“The word ‘goes’ relates to terms describing the act of lamenting at funeral rites; the mournful howling considered as a magical voice. These magical tones can guide the deceased to the underworld, and raise the dead. This is the root of the long connection of goetia with necromancy, which as come to be termed black magic.”
There was a time when laws were given through Divine inspiration, and those who spoke them were raised to the level of the gods they served. Perhaps the most familiar example of this in the Western culture is the reception of the tables of law given to Moses on Mount Sinai (or Horeb depending on the tradition), but this tradition exists in nearly every culture across the world. According to the scholar Peter Kingsley it was a common practice in the ancient world that such receptions were required to be heard in times of trouble. Whether it was disease, famine, or war, if someone came forward with a Divinely inspired revelation, irregardless of their social standing, that revelation was to be respected and given a fair hearing lest the society suffer further due to its neglect.
Pythagorean theories on the harmony of the celestial spheres postulate correspondences stretching through the abstraction of number, sound and into light.
The difficulty for many has been crafting representations through art that encompass this process and remain comprehensible and communicative.
An Unfinished Substance: Cut-up#5 - Life Science Library ‘Matter’ 1963 - Zac Odin
Harry Everett Smith created hand painted films that were accompanied initially by jazz music. In subsequent screenings the music changed to fit the time period, Smith wanted contemporary music played with his films based on when they were screened, not when they were made. His visual explorations were meant to encompass universal themes that would remain current with each new iteration of music.
[open myth source] – “where the recombining of elements and the interactive process is more important than the product.”
A Bright Matter: Cut-ups - Life Science Library ‘Matter’ 1963 (Final Result) - Zac Odin
“Differing from other music, here soundscape is no longer the background but the foreground as the sound collage drives the experience; sound is now the story that we process and interpret individually and collectively.
Pythagoras and his followers saw these correspondences through imaginal means. Mathematical relationships were concrete realities. Philosophical epiphanies were arrived at through intense meditation, cementing the relationships in their minds.
The sounds and their direct relationship to mathematics were tied through ritual to corresponding emotional states. This, tied with image, creates a mnemonic device for encompassing a wider set of information. Allegorical stories along with music create a dynamic vehicle.
“I think that with music you can really accelerate dramatic moments because of the kind of ineffable shorthand of certain musical conventions, or musical innovations that just make sense, and bypass rational judgment in a way that writing can’t always do, or takes longer to do.” – Eric Lindley, Careful –Oh Light – A Conversation
“Over coffee and liqueurs we would sometimes listen to John Jacob Niles’ recordings. Our favorite was ‘I Wonder As I Wander,’ sung in a clear, high-pitched voice with a quaver and a modality all his own. The metallic clang of his dulcimer never failed to produce ecstasy. He had a voice which summoned memories of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere. There was something of the Druid in him. Like a psalmist, he intoned his verses in an ethereal chant which the angels carried aloft to the Glory seat. When he sang of Jesus, Mary and Joseph they became living presences. A sweep of the hand and the dulcimer gave forth magical sounds which caused the stars to gleam more brightly, which peopled the hills and meadows with silvery figures and made the brooks to babble like infants. We would sit there long after his voice had faded out, talking of Kentucky where he was born, talking of the Blue Ridge mountains and the folk from Arkansas…” —Henry Miller, Plexus pp. 366-367.
I decided to test the [open myth souce] idea and used two Willi Paul’s [open myth source] tracks and then layered guitar over them. I slowed down one of the WP tracks & messed with the stereo, Lft/Rt channels to build out the sound a bit. Fiddle with it in Win Movie Maker and it’s a picture with sound that can be used to accompany the pictures and text in this post created from the elements at hand.
There’s a subtle power to sound, it goes straight to the brain and a skilled musician can motivate visions, emotions and even physical responses in their listeners. Alan Lomax’s book, The Land Where the Blues Began, has a great description of how the old blues players would work the crowd with their songs. By choosing music that fit what they needed, they’d get the audience into a rhythm and watch how they reacted to the music, when the time was right they’d sing lyrics that expressed what they wanted from the crowd, if it was money they’d sing about getting money, if it was food or drink they’d do the same, if they wanted someone to take home after the show, well it was just a matter of choosing the right song.
While doing research for an Alarm Magazine article on “Audible Color” I had the opportunity to speak with Professor William Sethares of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Sethares studies acoustical engineering and has spent a number of years looking at how sound is interpreted by the listener.
One of the interesting things to come out of this study is his idea of speculative exomusicology, a thought experiment that looks to recreate music from outside the Earth. This concept helps Sethares move past traditional boundaries of musical structure and allows him free reign to play with the mathematical underpinnings of tone, harmony and timbre themselves.
Immediately I think of Sun Ra and his Afro-Futurist explorations of Egyptian magic, idealized Africa and the Celestial Spaces. Talking to Sethares was an opportunity to better understand the ability to build structures and landscapes with sound and to open up new spaces through music.
Landscapes of Sound
Looking at the Swans upcoming album the same can be applied to what Michael Gira has been doing. The vocals seem to drift in this landscape of sound. He looks at sound in a very physical way, and builds up layers of aural expression as one might layer stone on stone to build a wall. If you go back through the Swans catalog you can hear this interesting development of visceral sound experimentation. In his solo work, and his work with The Angels of Light, he was able to really explore the art of song-craft. On My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to Heaven he brings it all together with powerful results.
Knowledge of sound’s ability to build images in the mind, and create landscapes that one can travel through, seems to only be missing in the lowest forms of pop music. Most serious musicians are adept at utilizing this, spiritual movements have taken advantage of this power to bring glimpses of theophanic visions to the believer, and national movements have built idealized dreams of their nation-states on songs.
An hour or so on the phone with Professor Sethares and my mind was racing with the possibilities. Even in the visual arts the same mastery of the medium is possible. Austin Osman Spare was able to achieve this effect with his subtle use of color and ephemeral line work. Talented writers and poets do it with words. Ezra Pound’s poem Sestina Altaforte has a good example of the recognition of this process, with Pound declaring at the beginnig:
En Bertans de Born. Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that he was a stirrer up of strife. Eccovi! Judge ye! Have I dug him up again?
Here we have Pound pointing to the power of words to resurrect the dead. The duration of the reanimation would seem dependent on the artists ability to create a lasting work to carry the intention.
Integrating Sound and Image
Another enlightening exchange that came from the research was an email interview with Bryan Michael of Alka. He discussed the interplay between sound and image, and the process of integrating the two during a performance.
According to Bryan “the idea of both the visual and musical elements being conceived at the same time seems important. The trick is finding someone that can interpret and translate the tones into viewable elements without them being typical screenplay-style interpretations of the emotions evoked.” Having experienced this myself during the production process and live exhibits of A Serious Inquiry into the Vulgar Notion of Nature it was very helpful to hear how he tackled the ups and downs of the process.
alka :: i am a wreck live @ GATE in Philadelphia
This combination provides an interesting area of investigation. Sound itself is capable of so much, combined with visual elements of the same caliber and you get something like Stravinsky and Roerich’s presentation of the Rite of Spring. How can we translate this in contemporary terms?
Learning more about Brian’s interest in Gematria and Pythagorean musical ideas also opened up areas that I wasn’t very familiar with. “The idea of reducing words and incantations to their numerical equivalency and plugging the data into sequencers for audible results” is something that he is working with more. It seems like an idea that has a number of applications across the artistic spectrum, and closely tied to the same techniques that allowed the old blues players to be so effective.