Circumambulating the Black Theatre

This Friday I will be joining Yvonne Salmon and James Riley in the Alchemical Landscape panel at the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, UK and Ireland (ASLE-UKI) biennial conference in Cambridge. You can read the abstract below, but I’d like to use this post to explore some tangential ideas via a stream-of-consciousness collage of quotes.


The Bright Sound Behind the Sound: Real-World Music, Symbolic Discourse and the Foregrounding of Imagination

This paper responds to a recent article by American sound artist Kim Cascone in which he asserts that the recent trend for the presentation of environmental recordings as ‘sonic art’ is crucially lacking in some form of ‘soul’ or vitality. Cascone suggests that it is the responsibility of an artist working with real-world sounds to enter a more imaginative engagement than precedents within the field (and within the wider field of sonic arts in general) have historically presented. The paper briefly explores historical impulse to deprecate the importance of imagination, along with the imaginative implications of discourse around what Norman calls ‘real-world music’. From here, we explore the relationship between imagination and sound in two pieces of sonic art and argue that one response to Cascone’s call for an imaginative turn can be found within the idea of the symbol as codified in Romantic and ‘traditional’ poetic discourse (after Kathleen Raine). The paper explores the way in which a cultivation of an ‘imaginative perception’ can be used to define, reveal or elucidate such symbols in a compositional context and relates the creative and interpretive use of ‘sound-symbols’ to both Voss’ methodology of the imagination (2009) and Thomas’ multidimensional spectrum of imagination (2014).

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Sorathic Manifestation & Reflections on Hawthonn



The various Hexadic pieces written over the last couple of months have been collected together, edited, sequenced and mastered under the title Sorath, which is available to stream and download at Bandcamp on a £3 or more basis. Sorath also includes two additional pieces: Pastorale with Interleaved Progressions and Integral Hexady – thanks to Jesse Jarnow for unexpectedly playing the former of these on his WFMU show!


Hawthonn’s success as a conceptual album can be seen in its eerie evocation of Coil’s underlying themes – ghostly sketches of possibility emerge from these sonic landscapes, a peculiar and specific spirit hovers over the work. Using what can in some sense be described as musical necromancy the Legards have created a series of sound evocations that allow the listener to embark on a mythopoetic voyage beyond the waking world.

Hawthonn has also provoked some encouraging reactions. David Metcalfe, quoted above, has written an incredible reflection on engaging with the album during a rural retreat over at Modern Mythology. This piece was very interesting and timely, since a colleague questioned me after my paper at The Alchemical Landscape about how people react to my (- and now our -) music. I confess that I rather foundered on this question: having been so concentrated on the creative process during the writing of my paper, and in general, I’ve never really sought out narratives from people who have encountered a deeper experience with it – the kind of experiences that resonate with the ‘imaginal’ aspects of the work itself. Unbidden, David has filled in this missing piece of the jigsaw, and writes beautifully about the relationship between the album, the journal and the making of the work, and his own experience. He has also illuminated some pieces of hawthorn-lore that we were unaware of, and makes the connections between the project and Coil’s Jhonn Balance more explicit. Read the article here.

Photo by David Metcalfe.

At The Active Listener, Grey Malkin also wrote very positively about the project, concluding that:

Hawthonn is a unique and visionary piece of music that is clearly a labour of love and is utterly heartfelt. It speaks of Balance himself and of his loss. It also evokes a rural unease and a true sense of nature at its most wild and unknowable. You need this album; this is an incredible and special work that needs to be heard and experienced.

The limited digital edition of 72 copies, including the album, with additional 32-page journal and 80+ minutes of bonus music is still available here.

Tradition and Innovation: Speculative Music and the Hexadic System

Upon first hearing the news about Ben Chasny’s Hexadic System and album, one of the aspects that most interested me was the connection between the Hexadic System and the area of ‘speculative music‘, which is one of the perennial concerns of this blog. This post is a companion to the previous post on the practical aspects of the Hexadic System, and will look more closely at the relationship between the Hexadic System, atonality and ‘speculative music’. It’s a long read, but hopefully worthwhile for those interested in such things!

I. Speculative Music, Past and Present

In its most exoteric (outer, superficial) form, speculative music was traditionally concerned with matters such as tuning, temperament and rhythm: it was the theoretical side of music, opposed to the practice of playing and composing. However, within the neoplatonic worldview that dominated the Western world prior to the Enlightenment, such matters – dealing as they did with ratio and number – were inextricably associated with esoteric doctrines, primarily that of the music of the spheres: some commentators suggesting that the planets, like the notes in a musical scale, were distributed according to similarly simple, harmonic ratios. Given the supposition by esotericists that the universe is relational – as Agrippa had it spanning three worlds: the sublunar, celestial and divine, or supra-celestial – the ratios inherent in the planetary music would have sympathies with that which flows from the ‘divine’ world of souls and spiritual essences beyond them, and that which happens on earth below them. As John Dowland wrote in the high-minded and loftily poetic style of the age: “the whole frame of Nature, is nothing but Harmonie, as wel in soules, as bodies.”

"... Nature is nothing but harmony", from John Dowland's dedication of his Second Booke of Songs or Ayers.

“… Nature is nothing but harmony”, from John Dowland’s dedication of his Second Booke of Songs or Ayers.

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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 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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