Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The War Machine and Magick

3. Now let it be first understood that I am a God of War and of Vengeance.  I shall deal hardly with them.
4.  Choose ye an island!
5. Fortify it!
6. Dung it about with enginery of war!
7. I will give you a war engine.

- The Book of the Law chapter 3

Aleister Crowley, or whoever wrote these words, advises building a war machine in no uncertain terms.  The war machine, a concept from post-structuralist, guerilla ontologists Deluze and Guttari describes (among many other things) a strategic course of action useful for alchemical transformation.

The first theoretical element of importance is the fact that the war machine has many varied meanings, and this is precisely because the war machine has an extremely variable relation to war itself.  The war machine is not uniformly defined, and comprises something other than increasing quantities of force.  We have tried to define two poles of the war machine: at one pole, it takes war for its object ... war represents not at all the supposed essence of the war machine but only, whatever the machine's power, either the set of conditions of which the States appropriate the machine ... or the dominant order of which the States themselves are now only parts.  The other pole seems to be the essence; it is when the war machine, with infinitely lower "quantities," has as its object not war but the drawing of a creative line of flight, the composition of smooth space and of the movement of people in that space.  At this other pole, the machine does indeed encounter war, but as its supplementary or synthetic object, now directed against the State and against the worldwide axiomatic expressed by the States.

- A Thousand Plateaus, p. 422

When Robert Anton Wilson taught Crowley 101 in 2005 (the 101st anniversary of the reception of the Book of the Law, aka Liber Al) he asked the group how they interpreted the beginning of the third chapter of the Book of the Law, the one that advocates building a war machine.  A consensus of opinion decided it was a metaphor for a war against the inner forces and resistances (i.e. "nature") that block efforts to work on self.  These resistances can be very strong, hence the need for a war machine; not to make literal war on anything, especially yourself, but to draw a creative line of flight from the old set pattern of things to something new.  The old patterns won't give up without a fight.  The war machine, in this context, requires strategy, subtlety, cunning and panache among other things.  To use the war machine effectively we dissociate it from the common, brute practices and violence of literal war.  Only a few pages before the introduction of the war machine in the second chapter of Liber Al we see the instructions:

Be not animal; refine thy rapture!  If thou drink, drink by the eight and ninety rules of art: if thou love, exceed by delicacy; and if thou do aught joyous, let there be subtlety therein!

 - Liber Al 2:70

Apply that to the war machine!

A war machine appears a necessary mechanism whenever something wishes to break out of an established mileau or assemblage of any kind, or in other words, deterritorialize from a particular set, the current assemblage, establish a line of flight, make new connections, form new assemblages and reterritorialize into a different order.  The similarity to ritual magick appears evident.  The candidate for Initiation enters a specially created space, the ritual chamber, mentally and emotionally deterritorializes from consensual reality then establishes a creative line of flight into the magickal domain through the actions of the ritual, makes new connections and hopefully  a new assemblage of some kind takes shape according to the ritual's intention.  This type of activity, along with behavior reinforcement and the formation of different habits can reprogram and/or metaprogram the human biological machine.  It takes a war machine approach along with time and perseverance to make any real, permanent change.

Deleuze and Guttari speak in terms of the State versus Nomads to differentiate between that which is sedentary and seeks to maintain the inertia of the status quo ( the State), and that which is in motion, those aiming to deterritorialze from the State's strictures, overcodings, and mechanisms of control to explore different territorities and expand into new domains (Nomads).   They say it's the difference between striated space - the State's overcodings (laws, rules and regulations) and smooth space, no longer restricted by external control mechanisms.  Now "the State" can range in meaning from the literal political State, to the mainstream cultural mileau with its taboos and political correctness to any other agency imposing their own order and agenda.  The anti-war, counter-cultural movement of the late '60s and early '70s was nomadic by these definitions and used war machine tactics to fight to change State policy.  Looking back to the beginnings of modern civilization, D & G say that the war machine began with Nomads wishing to break free from the State.  The first axiom in their Treatise on Nomadology - The War Machine says:  The war machine is exterior to the State apparatus.  Later they say  the State can and does appropriate the war machine for its own ends, but it originally and continues to be used by maverick artists, explorers, free-thinkers, outsiders, radicals - nomads of all kinds to break free of established political and social order and create their own autonomous zones, their own ways of being - never at rest, always becoming anew.

The concept of the war machine lies deeply embedded all over the ideology of Thelema.  Somewhere early on in Confessions Crowley says (paraphrasing) that as soon as an aspirant sets foot on the path of Initiation they get beset by a host of complexes and resistances as if the denizens of the astral world recognize a new presence and go about rejecting it.  Similarly, Ouspensky says that as soon as the student begins to observe their sleep and begin the initial process of waking up, they will catch themselves falling into deeper sleep and unconsciousness.  The human machine seems fine cruising along on remote control but as soon as efforts get made to observe and change then it puts up a fight, a fight for what it considers its own survival.  Even doing the beginning yoga exercises Crowley suggests will make the body put up a strong fight.  The discipline to hold the posture and endure the pain and discomfort of the body shows  the war machine in action creating a line of flight. 

Horus, the deity or cosmic force that guides this age in the Thelemic pantheon, basically describes a war machine.  Horus = a war machine.  In the qabalistic table of Egyptian deities Horus is attributed to Geburah, a sephira corresponding to Mars ( Roman God of war) and the other war gods.  Horus is also attributed to Pe, another Mars correspondence, and the Tower, a tarot key that shows a clear picture of the war machine.  Again I stress that the war machine, most of the time, and in the context of alchemy, has nothing to do with the violence and bloodshed of literal war.  Rather, it has to do with a vigorously activated and applied force to overcome past programming, obstacles, challenges, laziness etc that impedes us from whatever we wish to do or become.

It's been said and observed, that the quality we consider the worst about ourselves will eventually become our greatest strength.  Perhaps this results from the necessity of a powerful war machine to transform or harness our worst qualities?  You need something to fight against.  Teachers like Gurdjieff and Crowley would sometimes deliberately place obstacles and challenges before their students to create the necessary friction that eventually produces a pearl, a crystallized formation of something new and precious.

In the Invocation of Horus Crowley and his wife Rose composed ( Magick 1st edition p. 413) which lead to the reception of  the Book of the Law, sections I,II,IV begin with, and they include in section III:
Strike, strike the master chord!
Draw, draw the Flaming Sword!
Crowned Child and Conquering Lord,
Horus, Avenger!

The war machine appears evident in this couplet.  The flaming sword refers to the synergy of high kinetic energy and highly concentrated and focused attention used as a weapon.  The master chord suggests music which gets confirmed in part E of section III: Mine are the dark blue waves of music in the song that I made of old to invoke Thee - then they give the couplet.  Here we see music attached to, or a part of the war machine.  

 Punk rock operated as a war machine briefly.  The U.S. Army used loud rock music as a weapon against Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to get him to surrender.  A lot of the music and concerts of the 50's, 60's, 70's and still in the '80's made creative lines of flight outside social and cultural norms and expectations. 

The war machine turns up in the Four of Disks from the Thoth tarot.  It's titled POWER and suggests protection and defence. "... the suggestion of the card is that of a fortress."  Compare that with Crowley's Book of the Law advice quoted at the top of this post.  The Four of Disks is attributed to 125 in Sepher Sephiroth.  125 = 5 x 5 x 5 or 5 cubed.   5 = Geburah = War.  It seems to be saying that creating a fortress of protection and defence becomes a war machine activity.

Though I've emphasized the war machine concept, we remember the necessity of equilibrium and balance in our magickal endeavors.  Geburah, home of the war machine gets balanced on the Tree of Life by Chesed home of compassion and mercy.  The fire of Geburah tempered and cooled by the water of Chesed.  The path that connects them, Teth, corresponds with Horus in the table "Complete Practical Attributions of Egyptian Gods" from 777.  This tells us that Horus appears not only a god of force and fire, but of other multiplicities of characteristics which could include the loving kindness and mercy of Chesed.  Horus is a twin god, with an active, outgoing side ( Ra Hoor Kuit) and a passive, silent side ( Hoor pa Kraat).  Ra Hoor Kuit takes charge of the war machine, but we see this as only one half of the Horus equation.

Not a lot of the Deleuze and Guttari commentators I've read ( actually none so far) go into the spiritual/magickal/bardo implications of their concepts, but it seems obvious from Mark Seem's Introduction to Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia Part I (p. xix - xx) that these strata also make up their presentation:

"Like Laing, they [ D & G ] encourage mankind to take a journey, the journey through ego-loss.  They go much further than Laing on this point, however.  They urge mankind to strip itself of all anthropomorphic and anthropological armoring, all myth and tragedy, and all existentialism, in order to perceive what is nonhuman in man, his will and his forces, his transformations and mutations.  The human and social sciences have accustomed us to see the figure of Man behind every social event, just as Christianity taught us the see the Eye of the Lord looking down upon us.  Such forms of knowledge project an image of reality at the expense of reality itself.  They talk figures and icons and signs, but fail to perceive forces and flows.  They blind us to other realities, and especially the reality of power as it subjugates us.  Their function is to tame, and the result is docile and obedient subjects
Though it may look and sound a little dated, The Changeling by The Doors nicely shows a combination of the direction of D & G's musings and some sense of the Horus invocation.  This could be a Nomad manifesto of sorts.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How To Use A Floatation Tank

Reprinted below are two short older articles about the floatation tank.  The first one was written in 1998, the second in 2012. A short video about floating and engineering wraps things up.

How To Use A Floatation Tank

“Relax turn off your mind and float downstream . . . “
                                                                        - The Beatles

Lately I’ve been asked by a few people the best way to use a floatation tank.  This has been my response so far.  I've been working with a tank for almost 10
years on a daily basis and I can say unequivocally that the best way
to use a floatation tank is to open the door and get in it.

I’m only half joking because there really is no way to tell someone how to float other than encouraging them to find out for themselves.

There are so many ways to use a tank that its impossible to say
what's best for one individual.  And what works now might not later.

Things you can do with the tank:  almost any meditative technique,
creative visualization, simulate the experience of death, listen to guided meditation
tapes, work with important questions like who am I?, pray,
recapitulate recent events seeing them in a new light, etc.

Or you can just hang out in a state of reverie and let it take you
where it will.  Many deep insights happen in this way.

If you’re studying something, inputting lots of data, floating right
after a study session will help you retain the new knowledge much

Generally, the longer you float, the deeper you go.  2-4 hr floats are
very good.  If you have the time and can work you’re way up to 5-7 hr
floats you'll notice rather profound shifts in consciousness.  But any
amount of time can be good.  I once worked all night, floated for 20
minutes then had the energy to work another 30 hours.

I feel that it took me 6 years of daily floating before I learned how to optimally use the tank AND THAT WAS JUST THE BEGINNING !!!  But each one of those floats was an adventure in itself and brought tremendous discoveries, even the failed ones.  There were times when I knew something was happening that was out of the range of my conscious mind.  There are also periods of gestation when nothing seems to be happening.

I advise all floaters ‘not to lust after results.’  Find joy in every step on the path and pay close attention because this journey will never happen in the same way again.

I think that the Lord's new instruction to humankind admirably applies to
the question of how to use a floatation tank:

"Be who you are.  Do what you do."
- from the play Creation Story Verbatim by EJ Gold.

So I say float as Thou wilt.

Happy Voyaging,

Oz Fritz

Diary of a Floater

My name is Oz Fritz and I’ve been asked to write about some of my experiences using the floatation tank. I plan to file regular reports. It’s a tool that I’ve been working with consistently for about 23 years now. I still float on a daily basis and find it just as useful if not more so as when I first started. I’m a sound engineer by profession; a seeker of the vast untapped potential of the human nervous system by inclination, an explorer of the Unknown by habit. 

In my opinion, if everyone floated regularly, especially the leaders and powerful people whose decisions affect all our lives, things would look much different on our planet, more hopeful and more orientated toward life sustaining goals that benefit and nourish us all. Perhaps I’m an overly optimistic idealist, but it’s hard to deny the clarity of thought engendered in an environment largely free from external stimulus, i.e. the tank. I don’t know if floating can change the World but I do know that it changed my world significantly for the better.

Sometimes people ask me, “what do you do in there?” I’ve tried all kinds of things and have experimented with it in a wide variety of ways. It’s certainly not my intention to tell anyone how to use the tank. I’ve always admired John Lilly’s caution against trying to program anyone’s tank experience for them. Rather, I offer my experiences and experiments as a record to show what is possible and what floating has done in my life. 

I began floating at a transitional point in my life when I was making a switch from working as a live soundman touring with bar bands to a recording engineer. I had recently moved to New York City to increase my chances at getting a job in a recording studio. Though I had done some recording in the past, and working at live sound has the same basic goal of trying to make a group sound good, it still was starting over from scratch. Just getting in the door of a reputable studio was a challenge. I spent three hours waiting in the lobby of a top studio called The Hit Factory, the last studio that John Lennon worked at, only to be told “don’t call us, we’ll call you,” which, of course, they never did. Finally, I was fortunate to get an internship at an up and coming studio in Greenwhich Village. An internship was an unpaid job that involved answering the phone, making coffee, cleaning up and running errands. 

I got interested in floating through reading books by John Lilly, particularly The Center of the Cyclone. At this point in my life, at the ripe old age of 27, I had an advanced case, almost an obsession with consciousness exploration. Floating sounded like a great way to satisfy this vice without having to drop out of life or suffer the physical mortifications of the extreme yogis. I was sure there would be somewhere to try it in New York but didn’t get around to it because I didn’t feel ready, whatever that meant. It was like a catch 22, I wasn’t conscious enough to try a tool that would raise my consciousness or so I dreamed. Finally, I was given a three float package for my 28th birthday so I thought I might as well give it a shot. 

At that point I had just gotten the studio internship and was living at the Sivananda Yoga Center on 24th Street to save money. The rent was very low, but there was an obligation to attend their mediation service held every morning at 6 am. It started with a half hour of seated, silent meditation which I found torturous. I never came close to achieving any kind of transcendent experience with this technique, I was just glad when it was over. My first time in the tank was just about the exact opposite. This was clearly the technique for me. 

I also saw that my hesitancy and nervousness in trying out a floatation tank was the result of a deeply buried, unconscious fear. If you’ve ever read any of John Lilly’s accounts of tank work you know that he’s written about some pretty far-out encounters. I wasn’t quite ready to go way beyond the Earth game to visit distant sectors of cosmic space and bump into vast non-human entities which for all I knew was a common occurrence when floating. Believe me, it’s not. I also had impressions about floating from seeing the film Altered States which now seems an unrealistic portrayal of what it’s like when you float. This fear became completely dissipated when Sam Zeiger, my guide for the first voyage, gave an orientation before I got in. He had me feel how light the tank door was, how easily it opened. “You can get out whenever you like if you want to. You can even put a towel in the door to have it be opened just a crack if it’s too dark.” I’ve never been afraid to use the tank since.

For more information or to get your own tank go here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bill Laswell

 "Music makes mutations audible"

Music is more than an object of study: it's a way of perceiving the world.  A tool of understanding.

- Jacques Attali

Bill Laswell at the board with pioneering turntablist DXT

The first session I worked on with Bill Laswell involved mixing an album called Taboo by Ronald Shannon Jackson. This was either at the end of 1987 or near the beginning of 1988.  I was assisting Robert Musso in the Platinum Island East room, the SSL room. Platinum Island was on Broadway just south of Great Jones St. (3rdSt) in Greenwich Village, New York.  I remember being told about the gig in advance, I didn't know anything about Laswell, but one of the techs thought highly of his work and considered this a prestigious and important session. The studio also gave it top priority. Though I was the senior assistant engineer at the time, I was out of favor with the Studio Manager who would rather have assigned it to his favorite assistant except that he was already booked with something else. I was also working with Fred Maher at the time on the Information Society record. He knew Bill from drumming with him in Massacre and Material. He dramatically told me in a very serious, hushed voice that Bill was evil.  I flashed on Ouspensky's break with Gurdjieff when he considered Gurdjieff evil and forbade his students from visiting him even though he taught Gurdjieff's system.  I later discovered from this and other experiences that what some people call evil is only a kind of energy or manifestation they don't understand. Aleister Crowley appears the prime cultural example of this misunderstanding.

Bob Musso seemed the most efficient engineer I had worked with, very tech savvy with a professional demeanor of a NASA scientist by way of M.I.T. He let you know in a friendly way that crucial business was going down here. The music was free jazz, by far the most progressive music I'd heard at Platinum Island which had a heavy dance music clientele. Bill would give Bob time to set up the mix. When a good balance was achieved, Bill would get behind the SSL and automate tracks one at a time while Bob operated the SSL computer. The automation was often quite radical creating a performance in itself as well as determining the final song arrangement when it was all done. Each automation pass was an improvised studio performance. The song was run straight through and there wasn't any going back to change something.  A free jazz mix, music born from intuitive technical operation right on the spot. It was the most interesting music I'd heard mixed in that room so far and the first time I saw the SSL “played” like a musical instrument.

The Ronald Shannon Jackson mix was a trial session, a studio audition for Bill and Bob. It worked out so they were back right away recording then mixing tracks for what became Asian Games by Yosuke Yamashita, Bill Laswell and Ryuichi Sakamoto. The style of music has been called Electro, Future Jazz which is about right. Here's an example … it's very atmospheric, a trip through one particular bardo. The piano playing, the guide through this sonic land of the dead is Yosuke. The Fairlight industrial sounds were programmed by Nicky Skopelitis and other metal percussion and bells by Aiyb Dieng. Bass and other sounds by Laswell. 

This album was mixed by Bill and Bob at Platinum Island using a process similar to how they mixed Taboo.  Arrangements and performances created in the mix via Laswell writing it into the computer while Musso was the tonemeister and knob spinner.  With these mixes I started to notice a fundamental difference between their approach and most of the other commercially minded clients.  It's hard to explain except to say that they were striving for utmost artistic integrity, looking to create the next thing in music, creating the future of music without thinking about it.   Doing it for no other apparent reason than it needed to get done, always in motion to go beyond.    A good example of what Crowley means when he writes, “For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect."  

A popular notion in esoteric circles concerns the Secret Chiefs or Hidden Masters, advanced Initiates who influence and guide the evolution of the human species or at least attempt to.  According to Robert Anton Wilson this works as a "useful metaphor."  Perhaps not all the Masters are metaphysical?  True artists, those that communicate transformational information or "data cells" through the medium of their art, help shape the culture and society of their times. 

Not long after Yosuke was the nearly ill-fated mix of Iggy Pop's version of Family Affair, the Sly and the Family Stone song which I wrote about here.  That was the session where the SSL computer crashed about 6 hours into it and lost all their automation.  Of course, all the sound processing and the basic initial mix balance was still there.  Bill and Bob appeared to take the crash in stride and said get it fixed, they'd be back upon the morrow to finish.  Well, the techs couldn't find anything wrong and I had to resort to more magick than usual to ensure it didn't crash again and thankfully, it didn't.

During the years I assisted on sessions with Bill he would introduce me to an incredible number of world class musicians some of whom became lifelong friends:

Aiyb Deng

Sengalese percussionist on any number of Laswell productions.  Responsible for unique
atmospheric sounds with his varied collection of unusual metals, pitched springs, ceremonial bells, gongs and the like.  Also the low liquid hand rhythm of his clay drum Chatans found its way on many records not the least of which is Public Image Limited's Album.

Bernie Worrell  

- keyboard virtuoso and string arranger with Parliament/Funkadelic, sideman with the Talking Heads, various solo albums of his own and Keith Richards, etc. Laswell's go-to for a Hammond B3 organ player and any kind of funk keyboards.

Nicky Skopelitis

 - session guitarist, solo artist, very knowledgeable about certain kinds of folk music from around the world.  At some point he took it upon himself to educate me in World Music with various recordings and concert recommendations.

Bootsy Collins

- played with James Brown at the age of 17 then later with Parliament/Funkadelic as well as being a solo artist.  Watching Bootsy record with his Star bass in front of a semi-circle of various pedals punching them in and out in time on a single pass through the song he seemed like the Jimi Hendrix of bass playing at that moment.  Bootsy is also the living embodiment of funk rhythm guitar playing right up there with or beyond Prince and Nile Rodgers.  We would begin recording Bootsy immediately as soon as the track was up because he would instantly come up with these great ideas for parts that he would almost just as instantly forget being as the music was flowing out of him 'bout as fast as whitewater rapids on the Columbia River.  But we got it all on tape.

L. Shankar

 - best Indian classical violinist I've ever heard, plays with incredible feeling, but that goes for all of these musicians.  A career highlight for me was working with him in Madras, India  for about 10 days.

Trilok Gurtu

 - a very unique drummer, I don't know what you'd call his style.  At a recent show he used 3 bass drums and a pair of tablas as part of his kit along with heavily processed water percussion.

The Ramones

 - didn't spend much time with them, just a few hours while they listened to some mixes of their album Brain Drain, but it felt good to be in the same room with these legends.  Dee Dee came separately as he wasn't getting along with the rest.  Joey was the only one who went to the mastering.  I saw that he was listening while I was speaking with Bill about Aleister Crowley.

Iggy Pop

 - needs no introduction.  Instinct was an important album for me in multiple ways.  I wrote a little bit about it at the end of this post, but intend to expand the comments on it.

William S. Burroughs

- also needs no introduction.  Wrote about working with him here.

Foday Musa Suso

 - griot extraordinaire; collaborator with Philip Glass, Herbie Hancock, and the Kronos String Quartet among others.

Anton Fier

- best known for his group The Golden Palominos as well as being a remarkably tasteful drummer.  I worked on 5 or 6 records with Anton starting as an assistant then engineering.  Also toured Japan and Central Asia with him along with Suso, Bill and Nicky mixing sound for the Flying Mijinko Band.

Akira Sakata

 -  premiere jazz sax player from Japan.  Played in Yosuke Yamashita's group in the '70s. Musical organizer of the Flying Mijinko tour which he named from his training as a marine biologist.

 - probably the best funk/rock drummer from the SF Bay area at the time, I first met Brain on the Limbomaniacs recording of their.Stinky Grooves record. It was one of the first projects where I started engineering for Bill.  Brain introduced us to Buckethead when they both came to New York to record Praxis Transmutation.  More on that later.  In the late '90's, Brain recommended my services to Tom Waits which worked out really well.  I worked again with Brain on Antipop when he was part of Primus.  After that he joined Guns & Roses for awhile.

Ronald Shannon Jackson

- played drums with Ornette Coleman before forming his own group, The Decoding Society.  One of the heaviest dudes I've ever met, a shamanistic musician.  I wrote about him earlier on the occasion of his transition.

Fred Frith

 - I  first met Fred when he played a violin overdub on something.  When I reflect back on it, back then and up to the present, he reminds me of one of the Invisibles ( part of the Invisible College) because at that session I had absolutely no idea of the respected stature of his corpus of work which included being a guiding influence to Brian Eno at one crucial point. 

Stevie Salas

 - a legitimate guitar hero, he astonished me watching him overdub on Shannon Jackson's  Red Warrior album. Played with Rod Stewart at one point.

Bernard Fowler

- incredible singer; background vocalist for the Rolling Stones since 1989.

Michael Gira

- leader of The Swans.  Their Burning World album was an important project for me especially during the mix because that's when I met Jason Corsaro.  Musically, it's  one of my favorite releases and I still listen to it from time to time.  It's an important record with multiple messages from the desert.  Gira was channeling Paul Bowles at the time.

Jason Corsaro

- working with him was a game-changer, the best thing that ever happened to this engineering career apart from meeting Bill.  I wrote about my experience working with him here and continued here.

This is a good selection of people I met through working with Bill Laswell at Platinum Island.  I recall early on Bill, Bob and Nicky had just arrived for a session and were sitting in Platinum Island West waiting for another musician.  They were talking amongst themselves passing along the latest news, all having to do with other highly respected musicians and projects.  Ryuichi Sakamoto, John Lydon, Ginger Baker, Sly and Robbie, Bootsy Collins etc.; speaking informally of familiar friends, colleagues and what they were doing.    I don't remember the exact details, but do remember a sudden realization when I grokked what they were discussing, a moment of crystal clarity, that this was the real deal.  In other words, this was the part of the music industry I had listened to but never had direct contact with until now.  Music that strives to go beyond boundaries to ever re-create and redefine, de-territorialize and re-territorialize its content and expression.  This experience was like waking up, i.e. a transition into a space of real intent and extreme awareness.  I was here, I had made it to the chamber where real music was made.  Not pop music or club dance music, rather music intended as a springboard into unknown territories; music with multiplicities of intention; multiplicities of becomings.

Later, I realized that through his work Bill had assembled an informal community and network of musicians and technicians that cohered around his endless forward motion in the studio and the dollar bills this evoked.  You can call this assemblage Material, an extension of Laswell's ever-changing group of the same name.  The money was a byproduct of serious shamanistic work in the realm of music, but it helped a lot of people stay alive doing what they loved and staying somewhat out of the Corporate/State economic slavery system.  Any group that gathers together regularly for the purpose of invocation - music, when it happens, can be a powerful invocation - is a "School" in the esoteric, Sufi-like sense.  It seems accurate to call Material an informal shamanistic School with Bill Laswell as the primary musical invocant.  The recording session spaces at all times had the cleanliness and sanctity of invocational chambers one associates with a School.  Everyone always reaching for maximum presence, attention and creative endeavor.  Setting new levels of penetration into the mystery, new tracks into the unknown, then stretching to go beyond that.  Maximum velocity and alertness, I felt totally in my element.

I would describe this Material network as a rhizome, a nonlinear, underground mass of roots branching out laterally in all directions as opposed to the arborescent model which would define it as a singular, static identity of some kind.

"A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.  The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance."

- A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guttari p.25

The tree is filiation refers to the arborescent model and, in this case, means music derived vertically from its preceding caste and culture.  Bill liked to break those barriers and was all about alliance frequently coming up with unusual combinations that ignored genre boundaries such as, for instance, introducing Cecil Taylor to the Jungle Brothers; Pharoah Saunders with Moroccan Gnawa music; forming Praxis which combined a rapper/turntablist - Af, Next Man Flip Lord of the Paradox from Jungle Brothers, with a rock guitar prodigy - Buckethead, two funk legends - Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell with Brain to rhythmically tie it together, etc.

"...the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs and even nonsign states.
... The coordinates are not determined by theoretical analyses implying universals but by a pragmatics composing multiplicities or aggregates of intensities."

- ibid

In NOISE, The Political Economy of Music, Jacques Atalli presents the idea that in times past, before it became a commodity, music commonly served the societal function of channeling and sublimating violence regulating ancient society as a result.  Atalli makes a good case though on one hand I am skeptical of his logic and conclusions, on the other hand, the height of the Axiom period, Bill's label courtesy of Chris Blackwell and Island Records, coincided with the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.  The extreme fundamentalism of certain Islamic cults bans music, and those appear to be the most violent cultures of all.  You know there is no music scene in the Islamic State or probably anywhere in Syria to speak of.  Violence and music don't co-exist except when the music is violent and then the violence is taken off the street and turned into something else sometimes.  Turn up the music if we want less violence.  Fund music production and performance, increase funding to all of the arts and see what happens.  Building more efficient killing devices doesn't appear to be working to de-escalate the violence in the world, quite the opposite.  Anyone in a position to present good music of any kind might take to heart Atalli's idea that music reduces violence through ritual re-enactment.

Laswell released several significant recordings around the time of the dissolution of the Cold War and before Bush I invaded Iraq.  Hear No Evil - his solo record, Material's Seven Souls with William Burroughs, Ramellzee and Suso, Next to Nothing by Nicky Skopelitis, Middle Passage with Ginger Baker, Talip Ozkan's The Dark Fire, the list goes on.  The band Painkiller with Bill, John Zorn and Mick Harris which formed and recorded coinciding with the start of the first Gulf War definitely channeled violence in their music quite literally and psychically.  One only needs to hear any Painkiller recording to verify that.  I vividly remember recording Mick Harris screaming nonsense vocalizations hardcore style and he kept repeating this one sound: "scud, scud, scud, SCUD, SCUD!!!" and within a few days, the phrase scud missiles, something I'd hadn't heard before, was all over the news.  Harris hit a precognitive space with that one. A little more on Painkiller here.  That took place at Bill's Greenpoint studio.  More about that when we continue.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Massacre Live in Paris

 all photos from French blogs, provided by Yoko

On Friday the Thirteenth of October 1307, France's King Philip IV took down the Knights Templar with multiple arrests including its leader, Jaques de Molay, followed by forced confessions and executions.  It's been said that this gave rise to the Friday the Thirteenth superstition of bad luck.  History records the Knights Templar as a secret society originally formed to protect travelers to the Holy Land and to guard the relics at Jerusalem's Temple Mount, the site of the temple King Solomon built.  They were involved in the Crusades and later, after evolving into a wealthy organization, became the precursors to the modern banking system - probably a large contributing factor to why they were taken down.  Much folklore has arisen over the years regarding their esoteric activities.  It does appear they were strongly influenced by Hassan I Sabbah's Order of the Assassins.  Legend has it that the Assassins were the link that transmitted the knowledge and practice of ritual sex magick from the Sufis to the Knights Templar finally making its way to the O.T.O.   The Templars were accused of worshiping a pagan deity called Baphomet, an image later revived by Eliphas Levi then subsequently adopted with full gusto by Aleister Crowley who used it as his motto in the O.T.O. ( the Order of the Temple of the Orient.  The Knights Templar were originally simply known as the Order of the Temple.)  Crowley described Baphomet as an androgynous figure.  His occult research, consisting of communication with a disincarnate entity they referred to as "the Wizard" -  indicated that "Baphomet was Father Mithras, the cubical stone which was the corner of the Temple. " ( Confessions, p. 833)

Over 707 years later, on Friday the Thirteenth of February 2015,  Massacre, the free improvised music trio of Frith, Laswell, and Hayward played the Son le Hive festival on the outskirts of Paris.  Apart from the Friday the Thirteenth in France resonance, the connection between Massacre and the Knights Templar is that they both transmit esoteric information; the Templars with all the Holy Grail legends associated with them among other things.  In Delueze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus by Eugene W. Holland he says "the task of modern music is to render audible the silent forces of the cosmos."

Earlier, in the same book Holland compares Delueze and Guttari's philosophy with free jazz:

Free jazz, operating at the extreme without chord charts, and even without respect to recognizable key signatures, is an instance of continuous absolute de-territorialization of a song, while nonetheless maintaining its consistency as a piece of music.  Indeed maintaining or creating consistency without imposing unity, identity or organization - without resorting to bare repetitions of the same - might be said to constitute the holy grail of all of Delueze and Guttari's work, in ethics, politics, as well as aesthetics.

Apocryphal legend says that immediately after Louis XVI was executed a freemason leapt up, rubbed blood on his crown and cried out "Jaques de Molay, thou art avenged."  Massacre kind of did the same thing in concert.

 Deleuze and Guttari present a metaphysics of complex science, a metaphysics that accounts for the virtual as well as the actual.  It works well as a metaphysics of magick, alchemy and bardo training.  It  describes a metaphysics of free jazz, and of music in general.  One of the primary questions they ask is: how do you make a 'Body without Organs'? - a term they appropriated from avant garde playwright Antonin Artaud.  How do you make a non-organic body?  Parallels with alchemy seem obvious.  In  their magnum opus A Thousand Plateaus - Capitalism and Schizophrenia - my new Bible - Deleauze and Guttari massacre linearity and causality in an eclectic variety of subjects from Evolution to Sorcery, Psychoanalysis to Lycanthropy.  Theirs is a metaphysics of transformation, of the Process, and especially of Here to Go.  When searching the web for an introduction to D & G, I found one reviewer who suggested reading William Burroughs' cut-up novels and listening to Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica to get a feel for the nonlinearity of their approach.  Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone has a strong D & G influence.They seem the ultimate guerilla ontologists, upending assumptions you never knew you had.

An assemblage forms the night before the show in the lounge of the Novotel Hotel on the River Sienne in the Bercy section of Paris.  The people who form the molecular constituents have arrived from New York, San Francisco, Sacramento, London and locally to assemble at this focal point for a brief few hours of unwinding, eating and catching up.  You wouldn't know it to look at it, but this place functions as a communication hot spot, a 'power spot' in the sense Carlos Castenada writes about.  I suspect this because seven years ago at this exact location, sitting in the exact same chair, Bill introduced me to Gordon, an Irishman with down-to-earth aristocratic bearing who sometimes traveled with U2s entourage.  He had just purchased a major Brion Gysin painting and I suggested it was very likely a reading artifact.  I asked him if he knew of a good English bookstore in Paris where I could pick up a copy of Moby Dick.  Gordon directed me to one in the Tuileries, the former residence of France's monarchy, where I found a copy.  Starting reading Moby Dick on the Metro ride back and saw the Tuileries mentioned on the first page.  I was at the beginning of the story both inside and outside the book.

Tonight's body without organs collective lounge assemblage ebbs and flows, changes shape, individuals and dyads depart/return, overseas calls come in with birthday greetings, news of art and music and soul development.
"Could you not have changed the name of the band Massacre for just this one show?," a Parisian asks still painfully mindful of the Charlie Hebdo brute world attack.  The question is answered with silence.  Take a violent signifier like massacre, de-territorialize it by putting it into a different context like a post-structural music assemblage, then re-territorialize Massacre as a progressive, life expanding music concert.  Massacre got its name by having its first ever gig on St. Valentine's Day.  The concert here in Paris is on February 13th so you could call it a birthday anniversary show though I don't know for how many years, my guess is that it's in the neighborhood of 30.  Figuratively speaking, if it was St. Valentine doing the massacring what would he massacre? 

A large flat screen constantly plays footage of advanced military planes and faces of generals gathered in their masses just like witches at black masses the whole time we are there.  A 50 billion euro sale of these from France to Egypt has just gone down and the media analysts can't stop re-reporting it; lots of talking heads and delighted hawks.  Perhaps this subconsciously contributes to an apocalyptic turn of the conversation: " gamma rays firing toward the Earth from deep space; the world is in a rough place; a child suggested that dystopian books such as Brave New World, 1984, and Farenheit 451 contributed to the reality of those bleak visions"
"But what are you going to do about it? .... keep playing, keep drumming."  Do the math on the word "drum" for the magick of this answer.  "Drum" and "Gurdjieff" are mathematically equivalent.

1984 reminded me of a scene from the movie JOBS, the Steve Jobs movie with Ashton Kutchner I recently viewed where he's introducing the Mac II with a famous ad that features scenes from the movie 1984 with Apple saying that would never happen because they made a tool, the personal computer, intended to bring out the heart in people (actually a conflation of two scenes).

Friday the Thirteenth, February 1970, Black Sabbath release their first, self-titled album which would reach #23 on the Billboard 200 music chart.  This Heat, one of Charles Hayward's early bands released their debut on a Friday the Thirteenth.  Music ignores human superstitions.  After soundcheck we have a few hours before the show, traffic is too heavy to go back to the hotel.  Backstage conversation:  "Lots of interesting things going on in physics, we're now picking up information from before the Big Bang.  The Universe appears structured like a Fibonacci Series.  CERN's 27 km Large Hadron Collider subatomic particle accelerator is partly in Switzerland, partly in France."  Subatomic particles ignore human boundaries. 
"Two books I tell all my students to read, Noise - A Political Economy of Music by Jaques Attali and Silence by John Cage."

Seb El Zin turns up around dinnertime with his cd Anarchist Republic of Bzzzz ( post- apocalyptic electro noise punk rap) looking for Bill.  He's putting together a recording studio in a mansion in Normandy with an old friend, Nicktus, the bass player for FFF,  Fédération Française de Funk whom I haven't seen for 24 years, but whom I have an appointment to visit with the next night at a small dinner party given by Martin Bergeaud.  Martin leads Dark Blue Orchestra, a group I mixed at Prairie Sun last year.

The opening band seems about as exactly opposite to Massacre as you could possibly get.  Sedate traditional jazz delivered inside the lines.  They seemed well received by the conservative audience.

Massacre ranged from soft aerial ambient spatialness to powerful rock without getting sonically overbearing.  It was a fairly large hall, maybe 1500 capacity, with a very high ceiling and clear acoustics without much reverberant reflection.  The sharply tiered rising rows does strange things to the low end from the front to back rows, but tonight it was sold out and all the people, with their collective sound absorption properties, made the low end just right.  At soundcheck, Pierre and his sound company had the PA dialed and all ready to go with more than sufficient headroom.  The stage was large and spacious, the light show very well done as you can see from the photos.  In other words, the perfect venue.  Mixing went well, I had a lot of fun and tried some different things with effects panning.  About 1/3rd into the show, an excited usher holding a device that looked like a tricorder with a wand on the front pointed to it and said it had gone up to 107 dB SPL exceeding the legal limit of 105 by 2 dB.  I apologized profusely and begged for forgiveness and not to be taken to jail ..., actually that's not true, I just acknowledged him and looked at the meter which read 102 at that moment.  I didn't have to change anything.  He walked away and didn't bother me for the rest of the show. 

Listening to the recording of this show, it completely blows me away i.e. de-territorialzation of all preconceptions about anything, purely here in this moment with all possibilities, parallel worlds, and alternate realities stretched out in all directions, hallways of choicepoints.  Infinity times infinity makes it's own Time playing with a drummer sworn to hele all.  Swiftnesses and slownesses, driving rhythms, dub rhythms and ambient space expanse.  There exist no words or literary writing style I know of that can adequately describe the experience with the music I'm hearing right now, Massacre in Paris 2015.  Music like this seems way ahead of painting and literature.  We'll let Deleauze and Gutarri have a go at it from A Thousand Plateaus, p. 313:

Chaos is not without it's own directional components, which are its own ecstasies.  We have seen elsewhere how all kinds of milieus, each defined by a component, slide in relation to one another, over one another.  Each milieu is a vibratory, in other words, a block of space-time constituted by the periodic repetition of the component.  Thus the living thing has an exterior milieu of materials, an interior milieu of composing elements and composed substances, an intermediary milieu of membranes and limits, and an annexed milieu of energy sources and actions-perceptions.  Every milieu is coded, a code being defined by periodic repetition; but each code is in a perpetual state of transcoding or transduction.  Transcoding or transduction is the manner in which one milieu serves as the basis for another , or conversely is established on top of another milieu, dissipates in it or is constituted in it.  The notion of the milieu is not unitary; not only does the living thing continually pass from one milieu to another, but the milieus pass into one another; they are essentially communicating.  The milieus are open to chaos, which threatens them with exhaustion or intrusion.  Rhythm is the milieus' answer to chaos.

Or in other words:

BAS-AUMGN:  "Ye that are Gods going forth uttering AUMGN ( the Word that goeth from
                              (A) Free Breath
                              (U) through Willed Breath
                              (M) and stopped Breath
                              (GN) to Continuous Breath
                               thus symbolizing the whole course of spiritual life. A is the formless Zero;
                               U is the six-fold solar sound of physical life, the triangle of Soul being entwined
                               with that of Body; M is the silence of "death"; GN is the nasal sound of knowledge
                               and generation.
                                                                                    - Crowley from Liber Samekh

Fortunately, it's looking good that this recording and other recent Massacre shows will be released relatively soon.  These descriptions might be clearer when you hear the music.

Saturday the Fourteenth, February, 2015, Valentine's Day, was a relaxing day off to accommadate transportation schedules.  Breakfast with Charles before he catches a train to London, he being the exception to the day off.  Met Bill and Michael Lemesre at the lounge communication post in the early afternoon.  Lemesre still works for Alan Douglas's company making sure that projects Douglas started get properly taken care of and finished.  He kindly gifted me with one of these projects, a book about Jimi Hendrix called Starting at Zero told entirely in Hendrix's own words.  There's also a film coming out by Peter Neal with the same title narrated in his own words.  Neal made a film, Experience in 1967 the only film about Jimi Hendrix released during his lifetime and the only film made with Jimiʼs full collaboration.

After the show last night Fred gave everyone a copy of his new cd, The Natural Order, a duet collaboration with saxophonist John Butchner.  However, to say that Fred plays guitar and Butchner plays sax is a massive understatement as both instruments are thoroughly de-territorialized from their conventional uses and re-territorialzed in a huge range of sonorities, textures, articulated noise with wormholes tunneling and jaunts instantly transporting the listener somewhere outside known territory.  At times the two musical assemblages sound like extraterrestrial or extradimensional nonhuman entities in a dialog with each other, or sometimes telling jokes.  Highly recommended, it's on Northern Spy Records.

Earlier, Bill had presented copies of his new cd Space/Time Redemption, another duo album with Bill and Milford Graves.  This music can also take one very far out, but subtly and gently until you don't realize how de-territorialized out of habitual perceptions you get.  This music is powerfully shamanic, and that should get taken as a warning.  I hear strong African magic, ascension or "out-cension" through the sound of ritual forms, astral bells, hints of Coltrane circa Cosmic Music and A Love Supreme, a flavoring of Sun Ra, also Bas-Aumgn to a strong degree, panoramic sustainer and psychopomp.  It lives up to its name and song titles: Eternal Signs, Sonny Sharrock, Another Space, Autopossession, Another Time.  Also highly recommended for altering consciousness, this music could be used to accompany what some schools call Objective Prayer.  It can act as a carrier wave. Tum Records.

After lunch I headed outdoors to a cool, not quite drizzily overcast, sun spot, beautiful Paris day. Underground to the Metro to Montparnasse capturing local street/atmosphere assemblages on video for a future project.  Then again vectoring below the streets,  Metro to Opera, a historic building built in 1669 for the National Opera.  It's right around the corner from Cafe de la Paix which I also videotaped from a variety of angles.  This cafe is where Gurdjieff did a lot of writing.  It's also the site of the one plausible meeting between Gurdjieff and Crowley.  I thought it interesting that on the side of the Opera building was inscribed Académie Royale de Musique, its official name shortly after it was built, and that it was right beside a primary communication spot for Gurdjieff.

"For Attali, music is not simply a reflection of culture, but a harbinger of change, an anticipatory abstraction of the shape of things to come.  The book's title refers specifically to the reception of musics that sonically rival normative social orders.  Noise is Attali's metaphor for a broad, historical vanguardism, for the radical soundscapes of the western continuum that express structurally the course of social development."

- Ethnomusicology writing about Noise, The Political Economy of Music.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Thelema Books and Pynchon

The Angel & the Abyss

by J. Daniel Gunther

This consists of books II and III of the trilogy The Inward Journey.  The first book, Initiation in the Aeon of the Child, came out in 2009.

The Angel & the Abyss immediately grabbed and held my attention from the very first sentence:  "One of the primary goals of the Neophyte of the A.'. A.'. consists in a resurrection from a Death which the world calls Life."  I remember first hearing this idea from E.J.  Gold shortly after moving to California.  The subject and importance of Death in post-Crowley Thelemic literature seems to have been largely overlooked.  Gunther remedies this and then some in the book's first chapter, The Self-Slain.  I thought I knew most of the references to Death in AC's writings and it's relevance on the path of Initiation, but I was wrong.  The first chapter reveals much more than I knew existed and backs it up with a coherent, well-referenced  narrative that inspires and feeds work along these lines, the lines of  using Death as an extremely effective method of initiation.

Gunther appears an extremely knowledgeable scholar in a multiplicity of traditions in the areas of religion, mythology, psychology and philosophy as well as being a foremost Thelemic authority.  He's adept at pulling out obscure references making cogent points that explicate Thelemic theory and practice.  This gives a lot of backbone and strongly establishes the high probability that Thelema presents a new formulation of an ancient tradition.  Gunther's scholarly discourse always engaged me, it never got dry or boring due to the sense conveyed that he lived it, he speaks with the authority of experience.  Not that I always agree, but his thinking always appears original, stimulating and creative.  If anything can make Crowley and Thelema academically respectable it would likely be this trilogy.  Many of the quotes from ancient writings are reproduced in their original languages in the footnotes which include Coptic, Greek, Latin, Egyptian Hieroglyphs, and Sanskrit.  Some might find this pedantic, but I suspect future researchers will delight with the depth and broad scope this brings.

The content of The Angel & the Abyss resembles what the radical post-structuralist philosophers Deleuze and Guttari call a rhizome.  A rhizome is a metaphor borrowed from botany where it describes an underground mass of roots that  mostly grow roots laterally though they can still grow shoots upwards.  In D & G's model, rhizomes represent an aggregate of multiplicities that communicate laterally to other multiplicities.  In other words, there appears no set program or specific goal apart from the broad framework labelled the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.  Since this will manifest uniquely different for everyone there endeavors to be a realization of multiplicities both in the sense of many individuals and of the multiplicities of experience in any one individual.  The KCHGA seems more of a dynamic endless becoming than a static being which agrees with the rhizome view.  As mentioned, this book transmits a multiplicity of information: historical footnotes, obscure religious rituals, archetypes, Egyptology, tarot, interesting cross-references in Thelemic writings to name a few.  All of the diagrams included look great communicating useful nonverbal data.

A more comprehensive review of this book is HERE

Gunther not only supplies a strong foundational background and context for Thelema, he not only brings to light much that seemed obscure in Crowley's writings, but he also expands upon Thelema proving that it exists as a living dynamic school open to new creative insight. 

Homemade Magick

The Musings & Mischief of a Do-It-Yourself Magus

by Lon Milo Duquette

This book nicely complements the previous one as it seems as practical, straight-forward and down to earth as the other is theoretical and esoteric.  Duquette shows you how to get  down to business from right where you are sitting now.  Though ostensibly a beginner's guide to practicing magick, and it is an excellent one at that, I find that Homemade Magick can be read on more than one level of interpretation.  To my eye it offers useful information to the experienced practitioner as well as the beginner.  It's always useful to review the basics, but there also appears multiplicities of meaning that transmits advanced knowlege on deeper levels.  Something gets invoked here that goes beyond an experienced Magician instructing students.  Perhaps this is the mischief part?  For instance, the first real page of content starts with a quote:

Intent is the mechanics through which spirit
transforms itself into material reality

Deepak Chopra

This has a footnote which reads:

1. Deepak Chopra, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004) p. 115

Below Chopra's quote is a photo of a collage of inspirational words and phrases with the caption:

"Constances "dream board" placed squarely over the washing machine.

To me this page looks like a deceptively simple yet powerfully effective opening dedication which underscores the homemade aesthetic of the whole book.  Strong magick.

The first sentence of the Prologue and the book reads:

Like my father and brother before me, I was born in Southern California and journeyed to rural Nebraska to find a bride.

As seems obvious already, Duquette is extremely generous with inviting us readers into his life, his family and home revealing many practical details of functioning as a magician in contemporary society.  The book is engaging, easy to read yet has a lot of depth.  It could have easily been subtitled Autobiography of a DIY Magus.  I particularly liked the section on Magical Weapons.  It sparked some new insights.

A more detailed review lives HERE

I recommend Homemade Magick unreservedly.  There appears a lot more to it that will eventually meet the eye.

Progradior & THE BEAST and The Magical Record of Frater Progradior

 both by Keith Richmond

These have both been out since 2004, but are now out of print and often expensive on the used market.  I was fortunate to find these recently at a decent price.  Frater Progradior is Frank Bennett, an Englishman who relocated to Australia spearheading magick and esoteric practice into that continent first with Theosophy then with Thelema.  He spent time with Crowley at the Abbey in Cefalu.  His record of that time reveals what it was like to live and work there, a valuable addition to other accounts by different residents and visitors.  Bennett is the person whom Crowley was discussing the HGA with relative to the subconscious mind when something Crowley said triggered a profound epiphany in him that lasted a few days at its peak intensity.  Crowley then suggested that he go on a magical retirement to consolidate the experience.  It encouraged Crowley to work diligently and furiously at completing Liber Samekh which was his adaptation and expansion of the Bornless Ritual for the purpose of attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.  Crowley did finish it in time for Progradior's retirement and dedicated it to him.

Frater Progradior could safely be called one of Crowley's senior students.  Richmond does an excellent job creating a vivid portrait of him without a whole lot to go by.  Much of his personal archives were destroyed by a crazed son who objected to and completely misunderstood his lifestyle.  I find these kinds of accounts helpful for getting a sense of the atmosphere of the Hermetic mileau back in that day; useful history.  Richmond includes a copy of Liber Samekh in The Magical Record.  That kindled my interest in that ritual which I'd never really explored before.  I found a good synergy with reading Liber Samekh while listening to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.  His Cosmic Music also works well.  They seem like twin recordings.  The bass line for A Love Supreme sounds very similar to the bass pattern in Lord, Help Me To Be from Cosmic Music.

Another REVIEW

Mason & Dixon

 by Thomas Pynchon

This is by no means a review.  Mason & Dixon is included here because it appears a powerful magickal text worthy of serious study and application.  Yes, the book certainly seems multi-level, a rhizome of multiplicities, and I'm only focusing on one, rather extensive, strata of the assemblage, but this strata, the layer of magick,  seems rarely touched upon by Pynchon exegesists though it appears blatantly obvious to me; also blatantly obvious that TP writes with as much hierophantic authority as the other authors mentioned here.  If you like first rate literature, superb dry humor, whimsy, history, political opinions, puzzle solving and much else thrown in with subtle and wise magick instruction then you might, as I do, find Mason & Dixon in your library alongside other classics on the subject.

One review I read closed the piece with the statement: "Simplicity and clarity, I presume, would bore him..." implying that Pynchon never writes simply and clearly,  Au contraire, I must respond.  If one recognizes that the strata of magick exists in full force inside this tome then some statements do appear blatantly obvious as when magick first gets explicitly introduced ( it appears implicit from the get go) on p. 67:

Mason makes quick Head-Turns, to the Left and Right, and lowers his Voice.  Whilst you've been out rollicking with your Malays and Pygmies, ... what have you heard of the various sorts of Magick, that they are said to possess?"

This paragraph reflects the range of esoteric communication and reference from the explicit question at the end to the qabalaisticly significant correspondences at the beginning.  This same range even turns up on the front cover with an explicit image in the center and two word fragments above and below that carry qabalistic relevance related to the central sign.  

If the image portrayed by the stylized ampersand still mystifies you can always turn to the top of p.261 for a straightforward explanation of the cover.  

The writing style of novel ostensibly reflects the style of the period it writes about.  In that time, mid 18th Century, it seemed common for all nouns to get capitalized.  Pynchon doesn't do this to them all, but it does afford him license to capitalize much more than normal thus allowing much freedom to place emphasis on different things.  Some reviewers find this an annoying kind of affectation while the alert qabalist correctly recognizes this as another method of communication.  He also apparently uses common spelling and vernacular of the period allowing him to get away with things like adding a "k" to magic.

Notariqon is a branch of Qabala that derives messages from acronyms.  Pynchon seems to make capitalization choices along these lines frequently.  For instance, in the paragraph mentioned above from p.261 that explicitly describes the front cover, one sentence begins: " Even Quakers are out in the Street, ..."  When you add the caps, E+Q+S you get 165 which has one meaning in Crowley's dictionary ( 777 and other Qabalistic Writings) of "to make them know," exactly what this paragraph accomplishes with the front cover.

Three years ago I wrote a blog on Gematria that concluded with a look at the significance of the number 68 in Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy.  I also mentioned that Robert Anton Wilson used the SC notariqon prominently in his fiction oeuvre - Schrodinger's Cat, Sigismundo Celine, Celine's System.  SC = 68.  Both Eric Wagner and RAW had the impression that Pynchon read at least some of Wilson's Historical Illuminatus books before writing Mason & Dixon.  I don't doubt this as I've seen clear references to Wilson in other Pynchon books.  The Historical Illuminatus trilogy also transmits qabala and the strata of magick both explicitly and obliquely.  I mention this now because Mason & Dixon shows the SC combination to what can only get called an excessive degree.

In that blog I wrote:

The most simple interpretation:

68 = 6 and 8

6 = Tiphareth, 8 = Hod, the Sephiroth which relates to communication or transmission. Therefore 68 could mean the communication/transmission of Tiphareth.

68 also relates to the realization Crowley made in  The Paris Working about the identity of Christ and Mercury.  In the Book of Lies chapter 68 he associates this with Manna, divine food.  Within the first sentence of M & D Pynchon takes us into "the great Kitchen"  and describes the tantalizing food cooking there.  In certain Sufi schools the kitchen is considered the heart of the community.

Not that there don't exist other interpretations for the prevalence of the SC combo.  Like any qabalistic motif, it appears a rhizome i.e. multiplicities sending out roots of significance to other multiplicities.  It might be beneficial to study the tarot cards associated with S & C, Art and the Chariot in the Thoth deck, and note how they synergestically relate and create.

On p. 479 a clear description of Gematria is given, a glance at the inner workings of the magick strata in this novel.

The overarching story of two surveyors/astronomers, Mason and Dixon, exploring and scientifically  mapping out unknown territory metaphorically resonates with the practice of Magick.  The archetype of twins turns up prominently.  Mason and Dixon are twins in their vocation.  The context of the novel is that their story is being told by Reverend Cherrycoke to a family gathering.  Two of the children are twins named Pitt and Pliny so that either one could be the Elder or the Younger, in imitation of historical figures, and because no one knows who was born first.  "Twins" is the last word on the first page.  In the Thelemic pantheon, Horus, the guiding force of this aga, is said to be a twin god comprised of an active aspect, Ra Hoor Kuit, and a passive or silent aspect, Hoor Pa Kraat.

By their names, Mason and Dixon suggest a male/female, yin/yang type of binary unit.
Ma-son = yin, Dix-son = yang through common slang.  Charles Mason does appear the more introverted and reserved of the two while Jeremiah Dixon seems far more outgoing.  He likes to party and chase women.  The famous line they charted, the Mason/Dixon line was commissioned to draw a border between the then Provinces of Pennsylvania and Maryland.  The names of those territories also suggest a male/female binary unit by the same logic, in this case one that gets separated and divided.  This seems a very apt metaphor for the internal process of an Aspirant making their way through the desert of the Abyss.

Another yin/yang binary unit presents itself in the first page as he describes a piece of furniture:

"... excepting a sinister and wonderful Card Table which exhibits the cheaper sinusoidal Grain known in  the Trade as Wand'ring Heart, causing an illusion of Depth into which for years children have gazed as into the illustrated Page of Books..."

Wand'ring - wand = yang, ring = yin.

I am just scratching the surface, but I think you get the drift.  A thick volume of commentary could easily be written on the strata of Alchemy and Magick that exists in the Pynchon novels Mason & Dixon, Against the Day, and Bleeding Edge which all connect with each other on that level.

The ending looks very nice and continues the theme of exploration:

"We can get jobs said William, "save enough to go out where you were," said Doc.
"The Stars are so close you won't need a Telescope."
"The Fish jump into your Arms.  The Indians know Magick."
"We'll go there.  We'll live there."
"We'll fish there.  And you too."