Anticipations

Can’t write a post tonight. I’m busy rubbing my hands together over these goodies.

Sleeper by Ty Segall – August 20

SleeperDrag City’s most exciting newcomer just released one of his best albums, and that’s no small feat considering his output. Sleeper is mostly acoustic and mighty touching. Segall draws inspiration from a recent loss and transmutes it into something beautiful and even joyful. Big notes of John Lennon on the palate, whiffs of Neil Young in the nose, and just dripping with Segall’s signature sound that’s just…what’s the word…San Fran-tastic.

 

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon – September 17

Bleeding EdgeThis countdown has been running on in my mind for a while now. Every Pynchon novel excites me, and this brand new Manhattan-set, dot-com-disillusionment tale has received a lot of positive buzz in advance of its release, which I have been trying, nearly successfully, to ignore. Considering how fun and funny his last novel Inherent Vice was, expect Bleeding Edge to deliver one of the hippest, most hilarious narratives of the year, with all the juicy esoteric details you need to feed your paranoia.

 

The Growlers play Toronto – October 1

Surf-rock outfit The Growlers are playing at Lee’s Palace. I’ve been spinning Hung At Heart a good deal lately and I expect this show to be non-stop entertainment. Their show should look something like this, minus Bill Murray.

 

Peace On Venus by Bardo Pond – October 28

Peace On VenusThe essential psychedelic rock experience Bardo Pond release their newest creations in October. These Philadelphian sherpas always reach for the most rarified gnostic noise to push yer head where it needs to be. The recordings out of the Lemur House continue to knit the band closer together while taking the sound farther out. I can’t wait to add this to my already-perversely-large Bardo Pond LP collection. They’ve even given us a little taste of what’s to come.

Snoop Lion From On High

Who’s ready for a new spiritual leader? Religions are less popular than ever, but obviously if some guy somewhere has a spiritual awakening, that’s a big deal for everyone. Things get especially serious if that guy is former pornographer, pimp, and rapper Snoop Dogg. His third eye was opened on a trip to Jamaica. He is now the reincarnation of Bob Marley. You will call him Snoop Lion.

Obviously his rapping ability and life of good works has augmented his karmic balance sheet. The gods have moved him up the animal kingdom to the top of the food chain…in certain specific climates. Now that I think of it, wouldn’t “Snoop Human” be a better leap up the karmic ladder? We still have time, I guess.

The saving grace for Snoop Lion is that he’s always been pretty much hilarious. He’s a musician, and he’ll continue to do his thing. His reincarnation carries about as much weight as one of Madonna’s reinventions. Snoop’s charisma will ensure he has enough fans and haters no matter what he does, but what the world needs now is a cult to form around him.

Usually, anyone who claims to be “enlightened” or “awakened” is almost surely not enlightened. I’ve observed this maxim over and over again. A person might truly believe they are ”enlightened”, but this doesn’t make it so.  Sam Harris seems more “enlightened” to me than Deepak Chopra even though Deepak rambles on and on about cosmic consciousness like an authority. There is a big difference between words and works.

Charisma can work wonders for charlatans. Having a magnetic personality, a face that’s easy to look at, and a certain way with words might be all it takes to build a base of devoted followers. If you’re charismatic enough, maybe your followers will go out and recruit other followers to your cause. Thus, cults spring up around individuals, from Buddha to Charles Manson. It also helps if the leader knows his or her audience.

Unfortunately there is no litmus test for enlightenment. A one-pointed mind might be a good indicator, the way Jesus was constantly on-message, but that same behavior could also be viewed as mania bordering on psychosis. Equanimity might be a sign, but some people are naturally stoic and others comport themselves in a way that only looks serene. Other than a certain mysterious good feeling we get from a person, the main indicators that we’ve witnessed genius are the works left behind.

Charles Manson left behind some crappy works. I’d call that fraudulent guru-hood. Beethoven left nine amazing symphonies. John Lennon’s Imagine always reminds me how potent simple instructions can be. Put Imagine on, do what he says, and tell me that guy wasn’t a genius. The last time I heard from Snoop, I think he was telling me to “put some Kush up in it”.

While that is sound advice, Snoop Lion’s new music is supposed to be family friendly. Can he really undergo a Rastafarian rebirth and come out on the other side talking less about weed?

Close Your Eyes

When I was in university I co-hosted a radio show on CJAM called “Close Your Eyes”. We played a lot of mellow psyche/post rock and instrumental music. Someone came in to talk to us for an article in the university paper and I explained to him our philosophy that music can occupy your complete attention just like a film or concert or television show. You were meant to listen to our show, not just have it on in the background. The article said that I liked music as much as I liked TV. The dude wasn’t listening.

When you sit down to a movie it goes dark and quiet. You face forward and your senses of sight and sound get bombarded by the movie. Sight and sound is all you get, but it’s enough to keep your brain engaged in a continuous flow of attention. I can feel equally absorbed by a record even though it’s only half the input.

Most popular music stations play only lyrical music, unsurprisingly, because our culture talks way too much. But if I pay too much attention to the words of an unfamiliar song, I distract myself from feeling the music. That’s why I love instrumental and ambient music for deep listening, when I have nothing else going on.

I’m not sure why we find it so easy to sit down for an hour television show and so hard to sit down and listen to a forty-minute record. The Breaking Bad finale premiers August 11th, so before you start losing evenings to that, try to close your eyes and take down an album. I caught this one today from my brother Martin on SoundCloud. It’s experimental, ambient, electric, acoustic, weird, great, and shorter than an episode of Breaking Bad.

 

Signposts

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to find new music to listen to. Same goes for movies and books. There are websites that offer options like, “If you liked A, you’ll probably like B,” or “People who purchased C also purchased D,” and that can be helpful, but usually the recommendations are very safe, almost tentative, and the results are mediocre. A lot of the time the recommended artist or piece of media doesn’t live up to the connection.

I’m much more likely to trust a recommendation from an artist. The artists that I like (most artists, really) usually draw inspirations from other artists. So when an artist mentions a name or references a specific album or book, I try to pay attention. When there is a drought in good new music, for example, it’s easy to comb through artists I already like to find references, usually to older artists. People who create something that fits your tastes will usually have good taste themselves.

Led Zeppelin’s third album, arguably their best, ends with a song called “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”. For some reason it took me years to actually look up Roy Harper. It’s not a very popular name outside of its own niche. Roy Harper is a genius of his own variety and influenced his friend Jimmy Page. Harper’s innovative recording techniques, lyrics and intriguing decisions on albums like Lifemask or Stormcock are mind-blowing. Once I tracked it down, I took my hat off to Jimmy Page for “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”.

But even Zeppelin fans I know claim they’ve never heard of Roy Harper. I find this strange, and it makes me wonder why it took me so long to look him up. If artists are doing something innovative and new and they go out of their way to point out an influence or inspiration, it only makes sense to pay attention. But often the references go unnoticed.

The flip-side to this is that artists often name-drop because they feel it will increase their cache. Generally, I find that if the referenced artist is a household name, you don’t need to go on the hunt. This form of name-dropping acts similarly to the “If you liked A, you’ll probably like B,” recommendations. When the band Franz Ferdinand calls their song “Ulysses”, I don’t expect their fans will run out and read Homer or James Joyce, but the reference is there as fodder for critics and nerds. That’s fine too, but it’s not as exciting as discovering some obscure gem brought to light in a conscientious way.

When the reference is little-known, my natural inclination is to investigate. When Six Organs of Admittance named an album For Octavio Paz, it got me wondering about Octavio Paz. What was it in the poetry of Paz that inspired the songs of Six Organs? It’s worth finding out.

This all happens on a conscious level. But often references aren’t as obvious as these examples. A lot of artists like to drop references more subtly, and by that I mean wordlessly. These types of references won’t put you on the lookout, but they can be much more rewarding when they are stumbled upon, like hearing John Coltrane in “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds. A lot of the time I’ll catch a connection long after the reference and it will give me a rush of enthusiasm.

Imagery in David Lynch’s films, for instance, calls up the dark mystery of the paintings of Francis Bacon. When I see certain Bacon paintings I am totally thrilled, and I can trace the aesthetic connection back to something I’m familiar with (Lynch’s films). Now I have the entire oeuvre of Francis Bacon to look into, and that’s exciting.

For years now I’ve been a sucker for spiritual literature and philosophy. There’s something about witnessing a mind groping for truth that’s exciting to me, and to an extent I think we’re all on some sort of path toward understanding our existence. So when an artist chooses to leave signposts in this direction, I am drawn in. There are spiritual guides in my life. They are usually artists, and they’ve been ushering me along a path to self-knowledge.

The albums of Bardo Pond are my favorite example. Philadelphia’s ultimate psychedelic rock group know what they are doing. Take this recent vinyl reissue of Ticket Crystals.

Bardo Pond - "Ticket Crystals"

I see this picture and it makes an impression on me. So when I stumble upon the picture in Aleister Crowley’s Book Of Lies, a little masterpiece of Kabbalistic and philosophical puzzles, I know I’m on the right path.

The Book of Lies

Their albums are full of these symbols, and whether through coincidence or conscious decision, I’ve discovered a wealth of books, movies and music to get me further down the path, or at least let me know that I’m looking in the right direction. Even if I’m not drawn in by the referenced work, at least I’m looking at something new.

It’s as though certain artists exist to act as a psychopomp. The psychopomp’s role in mythology is to guide dead souls into the afterlife. In this real world version, artists use the symbols they have at their disposal to guide people out of the mundane world into new levels of understanding. It might sound high-flown, but I’ve been on the path for a while now and it hasn’t let me down.

Disregarded in the darkness, the fact of enlightenment remained. The roaring of the engines diminished, the squeaking rhetoric lapsed into an inarticulate murmur, and as the intruding noises died away, out came the frogs again, out came the uninterruptable insects, out came the mynah birds.
     “Karuna. Karuna.” And a semitone lower, “Attention.”
– Aldous Huxley, Island

Reasoning Skills

I frequently see signs for something called the School of Philosophy. Usually the ads ask vague questions like, “Can philosophy make me happy?” or, “What is the meaning of life?”, and they’ll show a little person staring off into a bright white expanse. Though I never seriously studied philosophy in school I did take a class about reasoning skills. But philosophy has always interested me, so the advertisements usually catch my eye, though I always felt there might be something fishy going on here.

Then I saw this one:School of Philosophy ad“The Best Things In Life Are Not Things.” – School of Philosophy.

“Yes they are.” – Eric R. Schiller.

If I said, “The best doctors aren’t doctors,” someone should quickly respond, “then don’t call them doctors, idiot.” Using a word twice in the same sentence with two different meanings is very confusing. Maybe this doesn’t bother people, but it does bother people.

Language is our most fundamental tool for externalizing ideas. When language is used improperly it creates misunderstanding. This might be because language, improperly used, is a symptom of muddled thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is value in a snappy slogan. Corporations like McDonald’s use them all the time. But McDonald’s wants you to give them money and eat cow. I expect more from a “school of philosophy”.

If you read any of the big philosophers, the first part of their major works generally define the terms they will be working with. The language must be unequivocal. Even where there might be confusion, differences in meaning must be strictly delineated. Otherwise ambiguities build up as you read, compounding the confusion until you’re left with a bunch of ineffective ideas and a headache (but a really toned brow).

This seemed like the worst kind of ad for any School of Philosophy, assuming the school aims to promote clear thinking. So I looked at the website, which is very vague. There is no hint of any real lesson plan. I did see pithy quotes from philosophers on the site, then read that “Writings and sayings of great philosophers such as Plato, Ficino, Shakespeare and others, set the stage for enlivened discussions based on personal experience.”

I then read that the school was founded in 1976 and later, in the 60s, was influenced by Eastern philosophy. This is not the only mistake on the site. They inspire no confidence in their ability to teach me clarity and wisdom. Besides, in my opinion, real knowledge comes from self analysis, not slogans.

But lo and behold, they do teach meditation. I soon discovered a strong undercurrent of Hinduism on the site.  It seems like a secularized, modernized, and disguised school of Hindu philosophy and I doubt it takes any serious look at philosophy at large, but grabs pieces that fit and ignores piece that don’t. I’m not terribly surprised.

This isn’t all bad necessarily. There’s value in learning the language of philosophy so we can think about these things fluently. But I wonder if $185 per course is worthwhile. Anyone interested in philosophy can go to the library and discover at their own pace for free. So what does that $185 tuition buy me?

The School of Philosophy is not for profit. And according to their website, all their instructors volunteer their time. So where does the money go? With no diploma and no course text, it seems that the money goes into the pocket of the person hired to collect it. After paying, the registrant is allowed to sit in on discussions between other students and instructors. So what are the qualifications of the instructors? It appears they are all former students.

Curious, I clicked “Registration” button. The message I received was “Fatal Error”.

Touché. The site seemed to have collapsed under my piercing scrutiny.

I definitely agree with meditation and yoga as a road to knowledge and wisdom. You might point out that yoga came from the ancient Hindus. But that doesn’t make Hindu philosophy right. To believe that would be to make the philosophical error known as a syllogistic fallacy. “I believe yoga works (A). Yoga comes from the Hindu tradition (B). Therefore I believe the Hindu tradition (C).” This is false logic. Reasoning skills!

So if you’re interested in learning about philosophy, go to the library before you shell out $185. The internet is such a repository of knowledge we can learn almost anything on our own, even meditation techniques. Or better yet, just send me $100 and we’ll talk over coffee.

 

P.S.

If you’re interested in “living in the now” so the universe can rain gifts of bliss down on you, sit still and take notice. Last night was possibly the best meditation of my life. Today gifts of free music rained down all day. So full-screen these beauties, sit back, and open up to the mystical transmissions of Yo La Tengo, David Bowie and Roy Montgomery.

YO LA TENGO

 

DAVID BOWIE

 

ROY MONTGOMERY

 

NaNoWriMo 2012 – Week 4

It’s the final push to make 50000 words. I’m not quite there, though by Friday night I will be. Yesterday I noticed an interesting thing: usually I’ve been writing every morning and a little bit in the evening, but as my work plans were a bit different yesterday I didn’t get a chance in the morning. By evening I felt anxious, even though I knew I would sit down to write. It’s strange how quickly the body adapts when you start doing something every single day. It was a physical craving, this anxiety, just like cigarette addiction.

Residuum sits at just over 45000 words, but Wednesday will be a light day on the word count because I’m going to a concert. Six Organs of Admittance is playing The Drake in Toronto and it should be the perfect thing to psyche me up for the finale of my book.

I recently purchased this 6 Organs album from Rotate This. It’s a 3LP set of old and unreleased 4-track recordings called RTZ. It was put out by Drag City, of course. They are the same label who recently supplied my Ty Segall, Movietone and Rangda LPs. I recommend them all, but if you’re looking for psychedelic folk – and why wouldn’t you be? – RTZ is mind-blowing.

Nov. 21 – 2124 words.

Nov. 22 – 1437 words.

Nov. 23 – 1438 words.

Nov. 24 – 1738 words.

Nov. 25 – 3799 words.

Nov. 26 – 1767 words.

Nov. 27 – 1006 words and counting – I’ve still got some steam left in me tonight.

NaNoWriMo 2012 – Week 2

My sci-fi novel Residuum is going well. I wrote every day this week, which is the key. The best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it shows day to day how easy it is to write a novel. You get to see the momentum in the climbing word count and it’s inspiring. As I’m fully in fiction mode, all I’m offering this week is a progress report with a little bonus at the end.

Nov. 7 – I wrote two full chapters for 3117 words. This was a bit much for a work day, but I was able to write on the train.

Nov. 8 -1834 words for the novel and a few hundred toward a draft of a review I’m working on.

Nov. 9 -1898 words.

Nov. 10 – I wrote 4000+ words in two chapters but didn’t finish until close to 2 A.M. It was my kind of weekend. It featured writing, reading (Neil Young’s Waving Heavy Peace), and listening to a lot of music. I took a break between chapters and watched Casino Royale. Decent movie, but it should have been 35 minutes shorter.

Nov. 11 – 2000+ words in what I expect will be the longest chapter in the first act.

Nov. 12 -1308 words all written in the evening while very tired in what I expect will be the shortest chapter in the first act.

Nov. 13 – That’s today. I wrote 1828 words today and almost all of it before work in the morning. I don’t know what was in my coffee, but it’s the fastest I’ve written so far. Then I put together this blog post.

I plan to do two chapters tomorrow, right on track to meet the deadline. I’m very glad to have the outline to work off of and I’m glad I spent the first five days hammering it out. My total word count now is 17507.

The bonus, should you choose to accept it, is a bit challenging. It’s a long drone I recorded years ago called Overmind. I’ve added it to the Music page. Be warned: this track is not for everyone. Anyone who gets through it gets a seat at the alien roundtable with me on December 21st, 2012, front row for the End of History.

Have a nice week.

 

Free Music

In my post The Sound of Confusion I gave a brief history of my development as a musician. In lieu of written thoughts this week I decided to add a Music page to my site where I’ll host a variety of my own recordings through SoundCloud. There you’ll find Bloemfontein tracks and various collaborative and solo recordings and I hope to add to it periodically.  Please check it out and let me know what you think.

The Sound of Confusion

The different types of music I’ve listened to throughout my life seem very clearly to be a reflection of how I saw myself at the time. I’ve played a lot of different types of music in my life and these too seem like outward expressions of my inward states. This seems like straightforward logic, and it should have been fairly obvious, but it’s impossible to say with certainty whether I was drawn to those types of music because of my state of mind, or if I found the music and it then affected my state of mind.

In high school I didn’t meditate. I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath instead. I had an interest in drums and my parents were masochistic enough to get me a kit. I made a ton of noise in the basement of Mike Beauchamp until we decided the world needed a new band, so we formed The Moon Patrol, after the Atari game. In those days, mentally, I was going a hundred ways like most high school kids and the music showed it. It was loud, influenced by rock, blues, punk, funk, dub, metal, and we had fun and burned off a lot of steam.

By University I began to think meditation might be for me. I read somewhere that David Lynch used Transcendental Meditation, and since I wanted to make films like his, I looked into it. I never went through with the TM course, but reading books about meditation (The Science of Being and the Art of Living, by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Raj Yoga by Swami Vivikenanda) did start me towards understanding and having the language to speak about states of mind. It was obvious to me that toning down the level of noise inside my mind would be a good thing. A few frustrating attempts at meditation didn’t lead anywhere because I think I was more excited to read about meditation than actually do it. But finally a few techniques got me over the hump and I began toning down that chaos.

Coming out of The Moon Patrol I started playing guitar. Banging around on drums was great, but there was something missing. Naturally I sucked at guitar pretty well, but I knew I needed a bit of melody. Friends in another band were having differences of opinion on – what else? – the “direction” of the band. I settled in jamming with these guys. The music didn’t have any definite direction at all. It just built and flowed and didn’t change much, and we all loved it.

Bloemfontein (with friends Brian, Matt, and Mike) was more like cinema score than anything you’d hear on the radio. (A little while after we started playing regularly, a similar band Explosions In the Sky got quite big scoring the movie Friday Night Lights.) There were almost no scripted changes in the music. We’d just start playing. Sometimes the music would build or shift or get quiet and it would just flow along until it broke apart or petered out. It was so simple we were almost embarrassed at how much we liked the way it sounded. We actually listened to this stuff. We played a ton of shows around Windsor and people actually came out and got into it too.

None of the music was abrasive. Some was cheery, some was sad, but it was almost all mellow. The music would just settle in and become almost background to your own thoughts. That’s how I remember it, anyway. And at the time I was getting very used to analyzing or simply observing the flow of thought during meditation.

But then I hit a wall in meditation. I could quiet my mind, but only to a point, and that point shifted around seemingly at random. I now think of this barrier as the intersection of three factors: 1) my will to master my mind and quiet things down in there; 2) my mental inertia (a pattern of scattered thoughts, loosely controlled for twenty years and change); and 3) my fluctuating frustration with meditation based on my successes and failures, how I slept, what I ate, and a host of different typical anxieties.

So despite some early successes quieting my mind, I could no longer reach that point where the mind lets go. When the rational mind lets go you can sometimes feel a surge of bliss and a feeling of unity with everything. I’m pretty sure that this feeling is something we can all feel. I think it’s what they mean when they say “religious ecstasy”. That feeling is what I was after.

Right around 2001 Bardo Pond put out their album Dilate and I saw their live show. Now, this music is distorted, druggy, and full of noise, so it might have turned me off. But it definitely turned me on. I realized that you can get back to that bliss feeling, that feeling of dilation, by soaking your mind in noise. That was a total revelation for me and I became a devotee immediately. And I mean devotee – the music had a the feeling of gnosis to me. I’ve had two out-of-body experiences at their concerts. Actually.

So of course Bloemfontein’s music became a playground for noise. I had a Line 6 Delay Modeler that, to this day, is one of my best purchases. I’d layer guitars with different levels of delay and distortion until it was just a droning wall that would slowly build up under the melody. So before you realized what was happening you’d be just buried in sound. I couldn’t get enough. I stayed up for hours just playing, looping, layering things by myself in a dark basement until it was time to go to school the next day.

I also read all sorts of far-out stuff at this time, from the Tibetan Book of the Dead to David Icke. I loved alternate histories, disinformation, postmodernism, and anything that blended truth and fiction. And the stuff I read led me to other art forms, artists, ways of thinking. Once again, I cannot trace the causality of my own mental influence perfectly. I can only point out signposts. I know that Pavement came before Guided By Voices came before The For Carnation, but can’t define the why of it all.

It’s been a long time since Bloemfontein played together, and I’ve since developed new techniques for meditation. But lately I’ve been feeling like I need something more. In meditation I’m adding about five minutes of mental exercise to my regular routine. The urge to make this addition just came recently, but with it was the urge to play more music. I’ve been banging around on an acoustic guitar for years and I’ve worked out a lot of new material that’s a far cry from anything I’ve done before. At the end of the day I don’t care if one causes the other. Because whether it’s music or meditation, I just want something that gives me that feeling of ecstatic union.

I’ve recorded a scant few tunes since I’ve lived in Toronto. This one, called “Homecoming”, is only a demo so the quality isn’t great. But it’s probably as close as I’ve come to blending quiet and noise in one track. I recorded it under the name Dwale, an archaic term for a delirium-causing potion. Beware…it’s very, very mellow.

iTunes vs. Kabbalah

The post this week is a Battle Of Unrelated Things. iTunes is a modern technology, a software for personal convenience. Kabbalah is an ancient soft technology with religious, astrological, alchemical, and ontological implications.

iTunes

The modern world wants music at its fingertips. Technology has made this possible, affordable, and easy to use. It’s simple – why wouldn’t you want the ability to listen to your favorite music any time you like? Music can pass the time, can act as background to our day, or can offer us artistic insights and emotional experiences depending on the attention we’re willing to devote to it. Music is a fundamental human expression, and considering the unending variety of available music, there should be something for everyone.

iTunes was a transition for me. I was used to putting music on my PC and organizing it into file folders, then importing the music into a Windows Media Player playlist. Of course when I got my Mac I switched to iTunes and immediately felt cheated of the ability to organize the files myself. Of course I could organize things myself, but iTunes does things slightly differently.

iTunes is made to be very user friendly. It’s handy because it organizes files into an efficient working order. It doesn’t bother the user with a transparent view to its processes. When I drag my songs into it, I can listen to them immediately. I can change all the data about the song right in iTunes and it will reorganize things along its own lines. Then I can sort and arrange my music by song title, artist, genre, release date, my personal rating, the number of times I’ve listened to the track, and so forth. iTunes handles the mystery for us and offers us slick, efficient functionality. This shrouding of processes allows us to “get to the music” straight away, which is exactly what makes it so popular.

iTunes and the digital music revolution has likely changed musical media forever. Our children, and especially our children’s children, will probably have a hard time understanding that people used to spool magnetic tape through a machine, keep 12″ vinyl discs stacked on shelves, or had cases and cases of CDs in racks on the wall for use in a dedicated machine. The musical experience is now much more direct, more accessible, and more convenient on every level. Though sound fidelity in digital media is less than most previous media technologies, the popularity of MP3 players and iTunes has proven that people are willing to trade this gap in quality for convenience.

Kabbalah

Kabbalah is a mystery school that came out of Judaism. Christians have their gnostics, Muslim’s have their Sufis, the Buddhists have their various vehicles, and all religions seem to have curiously secretive “inner orders” that separate the esoteric from the exoteric.

Hebrews didn’t have a numerical system like the Arabs, or even the Romans, and didn’t need our familiar decimal system to do complicated mathematics. So they used their letters to denote numbers. Thus in Kabbalah every letter, and every word has a numerical equivalent (by adding up the number values of the letters). They started to wonder if it “meant something” that the word they used in the Book of Genesis for “Messiah” had the same number as the word “Serpent”. They might have blown this off as a coincidence, but when they looked more deeply into the material they noticed all kinds of odd and amazing equivalences. Some believe the Bible was written as a type of Kabbalistic code with a secret inner meaning for those initiated into Kabbalistic mysteries. We can argue this, but cannot prove it either way.

The history and development of Kabbalah is unclear, but along the way each number/letter picked up a great deal of correspondences. For starters, the letter beth (our B) also means “house” in Hebrew, as every Hebrew letter is a word with a specific meaning. How could they avoid finding strange coincidences in their language now? The letter beth opens the Bible (the first word in the Hebrew Bible is Berashith), and the Bible houses the Word of God – that has to mean something, right? But then astrological correspondences made their way into the Kababalah lore, then magic and mysticism worked its way into the system (not necessarily in that order). Suddenly everywhere the rabbis looked they saw a sign from God (also known as YHVH = Yod Heh Vau Heh = 10 + 5 + 6 + 5 = 26).

The Kabbalistic Tree of Life, an elegant construction of ten sephiroth and twenty-two paths make up a symbol for the entirety of creation. Kabbalists studied the intricate connections and correspondences and found the symbol readily adaptable to all kinds of spiritual issues from astrology to ontology. The Tree of Life filtered out of Judaism and spread through the West, becoming Cabala for Christians and Qabalah for different mystery schools like The Golden Dawn. It’s hard to find many Western magical traditions that don’t use the Tree of Life as a symbolic basis.

As Kabbalists, or Cabalists, or Qabalists, study the meanings, correspondence, and connections of the Tree, they notice their brains start to work differently. Everyday symbols can take on universal or spiritual implications. Practitioners use the Tree of Life like a filing cabinet to sort personal experience, and the more they study it, the more they notice special or holy meaning in existence. Learning this system actually changes the rational brain, training it to look for esoteric symbols and find meaning for one’s personal mythos. (The Middle Path of the Tree, the most direct line to the highest, includes Malkuth, Yesod, Tiphareth, and Kether, 10 + 9 + 6 + 1 = 26 = YHVH. Coincidence?)

Light and Dark

iTunes and Kabbalah represent different philosophies completely, and only in part because they have nothing to do with one another. iTunes stresses the end result (the music) by keeping the underlying systems in the dark, out of sight, out of mind. Kabbalah is an underlying system for life, putting the sorting, cataloging, and interconnection into the light where we can see everything.

For those with a lot on the go – jobs, kids, school, and the whole hectic schedule imposed by contemporary popular culture – iTunes represents exactly what is needed in a modern tool. The intended function comes first, and the process is handled invisibly so people can get on with their busy days. Bless you Apple.

For those with cerebral or spiritual inclinations Kabbalah is a beautiful, endless world of thought that encourages analysis of the underlying processes that make up our very existence. Those into Kabbalah can dive into thought and swim forever in the mystery of life, God, and the Universe.

Though I couldn’t live without music, I have to give the BOUT to Kabbalah. Kabbalah inspires creative introspection and creative perception and increases the plasticity of mind. A good Kabbalist can argue anything, and avoids binary, off/on logic, favouring an inspection of connections and transmutation.

Plus, who doesn’t prefer vinyl as a musical medium?

 

From the album “Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy”