On Friday I had a pleasant hour talking locative media in the company of fellow lecturers Ben Dalton and Marc Fabri, blogger Irna Qureshi, Ben Halsall and Megan Smith. It was great to hear other people’s takes on this area and talk binaural sound, GPS and the like before having to cut my part short to collect the kids. Speaking of the kids, here’s the first page of the daughter’s magnum opus:

And… speaking of magnum opuses, Peter Forshaw was on Radio 3’s Night Waves programme a couple of days ago with Jennifer Rampling talking about alchemy to promote the Science Museum’s new exhibition Signs, Symbols, Secrets. This reminded me that Forshaw had a piece entitled Oratorium-Auditorium-Laboratorium: Early Modern Improvisations on Cabala, Music, and Alchemy in Brill’s Aries journal a couple of years ago.

While much of the paper concerns music in the work of alchemist Heinrich Khunrath – particularly the Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom (1595/1609) which Forshaw translated and wrote about at length in his PhD thesis. One of the things that caught my eye immediately was that he opened with a reference to Abraham von Franckenberg’s Raphael oder Artzt-Engel (Raphael or the Angelic Doctor, 1676). This is a work on magical and alchemical medicine that I had stumbled across shortly before reading Forshaw’s article as part of some research into German theosophists of the 17th century. Franckenberg’s Raphael is a short but intriguing book full of cabalistic and chemical diagrams and numerological speculation – a book that feels much in the alchemical-cabalistic tradition of Pantheus’ Voarchadumia and Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica as well as a part of the theosophical and religious currents that shaped the mystically inclined minds of the age. A representative page is reproduced below.

Forshaw opens with Franckenberg’s table of correspondences between Cabala, Magic and Alchemy, in which “we discover that the loci of these practices are, respectively, Oratorium, Auditorium, and Laboratorium” (p.170). Franckenberg’s table is reproduced below – it’s also interesting to see the tenfold progression (X/10-C/100-M/1000) here as found in Dee’s Monas:

In the above table, mathematics is related to auditorium, which of course prompts one to dwell on the long historical relationship between music and mathematics, from Pythagoras and his anvils onward. The position of auditorium between the physical and divine worlds is also suggestive of speculative music such as the music of the spheres. Forshaw also points out that this threefold scheme is reflected in Khunrath’s famous laboratory engraving:

Being accustomed to reading left-to-right and top-to-bottom the threefold symbolism of Khunrath’s laboratory arrangement is not immediately obvious, yet there – between the spiritual oratory and the furnace – is a table strewn with instruments and calculating devices. There are scales and measures which suggest the link between relations in the world of physical matter, form and mass and those of musical ratios. Mathematics – and their audition in the form of music – are therefore not separate from the physical world, but in some manner along the great chain of being they are the progenitors of matter. Music itself – as the inscription at the foot of the table tells us – ‘is the dispeller of sadness and evil spirits, because the SPIRIT of JEHOVAH gladly sings in a heart filled with pious joy’: that is, it provides the link between the worlds of nature and theology.

Presumably it is the work of the alchemist to traverse these three worlds of chemistry, mathematics and theology conveying illuminated insight back and forth between the his oratory and the vessels on his furnace in some sort of divine feedback loop. (Note to self – could there be any plausible links between the fire of divine love as in Richard Rolle and the fire(s) of alchemy?)

Outside the world of 17th century alchemists I realise that this is something my currently putative experiments in sound and augmented reality are attempting: to use sound as a vehicle for insight between the physical world and something less tangible – not quite the divine world, but certainly a world beyond the individual; a world of ideas and shared experience. With regard to the power of music to precipitate insight I was reminded on this quote from Anthony Storr’s Music and the Mind:

(Music) permits the same kind of scanning, sorting, and rearrangement of mental contents which takes place in reverie or sleep. There are many other ways of achieving this, from going for a solitary walk in the country to practising transcendental meditation.

On the topic of alchemy and music: Forshaw cites some nice examples of alchemical song, including one of my favourites: the Antiphon En pulcher lapis noster, a chant in the Phrygian mode from around 1400, which you can view here courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.