Alien Music

154: notes on new composition

Thoughts on recently finished composition for piano and electronics.  Also a consideration of what it feels like inside an MRI, and whether that's sufficient aesthetic inspiration (give away the answer: "it is").

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104: what would this room sound like to an alien with radio telescopes for ears?

We are bathed in electromagnetism...some from the terrestrial atmosphere, some from galactic radiation but mostly from the human electric grid.  What would this very room I'm sitting in right now 'sound' like to an alien with radio telescopes for ears?   Let's have a listen when I turn on the 'Very Low Frequency' receiver.

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Teeming with Life

Like so much of what I think, what I think about life in the universe I learned listening to Terrence McKenna.    There’s always a challenge to describe the provenance of these ideas.  Terrence McKenna spoke at workshops and gatherings for over a decade, and these sessions were often recorded onto cassette by the other attendees.  These tapes were passed around, with idiosyncratic names, sequences and collections.  Information about where and when the material was recorded rarely exists beyond a note  ( “Omega Institute, summer”).   McKenna wrote a couple of books, but all of the stuff I care about is etched in my mind from those original cassettes.  My ideas are marginalia around his spoken word.   The practice I’ve arrived at is to put in italics the notes that I have taken  that I think captures McKenna’s which then prompt my own responses, reactions, deliberations.   It is from McKenna that I developed my faith in the rap session, in the live recording of voice knowing that some muscle memory of thought will coalesce a phrase, and that the less I pay attention the better it will be.

Out of atomic systems come chemical systems.  Out of chemical systems comes the covalent hydrogen bond, the carbon bond, complex biology that is pre-biotic or organic.  out of that chemistry comes the macro-physics systems that we call membranes, gels, charge transfer complexes…this sort of thing.  these systems are the chemical pre-conditions for life.  Simple life, the life of the prokaryotes, the life naked un-nucleated DNA that characterized  primitive life on the planet. Out of that life come eukaryotes, nucleated cells and then complex colonies of cells, and then cell specialization - leading to higher animals, leading to social animals, leading to complex social systems.


I experience that as a sense of precipitation.  Energy, matter, form, biology, culture all precipitate from this cooling entity we call the Universe.  I think this has deep implications for the evolution of biology and the evolution of culture across the universe.  Think of this.  An Ocean teeming with bits.  We  are some of those bits.  We fall asleep as a particle in suspension, surrounded by the blissful completion of the full ocean.  One day ( one cosmic aeon, choose your term) we wake up in a rock pool.  The ocean level has gradually settled and we are now in a discrete region.  Like a rock pool.

We float in the water, and perhaps climb on the walls a bit.  We’ve forgotten or don’t realize how we got there.   In a few more days some of us start to wonder how we got here.  What event caused us to be created in this pool?  We measure the parameters of this pool;  it is a wonderful pool, just fit for our habitation.  We build equations and discover numbers that must be constant. 

Some of our bravest swim all the way to the bottom of the pool and dig around.  They find strange, ancient material.  When they return with these artifacts we develop a theory that our biology grew from the bottom of the pool upwards.

Some of our craziest begin to wonder if there are other pools.  If there are other pools, are there also other beings like us?  Are the unique, possibly random events that led to our existence available in those other rock pools?  Did Beings like us also emerge from the bottom of the pools?  Would they look like us?

Others decide that if there are other pools then those pools are probably filled with cool valuable stuff so they better get there first.  They develop technology to see outside our pool and gradually build craft that can hop over the wall and send back messages.  We find other pools!

So you can see where this is going.  The emergence of life on Earth wasn’t the result of a unique event, building up from a set of specific environmental criteria leading to the current wave of genetic activity.  No, it’s the reverse of that.  We are living in a discrete pool of material, separated from  other similar pools only by time, space and gravity.  Because biology exists on earth, we can know for certain that it exists elsewhere, because we are no more than a port of the gradually cooling muck of the cosmic orogony.  

Certainly, I invoke some poetic license. 

To the moon!!


I'm going to Paris next month for an event at the Pompidou center ( check out this  cool article from CMU. ) The Moon Ark is an object designed to land on the surface of the moon onboard the Astrobotics Lunar Lander.  It's been a decade of work lead by Lowry Burgess who first had the vision of the interaction through aesthetics between humanity on the earth and that first step onto the lunar surface. (You can see Lowry seated across from me  at the Dwingeloo radio telescope for the Rotterdam Transmission. )

Enormous engineering and philosophical questions go hand in hand.  If I were forced to summarize those challenges and discussions I would say that the size of  the piece and the duration of the piece forced everything into a crucible of invention. It is very small; and it will last forever.  

The Ark can fit in your hand and is made up of 4 'chambers' each chamber capped by discs about the size of a US half dollar coin.  Inside each chamber are thematically connected pieces of art, poetry, nano-sculpture, hundreds in all etched and carved on the cylinders ( inside and out) and on the capstone discs.  Set aside the complex aesthetic relationship, the engineering is a marvel.  Some of the works themselves required new techniques to realize, on top of which everything has to fit within the payload constraints for actual launch.  Nothing can rattle around, and everything has to be super light.  

There are two Moon Arks.  One will end up on the moon, the other will stay here on earth.  The MoonArk on the lunar surface will not be visited by the ravages of terrestrial erosion and is expected to maintain it's current state for hundreds of millions of years barring asteroid of future human impact.

I've been slow to publish any records of this myself for reasons I hope to explore.   To summarize the pieces I've worked on: 

In the 'Ether' chamber, the Sonic Hologram to Andromeda   As described in the catalog, "A visualized sonic halo of stereo sound broadcast from radio telescopes in Rotterdam in October 2016. The radio-wave form will expand infinitely as it moves outward toward the Andromeda Galaxy. The music is derived from a three-dimensional holographic image of the Gate Into Ether translated into a musical form."

In the 'Lunar' chamber, the 'Moon Ballet'.  As described in the catalog, "An original ballet performed to music derived from a three-dimensional model of the moon translated into a musical score. "  The walls of the cylinder are etched with the photographic representation of the choreographic shape of the piece.  

The Moon Ark is a trigger for all kinds of other work.  Lowry and I went to the radio telescope at Dwingeloo  two years ago where the sound structure  of the middle 'Mystery' was broadcast to Andromeda.  That 'mystery' is the sonic hologram carved on the fourth chamber, but it is also the middle of 5 pieces constructed for the transmission to Andromeda.  

That starts to get in to a very different languae, right?  The CMU article doesn't talk about 'liturgy' or 'mystery'.  Maybe that's why I've held off on writing and publishing.  I was talking to Lowry recently and what it boiled down to is the imperative to  recognize the lineage that this work comes from.  It's an ecstatic, transcendent strand of art, and art in space in particular.  There's a hint of this in my podcast episode on Sputnik but I owe you all a full explication .  

I've got a notebook of material on The Rotterdam Transmission.  Some of my earliest conceptual pieces involved radio astronomy, and the idea of using 'sound' to model a 'structure' that extends beyond the commonly held vectors of scale associated with the mortal framework is central to what I consider my remaining tasks.   When I say I've got writing projects to do in 2019, this is top of the list. I've considered starting with my notes as a script for a mini-series of podcast episodes.  I do find it easier to riff  on ideas verbally and often find well-articulated ideas emerge in a lecture setting that otherwise would not have come out in a strcutured writing exercise.  So we'll see.  

Kathryn and I will spend 4 days in Paris and then another 4 days in Iceland.  I expect Reykjavik in January will be wonderful but
I am anxious about flights in and out.  More to come.    I may even try to record a podcast episode from the Northern Atlantic coast, avoiding dangerous rip tides.

Aesthetics of Adumbration, excerpt from Work In Progress

The adumbrated aesthetic helps to capture the experience of the unperceivable, which extends the media beyond a human scale, and so flips the media from hot to cold.  (McLuhan)

Something can be unperceivable because of the vectors of scale: things like  size, age, density, decibels.  Something can be so small that only with highly sophisticated instruments can we capture hints of it's existence.  Or so large that the structure exceed concepts of infinity.  What about something so loud that the skin feels like an eardrum?  Or so quiet that it is absolutely unhearable?

Unhearable is different from unheard.  Unperceivable is different from unperceived.    Something can be unperceivable because of the medium in which it resides:  we do not have ears that register radio waves, neither eyes that see ultraviolet.

I like to use the word Adumbration to refer to gestures that exist beyond the range of human senses.  We know that there is a structure, because it can be referenced, perhaps etched in a mathematics equation.  But if we also know that this gesture is beautiful or otherwise compelling, then we are torn from the minimizing filters of the nervous system, jettisoned towards a frontal engagement with the binding state of mortality. 

This is a specific and desirable experience.  It is  an immediate response to the being-ness of an aesthetic gesture.  Perhaps a better way to say it is that this is a specific and desirable response that indicates the presence of an aesthetic gesture.  


Where is everyone (or, "why haven't we seen any ET if the universe is 'teeming' with life)

Earlier, I wrote that the universe is teeming with life.  But if that's correct, then why haven't we seen any aliens on Earth?  Why aren't we routinely in contact with Extra-terrestrial life forms?  Doesn't it seem like my Teeming Universe runs right into Fermi's paradox?

JodrellEnrico Fermi is otherwise known for his work developing the first atomic bomb.  His paradox is a formulation of criteria concerning the age, size, likelihood of civilization developing and surviving into a sustainable space-faring colony.  Fermi says that by now, all things known, there has been time for aliens to travel far enough to reach earth.  The fact that they haven't suggests that they don't exist.

The Drake Equation formalizes Fermi's Paradox, and all approaches to 'solve' it challenge one or more of the assumptions included in the Drake Equation.  The discovery of planets orbiting distant suns suddenly allowed for the possiblity of many more life-sustaining planets.   If humanity succeeds in developing beyond mutually assured destruction, then the expected lifespan of a civilisation increases and the opportunity for galactic exploration increases. 

A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself - think of Zeno's Paradox, where you are rendered incapable of crossing a room because each step is half the remaining distance to the opposite wall.  There's nothing contradictory in Fermi's statement.  I'm not sure if it even rises to the level of a conundrum.   I'd rename it Fermi's Observation. 

Observations are  filtered through our own expectations of viable technology.  There's a variable in the equation for the number of civilisations that emit detectable signals in to space.  We have assumed that those signals will be in the radio frequency.  It's not a bad assumption.  We have been very effective in viewing the universe with radio telescopes, and undoubtedly radio waves are a fundamental characteristic of the universe.  Perhaps Fermi assumed that 'detectable signals' were physical artifacts visible on the earth. 

In the 17th century, the idea was to dig  huge trenches shaped like the pythagorean solids in the Bavarian forest.  Filled with pitch and ignited, these were intended as meaningful signals to geometrically inclined Martians.  Our radio search will look this way, too, one day.

I'm poking around at the edge of McLuhan  to figure out what the next medium is, the medium that has the same relationship to Electronic and Electronic has to Print.  When the terrestrial flips from hot to cold.   But even that will still be "not the alien".  Thats the point.  The alien is alien.

Check out this bit from the Squonk Opera show Astrorama.  It's guaranteed to entertain, and also hits on an important point.  The alien contact experience is so radically different from anything we've ever experienced before that we can't expect to define and probably can't recognize even if we're in the middle of it. 

That's the point of space open up the senses of the participants so that they are more likely to see whats really always here, but is too bizarre for words.



What shall I call my book?

Essays after the end of time? Since several of the pieces I expect to include deal with the 2012 stuff I blogged-with various guests- last year. Also a nice tip of the hat to Messiaen.

But what about Essays for the Neolithic Alien? A couple of candidate essays written about the extra-terrestrial presence in human history.

Psychogeography and Space? Ties in the walking essays, and stuff about leys. The poetics of landscape art as a premonition of the Overview effect. Etc.

I don't know, maybe something about music? I'll include a section discussing whether or not "music" is " universal" and what might an alien composer do, what could ET "music" be?

The most accurate title, of course, is Unfinished Fragments after Bourbon. But I have a goal this year to pull together a good draft. Other writing projects underway include walking Pittsburgh's adumbrated trolley lines, a book on the psychogeography of East Anglian saints (principally Aetheldreda and Edmund), as well as a longish set of piano preludes tentatively titled twitching.

More to come, but thoughts comments and suggestions are welcome. (Still working on a longer post on that Mckenna material I posted yesterday.)


Ekpyrosis and Ecstasy

Ekpyrotic art is an aesthetic that recreates the experience of the eschaton.   Earlier post on Ekpyrosis here

What are the mechanics of Ekpyrotic art?  Trance through repetition:  drumming, mudra, chant.  When material remains consistent, the mind latches on to epiphenomenon.  Perception of a pattern in repeated gestures is to remove the gesture from time and perceive a crystalline structure.  

When physical phenomena are perceived outside of time, the mental attributes of that action are lost , without meaning.  The body becomes  open to new imprints.  Like a new born duckling.  Its a condition before the new material.  Ekpyrosis is liturgical, and ecstasy is a functional  precondition for effective liturgy.  

To this duckling mind, then, we throw contemplation of the immense.  Contemplation of the immeasurable:  large or small. The breath-devouring ancient.  The face-melting future.  Experience of the impossibly loud.  The unbearably silent.  

Imagine the very small.  The nano.  That experience, the full-on contemplation of the vanishingly tiny:  a big part of that is looking back and recognizing our bigger selves.   Like Alice in wonderland. It is an anticipation of our death, as much as an anticipation of our departure from earth, where every glance will be backwards. 

This is not only the definition of, but also the reason for, the Overview effect.  Think on it:  the entirey of your life  - of all life - is "out there", external, not-all-around-ness.  It's  probably like going to a sensory deprivation tank and realising you left your body behind for real, a sensory deprivation tank where your body is vaporised for the duration.

For sure, I feel this sometimes when I look at a map of the US Eastern coast.  I've lived in Washington DC for High school, Lewiston Maine for College, and Pittsburgh for everything else.  A  psychogeographic asterism on the map.

The extraction of the physical gesture in to a space outside of time has some consistent and remarkable sensations.  It feels to me like biting on a piece of metal foil, a clenching in my abdomen, a  slight shiver that feels like it is generated by the muscles at tip of my spine where it meets the skull.  There is  enough of a contraction that my jaws quiver from side to side, although there are no muscles moving  in my face or neck.  A quiver.  An impulse.   At the bottom of my breath, all air expelled from my lungs ( if my eyes are closed)  I  feel a swaying -   or more like there's a cyclone, a small cyclone that I've swallowed,  When I breath out,  I contract enough to touch the sides of that moving wind. 

That's what it feels like. 

Mircea Eliade talks about Hierophany.  Hierophany is the revelation of the sacred,  a differentiating event.  Essentially poetic.   A shift where the pattern is perceived, the physical gesture ("mortality") has been removed from time.   If it isn't an intimation of death, it's an intimation of hypersptial experience.  


Live Blogging The Eschaton (2012): part 1 Introduction


Finally, I  get to blog about 2012.  (All 2012 posts here) Over the next few days, I'll post as often as possible to talk about the solstice, 2012.  Whatever this is, it's a great reason to dig through a lot of rich imagery and powerful ideas.  Please use the comments thread to elaborate ( Also, sign up for email blog alerts, and  follow @ZenGlop on the Twitter.)

I'm not going to call it the Coming Mayan Apocalypse.  I'm not going to call it The End of the World, either.  Every moment is the End of The World, so nothing special about 06:11 AM EST, December 21 2012.  I don't think I've ever thought there was a prophetic catastrophe on its way.  

Although  we've been through various planetary alignments  together - to a soundtrack of bleeping/blurping music - including a rioutous reading of R J Stewarts small but powerful book  The Prophecies of Merlin,  still  I'm not sure that anyone I've known has really thought that either. 

This is a riff, an improvisation. Nobody knows anything, but all these shiny objects in the air - ideas cast up like sycamores, clouds of whirling seeds falling in patterns complex and unpredictable.  I've got a stack of books (next to Merlin), including Teilhard de Chardin, John Michell, Rupert Sheldrake.  Alan Watts.  A bit of Stephen Hawking, although I'm better of with Brian Greene , and the source physicists didn't write atractive books for lay people.   James Joyce for a laugh, and some American Civil war stuff, just because that's what I'm reading right now so why mess with it just because we're facing the end of time (I'll have that on the record  player also, Messiaen).

Those guys are great, with lots of mileage.  But I will keep returning to Carl Jung and Terrence McKenna.  Carl Jung sets up a profound  model for thinking about UFOs in his monograph Flying Saucers:  A modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, and I'll propose using something similar to talk about 2012.

 "If we close our eyes a little so as to overlook certain details, it is possible to side with the reasonable opinion of the majority ..., and to regard the thousands of UFO reports and the uproar they have created as a visionary rumour, to be treated accordingly.  They would then boil down, objectively, to an admittedly impressive collection of mistaken observations and conclusions into which subjective psychic assumptions have been projected (my italics)."

Jung identifies the process of projection, where the psychic form  "extrapolates it's contents into an object" .  Up, down, all around or singing the blues, there's a load of psychic form extrapolated on to the idea of 2012.  In Hollywood movies.  In quiet disquisition late night on the fire escape.  Everywhere in between.   It is important that the 'object' could begin as either a psychic,  or as a physical phenomenon.  That disctinction isn't useful so much in the discussion of the UFO phenomenon, and it isn't useful so much in talking about the 2012 meme.

 And '2012' is a meme in the strongest and strangest sense of the word.  NASA gives primary source to Terrence McKenna:

Dennis and Terence McKenna discussed it in The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching. That book at least got the Baktun-13 end date right: Dec. 21, 2012. It also noted that the date is the winter solstice, when the Sun will be "in the constellation Sagittarius, only about 3 degrees from the Galactic Center, which, also coincidentally, is within 2 degrees of the ecliptic." The McKennas continued, "Because the winter solstice node is precessing, it is moving closer and closer to the point on the ecliptic where it will eclipse the galactic center." In reality this event will never happen, but it hardly matters. The McKennas linked the whole arrangement with the concept of renewal and called 2012 a moment of "potential transformative opportunity."

The Mayan calendar is actually incidental to the insight that Mckenna was writing about, which is the Timewave. More on that in the next post.  I first heard of Terrence McKenna in 1992, close enough to 20 years ago.  (That fact alone baffles me more than the immanent end of time. ) I heard him in a track by The Shamen:


What does he say here - he says an awful lot, which I'll keep coming back to.  But this first:

It's almost as though this object in hyperspace - glittering in hyperspace - throws off reflections of itself which actually ricochet into the past illuminating this mystic, inspiring that saint or visionary. 

I love that image.  This object, whatever an 'object' is when it doesn't reside in time/space, shooting off sparks, substance raining down into becoming.   Beautiful.


McKenna  also talks about history as the "shockwave of the eschaton".  It's wildly sexy.   I've used the word ZenGlop to capture what I feel when I think through the idea of the eschatological object.  ZenGlop....good name for a band, or a blog.  Or maybe a brand new puppy dog?

Anyway.  Thursday night heading in to dawn on Friday morning, I'm going to be sitting, perhaps meditating, perhaps sleeping.  Listening to Messiaen, drinking tea.  



The Larkin Project (more)

Another short selection from The Larkin Project, while I figure out uploading to iTunes.   (More available Follow @ZenGlop on Twitter for details.
The Larkin Project is music inspired by the recorded voice of Phillip Larkin.    Here's a line or two from Aubade...
And so it stays just on the edge of vision, 
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill 
That slows each impulse down to indecision. 
Most things may never happen: this one will, 
And realisation of it rages out 
In furnace-fear when we are caught without 
People or drink.