Presentations & Papers

2017

Listen to the Voice of Fire: Alchemy and Sound Art, March 3, National Library of Wales/University of Aberystwyth

In the Key of Dee: Sounding John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica [full text at Academia.edu]

In an address to Maximilian II, which prefaces his Monas Hieroglyphica (1564), John Dee emphasises that the Monad is not only an alchemical device, but a universal one, with the potential to revolutionise all the arts and sciences. Amongst the examples given are applications to geography, astronomy and music, of which Dee writes:

“How justly may the musician be struck with wonder when here he will perceive inexplicable, celestial harmonies without any movement and sound.” (Josten 1964, 130-1)

Dee’s harmonic conception of the Monad may be interpreted as a progenitor to later alchemical traditions in which music plays an underrated part: music was not only the audible expression of the mathematical, rational world of the celestial spheres, but also of influences the soul, the preparation of which is a necessity for the Great Work (Forshaw 2010, 175). In alchemical practice, ‘speculative music’ potentially bridges the spheres of nature and theology, labour and oratory.

This presentation will summarise the historical and contemporary implications of a musical reading of Dee’s Monad. Commencing with a survey of John Dee’s own musical experience and readings, it will contextualize the philosophical connections between the Monad, alchemy, magic, music, geometry and astronomy. The concepts of harmonic investigation that characterise Medieval and Renaissance musica speculativa will be applied to the forms and theorems of the Monad as a means of interpreting Dee’s ‘inexplicable, celestial harmonies’. In the spirit of Dee’s age, such an interpretation allows us also to reflect on the tensions between conservative Pythagorean musical mysticism and the more ‘strange and informal’ approaches of composers such as John Dowland: emphasizing  the space between tradition and innovation, wherein Dee’s own work often sits.

I will also explore Dee’s Monad into more contemporary areas, based on my use of the text and symbol in my own composition and music-making. The compositional and technological approaches behind a number of my own pieces will be outlined, for example, the sounding of the Monad’s proportions in The Great Chord (2012) and The Hesperian Garden (2017).

2016

Creativity: A Multi-Dimensional Approach, June 16, Leeds Beckett University

Singing Messengers: Re-considering the Role of ‘Poetic Imagination’ in the Creative Process [full text at Academia.edu]

For the poets and painters in what Kathleen Raine – drawing on the influence of Coleridge and Guenon – identified as the ‘traditional’ school of artistry, the imagination was considered as the prime organ of cognition. It was not the domain of ‘fancy’, nor was it simply a faculty ’that which allows us to visualise and solve problems’, rather it possessed the ability to apprehend a ‘symbolic’ reality: here, images of real things, also convey deeper spiritual or ‘poetic’ truths, which become the foundation of creative discourse. This paper outlines a history of the poetic imagination, from the ‘cognitive theology’ of Augustine, to Cecil Collins’ ‘theatre of imagination’, and considers how insights from a number of disciplines, including the cognitive science of religion (CSR), may help us explore the continuing significance of the ‘symbolic event’ in contemporary creative practice.

2015

Exploring the Extraordinary 7, Marriot Hotel, York

“Good Books to Call By”: Speech and Materiality in the Necromantic Workings of Humphrey Gilbert and John Davis [full text at academia.edu]

This aim of this paper is to tentatively explore a framework for approaching the phenomenology of historical ritual magic with particular attention to the performative nature of ritual speech. A discussion of the circumstances relating to Humphrey Gilbert and John Davis’ experiments in 1567 with a crystal ‘stone’ is followed by an exploration of their extant ritual techniques in terms of Stausberg and Otto’s patterns of magicity (2014) and the building-block approach suggested by Asprem and Taves (2015). Particular attention is paid to the affective and subjective implications of the core action of ritual speech, as well as its material analogue in the form of ‘good books to call by’. Although the scope of the paper does not allow detailed analysis of the visions recorded by Gilbert and Davis, it is hoped that this work may go some way to prompting further consideration of where practice-based (e.g. performative) and experiential modes of research might also fit within ‘verticalised’ explorations of‘magical history, practice and consciousness.

ASLE-UKI Biennial Conference, ‘Green Knowledge’, Alchemical Landscape Panel, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge

The Bright Sound Behind the Sound: Real-World Music, Symbolic Discourse and the Foregrounding of Imagination [full text at academia.edu]

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 that 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).

The Alchemical Landscape, Cambridge University Counterculture Research Group, Corpus Christi College

The Many-Coloured Earth: Visionary Creativity, Imaginal Landscapes and the Hermeneutic Imagination [full text at academia.edu]

This paper seeks to explore the visions of AE in order to frame contemporary creative practices that actively seek numinous experience as part of a creative continuum. Of import are the diversity of AE’s visions: they span an introvertive-extrovertive spectrum (Marshall 2005), and occur both in the natural scene (for example, his ‘awakening’ as one of the ‘heavenly household’ in the Irish countryside) and in more prosaic surroundings (often through meditation, but at times unheralded such as his vision of ‘earth breath’ while working as a city clerk: ‘an exile from living nature but she yet visited me’.)

Coupled with Voss’ hermeneutic approach to creativity and imagination (2009), such visions may be related to a series of creative approaches that strive toward the ‘participatory turn’ in which empirical modes of interpretation necessarily yield to the alternative, intuitive and visionary approaches, before being re-integrated as part of a working process within an ‘awakened’ or ‘initiated’ landscape. Grounded in the archetypal/imaginal concepts of Corbin, Voss’ approach to the methodology of imagination is a natural complement to the poetic essentialism implied by AE’s vision and the wider mystical backdrop of his work. Furthermore. the author’s own work since 2001 with music and text are analysed to elucidate the process of working within an ‘initiated’ landscape in a contemporary context. Works such as Abital (2007) and Almias (with Simon Bradley and Layla Legard, 2010) encounter participatory turns within the physical environment, while Angelystor (with Layla Legard, 2013) and Hawthonn (with Layla Legard, 2014) explore reflexive interior landscapes through visionary practice.

2013

Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference 2013

Devills, Elleves or Firadrakes: Genius Loci, Magical Technologies and the Occult Philosophy of Landscape [full text and slides at academia.edu]

As an artist for whom both magic and landscape are major influences, the notion of the ‘genius loci’ or indwelling spirit of a place has always been a particularly appealing one. Yet it seems that with regard to the magical practices of early modern Europe, the genius loci is – at first glance – absent. There has been a tendency by many commentators to gloss over the relationship between place and ritual magic, often presenting the rituals of angelic or demonic compulsion as divorced from possible geographical contexts. This excludes what we might call embedded spirits, dwelling in the physical environment and writ large in the early modern psyche as fairies and elves, as indicated by Emma Wilby’s research (2005), as well as more ill-defined ‘aerial powers’.

Agrippa and other intellectual occultists may have considered the genii locorum as Classical woodland gods, much in the spirit of what Joscelyn Godwin (2002) might call ‘the pagan dream of the Renaissance’. However, in the more practical realm of ritual magic, the genii dwelling within place became synonymous with treasure guardians and inherited folkloric entities such as elves, fairies and dragons as well as with demonic agents. This is apt considering the magical preoccupations of the age: as Keith Thomas (1971) noted there was a broad – and soundly reasoned – assumption that the landscape was riddled with treasure. This paper will examine the evidence for the relationship between place, spirits and the geography of ritual magic chiefly through a discussion of historical sources, including magical treasure hunting manuals (Folger MS vb.26, Sloane 3824), Agrippa’s magical typologies of place (1533), and Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft (1584/1665). As more than a historical curiosity, such occult philosophies also suggest new ways to interpret, encounter and re-enchant our immediate environments, notably when combined with new technologies such as GIS, GPS and locative media alongside sensitive artistic curation.

Uncanny Landscapes, Royal Holloway University, London

Music, Magic, Metaxy: Sounding Psychepoietic Landcapes
[full text and slides at academia.edu]

The term ‘psychepoiesis’ is borrowed from the practice of Archetypal Psychology (Hillman et al), wherein it is used to describe the process of exploring images as they are reflected in the soul (- or imagination) of the analysand. The idea that our experience of the natural world, in particular landscapes, has an imaginative reflex which is open to creative exploration has been a cornerstone in my own artistic practice since 2001, often prompting the question: can work inspired by landscape be poetically interpreted as a dialogue with the genii locorum, or spirits of a place? Violet Paget (1925) calls the genius loci an ‘indwelling god, that we make for ourselves,’ but notes that it is a self-made god which is transcendent: going beyond individuality and taking ‘his being into our contemplation of times and peoples not our own, but felt by our imagination and sympathy to be consubstantial with ourselves in whatever in us is not trumpery, deciduous or abominable.’ As a musician and developing locative media artist, I would like to use my talk I to share anecdotes and discuss developing philosophies arising from the confluence of the phenomenology of landscape and the figure of the genius loci as creative psychopomp.

Network Music Festival, Birmingham

Stop, Look, Listen and Think: (Virtually) Embodied Sound and the Experience of Landscape [slides at academia.edu]

A disembodied voice has called you across the fields to edge of a typically English country churchyard. Passing through the gate, you hear a chattering above you. The sound of birds? No – these voices seem to come from stone throats: the whispers of the gargoyles observing their new visitor. “Hurry,” implores the voice. “Walk around the church three times. You must set me free!”

This is the opening scenario for a work of locative dramaturgy based at a semi-rural, semi-industrial site in West Yorkshire, currently undergoing initial planning. Using headphones and a smart phone, users will be compelled to experience a landscape in an entirely new way: restructured through the tools of geolocation, binaural sound and imaginative artistic curation.

This talk focuses on the work leading up to this project and developing philosophies relating to embodied sound and narratives. In an age of ‘database society’ and high-speed mobile networks we find there is a darker side to our ability to instantly access data and be persistently connected to our favoured networks: a diffusion of both attention and ‘consciousness’. It often feels that – in spite of our apparent advances in knowledge and technology – our frame of reference for relating with the world is diminishing from a universal scope to that of a 4-inch screen in our pockets.

In such a situation, could embodied narratives provide a differential technological development to re-connect us with our environments? My developing philosophy for mobile media is to take the eyes away from the screen and concentrate upon the evocative nature of sound as augment reality: to make people look and think again about their environments. The development locative media for Almias, Holbeck Audiowalk and LOAM are discussed as case studies in a dialogue between art, technology and geography.

Active Notation (with Nigel Morgan)

How might our established system of common musical notation adapt to our increasingly networked, digital world and in a field where music technology is often biased toward signal processing and manipulation of pre-recorded material? Nigel Morgan and Phil Legard survey ways in which network communications have changed the performance of notated musical works since the millennium.

In 2001-02 Nigel Morgan wrote two large-scale works for distributed ensembles over ISDN. How could three ensembles in distant locations successfully synchronise their performances (themselves each before a live audience) and also be brought together online for a virtual fourth performance? How did dealing with issues like distance and latency require new compositional strategies?

This work led on to the realisation of a number of ‘Active Notation’ systems in collaboration with Phil Legard, commencing in 2005. Active Notation is a philosophy in which common music notation is augmented by network and digital technology to investigate how notation, which was once ‘fixed’ to the printed page can be made more fluid and ‘active’.

Approaches to Active Notation include methods by which lengthy open-form scores can be coordinated within large ensembles (Self Portrait for variable ensemble, 2005). These include using networked page-turns and score orientation, and the use of networks to propagate re-scoring, re-organisation and markups,

In addition to this is the ‘fluid’ nature of an Active score – not only in the way that pages can be marked up and distributed, but in the potential to re-score the work and to look beyond the notes into the underlying structure and creative narrative of a work.

This talk will further examine some of the ways that providing access to a ‘poietic’ narrative can underpin the rehearsal and performance practice of such a networked piece.

2012

Spaces of (Dis)Location, Glasgow University

Located Memory and the Realisation of Place [abstract at academia.edu]

Simon Bradley and Phil Legard discuss their continuing work on location-based public events chiefly concerned with personal responses to place. They explore how their methods enable the development of public events that allow for a distributed construction of meaning that is shared between artist and attendee. Arising from these concerns Simon and Phil’s current work considers strategies involving fragmented narratives, embodied narratives and locative media for the creative delivery of oral history within a philosophy that assumes the codependence of memory and place.

Sonic Arts Forum, Leeds University

An Archaeology of the Voice: Location and Audition [abstract at academia.edu]

Co-presented with Simon Bradley. An overview of current research and practice regarding extended post-documentary interview techniques and locative augmented aurality applications.

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