P. B. Randolph’s Astrological Melody

I recently began reading some of the work of Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825-1875), and was intrigued to discover a formula for composing magical melodies in his notorious Magia Sexualis. Unfortunately the instructions, on pp.69-74 of the 1931 French first edition and pp. 41-44 of the 1987 English translation, are almost incoherent: obviously some sort of editorial error or misreading of Randolph’s manuscript occurred prior to publication, and since neither translator was a musician the instructions have remained somewhat opaque. I am not sure if these errors are corrected in Donald Traxler’s 2012 translation, but I am posting my own synopsis of his method for those who are curious.

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The Phenomenology of Revelation

It was a great pleasure to travel to Aberystwyth at the start of the month for the Listen to the Voice of Fire: Alchemy in Sound Art symposium at the National Library of Wales. The day was organised by Dafydd Roberts, of Our Glassie Azoth, and brought together a variety of academics, composers and musicians to explore diverse responses to the theme of alchemy and its relationship with sonic arts. Below are some thoughts on the day – along with a little digression into the music of Radulescu! You can also find photos of the event here.

Prior to proceedings, it was a delight to hang out with Electroscope (in this configuration John Cavanagh, Gayle Brogan and Ceylan Hay aka Bell Lungs), and also to unexpectedly encounter Johann Wlight, whose Gold of a Thousand Mournings, was one of my favourite Larkfall releases from ‘back in the day’. I am pleased to say that he is still making his music, and hope to be able to hear some more sometime soon…

Dafydd Roberts introduced the day, talking about his own interest in alchemy and noise music – as well as his PhD thesis on the work of ‘alchemistical philosopher’ Thomas Vaughan, aka Eugenius Philalethes. The idea of alchemy as the ‘phenomenology of revelation’ also came up, which caught my ear and gave me the title of this post. This segued into a precis of his essay Born out of Chaos [Academia.edu], which connects the aesthetics of Our Glassie Azoth to both the work of Louis and Bebe Barron and cybernetic theory. An interesting connection was also made between the description of alchemy as a ‘history of error’ and the fetishisation of ‘error’ as an aesthetic via databending and glitch music. This reminded me of Kim Cascone‘s attitude that errors somehow upset our reality by confounding our expectations, and can be used as potent jumping off points for creative exploration. The talk of databending also pointed toward sonification, which would be a recurrent theme for many artists over the course of the day, which I touched on as an alchemical idea here, and which Kristina Wolfe has also suggested manifests a sort of contemporary apophatic mysticism.

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Listening for the Voice of Fire

I am pleased to say that I will be participating in Aberystwyth University’s Listen to the Voice of Fire event on the 3rd of March at the National Library of Wales. There’s a pretty diverse range of musicians and academics involved – and tickets can be found here. I am pleased to say that Our Glassie Azoth are on the bill – and indeed, the whole event is organised by Mr. Glassie Azoth himself, Dafydd Roberts. OGA was a great inspiration to me during the early 2000s. Experimenting with an Amen, a split between OGA and side-project Alphane Moon is a particular favourite – especially the way it mixes alchemical imagery, drone and noise, interspersed with sweet, whispy Nick Drake-like miniatures.

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Enquiriel & Co. – Selenus’ Musico-Angelic Cipher

Recently stories about StegIbiza have been cropping up on various newsfeeds of mine. StegIbiza is a proposed system for hiding morse code messages in minute fluctuations of tempo in dance music – the proposal is that a computer analysis of a track would be able to decipher the message, although whether this is dependable in practice is yet to be seen.

The practice of hiding secret messages in plain sight, within music, pictures or text, is known as steganography (secret writing) a term coined by, and historically bound up with, the 15th century abbot Trithemius and his Steganographia: a curious mixture of occultism and cryptography. This work was written 1500, but not published until 1606, and in the interim its reputation made it highly sought-after – John Dee’s own 1591 transcription survives in the National Library of Wales.

Names of the aerial daemons from John Dee's transcription of Steganographia.

Names of the aerial daemons from John Dee’s transcription of Steganographia.

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The Bright Sound Behind the Sound

I am very pleased to say that my article The Bright Sound Behind the Sound: Real-World Music, Symbolic Discourse and the Foregrounding of Imagination has been published by Interference: A Journal of Audio Cultures.

This piece develops from a paper read at the Alchemical Landscape panel at the 2015 ASLE-UKI conference at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge. I must thank Yvonne Salmon and James Riley for inviting me to present – their general support and enthusiasm has been hugely encouraging over the last year. It is also framed as a response to Kim Cascone’s Transcendigital Imagination, which highlights the potential of digital workflows to deprecate imaginative involvement with the source material.

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My article is quite critical of Schaeffer’s overly reductive interpretation of phenomenology and the consequences of this on academic discourse around music developing from real-world sounds. I approached my response to this issue from the standpoint of Romantic poetic consciousness whose tenets are congruent with Kim’s use of terms such as ‘anima mundi’ and ‘imaginal’, and whose assumptions on being and nature persist as ‘givens’ amongst many artists – myself included. Of course, alternate phenomenologies which incorporate personal and subjective response, such as hermeneutic phenomenology, could also be entertained as alternatives to the forced objectivity of the Schaefferian interpretations, although I did want to highlight the particular ‘gnostic’ or revelatory experience at the heart of the poetic encounter with the world: an area I am currently exploring through the methods of the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) in a new paper.

Below I have pulled out some other posts on this blog which may also make useful companion pieces to this article:

Merlin, Mellotrons and the Poetry of Consciousness

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

Circumambulating the Black Theatre

Robert Fludd: Of Music and Mind

 

Talking and Exhibiting

I hope the following might provide some distraction while my beloved country tears itself apart. At present I’m for embracing cosmic anarchy and seeking solace in the transcendent: the only territory impervious to toxic political manoeuvring!

Anyway, plenty of news: Hawthonn’s first interview was published in The Quietus. We must thank Russell Cuzner for concisely editing what was quite a long and far-ranging conversation.

hawthh_int… of course, this was coincident with the release of our second album, Sea-Spiral Spirit, on Reverb Worship. The physical edition is now sold out (although there will hopefully be second edition), although the digital edition is still available and includes a 15-minute bonus track.

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Merlin, Mellotrons, and the Poetry of Consciousness

Recently, Layla mentioned how much she enjoyed the mellotron that permeates many of Julian Cope’s albums and live performances. One source suggests that this may also be same mellotron that is played by Thighpaulsandra on a number of Coil albums – certainly the mellotron is used to excellent effect on Astral Disaster, particularly on the visionary Sea Priestess:

This prompted me to revisit an idea that came up while we were working on the first Hawthonn album. Obviously the album explored themes surrounding Jhonn Balance’s resting place at Bassenthwaite, and the symbol of the hawthorn tree was particularly important. While exploring associations with the hawthorn, S.: of the Psychogeographical Commission mentioned that there was a legendary connection with Merlin. Continue reading

Fragments

This blog has been a bit quiet of late, although that’s not to say that things haven’t been bubbling away behind the scenes: expect quite a lot of news in June in the form of a new Hawthonn album, our first interview, a new academic paper, and possibly even an art exhibition… or two!

Until then, here’s a little summary of other things that have been going on over the last few months!

First, I’m very honoured that Ben Chasny has created a page dedicated to my Hexadic compositions on his Six Organs of Admittance website. Working with the Hexadic system over the last year or so has been a great experience – whereas much of my early music was (poly)modal, Angelystor and my studies into Josef Hauer have seen me adopting a more atonal language. His book on the Hexadic System fit perfectly into this arc of development. As I explain on the page, I often use transposed versions of each Hexadic field to create two voices. Sometimes these are independent, sometimes they function in terms of melody and harmony.

A Hexadic field and centre tones mapped to keyboard.

A Hexadic field and centre tones mapped to keyboard.

The pieces on Sorath were all very formally written, exploring various approaches to the system in a fairly methodical way. More recently I’ve been exploring approaches to improvising within a series of Hexadic progressions. To this end, I’ve been writing a little Max for Live patch to help quickly explore Hexadic material and to facilitate swift improvisations on the same. The results have been quite engaging, here’s an example:

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