Monday, April 30, 2012

"CALL IT ANYTHIN' ": Miles Davis Plays Mutant Jazz at the Isle of Wight.

On Saturday the 29th of August, 1970, following performances by Joni Mitchell and a crowd-pleasing turn by the eccentric falsetto-crooner Tiny Tim, Miles Davis took the stage at the Isle of Wight and delivered about 40 minutes of undiluted heavyosity to the 600,000 strong crowd. When a square later inquired what the name of the piece was, the legend has it that Davis curtly replied "call it anythin". Like much of Davis' fusion period output, the music is harsh and trying at times, but it is also a bracing, fascinating, scintillating live performance, with hypnotically committed contributions from the band, and a typically commanding, intimidatingly cool presence from their iconic leader. It is the largest audience a jazz musician has ever played to, and the footage is shot my Murray Learner:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Summer Round by Belbury Poly (2012) and Genesis by Ron Hays (1981)

Some beautiful sounds and visuals in this excerpt from Ghost Box Music founder Julian House's film New Summer Wavelengths, featuring the haunted library/prog of the Belbury Poly:

Here's an example of a slightly similar audio-visual piece from way back in 1981: Genesis, featuring animation by Ron Hays and an excellent synth score by Ragnor Grippe:

Found at Boing Boing and the M.O.P. Radionic Workshop, via feuilleton.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Secret Council of Planners Part 5: The First Children.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

To any rational observer, it would have seemed that the Plan of the Council – to make a whole population effectively forget their history, and forget the high stage of technological advancement that their immediate ancestors had attained – would have been an impossibility, a counterintuitive folly doomed to failure. To steer a whole society back, in the space of few short generations, to their agrarian, animistic, and tribal roots would have seemed as likely as finding a way to return a middle-aged adult to the physiology and consciousness of infancy in so many days. And yet there were, from the outset, certain factors that worked in the Plan’s favour. The First Settlers had much to do in the early years on Pantopia – like children ducked in the deep end of the pool and left to sink or swim, they had to learn everything necessary to survive and prosper in the natural, non-mechanical environment. It should be remembered that the general crew member, particularly in the later generations of the Ithacan voyage, had become rather like an assembly line factory worker, performing one small, specialized task in the maintenance of a vast machinery whose totality only the AIs and Admiralty really understood. On Pantopia, they had to re-learn all the basic skills which had taken their distant ancestors many generations of painful and fruitless striving to acquire – the First Settlers had to learn how to construct dwelling areas, to fashion clothes, to hunt and fish, even to light and safely maintain fires. None of these things could have come naturally to a people who had lived all their lives in assigned cabins built generations before they were born; whose practise in how to acquire food had consisted for the majority of queuing in canteens or keying touch-sensitive menus in restaurants; whose idea of regulating temperate was limited to issuing vocal commands to the automated systems of their Ithacan cabins.

Hence, the First Settlers were so busy with the everyday business of surviving and establishing their communities that they scarcely had time to contemplate or discuss the past. In many respects, they had little inclination to do so. In some deep level of their psyches, the First Settlers wanted to believe to lie of the Plan – they wanted to believe that Pantopia was, and had always been, their home. In some mystical sense that would utterly defy rational explication, many of them actually did believe this. To understand this, we have to appreciate the extraordinary impact that the transition from Starship to planetary life had on the First Settlers. They were, after all, perhaps the only beings ever to reach their heaven, to directly attain the culmination of their culture’s eschatological drama. They had, in one vital sense, come home. Human beings had evolved on the surface of an a planet whose atmospheric, gravitational, and climatic characteristics were mostly, but not exclusively, fortuitous to life. They had evolved, and lived for more than 200,000 years on a world that teemed with a diverse array of competing biological life which all nevertheless shared a basic genetic kinship. This world was sometimes a nurturer, and sometimes a destroyer, of their designs and desires; it was in some regards fundamentally alike to them in terms of its constitution and the deep roots of its nature and being, and yet in others it differed markedly from the evolving structures of their minds, appearing at times alien, ineffable, and beyond their ability to fully understand. It was, in short, a world that they themselves didn’t create or control, and which could be as unpredictable and baffling as it appeared regular and orderly. This was the world which had shaped the deep structures of their genetic and cellular make-up, and these structures, once moulded in such a fashion, are slow to change. The memory of the total physical organism is a kind of species-memory that re-organises itself only over the grand eons of geologic or cosmic time.

Hence, though man had sought to redesign his environment according to the increasing propensity of his mind towards abstract and idealized mathematical forms, those new environments – the great cities with their rectilinear architectures and concretized dreams of geometric uniformity and simplicity – had not endured long enough to fully become man’s home. The 2,000 year Starship voyage itself was little more than a blip in the shaping of man’s genetic and cellular memory. Had they travelled between the stars for ten times that duration, or more, perhaps a new species of cosmic organism may have emerged from the chrysalis of terrestrial humanity. As things stood, however, they had merely experienced a brief interlude out of their habitual planetary existence, and the changes to their mentality and outlook were almost instantly reversible. A longing to return to the forms and character of life in the organic, biological, and living world had never departed from the Ithacans, even during the height of the Middle Generations. Hence, in many respects, the landing of the Ithacans on Pantopia represented less their arrival on a strange and alien planet, but rather a long delayed return to the womb and crucible wherein their genetic identity had been initially moulded.

In this sense, it was a homecoming, and for these reasons, experiencing the natural environment of Pantopia for the first time had a profound and mystical effect on the First Settlers. The most mundane elements of the environment affected them like a particularly potent hallucinogenic drug: they were shaken, enraptured, and mesmerised by the sound of a sudden gust of wind, an abrupt alteration of the sunlight, or the play of ripples across a large body of water. They sat for long periods with their eyes closed, listening to birdsong and breezes, leaves rustling, the hum of insects, and the lapping of shallow lake waters. Then, when they opened their eyes, they drank in a world which was utterly unlike the straight lines, austere geometries, and basic stasis of the Starship environment. They beheld a world whose contours were constantly in motion, like a painted canvass that memorized each of its brushstrokes; a world whose fluctuating air pressure was like the breath of a living being, and whose streams and tides a circulatory system; a world whose alterations of sunlight, atmospheric condensation, and temperature like the vicissitudes of an emotional temperament; and whose cyclic motion from the light of day to the darkness of night struck them as a perfectly refined philosophical archetype, a grand parable of the nature of all things, from the greatest to most meagre.

This sense of rapture which overtook the First Settlers was beneficial to the Council of Planners for a variety of reasons. It distracted the Settlers from the great challenges and occasional privations that were thrust upon them after disembarking from the Ithaca. It made them happy in the face of their adversity, and allowed to put a brave foot forward in the tentative making of a new planetary civilisation. More decisively, however, to the longer term goals of the Council’s Plan, it made the Settlers instantly receptive to a kind of animistic relationship towards their new-found environment. It was a central tenet in the historical theory of the Breakaway Communities back on earth that the collapse of the animistic worldview had been more germane than any other single factor to the eventual and irreversible despoiling of earth’s environment. From this premise, the Breakaway theorists had adduced, not unreasonably, that animism was the only worldview which could engender a sustainable compact between human beings and their environment. They, and the Ithacan Council after them, were far too firmly ensconced in the scientific worldview to actually believe that animism was an accurate picture of how worlds worked; but they regarded it, in the manner of the Guardians of Plato’s putative utopia, as the most practically useful and beneficial myth by which a civilisation could stabilize itself. The introduction of animistic beliefs was so central to their Plan that the Council had conceived various stratagems for the inculcation of these beliefs – the use of holographic technology, for example, for the projection of nature spirits and fairy entities – but as it turned out, these provisions were scarcely necessary. Though it would be some time before the Pantopians themselves began to spontaneously witness and interact with nature spirits, their conception of the Pantopian environment was from the outset that of an intelligent and living entity.

In such circumstances did the First Settlers begin the long history of human civilisation on Pantopia. They had been separated by the drawing of lots from their erstwhile comrades on the Starship, and organised into smaller tribal units that were scattered across the various landmasses and islands of the new planet. (Each of these tribal units contained a judicious mixture of the races. The various racial divisions had retained their basic physical characteristics during the course of the Ithacan voyage, but the psychology of racial differentiation had entirely vanished from the mental landscape of humankind. This, naturally, was a by-product of Starship life that the Council sought to maintain on Pantopia.) Perhaps, the Settlers would often say in the midst of their labours, when all these obstacles are surmounted, we will find again our old comrades, and talk of how things have fared with them in the New World. Those obstacles, however, were never surmounted in their lifetimes, and they never found again their old comrades; but in the generations to come, their offspring would frequently encounter one another, and sometimes make war with one another, knowing nothing of the days of the voyage between the stars.

In the building of their new communities, the First Settlers were often at the mercy of what types of crew-member chance had placed within their groups. Those whose groups contained workers from the kitchens naturally had advantages with regard to food preparation; those, on the other hand, containing engineers had certain advantages with regard to the general conception and construction of dwelling-spaces and farming technologies; maintenance workers, who had spent much of their time on the Starship prowling through air-ducts and scanning panels of dense wiring and circuitry for faults, proved the most naturally adept at hunting. Sometimes where a tribe of settlers had been initially placed proved to have a profound significance to the nature of their future society. One tribe which had been deposited in a mountainous region in the northern continent adopted the abundant caves and caverns in that area as temporary dwelling places while they were engaged with the task of constructing homes for themselves. This group, however, never mastered those skills in the first generation, and hence the caves became their dwelling places for many centuries, until an eventual contact with sea-faring Pantopians would introduce them to various engineering innovations.

Naturally, it was only a few short months into the Settlement of Pantopia when the First Children began to emerge to the various tribes. The birth of this first offspring was an auspicious and profound occasion for all the Settlers. Immediately upon disembarking from the Ithaca, they had begun to move back into an older matrix of thought and experience which stressed the organic and biological over the mechanical and technological; and hence the whole process of procreation, gestation, and birth was already beginning to assume once again the character of the miraculous and ineffable. But the birth of the First Children was also an extremely significant event for the Council of Planners, who regarded the first generation as the most crucial in the implementation of their Plan. If a significant number of the First Children learned of the history of their ancestors on earth and on-board the Ithaca, then it might have proved impossible to ever fully erase the knowledge of those things from the historical record. Hence, the Council knew that they would have to monitor the First Children with an unstinting assiduousness, and punish any transgression of the Plan’s edits with the utmost severity. They covertly installed long range surveillance technologies to cover the First Settlements and considerable tracts of land adjacent to them. (The general lack of mobility incumbent on the first tribes made this measure expedient in the early generations, where it would have been impossible later when the spirit of innovation and exploration took hold of the Pantopians.) These technologies operated by means of word and collocation recognition, immediately recording any conversations relating to planet earth and the Ithacan voyage, and alerting the Council to the identity of the speakers. Whoever, then, was found to be involved with the transgression, both guilty parent and wholly blameless child, would be “taken”; they would vanish without a trace shortly after the conversation, and never be seen again. It was understood by the Settlers that they had been transported to the Starship where it remained buried in its mountainside, and there they would be incarcerated for the rest of their lives.

It was thus in the spirit of this logically necessary severity, where the punishment would also be visited on the blameless child, that the Council ensured that the edicts of the Plan were adhered to by the greater majority. Nevertheless, a great many fathers and sons and mothers and daughters were taken in the time of the First Children. For the rest of their days, they were incarcerated in an area of the Ithaca which was like in size and aspect to a very modest city back on earth. They were treated well, even lavishly, during this period, but nothing perhaps could have eased the sore and bitter burden of their predicament. Having spoken of earth and the Starship, they were to see out the rest of their days in a kind of museum piece of the earthly city enclosed in the Starship. They had been sterilized, it being deemed by the Council a greater cruelty to allow further generations to endure their punishment; hence, in every regard, they had been exiled from history, and debarred from any small part they might have played in its modest claim on eternity. In a final irony, many of them took to studying history, and became the final great historians of earth and Ithacan pre-history. The First Settlers must have thought a great deal about the plight of their lost comrades, for a strange and persistent folk belief developed on Pantopia regarding the incarceration and punishment of sinners in an underground plateau.

Nevertheless, the greater majority of the Settlers answered their children’s queries according to the letter of the Plan. They told them that they were a tribe of formerly migrant people, in the process of establishing a permanent settlement. They were human beings, and human beings, like all Pantopian things, were the product of the impregnation of the Pantopian mother by the rays of the sun and the moisture that fell from the upper atmosphere. The universe itself had come about in a similar fashion, when the void had been impregnated by the Nous or World Soul with the Thought or Idea of the World. This rather cursory creation myth was envisioned by the Council as a temporary edifice which the succeeding generations could gradually elaborate and improve upon themselves. In this regard, it served its function. The First Children had known no other thing but life on Pantopia, and knew none wiser and more authoritative than those who were longer-lived than themselves. The specific world of experiences, habits, and characteristic metaphors in which a mind undergoes the development and maturation of its powers becomes a kind of bounded mental landscape, from which it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for that mind to ever fully extricate itself from. Hence, the First Children could not but have assumed that what their parents told them, or something very much like what their parents told them, had to be the truth of the matter. They could no more have conceived of the voyage through the space between the stars, any more than their long distant ancestors at the cradle of earthly civilisation could have imagined such a thing. If there was, deeply rooted in the fullness of their being, some kind of subterranean memory of the high technology of their immediate predecessors, then that memory was completely inaccessible to their rational, daylight cognition. It resided, rather, in the strange juxtapositions and impossibilities of their unconscious, in dreams of miraculous flight and communication and seership across vast distances that would haunt their minds as a kind of magical goad in the centuries to follow.

Time passed, as it always will. In quick order, those who had already been advanced in years when the Ithaca landed passed away, and most of them were already dead by the time their grandchildren had learned to speak. People of various ages also died on an almost daily basis, poisoned by snakes and spiders, ravaged by wolves and tigers, taken away by sudden currents and rock-falls – victims all of a learning curve that their ancestors had slowly assimilated on earth centuries ago, but which they themselves had gradually lost, in a process which had been initiated by city existence back on earth, and completed by life on the Starship. Within a hundred years, all those who had travelled between the stars, barring the AI-hybrids, were dead, their remains burned in sacral flames, or restored in the clay to the womb of the Pantopian mother, or so as the emerging funereal custom of each individual tribe dictated. And yet, though all the last crew members of the Ithaca were dead, and though the Council had been remarkably successful in shielding the First Children from the true history of their species, some slight rumour of things past had managed to slip through the net. Out in the fields late at night, fathers sometimes whispered to their sons that the Pantopian people really came from far, far away, and had arrived on this world from the skies in a huge village that travelled between the stars. A great many people spoke of being children in a magical place in the heavens on their deathbed, and this was taken by some as pure raving, and others as a premonition of the afterlife. In deep, secret caverns in the caves of the northern continent, images of the Ithacan landing had been painted on the rock-face. Hence, a garbled folk memory of the Ithacan voyage was passed on from generation to generation, and over the centuries it would cohere to form the central doctrine of various subterrane sects and philosophical schools that the Council could never quite vanquish: the doctrine which held that the origin and destiny of the human species lay not on Pantopian soil, but in the vastness of the stars above.

To be continued.