Ekpyrotic Art

147: art that facilitates as well as stimulates

Art - the aesthetic object, whether music, poetry, painting, landscape - stimulates a wide range of responses in us.  What about art that needs to teach us what the response could be?  Art that facilitates the response.  

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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.

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.  


Art in Response to The Eschaton: What is Ekpyrotic Art?

I'm going to start  working on a series of posts looking  at an aesthetic reponse to the Eschaton.  

The first time I used the word Ekpyrotic, I was looking for the title of a new quartet - same instruments as Messiaen.  I like to use an alphabetic bestiary, with titles like Dreams of a Debauched Dodo, Aprocryphal Aardvaarks.  Yodelling Yaks.    Ekpyrotic Emus (unfinished).

Ekpyrosis is a model for the creation of our  universe derived from string theory.    There's a concept of Hyperspace with Brane objects floating, and their collision causes the creation of our universe...one of many.  In Stoic philosophy, ekpyrosis is the inward path of a universe that cycles through creation and destruction.    

Ekpyrotic art is music of the Eschaton.  It is a liturgical expansion of Space Art.  People have been practising space art since  the first cave paintings.  Hidlegard was a space artist, with her visions of the sky.  Recently, Space Art refers to artists who are directly influenced by the changing perspective brought on by a movement in to outer space.  Some of this is technology providing opportunities to reach new places with new media.  Some is conceptual, the change in what it means to be human as we see the rest of the universe in more details.  

Different categories of space art (I'm paraphrasing and extending a bit from  the introduction to Burgess, The Quiet Axis:

  • Art executed on the earth but at a scale to be seen from space.  
  • Art that captures the experience of a rocket launch, or that documents the surface of other planets.  
  • Art designed so that it is complete only when it has moved into outer space, that trajectory changing the piece.   
  • Art that is executed away from gravity.  Sculpture that can be exquisitely thin and hugely long at the same time.
  • Art where the content and the architecture is formed by an analysis of data.

Ekpyotic Aesthetics is primarily  concerned with experience. It is an aesthetics based on the mechanics of a common experience.   The anticipation of the experience of space, and the recapitulation of the memory of Earth.    Anticipates the departure from earth, the end of time, the death of a species.  Ekpyrotic art will provide a sacramental framework for memory.   Of the past.  Our evolution, our place in time, ontogony.

To begin, the Ekpyrotic must impact physiology:  captivate the nervous system, entrain the nerons.  Loudness.  Extreme quiet.  Mesmerizing complexity.  Unequivocal simplicty.    An idea so compelling that all else falls away (zen koan).  Shake loose the hard-held notions, then generate new ideas, new experiences. 

A first example?  Start with Ive's Universe symphony, a piece written to be performed  with orchestras and choirs arranged on hilltops, in valleys.  It's  not explicitly written anywhere, but lets assume that he envisions the Universe symphony performed across  the land as it is etched in his own psyche.  

This is a piece written before orbiting satellites.  We have to imagine that we're hearing while  suspended hundreds of feet in the air,  looking down on a landscape that has been sacralized by the composer's actions.  Ives has embodied  memory around  the ground.

The first I heard this piece was last summer, on the final weekend of the Aldeburgh Festival.  The work is complex, a timed pulse coordinates musical lines played by a couple dozen instruments each independant except for this pulse. 

 According to his notes  Ives was

"striving to  paint the creation, the mysterious beginnings of all things known through God and man, to trace with tonal imprints the vastness, the evolution of all life, in nature, of humanity from the great roots of life to the spiritual eternities, from the great inknown to the great unknown." 

The  piece is unfinished (either missing or never written down).  But let's assume that there's a sense, a Mind-Sense (the ZenGlop?) in which Ives has this piece completed.  That's where our ears have to go first.   I'm not talking about the score - although there could be a score. It's a step outside of time, a full-fleshed dream.  The form of a memory as it precipitates from the individual consciousness.   Now we have to extend up, high  above the hills, rivers and valleys.  Ives would have envisioned Danbury.  I choose to look down on Pittsburgh, to the Point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join to form the Ohio.  Instruments are on the West End Overlook, they are up on Troy Hill, and also on Observatory Hill. We are freed from the restrictions of traditional instrumentation, the orchestra is embellished by seraphim who play their Futurist machines and sound devices.   Human?  Alien? It's breathtaking, and quite besides the point of an actual performance.  We are immersed in the adumbration of the sound.  

That's the space art, that's Ekpyrotic.  The intersection of memories, the intersection of universes.