On the Bridge
About the Album
The Album Concept
"On the Bridge" is a concept album about my life being an autistic person growing up in a world not built for people like me. I wrote this album to tell my story so other neurodivergent people could relate to the experiences that I discuss throughout this project. I also wrote this album so neurotypical people could see the flaws in how neurodivergent people are treated in a world that doesn't accommodate us. For example, the American education system does not advocate for accessibility for neurodivergent students. Instead, we are separated, marginalized, and classified as "special education". The reality is that this is the problem, and unfortunately, the world decided that treating us like we're broken and that we need to be fixed/have a cure is easier than accommodating us. I know this well, as I've lived it. The story of this album primarily focuses on my time growing up through the education system, and through other systems that have suppressed my true self. This suppression forced me to mask myself and try to blend in with the world because in my mind, that was the only way to survive. It also led to many traumatic experiences where people felt they were able to hurt, bully and abuse me because of who I was. It wasn't until I attended undergrad at Oberlin College, where I blossomed and found the right people and community. It was this that allowed me to break out of my shell and learn about myself. I ultimately found a safe space, and now, I have reached a point where I feel like I belong. It gave me the courage to move forward with my life, and never hide who I truly am. I hope that with this album, my story can help spark change through neurodivergent people finding the courage to stand up for themselves and be their true selves.
The Album Background
Right before COVID-19 hit in my Sophomore year at Oberlin, I was exploring my identity and discovered my neurodivergence through past experiences I have had and discussing those experiences with my parents. I was never until then told of the diagnosis I had had since I was three years old. In March 2020, we were sent home from Oberlin due to the pandemic, and during this time, I researched autism extensively and learned that many of the common traits of autism like sensory issues, special interests, social issues, meltdowns and shutdowns are traits that I have experienced without being aware why. Since the initial quarantine in early 2020, I became an activist for autism and disability rights on social media. I also became very vocal about my experiences as an autistic person on my online presence and with my peers at Oberlin and home. Because of all my research, self-discovery and acceptance, I felt that it was the right time to write an album about those experiences and take the chance to be vulnerable.
The Album Layout
The album starts with music all about being proud of who I am in the track "i am who i am", and then continues into explaining how I find value in objects that have significant meaning in my life. The second track "music player time capsule" mentions a music player that I hold all of my memories on through music that I have listened to, played, and composed. Although those faded memories seem happy to the average watcher, there was deep fear and sadness hidden behind my mask. Moving further into the album, the music takes a dark turn and focuses on traumatic experiences I have had with bullying and physical abuse in public places like school and summer camp. All of this leads up to a chaotic track called "treading water" which specifically focuses on the worst experience I had regarding physical abuse from people who were comfortable taking advantage of my diagnosis. After this, I immediately move into a track that sonifies the horrors of being in a shutdown state where I can't use my senses after something traumatic happens. From here to the end, the album shifts focus to building myself up and finding acceptance in myself and knowing what and who I am. The first part of "stimulation bridge" is about finding a safe space where I can be my true self without anyone spectating me and judging me for being myself. The next track "the moment i belong" would be the climax of the album where I find people that also accept me at Oberlin for who I really am. From here, the album ends with a bang! I am free and proud to be myself and move on from Oberlin and out into the world to show what I can do and assist others like me to find their paths and shine. The music builds in intensity until the very end and is overall full of positive vibes.
Songs in the Album
i am who i am
"i am who i am" opens the album. This track is mostly meant to introduce the listener to myself and an brief overview of the experience I have gone through. The song begins with simple questions asking myself who I am. I state that I am who I am, but I don't know who I am in this place, meaning that I am confused as to why I am perceived as different in this world. The words "place" and "space" are used interchangeably in this song, yet they foster different meanings in the context of this work. A place is literally just a place I reside in at any moment, but a space is a special place that is meant to help me. At the end of the song, I question whether where I reside is a safe space, or just a place I am trapped in.
music player time capsule
"music player time capsule" is technically the first track to start the story the album is telling. The song touches on an electronic device that I have had for most of my life that holds value to me. This device is an iPod from 2004. Every time I use it, I am adding a new chapter to my life, yet I can still look back and see the tracks I put on it in the past. This is how I see such a device, and this plays an important part in my story. It establishes the idea that objects can have significant value to me, and a device like an iPod can be a great way to escape the worlds taunting and judgment on people like me. It also shows that my life might seem like a fun perfectly happy childhood to an outsider, but deep inside, I had fear and uncertainty of what the world expected of me.
surrounded by thorns
"surrounded by thorns" is an intense track about my struggles growing up as an autistic person. Throughout the album, there are symbols that represent different aspects of the story that I am telling in the work. The thorns symbolize the people who put me down as I try to build myself up. These people include bullies in school and elsewhere, adults who doubted me, and people who abused my disability to get away with awful actions. There is a recurring line in the song that says "I cannot climb without shedding blood”. Shedding blood refers to the thorns causing me pain and trying to stop me from being the best self I can be. This song breaks down and continues into the next track “treading water”.
Considered the climax of the first half of the album, "treading water" sonifies the most traumatic event of my life. This is not something I am comfortable explaining here on this page, but be assured that this track is intense. I did not hold back on making this track feel exactly like the memory I have of this event in my life. Trigger warning for sudden loud noises and high frequencies.
"nothing" depicts the horrors of being in an autistic shutdown. This track proceeds "treading water" as that event did invoke me to shut down. The track starts out bombastic, depicting the many different thoughts racing in my head, and my search for my own senses. After this, the track settles down and I sing about what it feels like having a shutdown, which in one word would be "nothing".
“space” begins in a Taxi of some sort. I hop into the car, and tell the driver to take me where everyone else is going. After the events of the previous three tracks, I am defeated, and give in to conforming to what society wants me to be like. As the generic music gets louder and louder, and the car drives faster and faster, I begin to have a vision. This brings in a light chill theme where I sing about trying to find a space where I can build myself up instead of conforming. After this vision, I tell the driver to stop, and I step out of the car. The generic music cuts out, and a new interesting uplifting beat plays, symbolizing my search for place where I can build myself back up. This place ends up being an abandoned train bridge that I call “stimulation bridge”.
stimulation bridge part 1
If any symbol in the album has to be the most significant, the bridge would be one of those. "stimulation bridge part 1" introduces the idea of an abandoned bridge where I can freely stim and be myself without people bullying me or judging me for being myself. It also symbolizes a safe space where I can be vulnerable with the people in my life that I love. The song also compares my life to this structure that was also abandoned in the place we both reside in after society deemed it unusable. It was left to rot, like neurodivergent people are left to fend for themselves in this scary world. The music is very calming and hopeful.
the moment i belong
For the second half of the album, "the moment i belong" would be the climax track. This track marks a significant part of my life where I felt accepted for being my true self for the first time. When I started making friends at Oberlin College, I realized that true friendship was something I was lacking for a long time in my life. I also never had someone to share experiences with until going to college. The track is a duet between two people and is supposed to sound like these two people (one of them being me) having a conversation about our past experiences. The track builds in intensity the whole time and has a climatic ending.
“beyond” is a lush and dramatic piano solo piece that depicts the feelings of moving forward with my life. After feeling like I belong at Oberlin and having support from other people like me, I finally develop the power to break through the glass sky. The track gets really emotional and intense, but in a bitter-sweet way, as I am leaving the people I love for a bright and exciting future.
stimulation bridge part 2
"stimulation bridge part 2" ends the album with a dramatic and positive bang! The music is simple, yet uplifting, bringing back the main melody from part 1.