Dolente … Dolore: The Inferno of Malcolm Lowry

Alan Dunn recently asked me to contribute some music to The Lighthouse Invites the Storm, a festival of celebration for Malcolm Lowry, running around Liverpool from the 17th to 29th of July. Below is the fruit of my labour, along with a description of the rationale for the piece, which is also available for free download from my bandcamp (which includes a PDF of the liner notes).

Alan had chanced to hear a track from Hesperian Garden while simultaneously auditioning Balam Ronan’s field recordings from the Mexican Día de los Muertos celebrations. He asked if I’d be interested in contributing something hallucinogenic and mescal-fuelled, so here is my response: an electroacoustic re-imagining of Balam’s documents; a trembling, drunken dream with flashes of heaven and hell – the celestial and chthonic – punctuated by the sound of carnivalesque street bands drifting in through an open window…

Not desiring to literally interpret Lowry’s multi-faceted, ‘churrigueresque’ work, I focused on a number of images that I found potent, both from Lowry’s text, and from the biographical detail and academic interpretation surrounding it.

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I am pleased to say that I have an article published in Void Front Press’ new collection Sustain//Decay. Edited by Owen Coggins (Open University) and James Harris, this 289-page collection brings together writings on drone music and mysticism by a diverse range of authors, amongst them Kristina Wolfe, Kim Cascone, Eyvind Kang, J.-P. Caron and Drone Box representing perhaps the speculative and luminescent side of drone mysticism, while Coggins, Harris, Absentology (Mark Horvath & Adam Lovasz), Steven Shakespeare, Joseph Norman and others explore the heavier, doomier side: rounding off the collection with an interview with Sunn O)))’s Atilla Csihar.

My piece is titled Inner-Sense and Experience: Drone Music, Esotericism and the Hieroeidetic Field, and looks at the role of the esoteric imagination the production of drone music. It develops Arthur Verluis’ concept of the hieroeidetic, which can be described as the imaginative space that exists between artist/audience and the art object: Continue reading

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 [], 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.


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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