I remember some years ago I was watching John Adams, a PBS miniseries. It must have been at least 8 years ago because I have not owned a TV since then.
There was one scene in Part IV (Reunion) in which Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams are in Paris, the year is 1784 (according to the series). They are 3 among a spellbound crowd of hundreds witnessing man’s first flight of the Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloons, as we know it to be.
This scene set my mind to flight: I thought to myself, what a perfect moment, what an equisite convergence of circumstances: 3 key players of the American Revolution at the site where the French Revolution had been recently waged and won, watching mankind leave the plane of terra firma, and by that, celebrating mankind’s renewed spirit of enchantment, exploration and individuality.
“Lâchez les cords,” shouts a balloonist from the deck, anchored 30 foot above the ground.
The cords holding the balloon to the Earth are released, the onlookers remain mesmerized by the balloon’s elegant ascent skyward, its slow perpendicular dance; the tricorns of the balloonists become winglike in appearance.
Jefferson remarks to his compatriots, “So our umbilical cord to Mother Earth has been severed for the first time in history. Mankind floats upon a limitless plane of air.”
Air is the element of Aquarius. And this moment in Paris, to my mind, marks the beginning of the Aquarian Age, as man’s focus makes sudden revolutionary shifts. Suddenly air, and all things that move through it, steal man’s attention, from invisible radio waves to Montgolfiers’ very visible and beautifully colored hot air balloons rendering flight to our wingless species. Man can now look to the plane of air with a new sense of intimacy, an emotional bonding with a new dimension and its limitless possibilities.
The promise of the Aquarian Age accompanies this minute of history – it speaks of a balance between new technologies and Nature.
An ever doubtful Adams voices his skepticism: ‘hmmm, hot air”. Is he saying ‘too much change too fast’? Too much ego and bravura? Is he showing omphaloskepticism?
Perhaps: Zeal, up to this point in history was in the domain of reigning religions and monarchs. At this historic moment, zeal or some permutation of it spread out into the general population, capitalists stood at the front of the line to receive their bounties. Can man’s wonder and awe of the beauty and majesty of our planet maintain Aquarian balance? Is awe of Nature and our planet hereditary or something acquired?
These were central concerns of the Romantics, and the Age of Romanticism, I believe was born at this same historic moment.
My elder mentor Isador Hillyer and I have written perhaps too much about Shelley’s Frankenstein, and how it shows technology, as represented by the monster, Victor Frankenstein’s shadow, running amok, promising vengeance against its creator and challenging the Aquarian promise of balance.
In Mary Shelley’s novel, the monster tries to strike a bargain with Dr. Frankenstein:
“You must create a female for me,” says the monster to Victor, “with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do; and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse to concede.”
This is technology – male energy — pleading to be balanced with Nature. “The interchange of those sympathies” is yin energy demanding yang to neutralize its bent on destruction.
The monster offers a clear solution:
“If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again: I will go to the vast wilds of South America. My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment. My companion will be of the same nature as myself, and will be content with the same fare. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man, and will ripen our food. The picture I present to you is peaceful and human, and you must feel that you could deny it only in the wantonness of power and cruelty. Pitiless as you have been towards me, I now see compassion in your eyes; let me seize the favourable moment, and persuade you to promise what I so ardently desire.”
Alas, an ounce of yang turns the monster into a big ole’ crusty vegan backpacker! And he is petitioning for balance.
. . . “How inconstant are your feelings!”, he says to Victor as Victor is waffling about his end of the bargain, “but a moment ago you were moved by my representations, and why do you again harden yourself to my complaints? I swear to you, by the earth which I inhabit, and by you that made me, that, with the companion you bestow, I will quit the neighbourhood of man, and dwell as it may chance in the most savage of places. My evil passions will have fled, for I shall meet with sympathy! my life will flow quietly away, and, in my dying moments, I shall not curse my maker.”
After Victor abandons his promise to the monster, the monster declares: “Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master;–obey!”
And look at us now in the year 2016 A.D. Are we not slaves to technology? We have done a rather crappy job of maintaining anything even resembling balance. Our planet is completely out of whack, especially concerning the degradation of our planet’s biosphere. Arguably, not all of it is man made, but man has been a major contributor.
I ask you slave, how long were you put on hold the other day by Verizon or your cable network? What unbearable music were you subjected to? How many times did you check your iPhone today, slave? And what’s with the tee-shirt that says ‘Obey’? Whom or what, may I ask, are we supposed to obey?
Never mind! I’m not so naïve. I saw V on Netflix. I am reptilian savvy. I knows what them critters are up to. Further to that point, I worked for 8 years in the hotbed of shapeshifting reptilians, otherwise known as the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.
I leave that particular cauchemare for a future blog.
Aside from that, it’s no joke that we have managed to swallow wholesale so much ‘god-given’ nonsense. It holds us captive and in a constant state of fear brought about by the zeal to conquer, conquer, conquer, achieve, achieve, without restraint, like a society of rugrats collectively going through its terrible 2’s.
Concerning Mary Shelley who took the literary world by storm — electrical storm — in the year 1818 when she was 18 years old. There’s much more elaboration on this subject in Cave Sketches by Isador Hillyer and myself; excerpts of which will be presented on this site’s blogosphere.
The severed umbilical cord of 1784 allowed for a lot of new movement and exploration: Napoleon had sent a team of thousands of archeologists, engineers and scientists to investigate the wonders and mysteries of ancient Egypt; the North Pole was explored; Orientalism, once held back at the Eastern frontier of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was suddenly a fascinating subject for the entire populous of Europe. All bets were off.
But for now, I return to the strange logo of Vista Lirica:
Let’s take a look:
The first window of the logo (L) shows Pharos by Salvador Dali, the lighthouse (pharos (Φάρος) of Alexandria, seen in full (R). The lighthouse was one of the seven wonders of the world. Its beacon pierced the night sky of Alexandria, 35 miles out into the Mediterannean Sea. Alexandria, the most cosmopolitan city of that time was home to many cultures and knowledge of many cultures were maintained and harmonized. This included knowledge of the mystery schools of the ancient world which was collected and concentrated in scrolls at the Library of Alexandria and taught and discussed in the Serapeum – that is, until 391 A.D., when the Library and Serapeum were set ablaze. Factions of Christians and Jews alike whose zealous allegiance to the one god could not allow the highly evolved and long-standing pagan culture of Alexandria to remain. The zealots torched the pagan centers, namely the Library and the Serapeum.
The zeal which was ignited in Alexandria, spread to the Levant, followed by Europe, as paganism, once a bedrock of Ancient Roman life, was replaced by a twisted, selective adaptation of gnosticism called Christianity. Edicts were drawn which declared pagans and gnostics as heretical, their practices were punishable by death often as entertainment. The Colosseum drew sell out crowds. Lions, gladiators, gnostics and pagans all shared the spotlight. As the fire spread further, a few Celtic tribes survived in far corners of Europe, but were otherwise wiped out.
The flames crossed the waters of the Atlantic as the centuries progressed:
Members of Columbus’ team killed off the Taino natives of Hispaniola. Apparently, Columbus himself was entranced by the beauty and harmony of Hispaniola’s native culture, but he could not contain his troops from massacring the entire population.
The plight of the Sioux Indians is well described in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. To say that they were wiped out is an understatement: The soul of their culture was eviscerated. This incident is more recent and concurrent with the Romantic Movement.
For that matter, so is Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. In it, we learn that the Native Americans of New Mexico had no term for owning land; the concept was foreign to their psyche. On the other hand, their European assailants were given ‘dominion of the Earth’ by Jehovah, the psychotic demi-urge as described in the gnostic texts; texts discovered in the 20th century in the codices of the Nag Hammati scrolls and the Dead Sea Scrolls. By the time of their discoveries (1945 and 1946-56, respectively) ‘dominion’ was firmly wedged into our Western psyches, the ardent religious and atheists alike.
The proclamation of ‘dominion over the planet’, I would argue, was the real first severing of man’s umbilical cord from Mother Earth and is the darker side of Jefferson’s lovely metaphor:
The wording itself implies a disconnect between man and our native planet: ‘Dominion of the Earth’ was as alien a notion to the pagan culture of Alexandria as it was to the Native Americans of New Mexico and the Sioux, as, like the gnostics and Romantics, they saw themselves as part of Earth; for the more recent arrivals to the Americas and their forebearers, it was a license to seek and destroy in the name of God.
The mindset of the Native Americans had its positive effects on the European newcomers: Apparently many of the founding fathers were looking at deism and heterodoxy: Matthew Stewart, in Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic gives a fascinating account of this influence. (This is a subject for a future blog)
Scientists who have embraced this Native American, pagan, gnostic perspective see the Earth and her biosphere as a dynamic living system.
The biosphere of Earth includes the air through which Montgolfiers’ balloons took flight as well as the land habitat of humankind and oceanic domain of cyanobacteria, the little creatures who first oxygenated the planet. We’re all in it together, we can’t go it alone. At the risk of popping the hot air balloon and sending its cords swirling to the ground, this is an important consideration. (There is more about Lynn Margulies’ Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Symbiosis and Evolution in Cave Sketches. Please stay with us!)
The wording may have changed over the years; that is to say, ‘dominion’ of the planet is often replaced by ‘stewardship’ or ‘custodianship’ yet even with these more politically correct translations from original Hebrew, Greek and Latin texts, the disconnect remains completely in tact, as though maintained by sleight of hand. So, this brief summary of almost 2,000 years is not meant to cast aspersions on any religion or belief system, but rather it is meant to cast some light on our collective history and perhaps start to see what lights have been dimmed down or even turned off in our Western minds. We’re still in seek and destroy mode. Frankenstein’s monster has not been appeased.
Fast forward from Cather’s New Mexican setting to Los Alamos, New Mexico, A.D. 1945 for a moment: In the 1940’s, J. Robert Oppenheimer and his Manhattan Project team were hell-bent to make an atom bomb, at all costs. Concerns for the bombs’ devastation was trumped by the scientific process and the urgency to win WWII.
Oppenheimer felt the guilt of it from August 1945 to the end of his life. There are clips of him as a broken man quoting the Bhagavat Gita. Could annihilation-by-technology have even be conceivable without a man-Earth disconnect as impetus?
To go slightly off topic for a moment, there were great antediluvian civilizations which also exhibited great technological achievements. Graham Hancock’s Quest for Lost Civilizations is a must-see as far as this is concerned. He shows evidence of great man-made structures off the coasts of India, Yonaguni (Ryuku Islands, Japan), The Bahamas, etc., which were built before global flooding had altered coastlines. I bring this up because Hancock’s Quest is a great example of the Romantic spirit – challenging the ‘givens’ of our accepted knowledge. In this new phase of Vista Lirica, I will be conducting interviews of artists and non-artists alike who represent this spirit.
I would also argue that the Romantic movement was a bastion of the spirit of the highly evolved pagan culture of Alexandria. Others have made similar arguments, and I tip my tricorn to John Lamb Lash for citing this in Not in His Image. And I would like to add that the structure of the tricorn makes it particularly conducive to such niceties.
This at first might seem ludicrous considering, for example, how many masses were written by Romantic composers. However Orpheus’ triumphant return in 1762 by way of Gluck’s opera paved the way for the pantheon of pagan gods to re-enchant Western sensibilities. The Romantics, not content with Cartesian duality of the Enlightenment, insisted on a spiritual third dimension and would conjure this dimension from ancient mythologies and non-Western cultures. It made the three-cornered hat (the tricorn) or or anything else three-ish that much more fashionable. While the Classicist defined, concluded and explained away, the Romantic questioned and probed endlessly.
I know that many musicians, well-educated at major conservatories, would balk at the timelines I seem to be using. I believe that ETA Hoffmann might have appreciated how hot air balloons fit into this discussion; in his assessment, he saw the beginnings of Romanticism in the later works of Hadyn and Mozart. (I would add Gluck that list.) Now when we add Robert Schumann’s paradoxical aphorism to the mix, we have something to seriously consider:
It is difficult to believe that music, an essentially romantic art, can form a distinctly romantic school within itself.
[from Schumann’s ‘Aphorisms’]
It is a timeless pursuit.
In the 19th century, indigenous cultures were suddenly receiving great attention as sources of other ways of seeing beyond what Darwinian objectivity and a class-oriented society could bring to the table:
Composer Franz Schubert had been reading The Last of the Mohicans in his last year (1828) and asked his brother Ferdinand for more novels by James Fennimore Cooper.
Look at what Schubert chose for texts for his many Lieder: Die Forelle (The Trout) which switches in perspective from fisherman to the poor trout about to be hooked, as witnessed by a sympathetic onlooker; Ganymed An die Musik (I translate the title as ‘Ode to Music’) thanks pure art (Du, holde Kunst ich danke dir dafür) — not God or any god, but art, the spark of divine creation within and without — for ‘delivering me to a better world’ (‘hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt’). And it does so using the familiar ‘you’ (ich danke dir dafür) rather than the formal ‘you’ (ich danke Ihnen dafür) in its expression of gratitude. Imagine a holy Bible taking on such grammatical familiarities. Who would be smote for that one?!? Among Schubert’s 600+ songs there is no ode to helium or hydrogen, nor to telegraphy nor to to other modern sensations, to the best of my knowledge.
The Romantics knew what was going on and where it all was heading. Romantic art, poetry, novels and music is resplendent with a love of Nature, its emotionality and our inherent human connection to it.
As I have decided to blog my brains out with this new web site for Vista Lirica, I will write more about this. That said, I thought that Dali’s painting shows a fiery starting point and point of departure for what Vista Lirica is about.
Window 2: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s paintings Orpheus Leading Eurydice From the Underworld (1861)
It is not only the tricorn which can lead our minds out of underworldly duality. Orpheus’ lyre, its music and its magic transcends the boundaries of dimensions and of different worlds.
O r ph e u s – Ph a r o s – almost anagrams of each other.
Ὀ ρ φ ε ύ ς – Φ ά ρ ο ς
I am embarrassed by having drug this gorgeous painting through the photoshop mill. As I see that the resolution on this site is somewhat lacking, here is a link to a clearer computer rendering: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/corot/orpheus.jpg.
So, it is not only Orpheus’ lyre that leads his way out alone, it is the combination of Orpheus himself and the magic of his lyre, his artistry, which dissolve the boundaries from the underworld to this world, it is the key that unlocks the portals between this world and to other dimensions, its vibration is innocent of boundaries or barriers – it can lead us out and ‘deliver us to a better world’ with further reference to Schubert’s An die Musik, the lyre is its steadfast symbol; ‘lyre’ is the root for name Vista Lirica, the view through the lyre; the lyre at once an instrument of music and a reference to Romantic ideal of ‘lyric’, the portal or intermediary between the emotions of Nature and those of man; to the lyre, they are one and the same:
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!”
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ode to the Western Wind (1820)
In Jean Cocteau’s films Orphée and Le Testament d’Orphée, the lyre is replaced by mirror as portal; as the characters go through the mirror, there is always a ringing sound that accompanies their passage like that of a Tibetan singing bowl. Selections of Gluck’s Orfeo emanate from radios in both worlds, as do lines of poetry from Cégeste, the young poet who is killed in the first scene of Orphée, for Orpheus to jot down:
L’oiseau chante avec ses doigts; Un seul verre d’eau éclaire le monde, etc.
Cocteau features the lyre in his drawings of Orpheus, but in the films themselves, the mirror is the go-between-worlds device. The characters put on rubber gloves. As they touch the mirror, its impermeable hard glass becomes a permeable liquid portal.
I wondered what possessed Cocteau to engage rubber gloves. It seemed anomalous amid the beautiful cast and Parisian setting. But then again, Orphée was made in the early 50’s –what could be more iconic of that time than rubber gloves? TV commercials promised the world to viewers – just add water and stir, occasionally, add an egg. Perhaps the promise of other worlds, to Cocteau, was the obvious next step.
1950’s Orpheus and his car radio also become inseparable. He is transfixed and obsessed by its radio signals, some from the deceased Cégeste, some are series of numbers which may or may not be codes. It matters not – modern technology has him hooked. Playtex gloves and car radios leave the best of poets in want of better fountains of inspiration, if only they can be torn away! Eurydice becomes less important to the poet of legend as the Princess of Death takes over as his love interest. It is the Princess of Death who has Cégeste killed and it is she who sets Cégeste at the radio transmitter to an awaiting Orphée. Welcome to the underworld of the 20th century, the century of the self!
The third window of the mesmerizing Oriental chamber of music features one of the first photos of our Earth as taken by the Apollo 11 crew from the Moon in 1969. Humankind could unite for at least a moment as our species the world over were awestruck at the stunning spectacle that is our native planet, beyond our biosphere, beyond Dorothy Gale’s Kansan farm.
When I was photo-shopping away, in my mind, away above the chimney tops, in attempting to create this logo – no easy task, mind you, especially if you’ve never negotiated photoshop before – I was remembering watching these first pictures of Earth from the lunar landscape come through the TV screen as a lad of 13 years. It seemed unreal at the time; one had to imagine it beyond 1969 TV reception, jerky movements that one had to make fluent in a state of elation, seemingly bloated bodies of American heroes.
The photo speaks volumes of our place in the vastness of the universe, of how it is one orb that we all inhabit, so lovely a blue-green marble. Many astronauts would see the Earth as a living breathing organism, the fluctuating magnetosphere was the largess of her deep inhalation/exhalation, John Mackay’s sonnenatmenden Erde (the sun-breathing earth) could be seen as well as felt.
As my work continued, and came back to terra firm in my mind, I asked myself, “where are the stars?” After all, the photo was taken on the Moon, not New Jersey on a steamy August night.
In this January 2016, I listened to an interview with NASA archivist, Dr. Ken Johnston on Project Camelot. At the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL), Dr. Johnston was the Director of the Data and Photo Control Department, responsible for all the photographs taken by the astronauts during each mission and data generated by the contributing scientists from around the world. He also produced and edited the NASA Lunar Sample Information Catalog for each of the Lunar landing missions while he was at the LRL.
He got to see the first videos and photos ‘hot off the press’ taken of the Dark Side of the Moon as the Apollo was nearing the landing site. And there was some strange anomalies on the Moon. He was about to give many NASA scientists and staff a preview and was particularly excited to show them domes in various craters – not geological (if ‘geological’ can also pertain to formations on the moon (lunalogical? lunar-logoistic?), but artificial structures made by – who knows.
During the preview, Johnston anticipated the moment when the domes would be seen.
But they were not to be seen. He stopped the reel for a moment, excusing himself with a line about ‘technical difficulties’. He examined the reel and saw that there were no obvious cuts; the original that he had seen the day before was edited and then duplicated.
He also question the starless sky. He met with a group of NASA employees who called themselves “strippers” because they were stripping out details in lunar images that might be hard to explain. That day, they were actually at the task of painting out the stars in particular lunar images. The unusually lame excuse was that the stars in the lunar sky would “confuse people.”
Before discussing the 3rd window of this strange logo for a chamber music ensemble, I want to discuss the chamber itself.
There may be another aspect to the rubber gloves as icon issue:
[Bérnal cells, mesmerization by soap bubbles, Moroccan lamp shadows, what images appear
how hexagons interlock v squares which are locked in.
David’s non-objective painting
photo of Earth from moon – where are the stars? what else was photo-shopped out?