve to reinforce known power structures and when might they actually allow for gains in cultural freedom and permeability? Can transformative potential and the emergence of new ideas arise through liminal experiences, and if so, can they resist co-optation by market forces and political agendas? Can they aid nuanced self-awareness, reveal scope for action, or enable empathetic experiences? Is it enough to practice forms of experimental politics in a liminal space that has to make do without tangible utopias?
Entitled “Liminal," CTM 2020 throws itself into limbo in hopes of stimulating a critical discussion of our present and possible futures.