PSYCHOGEOGRAPHIA RURALIS P h i l
L e g a r d
PSYCHOGEOG R A P H I A R U R A L I S Observations concerning LANDSCAPE and the IMAGINATION Text by Phil Legard. Photographs by Layla Smith. Third Edition
The Larkfall Press, Leeds
ÂŠ The Larkfall Press, 2011
Dedicated to Northern Visionaries... Wherever they may be.
If there be art, let it be hid in nature. - James Hurdis, The Village Curate, 1788
Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. - William Blake, Letter to Revd. Dr. Trusler, 1799
Even at the moments when he lurks in mere woods and waters, and in relics of centuries so remote that the careless eye mistakes them for stocks and stones, the Genius of Places has taken his being in 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. - Violet Paget, The Golden Keys, 1925
PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION
HE intention of Psychogeographia Ruralis is to try and articulate some of my notions of the relationship between creativity, imagination and geography (both physical and psychological). It is intended as a theoretical background to two further, more mystically inclined texts drawing upon the actual practice. These two companions are Abital: Conferences with the Genii of Nocturnal and Diurnal Dew (dealing with the alchemical lore and psychometeorology of dew) and Zodzor Calling (examining the place of the genii locorum in the urban environment). While I must admit to still being a little wary about the value of distinguishing between what I have called psycho- and psyche-geographies I have let the terms remain in this revision insofar as I believe that the distinction between passive-cognitive and and active-imaginal responses (as well as the distinction between 'mind' and 'soul' geographies) to be a useful one, along with the idea that the psychegeographic engages with the overall â€˜formâ€™ of a place as it exists apart from the actual physical time and space (see footnote 7). The first edition of Psychogeographia Ruralis was limited to 40 copies on Larkfall Press, a second edition in 2010 by NothingOutThere. This third, electronic edition was prepared in spring 2011. With the exception of the last five images, the photographs accompanying the text were taken by Layla Smith. P.L., Leeds 2011
PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY AND PSYCHEGEOGRAPHY
O paraphrase Guy Debord, the Situationist originator of the term, psychogeography is an interdisciplinary practice that professes to study the effects of the environment on the emotion and behaviour of individuals. It relies on objective and subjective knowledge and encourages its practitioners to question their existing relationship with their environment through the use of techniques such as the dérive.1 Since the term was coined in 1955 almost every self-proclaimed psychogeographer has, like Debord, concentrated their studies on urban areas and man-made architecture, usually due to aesthetic, artistic or political concerns. Additionally, urban geography is easily quantifiable since it deals with clearly defined units: buildings, streets and so forth; while in terms of political struggle psychogeography helps the urban explorer realise and react against the control structures inherent in civic architecture. Urban geometries are generally simple and Euclidean, relying on primitives such as the line, square, cube and so forth. This is in opposition to the complex and fractal forms of nature.2 The dérive is essentially a “drift” in which participants abandon their usual patterns of interacting with an environment (for example walking a familiar route to work) and allow themselves to be intuitively drawn to other areas. 2 When Lovecraft mentions the connection between the Old Ones and non-Euclidean geometry perhaps he was thinking about geometry that mimics natural forms. This may relate to one of the recurring themes of his work – the conflict of civilised, rational and scientific thought against the unquantifiable horrors of nature. 1
The natural landscape is therefore more difficult to partition since there are fewer precise geometrical delineations of space imposed upon it by man. We can attempt discover these with our intuition, or else rely on archaic traditions such as boundary markings and folklore to establish conceptual borders. Alternatively we can simply accept that nature is beyond the crude attempts of man to compartmentalise her and surrendering our post-Enlightenment yearning to dissect something that simply exists as a whole. Essentially, psychogeography may be defined a study of the effect of the outer (e.g. architecture or landscape) upon the inner (e.g. the minds of men – or whichever part may be said to influence thought, emotion and behaviour). To the above definitions I propose that it is useful to add a new term: psychegeography. If psychogeography investigates our reaction to the outer landscape, then psychegeography explores these places as they are reflected in our 'souls' as inner landscapes, explored as extended images through, to borrow a term from archetypal psychology. psychepoiesis.3 One form of psychegeography is the mental exploration of an existing place through reminiscence, dream or strong imaginings. An allusion to this in fiction could be Lovecraft’s Plateau of Leng, which exists simultaneously in Central Asia as well as in a northern realm of the ‘Dreamland’.4 The genesis of the psychegeographic terrain occurs around the initial contact with an area. Its formation is the reflex of a mind contemplating its environment. Such terrain is malleable: in dreams an element of personal significance may be discovered within the landscape: a hitherto unnoticed door leading to stranger locales. Such psychegeographic fancies may be at the root of some common folkloric devices such as the entrances in hills and mounds that lead to the faery kingdom, or even the phantasmagoria of the witches sabbath on the local moor. The 3 4
See Hillman Archetypal; Psychology: A Brief Account (Spring, 1997 ) In other words, Leng 'exists' in the minds of those who are acquainted with the place through either first or second-hand experience. See H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound (1922) and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926).
legends stemming from such fusions of dream and geography may be termed ‘visionary’ lore, related to 'shamanic' experiences whereby real-world locations provide points of ingress to a ‘psychic’ underworld. Psychegeographies are isomorphically related to psycho-geographies. They are concerned with individual and idiosyncratic visions as opposed to the geographically influenced behaviours of the multitude. Psychegeographies coalesce after the first contact with an environment, existing on the most easily accessible level of imagination – that of memory and reminiscence. From here they may also behave as gateways to the hinterlands of the mind: those unconscious underworlds that have been identified variously with Hades, Elfhame or Annwn.5 Considering the close relation of psychegeographies to the faculty of memory it is not surprising that the figures of both living and deceased persons known to the traveller often appear during such stygian sojourns. In the popular imagination the world of the fairies was synonymous with that of the dead even until the 17th century, as the testimonies of numerous common-folk attest.6 In this respect it is also understandable that the faces of friends, neighbours and other memorable associates may have presented themselves to the historically unwitting psychegeographer during the intensely dreamed or imagined revels of the witches’ Sabbath or journey to the underworld. The psychegeographic membrane allows a two-way flow of energy and ideas. A psychogeographic encounter will rapidly become a psychegeographic one as the mind works on its experiences exploring through dream, daydream and other psychological equivalents of the derivé. The distinction between psycho- and psychegeographic can be nebulous and is made here as a guide only. The essential notion is that the psychegeographic is a subset of the psychogeographic, dealing with response to the environment within individual consciousness. 5 6
A thought-provoking perspective on the psychological realities of the underworld can be found in James Hillman's The Dream and the Underworld (1979). For attitudes to the underworld both in early modern England and the anthropology of shamanism, see Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, Emma Wilby (2005, Sussex Academic Press).
Whereas psychogeography strictly defined may enable the urbanite to comprehend the tyranny of the city planner upon the thoughts and habits of the populace at large, he can only generalise about their individual personal relationships with the environment. In the great ‘memory theatre’ of our world each person has populated places with their own particular images and memories – real events now frozen in the atemporal regions of memory, for example: the Leeds street where a man threw himself off the council offices. His shade still lingers there in my mind. It is the function of the spirit of the place, the genius loci who speaks in imagery and allegory, to further populate our memory theatres with images directly from its breast; speaking soul to soul; translating our perception of a rolling hill or pile of bricks into a bountiful psychic construct. The brief table that follows should be interpreted only as a sketch of the two symbiotic elements of speculative geography.
In the Faculties In Society In Consciousness Of Principles In Time Of Worlds
Psychogeography Visual Observation The Multitude Waking Passive Imagination Material Temporal Outer Upper World Man in the World Macrocosm Collective Subconscious 1st-4th Limit
Psychegeography Imaginative Reflection The Individual Dreaming Active Imagination
Atemporal Inner Underworld The World in Man Microcosm Personal Subconscious 5th Freedom
The abstract concept of ‘form’ is well summed up by Robin Walker in his essay Form and Meaning: The Inner Life of Music (chapter six of Reviving the Muse: Music After Modernism, ed. Peter Davison): “Form is [...] shape perceived in its totality after its unfolding in real time. This is not to be confused with structure, which is a describable pattern or design. We recognise a person subjectively as a personality, and physical characteristics play a part in this. However, ultimately we sense them as a form; the sum total of all our reactions and stimulated feelings.” 8 “On another of these walks - or perhaps it was when we were talking in his tiny study - he made a comment that intrigued me: that true poetry was written in 'the fifth dimension.' As with so many of his pronouncements, he refused to explain what he meant. “And it was years later, when I was thinking about the whole question of dimensions, that I realised that the fifth dimension is freedom. You can define an object with two dimensions, its latitude and longitude (although if it is above the ground, you need to add the third coordinate of height. But an animal has an extra dimension of freedom - the fourth dimension that Einstein called time. And most of us spend our lives trapped in time, like any other animal. But when a poet or artist is inspired, he achieves a sense of being 'above' time. He is, in fact, in the fifth dimension...” Colin Wilson remembers Robert Graves, Abraxas Unbound (abrax7.stormloader.com). 7
II. GENII LOCORUM
HE belief in tutelary spirits â€“ intelligences attached to certain locations â€“ has persisted throughout the history of civilisation. The Romans used the term genii locorum to describe a wide range of spirits, from those that inhabited trees and streams in the forms of dryads and nymphs, to the patron deities of town, city, hearth and storeroom. Some will suggest that the existence of such entities is simply poetic language or imagination. However neither poetry nor imagination should be so lightly dismissed: one cannot deny that they are both vital to the creative or artistic power of man and are integral parts of the language of the soul. Regardless of how much stock the average Roman citizen placed in these the reality of these spirits they did at least honour the genius of the storeroom, hearth and family with regular sacrifices, libations and festivals, ensuring that the more primitive beliefs in ancestor worship and the remembrance of the spirits residing in all things survived in both rus et urbs. To the eyes of our forefathers the universe was alive with intelligent and invisible beings. These existed in a strict hierarchy, established at the dawn of creation. Gods or angels presided over the stars and planets, while a host of beings teemed below, within the elemental spheres that bound the Earth. Not only this, but a single genius may preside (for example) over a forest and furthermore have a whole legion of lesser genii below him who inhabit each tree, stream and rock of his dominion. This is likewise for a city whose chief genius rules innumerable lesser spirits of streets, boroughs and individual dwellings. At one of the lowest levels of the urban hierarchy were the aforementioned house-spirits, which the Romans called the lares and
penates.9 The Romans took the existence of tutelary spirits especially seriously, and during times of conquest they had a particular ritual known as evocatio. In this ceremony the General would offer the god of his opponents a cult and temple in Rome if it yielded to the conquering forces.10 During the Roman conquest of Britain, many Celtic deities were adopted by the conquerors. Evidence of the successfully persuasion of local deities survives in the form of Romanised Celtic god names such as Verbeia, spirit of the River Wharfe; Vinotonus, protector of flocks and herds; Ogmios, the psychopomp, amongst many others. The speculative geographer cannot ignore the treasury of spirits that we have inherited from ancient days, whose names still haunt mundane geographies, and are occasionally teased out by perceptive toponymists. Historically tutelary spirits were also protectors of places. Men resisted the urge to exploit land whose spirits were particularly formidable, such as ancient burial mounds or ‘fairy roads’ between ancient landmarks.11 These genii locorum may be considered the soul of a place: the essential spirit underlying the physical form, transcending any atmospheric colouration that local weather or other temporal events may lend to the area. It is intelligible insofar as it may speak with the open-minded and astute listener. This notion that the genii locorumcould be conversed with or consulted by some means was common from the days of paganism well into the 17th century. 9
For a discussion of urban genii and their theoretical hierarchy, see the forthcoming third part of this trilogy – Zodzor Calling. 10 For primary texts relating to evocatio, see Beard, North & Price, Religions of Rome: Volume 2 (1998, Cambridge University Press). 11 A point best expressed by Lynn White in the influential essay The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis: “In Antiquity every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit. These spirits were accessible to men, but were very unlike men; centaurs, fauns, and mermaids show their ambivalence. Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of that particular situation, and to keep it placated. By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.”
Some evidence of this practice can be found in later editions of Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft (first published in 1584). This work is notorious for presenting a whole chapter on magical rituals concerned with calling spirits, along with another chapter containing a fairly decent survey of folk charms for healing the ague, reclaiming lost items and easing the pain of childbirth. This material was intended to ridicule the work of magicians and to contrast the liturgy of the Catholic Church with superstitious magic. However, it seems that these chapters were actually employed by countless village cunning-men of varying levels of literacy with both manuscript copies of Scot’s material and old editions of the same being found in the book hordes of several magicians who fell foul of the law even as late as the 19 th century.12 The popularity of the magical material prompted the editors to add further items, among them a ritual for calling the tutelary spirits by drawing their signs outside of a chalk circle.
Signs of the tutelary spirits from Discovery of Witchcraft (1665 edition)
The meeting with the genius loci may be somewhat simpler and less dramatic than the formulae presented in Scot would have us believe, with its spiritual sigils and magical incantations. More likely one will find that, upon clearing the mind and opening oneself to the possibility of hearing the voice of a place, that a certain deep impression asserts itself upon the psyche, often of poetic, cryptic or inspirational significance. Although the antique books of magic contain many complex graphical devices and fearsome conjurations, I believe that historically communication with what might be called “spirits” 12 See Owen Davies’ doctoral thesis The Decline in the Popular Belief in Witchcraft & Magic (1995).
often took place on a subtle, mental level similar to that just described. Cornelius Agrippa tells us that “souls going out of the body,” as well as angels and demons speak with inaudible voices that “would slide into the hearer without any noise, as an image in the eye.” Furthermore they impress upon the mind “the conception of speech to whom they speak, after a better manner than if they should express it by an audible voice.”13 The ‘better manner’ seems to refer to the notion that their impressions upon the minds of men go beyond simple speech, but also consist of images and the transmission of ideas. This may well be a throwback to an older mode of imaginal conception – Emma Wilby writes that: the art historian, Ananda Coomaraswamy, has argued that the rise of rationalism and literacy has caused modern western man to gradually lose the ability to think in images ‘To have lost the art of thinking in images’, he claims ‘is precisely to have lost the proper linguistic of metaphysics.’14 It is therefore understandable that innumerable poets and artists have, since time began, knowingly or unknowingly sought inspiration through convocation with nature and conference with these wild spirits. Who are the Muses but the genii locorum of Mount Helicon? It is also unsurprising that the mythos of the tutelary spirits have attracted those with less lofty aspirations, such as treasure hunters who attempted to placate, threaten or cajole them into giving up their subterranean hordes, and often in their searches causing irreparable damage to prehistoric landscapes.15 The Hermetic authorities describe human genius as having an earthly lifespan 13 Agrippa, Occult Philosophy, III.xxiii. 14 Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits (2005, Sussex Academic Press), p.205. Note also that in archetypal psychology 'images' are the language of the soul – the 'linguistic of metaphysics.' 15 Many ancient barrows were looted by self-proclaimed seers, often using ‘Mosaicall rods’ – a popular occurrence during the 16th and 17th centuries when the landscape was popularly considered to be brimming with forgotten hordes of gold. (See Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971, Weidenfield and Nicholson).
contemporaneous to the life of that man whose soul they are attached to. Such genii were believed to descend from the stars at the time of birth and their names could be calculated from the horoscope of a man.16 When the light of life was extinguished in the man, his soul would return to its ineffable source, and the genii to their stellar abodes.
The sign of Malhitriel, genius of John Heydon’s nativity (from The Harmony of the World, 1662)
During the Renaissance the practice of astrological magic reached its apex thanks to writers such as Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. The doctrine of the genius permeates this art, despite protestations that it was purely ‘natural magic’, relying solely on the influence of the stars. Great importance was placed by some authors on the creation of talismans to attract stellar influence – a notion ultimately related to the famous ‘lapsus Hermetis’: the idea expressed in the Corpus Hermeticum that the life-force of the gods residing in the heavens themselves can be attracted to inanimate objects.17 Talismans therefore fall under the influence of the stellar genius ruling at the time of their ‘consecration’. This notion could be further extended to the creation of all things: for every entity, living or inanimate, a genius rules inception or birth. The above assumptions may be applied to urban geography. In fact many astrologers of the Baroque period told how the nature of the genius that rules a certain building can be derived 16 For the genii in magical thought see Agrippa, Occ. Phil. III..xxvi, xxxvii etc. 17 This passage in book II of the Asclepius was called a ‘lapse’ of the otherwise divine Hermes since Christian commentators equated the art of ‘god making’ with idolatry.
from the astrological chart for the date on which construction began. 18 The start of construction is analogous to the nativity of a man, who does not spring fully formed from the womb, but grows over time. Furthermore, in such an astrogeographic scheme, natural places may therefore be considered as bearing the imprint of the heavens at that distant, unknown age of their formation. Their genii will not return to the stars until the total destruction of the planet.19
18 John Partridgeâ€™s Mikropanastron (1679) p.248 recommends that the planet that rules the country or city in which a building is being constructed should be in the tenth house when the foundation stone is laid. 19 For example, many of our most striking geological features could be said to owe their appearance to the peculiar aesthetics of glacial movement, or â€˜Ice Age geniiâ€™.
III. SPECULATIVE METEOROLOGY
HE role of weather plays an important part in our perception of a landscape and may often colour our conversation with the genius loci. The psychogeographic and psychegeographic comprehension of a place is therefore dependent on three elements external to the surveyor: The physical aspect of the place (geographia) The mind of the place (genius loci)20 The atmospheric conditions (aer) As an intelligible force the genius loci is as affected by the weather to the same extent as we are – some become introvert during foul storms, others rejoice in the sun or cool drizzles. It is therefore a useful practice to revisit places, noting when the genii address us with ease, as well as those conditions in which their strength wanes. To use a musical allegory, the physical aspect of a place is akin to the body of an instrument; the atmosphere to modality, tonal ethos or other such regulatory constructs in which music is generally framed; and the genius the musician himself, improvising within the physical and conceptual structures provided him. For example, the ‘music’ (e.g. mental impressions) of the genius may be coloured with dark, foreboding tones due to the presence of black skies and a 20 Note that the physical composition of a place and the atmospheric conditions are sensory inputs, appealing to the five senses, while the genius loci appeals to the inner faculties of the beholder.
brewing tempest, while a ‘truer’ image of the place when all things are felt to accord in harmony may be sensed on a winter day when the low, dim sun hangs over the place. A Hermetic allegory would be that geography is analogous to the body of man, the genius loci to his rational mind and the atmosphere to his emotions. We may ourselves find it profitable to examine our relationship with the weather: to visualise archetypal conditions and gauge our reactions to them. This leads us to the area of psychoand psyche-meteorology.21 One may even observe that there is a certain type of weather in which our capability to effortlessly imagine waxes, enabling a profound conception of the subtle and intuitive. The authors of tracts on magic and divination seem to have been aware of this link between the intuitive faculty and weather, for example Gerald of Cremona declares that one should “take heed, that you do not, make a question in a rainy, cloudy, or a very windy season, or when thou art angry, or thy minde busied with many affairs.” Since his text concerns geomancy, perhaps he is concerned about the possibility of aerial spirits distracting the mind of the querent.22 However, other authorities, such as Christopher Cattan declare that geomantic divination may occur in both “fair and fowle weather.” The prime conditions seemingly associated to some extent with the diviner’s own relationship with the weather in so far as it either agitates or calms the mind and stimulates or inhibits his intuitive senses. As an example of the above: in early modern England it was a commonly held belief that “when there are any mighty winds and thunders with terrible lightnings [...] the Devil is abroad.”23 This is one poetic response to atmospheric phenomena and apt for the religious 21 Psychometeorology and the study of the influence of weather upon behaviour is a fledgling subject. At least one paper is thus far extant: Psychometeorology: A Critical View of Time-Series Analyses of the Influence of the Weather on the Psyche, by Kurt Pawlik and Lothar Buse (1994, Psychologische Rundschau 45, 63-78) 22 Gerald of Cremona, Of Astronomical Geomancy (in The Fourth Book of Occult Philsophy, attributed to Agrippa). Furthermore, the authors of various ‘Solomonic’ manuscripts declare that the “weather should fine be and the air clear” when making the magical tools or calling ‘Angelic’ spirits. For examples see the Key of Solomon material in BL Add. MSS. 36,674 and 10,862. 23 G. Gifford, A Discourse of the Subtill Practices of Devilles by Witches and Sorcerors (1587), quoted in Religion and the Decline of Magic, Keith Thomas (1971, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
mentality of the age. However, it also expresses the archetypal nature of the storm as a profoundly malign force associated with supernatural powers. The Egyptians called the storm god Set - their own Devil – while to the modern mind such weather evokes horror film imagery, witchcraft and the dark romance of strangers upon the blasted heath. Other types of weather are harder to define so broadly and require a measure of imagination and introspection in order to establish ones relationship with the absolute ‘form’ of the condition in question. To illustrate, I personally find damp and foggy weather most stimulates my imagination and encourages intuitive divinations. This is no doubt due to the nature of mist and fog in creating a subtle ganzfeld-effect by depriving the visual sense of a small measure of precision, encouraging the imaginal-visual faculty to complete the picture and the mind to wander. A mist or fog also brings its own peculiar acoustic atmosphere – as distinctive as that of a snowstorm or the oppressive silence that precedes a summer tempest. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the wights and fairies of traditional European heathenism are said to be encountered in similar 'liminal' weather conditions such as twilight, fog and persistent drizzle.24
24 See Wallis, In Mighty Revelation, in Strange Attractor Journal 4 (20011, Strange Attractor Press), p.229.
MUSIC AND SUBTLE GEOGRAPHIES
E have discussed in turn the three external elements of the natural environment: the physical geography, the genius loci and the atmospheric conditions. We will now turn our attention to the use of music – in particular improvisation – as a conduit to the experience of the genii locorum and as a psychegeographic tool. Colin Wilson has written that modern man lives in a state of constant unconscious hypertension as he juggles the various roles which modern society has thrust upon him. When the tension is removed the more vital, primal consciousness, usually reserved for dreams, has a tendency to seep into waking reality.25 An encounter with this visionary or ‘poetic’ state, which Wilson associates with his Faculty X, can occur at the most unexpected of times. There are Wilson’s examples: Proust’s Madeleine, Arnold Toynbee’s experience of being at one with the flow of history while walking near Victoria Station, which correlated with my own experience after passing through the holed stone at Men-an-Tol. Furthermore we can seek to trigger these states through meditation and contemplation, ascetic practices, dance, music and other art forms.26 25 See Colin Wilson, The Occult, I.2 – The Dark Side of the Moon (1971, Hodder and Stoughton). 26 With regard to dance, I am thinking of not only the famed Dervish dances, but also the incessant circumambulations prescribed by pseudo-Agrippa in his Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy: “let him arise, and let him begin to walk about in a circuit within the said Circle from the east to the west, until he is wearied with a dizzines of his brain: let him fall down in the Circle, and there he may rest; and forthwith he shall be wrapt up in an ecstasie [ecstacy], and a spirit will appear unto him, which will inform him of all things.”
The use of music as a gateway to an altered state of consciousness is well documented. The drums used by the shamans of many cultures are the most apparent manifestation of this, although I myself am fond of the allegory of the power of sound used in Athanasius Kircher’s Iter Exstaticum, in which the protagonist enters an ecstatic state and journeys through the heavenly spheres after hearing a concert by three lutenists. Throughout this brief book I only speak of melody and harmony instruments, since there is already ample literature relating to drumming.27 The nature of the altered state discussed here is not the ecstatic trance of the drummer, but a more quiet, reflective and meditative disposition in which impressions may manifest to the player in their own time – more akin to the wandering modal lines of Gregorian chant than the propulsive rhythms of the drum. I believe that it is most valuable to use an instrument that one feels most comfortable with and which is suitable to the temperament. Experience has taught me that a monophonic drone or melody instrument is most useful, since the only concern is with what sonic event comes next, rather than having the additional burden of harmony to consider, in which ill-fitting intervals may disturb the mind or incline one’s playing toward being a wholly intellectual exercise. This is, however, not a clear-cut rule – if a situation demands a certain timbre, or if you are simply most comfortable with a certain harmony instrument then by all means employ them. As an aside, the voice has long been considered the most divine of instruments: the closest to the soul: depending as it does on the breath of the singer. Those confident with singing may begin with vocalising elementary vowel sounds in lieu of words.28 I consider the function of playing an instrument as a mechanical distraction for the conscious 27
I personally find drumming ill-suited to my temperament, and indeed to the British poetic temperament in general, which historically yearns more for the pensive shepherd’s pipe than the visceral beat of the drum. For differing approaches to altered states through music see the anthology Music And Altered States: Consciousness, Transcendence, Therapy, and Addictions, ed. David Alrdidge and Jorg Fachner (2005, Jessica Kingsley Publishers) 28 A good introduction to the use of vowels in music can be found in Joscelyn Godwin’s The Mystery of the Seven Vowels (1991, Phanes Press). The use of vowels may also lead to glossolalia and other ‘inspired’ wordplay.
mind, allowing the imagination to become more open to an intuitive encounter with the genius loci. I feel that this enables a more immediate approach to contact with the genius than, for example, sombre meditation in the hope that 'something' will happen. A hope that is usually frustrated. My approach to the employment of music in such circumstances may be illustrated by the following example. Recording on one of the moors of Wharfedale I came to a spot that has a peculiarly strong mental attraction. It is a hill where large rocks jut from the earth and a blasted tree stands alone at the apex. I climbed the hill and sat by the tree. The weather was pleasant and still. Warm for an Autumnal day, with a gentle breeze. I reflected that, as a child, I had come here once and even then found myself drawn to this tree – for years afterwards my mind would often recall its image. More than a decade later it was like returning to meet an old friend. After collecting my thoughts and stilling my mind I began to play. I let the notes come of their own accord until a musical framework had established itself. Such frameworks may be, for example, a common thematic melody, a tonality, drone or set of pitches to use, the notion of certain ‘home’ notes, and so forth. Once these patterns had established themselves I was free to mentally wander to see what the genius loci wished to present to me. I let my hands respond of their own intuition. Slowly I felt something drawing near. A man in a black cloak, mounted upon a brown horse 'was' in the valley below. He held a burning torch. I 'descended' to meet him. He stared at me – he possessed a fearsome and otherworldly countenance. He stretched out his arm and opened a gloved hand. In his palm was a snowflake, and he let it fall before turning and riding away. Some days later I found myself listening to music and the following riddle in the lyrics struck a chord:
White bird featherless Flew from Paradise, pitched on the castle wall. Along came Lord Landless, Took it up handless, And rode away horseless to the King's white hall.29 It had not occurred to me before that the ‘white bird featherless’ was, of course, a snowflake! I came to call the character I had encountered “The Landless Lord” in reference to the above verse. Interestingly, it seems that he is a portentous figure whose appearances indicate an upheaval in my personal life. After his first appearance I made an unexpected career change, and his most recent visitation occurred shortly before finding my partner was pregnant with twins. I took the recordings back home and while working on them, making overdubs and so forth, I endeavoured to further explore the psychegeographical areas that the experience had impressed upon my mind, allowing for further symbolic layers to be built around the piece.30 Field recordings and music recorded in this situation act as powerful tools to return to a place within an imaginary context. To hear them again provokes strong reminiscence in all the senses. The above is a particularly dramatic example of a musical-mental dérive that I interpreted as an impression from the genius loci. More often than not a conception of the genius loci is a more subtle affair: a general emotional tenor, fleeting images in the mind’s eye, inspired words or phrases, and so on. As the quote from Agrippa earlier in this book hinted, the language of 29 From the Steeleye Span album, Now We Are Six (1974). 30 Results of these encounters are documented on the Xenis Emputae Travelling Band recordings Fire Rite for the Landless Lord (Toadsman’s Bell, 2005, Digitalis Industries) and Dance of the Landless Lord (Gamaaea, 2007, Beyond Repair Records). Sonic symbolism based on an interpretation of the ‘vision’ includes, for example, the sounds of matches being struck to ignite the Landless Lord’s torch and the use of a bagpipe chanter whose acoustic characteristics are notably masculine and lordly (Martial/Solar).
spirits is a multi-media affair presenting the mind with moving image (as in the experience above), still image, text, speech, and music, along with more subtle media such as emotional and tactile impressions. Shahab ad-Din Suhrawardi (1153-91) tells us of an 'imaginal' shadow world that co-exists with ours and contains within it multiple levels corresponding to the height and depth of the celestial and terrestrial worlds. This is the domain of active imagination in which reality appears “sometimes in the form of lines of writing, sometimes in the hearing of a voice […] Sometimes they see human forms of extreme beauty who speak to them in most beautiful words...”31 To ask whether such figures and visions actually 'exist' is to miss the point. Quoting Hillman on the subject of thereputic active imagination will serve as an illustrative example of the philosophical and psychological approach to images: “There is direct perception of and engagement with an imaginary figure or figures. These figures with whom one converses or performs actions or which one depicts plastically are not conceived to be merely internal projections or only parts of the personality. They are given the respect and dignity due independent beings. They are imagined seriosuly, though not literally. Rather like Neoplatonic daimones […] their 'between' reality is neither physical nor metaphysical, although just 'as real as you – as a psychic entity – are real' (Jung, CW 14, §753). This development of true imaginative power (the vera imaginatio of Paracelsus; the himma of the heart of Corbin) and the ability to live one's life in the company of ghosts, familiars, ancestors, guides – the populace of the metaxy – are also aims of an archetypal therapy.”32 I should also mention that such work as described in this section should generally be carried out alone. The presence of a partner who does not share your sympathies will only act as an inhibitor. As the poet Louis Singer noted “once one becomes involved in the psychic, there is a
31 Quoted in Godwin, Music, Mysticism and Magic (1986, Penguin Arkana) 32 Hillman, Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account (1983, Spring Publications).
certain lack of communication with those who have not had a similar experience.” 33 The very nature of being alone and outside in the wild also tends to awaken otherwise dormant senses and generally increases our awareness of the environment. To quote John Cage in conversation with Walter Zimmermann: “When we are in a natural situation, in a situation in the woods or sky, the aspects of the human character that have to do with vision and intuition and so forth are stimulated. They are not stimulated when we are at an intersection in the city and have to stop where there is a red light. When we're in the presence of law, I think vision tends to be diminished.”34 I believe that many players and listeners experience similar ‘visions’ while intently engaged with music, provided that the physical and mental conditions are right. I hypothesise that such lucid imaginings and synaesthetic responses to sound may be the root of, for example, SunRa’s assertion that he came from Saturn or Stockhausen’s vision of Sirius. It is this aspect of the visionary, creative and transformative power of music that is alluded to in myths such as Amphion and Zethus’ use of music to build the walls of Thebes, Orpheus’ lyre that comprehended and compelled nature, or Kircher’s ecstatic journey through the spheres.
33 Quoted in The Occult, Colin Wilson, (1971, Hodder and Stoughton). 34 Desert Plants: Conversations with 23 American Musicians, Walter Zimmermann (1976, Zimmermann). Note that in an urban environment the dérive (see note 1) aims to bypass ‘the presence of law’ and allow the latent senses to awaken.
A MUSICOPSYCHEGEOGRAPHIC EXPERIMENT
HE previous sections have concerned themselves with visionary and musical experiences as a result of psychogeographic working. During these experiments with music and landscape I had often been led beyond the physical landscape to quite alien imaginary landscapes. This led me to wonder what their relation was – if any – to the landscape, atmosphere, genius loci or sonic events that I was involving myself with. I decided that there was one factor of the above that could be experimented with in controlled conditions – the sonic element. Therefore I have pursued an initial investigation into the effect of musical tone and its association with internal geographies. In this experiment, sets of tones were generated using the interval pairs of a standard Western twelve-tone scale, from the unison to the octave. For each interval four different sets of tones, from hereon referred to as configurations were generated: i) ii) iii) iv)
The interval pair played together as a chord The pair played ascending from the lowest followed by a short silence. As for ii, but descending to the lower The two tones alternating without interruption.
The tones were generated from sine waves in order to bypass imagery deriving purely from the aesthetics of timbre. Additionally the tones were of a pitch and volume that allowed
comfortable listening over sustained periods. These tones were employed in the following manner: i)
ii) iii) iv) v) vi)
The listener sits in a dimly lit room. His or her eyes are closed. They are wearing headphones. They clear their mind in preparation for listening to the interval and the configuration that have been allocated to the session (e.g. the minor second, ascending). From silence the interval very gradually fades in until it has reached a comfortable level â€“ perceptible but not distracting. The listener allows imagery to flow, fixing particular attention on any geographically related imagery as well as trying to keep stock of any emotional or tactile response. After such a time as is deemed appropriate the listener stops the sound and notes down their impressions. Three more sessions should follow, exploring the other configurations of the interval. Once all the configurations of an interval have been processed the listener should have a fairly vivid conception of what kind of geography the configurations of a certain interval evokes. The next task is to find a physical landscape that matches the visualised one. The physical landscape is visited and the listener now plays music that pays special attention to emphasising the interval he or she has associated with such a scene. How does this affect the perception of landscape, atmosphere, genius loci? Does it aid the process of visionary experience?
My experiences deriving from the above experiment have been uniformly positive. Most interestingly it transpired that each particular interval evoked a specific visual scene, and the various configurations of that interval led me to different areas of focus or tactile engagement within that scene, for example:
Interval Key image Chord
Minor Second The ascent to Simon’s Seat, Wharfedale Foreboding. The landscape takes on a sinister simulacrum. Recently disturbed earth. A distant reservoir. Dark sky. A worn footpath. A wooden slat or stone step. Sudden flight of birds. A decaying animal. Pursuit. Fate. Sheep’s wool on barbed wire.
This approach also provides an outline view of one’s personal relation to musical intervals. Intervals may be a small part of practical music, but they are an elemental force and on their own are highly suggestive on many levels. By turning one’s attention to these tones an appropriate starting point is provided for entering a receptive state in which more involved improvisation upon the themes of speculative geography may occur, alongside aiding the imaginative process of connecting with the genii of places on the psychegeographic level.
NCOUNTERS with the genii locorum play an important role in the formation and development of the inner, psychegeographic model of their domains. The spirit of a place may be judged particularly potent if, sometime after returning from a place, it is then dreamt of or obsessively occupies our waking thoughts. The spirit of the place and the soul of man here seek to draw closer to one another in dreams and continue their correspondence. After visiting a site our inner, psychegeographic, conception of the place may be thought to consist of fragmentary images and experiences grouped together around a single unit of geographic memory. Using this analogy I decided to use photography to create images that reflect the internal counterpart of a landscape, creating visual expressions of their â€˜formâ€™: talismans of creation, the contemplation of which could facilitate engagement with the psychegeographic landscape. To this end areas of certain significance to the practices of speculative geography were photographed using techniques that attempt to express the multidimensionality of memory upon the photographic plane. Techniques include multiple exposure, adjustments to shutter speed, collage and digital processing in an attempt to build up an almost Cubist or Fractalist expression of the natural scene.35 This could also be interpreted as a throwback to an older 35 Fractalism is a movement of contemporary art associated with the French Art and Complexity Group. See the work of Pascal Dombis, Carlos Ginzburg and Yvan Rebyj.
form of pictorial representation – the “God’s-eye view”. This is the form often seen in preperspective Medieval art where, for example, a city is depicted from several angles at once, or the events in the life of a saint is represented in the same panel, each event in his life seemingly occurring at once, outside linear time and space. I find that when beholding images that employ these techniques successfully they trigger intensely vivid recollections of the place: the familiar elements are first to attract the eye, after which the trajectories between dimly remembered and all-but-forgotten facets stir the deeper memory and imagination. From there it is only a small step into the realms of psychegeographic reverie.
Published on May 30, 2011
Published on May 30, 2011
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