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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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 us 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


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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On GPS and Pulsing Voids

I rarely write fiction, but, after a ‘bracing’ walk on Ilkley Moor this afternoon, I decided to upload this old piece. It was originally written in 2010 and published in the first issue of the Wyrd Daze zine in 2013. Obviously technology moves on apace, but some things that influenced the story were the then nascent Google Glass project, and Blaise Agüera y Arcas’ presentation on augmented reality mapping. I’d also been reading too many old Moorcock-era New Worlds anthologies at the time. So, even though the Internet probably doesn’t need any more bad fiction posted to it, here it is regardless.

Only the Pulsing Void

Christine strode through the long grass, regularly glancing up at the path ahead and down at GPS locator on her mobile phone. “Nearly there,” she thought, “I just need to head a little bit to the west.” A couple of minutes later, as she came to the edge of a small stream where the first golden rays of the rising sun caught the spray, her phone buzzed. The correct latitude/longitude coordinates had been reached.

She took off her backpack and began to configure the system. The bipod was extended two-and-a-half feet from each shoulder-strap of the pack and the spherical camera screwed on to the top. She booted the computer, logged in with her user-name ‘Xine1981’ and began the session. This one was going to be straightforward. The unrecorded terrain was all relatively flat, the occasional hill, but no steep gradients or other geographical headaches to contend with. Christine had worked out that if she started at the centre of the moor and then progressed outward in aa spiral then she could hit about 90% of the required nodes. She could drive within a reasonable distance of the remainder, mainly on the north-western periphery, and photograph them on a subsequent day.

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2015 in Text and Sound

2015 has been a very, very busy, but rewarding year. Here’s a little recap on some things that unfolded over the last 12 months.


Being involved in The Alchemical Landscape project really pushed my academic writing this year. I think The Bright Sound Behind the Sound is probably my best and most coherent writing to date, and will be preparing it shortly for journal submission. It was also a pleasure to submit work to two independent projects: Phil Barrington’s The Golden Age of Bloodsports (collected writings of Jhonn Balance), and Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies. The final paper of the year, “Good Books to Call By” enjoyed a very positive reception at Exploring the Extraordinary 7 and marks a new series of avenues to explore. Finally, I worked with my long-time colleague Nigel Morgan on Parametric Composition a comprehensive guide to algorithmic composition, which you can preview here and buy here!

The Many-Coloured Earth: Visionary Creativity, Imaginal Landscapes and the Hermeneutic Imagination []

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

“Good Books to Call By”: Speech and Materiality in the Necromantic Workings of Humphrey Gilbert and John Davis []

‘For Learning, Not for Show: Esoteric Books from the Coil Estate’ in The Golden Age of Bloodsports [ || PDF]

‘The Haunted Fields of England: Diabolical Landscapes and the Genii Locorum’ in Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies [Buy]


Layla and I are both really pleased by the reception of Hawthonn, which we released in April and has been positively reviewed in The Quietus, Active Listener, Forestpunk and Modern Mythology, and also made #21 on The Quietus’ top albums of 2015. The ‘limited’ digital edition of 72 copies including Holophones (80 minutes of bonus audio) and the journal of our workings has sold out, but the unlimited edition is still available!

We’re working on some new material for either an album of EP before embarking on another major themed project later in 2016.

Another highlight of 2015 has been experimenting with Ben Chasny’s Hexadic system. The system was inspiring in many ways, and I wrote a two part blog to complement some of the ideas that I found it evoked. The collected Hexadic experiments are available on Sorath, and it was my intention to create an album that demonstrated the flexibility of Ben’s system away from the fretboard… although I hope to sit down with six strings in the near future. Six Organs’ recent Hexadic II is getting great reviews, too!

Not sure 2016 will be quite so insanely productive, but… we’ll see!

Field Studies & Search Ensembles

Some recent bits of news:

fhrAndy Paciorek, illustrator and instigator of the Folk Horror Revival forum, has recently edited a 498-page book of writing and interviews around the idea of ‘folk horror’.

Contributors include Adam Scovell, John Coulthart (writing on David Rudkin), Sharron Kraus, Gary Lachman (on WIlson’s The Outsider, and also interviewed himself), Grey Malkin, Chris Lambert, and more. There are also interviews with Kim Newman, Philip Pullman, Drew Mulholland… so, if you like pagan things, landscapes, the uncanny et al, take a look. It’s quite cheap and any profits will be donated to environmental, wildlife and community projects undertaken by The Wildlife Trusts!

I have a piece included called The Haunted Fields of England: Diabolical Landscapes and the Genii Locorum, which uses the idea of the diabolisation of pagan landscape features to trace the development of the genius loci from semi-benevolent tutelar daimons of Antiquity, to the ghouls and monsters of the Anglo-Saxon imagination and the treasure-guarding demons of Medieval and Tudor magic!

You can order Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies here. Continue reading

Of Signs and Seals

Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in several editions between 1584 and 1665, has been a personal inspiration for a long time. Scot’s work is notorious for its sixteenth book, which is a compilation of magical materials, apparently compiled from the works of two cunning-men, ‘T.R.’ and John Cokars. Scot intended to present these materials as a way to confute the practice of conjuration, and also to draw parallels between magical and ‘popish conjurations’ of Catholic ritual. However, in doing so he provided many a would-be conjurer with all the materials they required to begin working magic: it’s no surprise that many manuscripts, from the 16th to the 19th centuries, the work of both learned and less well educated scribes, contain interpolations from the work of Scot.

The materials that Scot presents might at first seem obscure or idiosyncratic to modern readers whose knowledge was, until relatively recently, often informed by works such as Waite’s Book of Black Magic, which broadly ignore collections of English ‘experiments’ in magic, in favour of Continental publications. Yet it is evident, after examining various manuscripts and handbooks of English magicians, that what Scot presented was broadly representative of the ‘tradition’ of magic as it was practiced in England during the 16th century. Spirit names like Bealphares and Sibylia, well known to readers of Scot, crop up in works such as the Folger ‘Book of Magic’ [pdf buy], with alarming regularity.

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Cabinet of Curiosities

A few recent bits and pieces:

The Bright Sound Behind the Sound

My paper from the ASLE-UKI biennial conference on ‘Green Language’ has been uploaded to This was read as part of the Alchemical Landscape panel session, and I’m grateful to Yvonne Salmon for inviting me to participate. I feel that this is one of my best pieces of academic writing thus far, and am currently working on a revision for peer-review and publication in 2016. I’m very encouraged by the feedback I got on the paper from its various subjects: Kim Cascone, Katharine Norman and Nikos Stavropoulos. You can read my earlier contribution to The Alchemical Landscape symposium here, and my last blog post is a companion to some of the themes explored in the recent paper.


Hexadic System Special on Dublab

Ben Chasny visited the studio of Dublab radio to record an interview for a special programme about the Hexadic system. The programme also features excerpts from a telephone interview with myself. The phone line was fairly bad, but I hope you get the gist of what I had to contribute to Ben’s own calm, lucid explanations! They were also kind enough to play two tracks from Sorath.

You can listen/download here… and Ben has Hexadic II coming out soon. Continue reading

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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