Exploring the Hexadic System

I was intrigued when I discovered that Ben Chasny, of Six Organs of Admittance, had used a system of indeterminate composition to write material for his new album, Hexadic, working with the arising materials in the idiom of sprawling, improvisatory psychedelic rock, which evokes parallels with Mainliner, his earlier Comets on Fire freakouts, the grimy ‘tape muck’ of Ashtray Navigations and the distorted, dissonant metal of groups like SunnO))) and Khanate. There are also occasional forays into calmer territories on tracks like the beautiful Hesitant Grand Light and Guild, and the moody, ever-descending Future Verbs.


Although Ben has hitherto spanned a wide-range of styles and genres in his music-making, I still thought it was a brave decision to embrace such approaches so completely: the inevitability is alienating one’s more conservative ‘fans’, while trying to develop as an artist and pursue the aspects of music making that are most vital and interesting to oneself. I still think that the experiments in atonality initiated by composers such as Schoenberg and Hauer in the early 20th century have a lot more mileage in them, and this brilliant article by Philip Clarke really highlights the issues regarding the tensions between established and ‘new tonalities':

Here’s the challenge. We need to be open to hearing this new tonality. It isn’t going to sound like the old tonality, and that’s fine – too much whining about new music is based on little more than ‘it doesn’t resemble the music I already like’. As mainstream pop, and what continues to pass for ‘New Music’, uses less tonality more cynically, there’s space for a new breed of composer interested in using more tonality, more pointedly to fill that gaping vacuum. Composers today are repeatedly pounced on because – allegedly – they lack relevance to the wider world. And thus a new, noble cause is born – creating an expressively pungent, provocative, culturally subversive tonality that rubs lamestream noses in their own mediocrity. Does that aspiration strike a chord?

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Hawthonn & Hexady


I’m pleased to say that the eponymous Hawthonn album is now available to download as a limited digital edition.

The first 72 copies include the Hawthonn album, plus:

* Four additional ‘holophone’ tracks: more than an hour of extra musick

* 32-page Hawthonn journal

* Full size cover artwork

* Personalised, numbered certificate (emailed separately within three working days)

Once sold out, the album will revert to an unlimited edition featuring album tracks and cover art only.

Listen & download here.

I’d also like to say that I’ve recently been enjoying Ben Chasny’s book The Hexadic System rather a lot, since it appeals to a lot of my wider interests in speculative music, atonality/new tonality, ars combinatoria and so on. I’m hoping to write in greater detail about it as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Ben has begun to put together a series of pages to support the book, and you can also listen to some experiments that I’ve composed/recorded using ideas derived from the system.


The Many-Coloured Earth

On Monday, I was in Cambridge to present a paper at The Alchemical Landscape, a symposium held at Corpus Christi college and convened by the Cambridge University Counterculture Research Group. My thanks to Yvonne Salmon and James Riley for inviting me along – it was a very successful and fascinating day, and I’m still following leads arising from it. You can see the full programme here – music was very well represented with contributions from myself, Justin Hopper (on Shirley Collins and ‘pastoral noir’), English Heretic, Drew Mulholland (a pleasure to meet him after all these years!), Chris Lambert and Sharron Kraus. It was also incredible to finally meet Gyrus, whose work on Ilkely and Verbeia have had a marked influence on my own relation to the local landscape over the last 15 years or more!

You can read my paper here: The Many-Coloured Earth: Visionary Creativity, Imaginal Landscapes and the Hermeneutic Imagination. It’s a shame that I didn’t have more opportunity to qualify terms like ‘vision’ and ‘image’, or to discuss the relationship with the creative process (which is discussed here) and the final ‘product’. However, there will be a longer version of this paper in the future which discusses these, further methodological notes and also explores the work of AE in the context of ‘visionary landscapes’ in more detail. If you’ve not read my (less academically inclined) piece on AE and his ‘language of the gods’ you can also do so here.

I’ve also received word from Wounded Wolf Press that Angelystor is nearly sold out. Since it seems unlikely that there will be a second edition, this may be your last chance.

Finally, while wandering around the area of Corpus Christi, I noticed this intriguing clock on the western portal of Great St. Mary’s Church. Obviously my brain is somewhat Coil-addled, following the Hawthonn project and two pieces of Coil-related research currently on-going, but I couldn’t help noticing the similarity between the clock face and the ‘black sun’ logo used by the duo. The ‘black sun’ sign was actually cribbed from Aleister Crowley’s Liber 231, and is related to one of the genii of the houses of Mercuy, apparently called Chiva-abrahadabra-cadaxviii. As a student, Crowley apparently had digs nearby: I wonder if this striking feature influenced him at all?


Out of the Silence

This semester has been rather hectic, so it almost feels like a bit of a break to be going to present a paper at the Alchemical Landscape symposium next week, hosted by the Cambridge University Counterculture Research Group. I’ll post the paper to my Academia.edu profile next week.


I was also working on a paper about Coil for the Dark Sound conference at Falmouth in April. Unfortunately I’ve had to withdraw from the conference due to personal circumstances, but I will continue to work on the paper for a future presentation or publication. One positive thing, though, is that a short piece about Jhonn Balance’s book-collection will appear in the third (and printed) edition of Phil Barrington‘s monolithic compendium of Balance lyrics and writings, The Golden Age of Blood Sports [pdf of the second edition here].


The Hawthonn album has been mastered by Benny Reibel and a few demos are circulating around various parties… we’ll see what happens there… Benny also went to Mexico recently and brought me back a death whistle, so here’s some pleasant music to tide you over until next time! ;)

Of Yew and Hawthorn

I am very pleased to say that Wounded Wolf Press are now dispatching copies of Angelystor, and you can get yours on their website for £12.50, including international p&p. Thanks to Atay for all his hard work in bringing this to fruition, and putting up with my endless typo-spotting.

This edition of Angelystor is a a 72 page hardcover book with narrative, photos by Layla Legard, and graphic score. The book also comes with a CD containing Angelystor and Yew Invocations I-IV, and an insert containing graphic scores of the Yew Invocations. And, to top it all off, the book has a foreword written by cult author Warren Ellis.

abook0abook2abook3abook4The Hawthonn project terminated on December the 1st, and all the blogs, Soundcloud playlists and so on have been archived, while we move toward a limited first edition in 2015 – the image below is a teaser for this (- there will be 20 exemplars, please get in touch if you are interested in one).


Until then, you can read the final post to the project blog here. However, the videos, currently being produced by Ætheric Anomalies, will be posted as they are realised. Here are videos for Aura, Epsilon and Ghosts. The remaining videos for Foxglove and Thanatopsis will be released on the DVD with the limited edition. We’re both very pleased with how this project developed and the music that came out of it over such a short period.


Hawthonn Summer

It’s been quiet here. For the first time in longer than I can remember, my summer wasn’t spent madly scrabbling round for ad hoc jobs and projects and I was able to spend some time with my family – and speaking of which, Layla and I have begun working on a new project called Hawthonn. It takes its inspiration from the landscape of Bassenthwaite, the final resting place for the earthly vessel that hosted Coil’s Jhonn Balance.

While the legacy of Balance’s life, art and death could be called the daemon that is guiding the project, we are keen to stress that this is also very much informed by our own process of engagement with the imaginal landscape of Bassenthwaite and the complex of myth and image currently emerging from this; we hope that the final album will be an oblique (or, rather, ‘occult’?) tribute to a figure whose vision continues to haunt us. Since speaking to friends and acquaintances about this project, I have been humbled by their recollection of the kindness of both Balance and Christopherson during the early years of their project, before the volume of correspondence became impossible to deal with. An example I hope that we will to be able to follow (on my own I am terrible at maintaining correspondence…).

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Kircher & Schott’s Computer Music of the Baroque

Here is a piece of music, which was composed with a sort of 17th century computer called the Organum Mathematicum, devised by Athanasius Kircher and fully described by his pupil and assistant Gaspar Schott:

It was the last post, touching on Robert Fludd’s Temple of Music, which reminded me of my interest in the Organum in around 2007, which is when the above piece was written. Now that I am free of the limitations of LiveJournal, I’d like to use this post to revisit Kircher and Schott’s work.

A surviving Organum Mathematicum (Museo Galileo)

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Robert Fludd: Of Music and Mind

In a recent post about Robert Fludd’s Temple of Music engraving, illustrator John Coulthart made the following observation:

It’s only very recently I’ve paid much attention to the writings of people such as Fludd and Kircher, in the past I’ve been more interested in the illustrations from their books, inevitably when they’ve been used so often for completely frivolous reasons. Looking through the Utriusque Cosmi it’s immediately evident what an astonishing work it is; anyone with that breadth of knowledge is going to make some interesting connections.

Robert Fludd’s Temple of Music.

It’s a shame that Fludd’s Utriusque Cosmi, his encyclopaedic masterwork, has not yet been fully translated into English – for while the engravings are beautiful, they belong to a textually dense work of more than 1,000 pages in length, providing an overview of subjects as diverse as the creation of the universe, music, optics, chemistry, ars memoria, geometry, warfare, geomancy, surveying, drawing and cabala, all unified by an overarching Hermetic worldview that bridges the heritage of Renaissance neoplatonism with 17th century natural philosophy. 

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Imaginal Acoustics: On Subtle Listening, Sound-Shapes and Time

Poster for the 2013 Dark Stations concert.

Last year I invited Kim Cascone to the university for one of his Dark Stations concerts. Dark Stations is a 42-minute piece for a meditating audience based on a 3.1 diffusion system: the listeners sit in darkness within a triangular speaker array, a sub-bass speaker in the centre. The performance last year was one of the most interesting audio experiences I’d had for some time, culminating in a profound experience of auditory pareidolia: frequencies and room acoustics meshed to form phantom speech that I found it impossible to disassociate from the voice of my (then unborn) son, Lovernios.

I was pleased to be able to invite Kim back this year for a reprise of Dark Stations, preceded by a two-day Subtle Listening workshop. The workshop, subtitled “Inner Ear Training for Sound Artists” takes a highly reflective approach to sound, sound design and composition, designed to take participants beyond the technical ‘how to’s that education in music technology and production often dwells on, and toward a more creative, intuitive relationship with sound and what might be called ‘imaginal acoustics’.

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