I am pleased to announce that I added The Pyrognomic Glass to the Xenis Emputae Travelling Band Bandcamp page yesterday. This was originally recorded in 2005 for a CD on Phil Todd‘s Memoirs of an Aesthete label. Phil kindly re-released as a vinyl LP with my accompanying chapbook, Abital, in 2009. I am happy to say that the downloadable version includes the booklet as a PDF, along with the original CD and LP art. You can also browse and download Abital on its own, by heading over to Issuu.
If the above image whets your appetite, I’m pleased to say that there are still some copies available for the bargain price of £7 + P&P from the Memoirs of an Aesthete web shop, or alternatively from Cold Spring Records.
I have an incredible number of fond memories of working on The Pyrognomic Glass and Abital – of exploring Wharfedale with a bag-full of instruments and a head-full of thoughts about dew, alchemy and genii locorum. This also marked the beginnings of thinking about not only psychogeography, but also ‘psychometeorology’: how does weather and time influence my imaginative and creative response?
When one begins to think about the possibilities of psychometeorology, one immediately turns to the wind. I’m sure anyone who is the owner of a cat or the guardian school-aged child will be able to spin an anecdote about how wind whips children and animals into near hysterics. The wind has a long-standing association with wildness and malevolence: as a father of storms, Typhon was depicted with a hundred serpent heads; Vitruvius attempted to counter the ‘noxious breath’ of wind with canny city planning; perhaps taking influence from Vitruvius, Fludd depicted the body as a fortress assailed by malevolent wind-demons bearing physical and mental illnesses.
However, although the mythos of the wind was appealing, it was the phenomena of dew that most occupied my mind with regard to the idea of psychometeorology. There is something magical, otherworldly about dew: the way each drop sparkles like a diamond, brimming with fiery, rainbow light. It has a long history in symbolism and religion, most notably as a symbol of Divine providence in connection with the ‘manna’, which sustained the Israelites in the wilderness. Many of these symbols are discussed in Abital.
Dew is also a deep symbol of liminality: ‘magically’ appears at dawn and dusk it became to me a symbol of crossing between the exterior, active world to the inner, imaginative world in which I find much of my inspiration. To the alchemists, such as the author of the Golden Chain of Homer, dew was the hidden, universal spirit (Spiritus Mundi) itself, rarified and condensed through countless potent circulations.
Despite the relative brevity of the work, there are so many different threads woven into Abital that it would take an age to unpick and explain them all. There are a number of my own obsessions such as John Dee’s Hieroglyphic Monad (itself a work which references dew both explicitly and obliquely) and optics, as well as the whole gamut of 16th/17th century natural sciences, astrology, alchemy and music. However, although there is material in the fifth and sixth chapters which is rather creatively intuited – and which the arc of the music follows – all the other references in the text draw upon genuine works. To help those perhaps unfamiliar with some of the works referenced in the text, I have compiled a bibliography and selection of links:
Aristarchus. Aristarchus of Samos was an astronomer ca. 230 BC. Only one sole work survives: On the Sizes and Distances, in which he fixes the distance and size of the sun and moon.
De Opt. Daemonum. Psellos, De Operatione Daemonum (ca. 1050).
Dee. Mon. H. John Dee’s Monas Hireoglyphica (1564).
Ficinus. De Sole. Ficino’s The Book of the Sun (1494). Available in translation online here.
Gen. The Book of Genesis.
Gold. Ch. Hom. The Golden Chain of Homer.
Heptam. The Heptameron, a famous magical work attributed to Peter d’Abano. The Heptameron actually draws on a number of earlier sources such as the lists of seasons, planets and so on with their associated angels also found in works like Liber Razielis and Liber Juratus.
Hermes. Tabula Smarag. The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus is a brief and elliptical text, but is considered one of the foundations of alchemical philosophy.
Madath. Parabola. The Parabola of Madathanus, a highly imaginative and haunting alchemical allegory.
Man. Ast. Mag. The Manual of Astral Magic – this is a treatise on the names of angels governing different seasons, among other things, which appears in the manuscript CLM.849. A full discussion, facsimile and transcription of this can be found in Richard Kieckhefer’s book Forbidden Rites.
Mus. Inc. Musica Incantans: or, The Power of Musick. This is a long poem, originally written in Latin by one Dr. South, and translated into English by Dr. Gibb in around 1700. The poem concerns the plea of a musician who is accused of homicide after a youth, having been distracted by his playing, drowns.
Nat. Mag. John Baptist della Porta’s Natural Magic (1558) was a phenomenally successful work, especially in English translation. The chapter ‘Of Strange Glasses‘ was a profound influence on me, although there is plenty of delightful material to explore in the whole of the volume.
Occ. Phil. Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, ca. 1533.
Orpheus. The Orphic Hymns, here referenced in the Latin translation of Ilana Klutstein in Marsilio Ficino et la Théologie Ancienne: Oracles Chaldaiques, Hymnes Orphiques, Hymnes de Proclus (Florence 1987). Available online here.
Paracelsus. Cata. Alch. Paracelsus, A Short Catechism of Alchemy.
Picatrix. The Picatrix derives from the Spanish translation of the Arabic magical treatise Ghâyat al-Hakîm fi’l-sihr, which was made at the court of Alfonso El Sabio. There are two English translations available: Warnock & Greer whose version from a Latin source is absolutely exceptional, as well as the Ouroboros edition, from an Arabic source. There are also several Latin and Arabic texts available online courtesy of the Warburg Institute.
Pico. M. Hept-plus. Pico’s Heptaplus.
Ramsey. Ast. Rest. William Ramsey, Astrology Restored (1653). A PDF is available here, along with other works such as Partridge’s Mikropanastron, which I referenced in Psychogeographia Ruralis. Ramsey’s book also influenced the general typography and layout of Abital.