My heart is full of the pain of disco

Essayists, Gnosis, Groove, Modernity, Multimedia, Travel writers

It’s the way of great writing to bend the world to its own shape. And so, having spent yesterday lunchtime sketching out thoughts for a review of Erik Davis‘Nomad Codes’, I found myself last night at the Tallow Chandlers’ Hall, watching a combined Bollywood lecture / series of clips / song and dance extravaganza. I can’t think of anything that could have more convincingly brought some of his key themes to life.

First of all, a little background. ‘Nomad Codes’ collects essays and articles written over the last twenty years or so. And the Tallow Chandlers is one of the oldest social networks around. It’s one of the Livery Guilds of the City of London, originally formed to regulate the city’s tallow candle trade.

Founded in about 1300, it received its grant of arms in 1456. The hall we were sat in last night was built in 1672, after the original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Alas, tallow chandlery is no longer the profitable business it once was; the Tallow Chandlers are now mostly a charitable and social organisation, though some trade links remain.

The Tallow Chandlers Guild is a deep, ancient structure that remains vividly present and dynamic in modernity; an effective metaphor for much of the religious thinking that Davis excavates in ‘Nomad Codes’. His easy, confident familiarity with Gnosticism, Manicheism, Tibetan and Mahayana Buddhism, and many other more or less occult religious traditions rings through the book, bringing each to life in a way that both respects their deep roots and acknowledges their modern relevance and (in many cases) vitality.

But that sense of separate religious structures isn’t what’s at the heart of the book. Davis is animated not by separate histories, but by colliding narratives. In one of the book’s central perceptions, he confronts our current problem of multiplicity and steps beyond it, defining a ‘networked spirituality’ as an emergent property of the multicultural barrage that is modernity. He describes how:

‘the mix-and-match spirituality derided by traditionalists is only the surface of a far more supple and dynamic synthesis in the making, one that demands a form of being we have only begun to intuit: open-ended and integral, embodied and viridian-green. This path is a matrix of paths, with no map provided at the onset, and no collective goal beyond the tenacity and grace of our step.’
(from ‘Meditating in Sensurround’, Nomad Codes p.187)

The solution to multiplicity is a kind of dynamic synthesis; the following of an interstitial path that acknowledges and respects all spiritual achievement, without finding itself locked into single mode of engagement with the eternal. Eternity, after all, is infinite; it seems entirely reasonable to look for it by stepping beyond the finite.

That sense of dynamic synthesis struck me forcefully as I listened to last night’s music, and watched last night’s dance. Each was a series of collisions that again and again locked themselves into ferocious, miraculous grooves.

Synthesisers, electric bass and electric guitars throbbed over sitars and tablas; Western and Eastern musics combined, with no critical judgement of either being made beyond one immensely practical question. ‘Will this work?’ you could hear musicians asking, again and again – and then, joyously, again and again the music roared back ‘YES!’.

The night’s three dancers had a similar, resplendent spontaneity to them. Chatting with two of them, Ash Mukherjee and Showmi Das, at the end of the evening (the third, Khavita Kaur Rendhawa, had alas left) I discovered that they’d only met for the first time that afternoon, and had improvised much of the evening’s dance in response to the unusually long, narrow space they had to work in.

That sense of surprise explained the immense exploratory freshness that animated their performances. It’s also at the heart of the spirituality that Davis advocates in his book. I know it works, because I saw it danced last night, and I’ve lived it myself, improvising music out of terrified on-stage ecstasies with the Stella Maris Drone Orchestra. It’s alive in ‘Nomad Codes’, too, leaping joyfully out of each new essay, each new perception.

Then, there’s Davis’ sense of technology. That’s fundamental to his understanding of religion; in fact, ‘Techgnosis’, his first book, dealt at length with the collision between the two. I’m not sure if he’d agree that the medium is the message; but he’s certainly very aware that the medium contains the message, and thus plays a fundamental role in defining both what’s transported, and how it transports.

And one final point worth noting; Davis’ awareness of the way that (as he quotes Philip K. Dick) ‘the symbols of the divine show up in the trash stratum’. Davis brings this out in his discussions of Dick, H. P. Lovecraft, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and other driven pulp visionaries. It’s a great description of Bollywood action, too; melodramatic pulp madness that contains and creates great, deep and very genuine emotion, wonder and awe.

So, in summary – I’m going to spend the next few months exploring Bollywood movies. Last night’s talk was given by Rachel Dwyer – her ‘100 Bollywood Films’ should be an invaluable guide. I’m going to try and see some Indian dance on-stage. And it goes without saying that I’d strongly recommend picking up a copy of ‘Nomad Codes’ – a rich, fascinating and hugely rewarding read.

‘Upon These Might We Brunch’

Albums, Culture, Festivities, Groove, Music

Well, there’s been much musical joy at allumination central over the last few days, as Zali Krishna has launched his new album, ‘Upon These Might We Brunch’. It’s available for free download here, and is well worth checking out.

Rather than write about it, I went and filmed an interview with him, for this short film – which also includes two songs, too. Enjoy!

Krishna at the Klinker, 02 07 09

Gigs, Groove, Kosmische, Music, Pubs, Surrealism

Well, last week was a very cultural week, with Michael Moorcock, Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore live at the British Library at one end, and Zali Krishna playing live at the Klinker at the other. I didn’t record any of the Moorcock / Moore / Sinclair triumvirate, but I did manage to get this – the opening section of Zali’s gig. Enjoy!

 

Return to Albertopolis

Fantasy, Fiction, Gigs, Groove, London, Novelists

A very enjoyable night last night, as I hit the rather wonderful Book Club Boutique (and here on Facebook) for a London Short Story night set up and MC’d by Tony White. Some excellent writers – particular stand outs were Will Ashon‘s subtly fantastical biscuit opera, and Matthew De Abaitua‘s Ballardesque tale of North London inter-dinner party combat.

It also marked an allumination first. Inspired by Christian Payne on Friday, I’ve decided to start expanding my technological and media reach. So, I recorded Tony reading from ‘Albertopolis Disparu’; the video’s below. Visual quality is ok, but the sound is perfect, so sit back and enjoy:

 

The full text is still available here at the Science Museum – and I also managed to stop recording a little too early; if I hadn’t, you would have heard about an upcoming six zeppelin sonic attack…

Alas Davey Graham

Albums, Gnosis, Groove, Music

Sad news today, as I see in The Guardian that Davey Graham has died. He was a (in very broad terms) a folk musician, drawing on everything from Bach to Indian ragas in the 60s to create something devastatingly new. No space here to do him justice – check out the obituary in The Guardian, but before you do that here he is in the late 60s piece ‘Cain’s Film’, about Alex Trocchi:

And here again in a noir-ish feature film, as Edward Fox does moody:

Here he is playing ‘Cry Me a River’ in the clip that first introduced him to the public:

And here he is being genuflected to on ‘Folk Britannia’:

tho’ to be honest, I wish on that last one they’d just shut up and let him play.

Eheu!

We gig Friday

Culture, Dormouse hunting, Gigs, Groove, Heaviosity, Music

Well, continuing my tradition of only announcing gigs on here at the last minute, a quick one to let you know that I’m performing spoken word with Graan at the Klinker this Friday 15th. The night begins at 8.30pm, at Tottenham Chances, 399 High Road, London N17 6QN – nearest tubes Tottenham Hale / 7 Sisters. Listen to a couple of test runs for the night here (I’m on the A tracks, Stellas vocalist Tim is on the T track) – otherwise, see you there. You’ll know me, because I’ll probably be looking like this (ta Zali for pic):

Moi reading at Voices of Experience in November

Moi reading at Voices of Experience in November

Electric Exorcist Miles

Gigs, Gnosis, Groove, Heaviosity, Music

It’s a little known fact that ‘Dark Magus’, Miles Davis’ 1977 live album recording a 1974 concert in New York, made it into Q Magazine’s 2001 list of the heaviest albums of all time. It’s a ferocious funk metal attack, with Miles soloing dementedly over the top, that more than holds its own against heaviosity from luminaries including The MC5, Swans, Black Sabbath and Metallica. And it’s only one of the highlights of his extraordinary ‘Electric Miles’ phase in the 70s, where – as Julian Cope put it – he worked his way to an ‘epitome of music shamanism’ by creating a series of astonishing double albums that rock harder than a flotilla of out of control battleships crewed by demented Zen masters on speed.

They’re also a great way of flushing out last night’s cobblers; but alas, I can’t put them up here. Rather – go explore! Here’s Cope’s full article on Electric Miles. And then, go buy! Dark Magus, Get Up With It, Agartha, Pangaea, Live Evil, On the Corner – all deep, dark, heavy and magnificent. What I can post is this, from YouTube – a rather murkily mixed 16 minutes or so of the Dark Magus band at its peak. Enjoy!

Smashing the piano

Gigs, Groove, London, Music, Radio

Well, it’s quite the weekend of music coming up.

On Saturday night, Stoke Newington’s legendary Drones Club hosts the awesome testosterone rush that is synth duo Raagnagrok, plus mash up Arabist mayhem from Djinn. More details here, it’s going to be a blast.

On Sunday, as part of Resonance FM’s Month of Sundays sessions, Raagnagrok offshoot Grok is playing with the even-more-legendary M. John Harrison, plus techgnostic Erik Davis, at the Corsice Studios down in Elephant and Castle. Details here, again it’ll be truly mind expanding.

Oh, and there’s also going to be comedy from Simon Munnery, science chat from Little Atoms, Dexter Bentley, Marvin Suicide and more.

I’ll be at both – see you there!

Attack of the art-errorist

Festivals, Groove, Music

If you’re near Hamburg this weekend, then there’s only one thing you should be thinking about doing – heading to Faust bassist Jean Herve Peron’s Schiphorst Festival, a gathering of some of the continent’s finest established and upcoming avant-garde musicians. As Jean Herve puts it:

Our purpose is to give a platform to dedicated/renowned yet not famous avantgarde artists and give you / many people the chance to get to know a style which still suffers from negative prejudices. Avantgarde is full of life, full of humor, without any restraints or boundaries. Open to everyone and everything.’

I played over there a couple of years back with the Stellas; between the music, the beers, the frankfurters, the parachutists, the aikido display and the general huge commitment to making wonderful spontaneous sounds using any means available it was a fantastic weekend. Alas, prior commitments stop me from going over this year, but you’ll love it.

Oh, and here’s this year’s line up. But like all festivals, it’s not the individual bands that make it – it’s the event as a whole! It’s also going to be webcast, so I’ll link to that nearer the time…