Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tangier Day 2 Hamadsha

Onward from here.

12/16/13 Tangier, Morocco

Jay said to record the morning prayer call so I got up a little before 6am opened the wooden shutters and carefully held my recorder with it's built-in condenser mics out the window to take an audio photograph of the sounds at dawn.  I did hear a call to prayer, distant, but cutting through the still, fresh air.  All the muezzins nowadays use microphones through small Voice of Islam P.A.speakers positioned high atop the mosque's minarets for maximum effect.  They actually do broadcast quite far.  Usually, somehow, they have exactly the right amount of distortion on them suggesting the sound the edge of a classic rock vocal only in Arabic.  Even a crusty old Agnostic such as Yours Truly can relate to the musicality of an Adhan, an Islamic call to prayer, without having a clue to its literal meaning.  The passion and devotion of the muezzin, to this listener, does what music does ie opens up alternate worlds, lets in new information.  It makes a crack in the world between the tonal and the nagual to use Castenada's terms.  The key to getting out and riding an Adhan to a brief, natural, psychedelic high - exterminate all rational thought, drop all concepts of religion, culture, whatever you "think" it's supposed to be and just LISTEN!!!

From Wikipedia, the free and truthful encyclopedia:

The adhān (Arabic: أَذَان[ʔaˈðaːn]), (or azan as pronounced in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, ezan in Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina), azon in Uzbekistan, is the Islamic call to worship, recited by the muezzin at prescribed times of the day. The root of the word is ʾadhina أَذِنَ meaning "to listen, to hear, be informed about". Another derivative of this word is ʾudhun (أُذُن), meaning "ear".

Recording prayer calls is something I try to do as much as possible in Moslem countries, so even though this first one was distant and out of focus to some degree, I expected there would be other chances for a closer Adhan.

Bags packed and hauled downstairs, sitting in the lobby area of this house with Bill waiting to move out.  Everything in this space reminds me of an invisible, non-human presence.  The overhead light coverings - lamp shades is too inadequate a term - are silverish metal cylinders that come to a conical point.  Many small apertures of various shapes and sizes are cut out of these cylinders making a variety of small windows for the light to shine through in a psychedelic mosaic of forms.  The light dances and flickers about the room, and could be why this space feels so alive.  It reminds me of the Dream Machine that Brion Gysin helped design and promote.  Another crack between worlds.  I'm getting high just sitting here.

A small sitting room with a fireplace off the lobby is the one area where the wi fi hotspot works to connect to the world.  On the inside wall above the arched entrance resides a shrine to Isis in her Christian guise of Mary, Mother of God.  Various small artifacts, photos, ceramics, paintings, delicate porcelains adorn the wall, giving this atmosphere a soft quality.  A well-fed, fuzzy-haired cat introduced itself to me, very friendly.  A couple of other cats roamed about the premise, and I remembered seeing a rather large number of cats on the street yesterday in  Tangier.  I wondered if this is where William Burroughs picked up his love for cats.

Driving down to the Square where the Rif Cinema is located,  a 1938 Arthouse theater.  A traffic roundabout in the center of the square revolves around a stone walkway that circumambulates a large basin of Moorish stonemasonry design. People sit around the walls of the masonry freely relaxing, waiting, tasting the artistic perfection of this day or just resting.  Water flows from a 3 tiered fountain in the center of the basin.  A mosque resides on the southern end of the Square where I'll try to capture a good, loud prayer call. After filming and recording in the Square, we'll be recording a Hamadsha ceremony.  We talk about set up time on the way down.  I ask for 90 minutes, Eric says it will take that long to set up the lights, also he has an interview to do before the music.

Recording ambience in the Square invisibly to the world; getting mostly traffic, but even traffic has locational clues, site specific sounds that makes for its own, unique music.  The traffic in LA sounds much different than the traffic in Tangier, but what would happen if you edit and mix the two together?  Paul Bowles heard the car horns of Paris sounding like the trumpets at the start of Gershwin's An American in Paris.

A Production Assistant told me the time of the noon adhan, the prayer call, 12:10pm or something like that.  Got all set up for it on a grassy knoll by the mosque, but then was called away to record a woman in a restaurant.  Actually did catch the adhan, but it was from the balcony of a restaurant admist the foreground of people chatter, glasses clinking, sea gulls crying and wind blowing in from the sea.  The raspy muezzin voice still cut through with as much intensity as Iggy Pop's vocal singing Cold Metal (first song on the Instinct album).

The mint tea here is delicious.  Adam and I drank some while waiting to get kicked out of this restaurant and find a different one.  The owner caught up in some issue about his establishment being filmed.  The woman didn't care, and neither did I.  The tea was very good and we'd had exactly enough time to enjoy it outside in the pleasantly mild afternoon. Very minty and sans sucre, best I had in Morocco, or anywhere for that matter.

The Hamadsha are a Sufi Brotherhood.  They trace their lineage back to two Sufi Saints from the 18th Century, Sidi Ali ben Hamdush and Sidi Ahmed Dghughi.  They are also said to have close ties with Aisha Qandisha said to be the most powerful female djinn or spirit.  She's also been called the djinn of threshold and danger.  She seems one of the most common archetypal characters that the ecstatics who go into trance allow, or find themselves possessed by.  The Hamadsha use their rituals for purposes of healing.  According to Vincent Crapanzano in The Hamadsha: A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry (a most unappealing title), they use music and dance to dramatize the illness and to access the trance state where they make an accommodation with the djinn responsible for the disease.  I don't know what the intention of today's ceremony was meant to be.

The location for their invocation was downstairs in a fairly small space a few blocks down a hill into a congested shopping district area with throngs of people on the streets and in the shops.  All kinds of cheap goods available everywhere you look; I remember seeing lots of shoes and T-shirts.  I was told that the location was a sacred space where a Saint, or rather their body, was buried.  It did have unusually good acoustics, a reflective synergy of stone walls, carpet on the floor, and lots of people - men, woman, and children dressed in robes.  The sound was clear and alive.  The musicians were able to balance themselves acoustically quite naturally.  An intimate, powerful small room sound, like seeing the Rolling Stones at the El Macombo in Toronto circa 1977 except this was a Sufi Brotherhood, but I get ahead of myself.

Transportation was again by these loud motorcycles attached  to big metal carts.  I had all the equipment I needed ready to load by the fountain.  The first haul was all the camera and lighting equipment.  I waited patiently for a good 20 - 30 minutes for my ride.  The negative ions from the water must have had effect as I felt very relaxed amongst the bustle of people, traffic and commerce.  It would be the last relaxed moment of this day.  This wait to get to location would go against the 90 minute set up time.

Arrived on site, shoes off at the door, we are treading sacred ground.  I get a rundown on the musicians: 4 drummers, 2 rhaita players, 4 singers, then look for a room close to the stage, but out of frame to set up the recording gear.  They found a back storage room with just enough room to set up my 3 small pieces of equipment and sit on a crate behind them, bit of a balancing act.  Started setting up mics, always a negotiation with the camera people - clip-on lavaliers for the 4 singers, 414s left and right for stage ambience. Going for some floor mics for the drums when Jay tells me to stop and get ready to record.  Fortunately, the acoustics were co-operative and the recording came out well despite not enough mics.  The rhaitas cut through nicely over the thick percussion.  The vocals were mostly acapella, and when starting to play drums they did so softly while the singing was still happening, then really got going after they stopped singing.

About one minute before filming, the set quiet in preparation, all of a sudden for no apparent reason a loud crashing sound comes from right across me in the storage room, I think a metal bowl had fallen.  I didn't even consider what might have caused it, just seemed like an announcing gong of sorts for the music.  Afterwards, I noticed a snow white pigeon perambulating about in that area and figured that's what did it.

I was told that Sufis go into trance to connect with God because they don't believe in The Prophet.  Other trances are darker because they involve spirit possession. The person who told me this seemed to feel that this Hamadsha fell into the latter category.  I don't know why, I had almost the opposite experience.

The musicians are in traditional costume, colorful robes and head gear, lots of white and red, seated in place.  The small room looks about 80% full, expectant, hushed participents in flowing robes, children, women and men, fellow travelers through these mystical trance spaces accessed by music.  The expression of heart, body and mind fused together through sound.  The carrier wave that takes you out.

They started slow, four part acapella singing sounding a little Eastern Orthodox liturgical at a dirge tempo rising in passion and emotion as they progress.  I don't know what language they are singing in, probably a Moroccan Arabic dialect, but I do hear what sounds like the word Allah at various times.  I use it like a grapple hook in a video game for bhakti fueled expansion keying into a trance space overview traveling pretty fast, but not at the speed of light, after all I'm on the job.  It felt very emotionally uplifting.

The whole ceremony had a continuous progression to a climatic finish, reminding me of  Ravel's Bolero, another Sufi inspired classic.  In this case, it ended with loud uptempo drums and piercing rhaitas with many people dancing about.  The main singer/chief invocant had taken off his mic to  move out into the dancing crowd stirring the mood into an ecstatic release, an offering of sorts.  Immediately after they stopped I started backing up the files.  It doesn't exist until it's backed up.  Just as I started, a large determined woman with a baby tied to her back bulldozed her way into the space moving past the recording gear to a closet on the other side which turned out to have baby supplies.  It was a very small space, I became nervous and put my attention around the gear to try to protect it. You can encounter all kinds of strange resistance to powerful music so never take chances.  Everything turned out ok for all three of us.

Different Hamadsha group at Volubilis, one of our future locations

The lighting and camera crew broke down and were out of there at lightening speed.  The Sound Department took a little longer despite various "helpers" attacking the mics and stuffing them into cases.  The pace felt about the same as a roadrunner with a wiley coyote on its tracks, I couldn't move fast enough.  Rode atop the equipment facing backwards when getting whisked uphill back to the Rif Cinema Square on a blue chipped motorcart.  Looking at the people and street going backwards felt like looking at a film in reverse.  Still very high and altered by the music and space.

Also, this seemed like a quasi-military operation - drop in with the gear, execute the mission in unknown territory in a time sensitive and efficient way, then pull out, get extracted.  Riding on the back of the cart, it felt like I was getting extracted from a world I had just soared in.  Going to the next thing, which was the evening meal; catering was set up in a restaurant on a street behind the Square.  I'm given vague directions, but see a familiar face when I get close.  Made the mistake of eating something I couldn't identify. 

Tonight we drive to Ketama, over 5200' up in the Rif Mountains.  Going there to film a ritual celebration for a child's circumcision.  Shortly before we're about to leave, the evening prayer call commences.  Fortunately, the trucks were parked right beside the mosque. I quickly go into record and get a close version of it, though traffic was loud.  We pull out of Tangier as it's starting to get dark.

Ketama is known as the hashish capital of the world.  Even as far back as 1959 it was recognized as such by Paul Bowles in Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue.  As we get close someone remarks that this valley was completely full of marijuana plants in the Spring when they went here to scout locations.  The story goes that this part of the Rif Mountains never got conquered by any of the colonial imperialist forces who tried, they've always been independent.  They are also secessionists, but the government pacifies them by discreetly allowing them to continue making their product without interference.

After all this talk it began to feel like we were going into the hidden valley of Hassan I Sabbah (where the word "hashish" derives) , or some other magical realm.  Unfortunately, I also became quite nauseous especially when the road became very windy, constantly going around mountain curves.  They had to stop once for me.  The crisp night air felt great.  Standing by the side of the road looking into the darkened valley, it definitely seemed somewhere outside the ordinary Universe, in a land with a different set of physics even in the haze of my physical distress.  Narnia or Tolkien spring to mind, not to mention Wonderland or the film Something Wicked This Way Comes.  Twenty minutes later we stop again for something else.  I get out again and this time see a nearly full moon with the largest halo I've ever seen around it, taking up nearly half the sky, awe inspiring and spooky.  I tried to space out for the rest of the drive, only about another 20 minutes, to dissociate from the physical pain.  It worked to some degree, but I was real glad to arrive at our destination and stop moving.  It had been a long day.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Jilala in Tangier

This continues the December 2013 Moroccan adventures.  Last installment is here.

I relish the idea that in the night, all around me in my sleep, sorcery is burrowing its invisible tunnels in every direction, from thousands of senders to thousands of unsuspecting recipients,  Spells are being cast, poison is running its course; souls are being dispossessed of parasitic pseudo-consciousness  that lurks in the unguarded recesses of the mind.

  There is a drumming out there most nights.  It never awakens me; I hear the drums and incorporate them into my dream, like the nightly call of the muezzins.  Even in the dream if I'm in New York, the first Allah Akbar! effaces the backdrop and carries whatever comes next to North Africa, and the dream goes on.

- Paul Bowles, Without Stopping

12/14/13  Marrakech

Awoke very early, 5am or so to pack and to record birds singing at the break of day.  Bill had told me about a spot in the garden by the pool where the collaged mosaic of multiple repetitive bird calls, whistles, hoots, hollars and screams converged nicely.  Headphones on, volume up, stereophonic bird symphony buzzing through my head; staying mostly still, walking around a little bit.  They paused at one point, I thought they were done, but it was more like a brief intermission as they started back up after a couple of minutes. Why would I even want to translate these layered aviary ministrations into musical terms and references?  They create their own ordered harmonic environment outside of human musical parameters.  Space is the place as Sun Ra liked to say.  The feeling or message I got from the experience of this recording was: this sure is a psychedelic world ...

Checked email from the one spot in this deluxe luxury hotel where the wi fi internet worked. It was exactly 3.2 meters from the Front Desk, and you had to hold your device at a 37 degree angle, give or take a few degrees, to get connected.  Got a message with some Pro Tools configuration instructions from Paul, the systems tech in New York - the last step needed to get our recording software working on a different computer.  It was now all systems go with the multitrack recording rig.

Nothing on today's schedule except driving to Tangier.  The crew is assigned to different passenger vans.  I'm traveling with Bill, Jay, Eric, David, Austin, and another Production Assistant.  Our driver is Jamal Charaf whom Jay calls Mgouna after his hometown, a future stop on our tour.  This will be our vehicle and travel configuration for the next 2 weeks, the rest of the trip except for the end when we go to the desert.

Arrived in Tangier around 8pm just as the jaws of night were closing in.  It looks much darker with very few street lights shining and no visible moon. The "hotel" is in the Kasbah part of town, the old town with its narrow, winding, maze-like streets.  We could only take the vehicles so far, hoofing our luggage an extra 1/4 mile or so up stairs to a small terrace which connected to the street with our hotel.  A small group of djellaba covered men lounging on the terrace observe our portage.  The eldest says to me as we go by, "You have come to Tangier for the key, yes?"  I don't know what he's talking about though he sounds serious and sincere.  There's a glint in his eye and a half smile on his face.  As there appear to be many locks with many keys in life, I can't disagree, so I laugh and say, "yes, I'm here for the key."  From my point of view, everywhere I go I look for the key.  I don't always find her, but usually I do.

We had stopped for a meal at a roadside restaurant on the way up where I noticed Sufi inspired designs in the metal grillwork that surrounded the outdoor eating area.  Previously, I'd seen examples of this in Mali at the home of a bandleader we stayed at.  The food was good too, a step up from the empty fast food type of fare American highway reststops typically serve.

The lodgings in Tangier's Kasbah felt closer to a bed and breakfast than a hotel; like a beautifully furnished small New York brownstone that is home to someone.  What it lacked in 5 Star hotel amenities it made up for with high aesthetic interior decorating, warmth, and personal care.  I found rose and orchid petals carefully arranged on the bed in my room along with a small ceramic bowel overflowing with homemade baked goods and cookies.  A large bottle of water was on the night stand.

I set up Pro Tools in the room and began making safety back-ups and rough monitor balances of what we had recorded so far.  A couple of hours later Jay stops by and checks out the Gnawa music and the Heddaoua rapping.  He seems excited by what he hears, it's the first time he's had a chance to check the audio. 

12/15/13 Tangier

Breakfast on an outdoor rooftop terrace looking out onto the congregated roof landscape of the Kasbah buildings all joined together like an intricate Escher drawing. Piping hot Turkish coffee, fresh homemade yogurt, pastries, breads, pears, fresh OJ, applesauce, hardboiled eggs breaks the night's fast.  Cool crisp morning air, faint smell of the sea.  A harsh angular sun, a little too bright glaring off the mostly whitewashed building exteriors, and not yet warm enough in the crystal blue cloudless sky sharpens the tensions and polarities in the tangential, to me, shoptalk. Resolved or sidetracked, differences set aside by going to work.  The common unifying goal called getting something done.

Tonight's mission consists of recording a group of Jilala musicians.  Jilala is the name of a Sufi Brotherhood dating to 12th Century Baghdad.  Like Gnawa, its music puts some of the participants into trance and also reputedly has healing powers.  They play flutes, drums including deep pitched frame drums, and sing.  The ceremony tonight celebrates the return home of a wayward son who had wandered abroad for many years.

After breakfast Bill and I went for a walk and found the nearby Production staging area where the Catering Department had established camp.  It was at the top of the hill just on the other side of the wall where you can see the Mediterranean Sea empty into the Atlantic Ocean and see Gibraltar just across the way.  A Location Manager assigned an assistant named Mohammed to me who didn't speak English, but still proved extremely helpful.  I gave him my Arabic name, Aziz.  We were also given a driver whose vehicle was a motorcycle welded to a heavy metal cart for hauling equipment.  I rode in the back with the gear hanging on for dear life as the bike and cart careened at reckless speed through the Kasbah's tiny streets and alleyways occasionally scraping the walls of the buildings and narrowly missing a group of elderly tourists.

Walked into the house where the event would take place.  It looked run down, unused, and somehow kind of lonely like it had been familiar with splendor and glory of grander days, but now left neglected.  The area behind where the stage would be, an alcove off the central large room, served for a trash dump.  I had to carefully navigate it at one point to string cables.  Paint peeling, dusty tiles, dirt on the floor, it desperately needed some UBIK, if anyone knows the P.K. Dick reference.  Well, I was here now.  Several people were busy doing a preliminary cleaning that would eventually transform this sad building interior into a movie set.  I would wait until they finished washing the floors and the water dried to begin setting up. 

Looking around the joint I stumbled across a man, a young woman - his wife I assumed , and the Assistant Art Director, Nazik.  The man introduced himself as the owner of the property, his name goes unrecorded.  He asked if we would like to hear the history of this domicile to which I readily agreed.  The woman told me her name which I didn't hear clearly and said she was a film editor.  I misunderstood believing she was the film editor for this film, but she was here to help as a camera assistant.

This house is called Palais Ben Abbou.  It is 5 or 6 centuries old serving originally as the residence of the Sultan's harem.  Later it became the house of the Pasha who ruled the area.  More recently, in the late 1980s,  it was the site where the Rolling Stones recorded with the Master Musicians of Jajouka for one song on their Steel Wheels album.  According to the owner, they came here and did this in homage to Brian Jones for the recording trip he made to Jajouka in 1967.

The main courtyard where we'll record has beautiful ceramic tiling on the floor and small ceramic wall panels that look like a series of blue, black, and dark yellow diamonds connected by white borders.  The paint is fading on many of the floor tiles giving a rust red hue.  This square courtyard, approximately 30 feet per side, has a raised stone platform in a room off of one end that appears the place where the Pasha had his throne.  It is in this room where the owner tells his story and I write these notes.  In front of this platform I see a design of a series of concentric circles inside a square with what looks like a blossoming flower with petals in the center.  Needless to say, it looks quite like a mandala.  The owner explained that all this gorgeous tiling had been covered with a layer of checkerboard black and white tiles.  The original designs were discovered accidentally when a worker on a ladder dropped a hammer and one of the black and white tiles shattered revealing the aesthetic underneath.  Once discovered, they stripped the entire Palais of this modern facade.

In the center of the courtyard in front of the staging area where the musicians would play was a small fountain base filled with water sprinkled with stemless red and white roses.  Four transparent glass lamps lit by candles were placed at the cardinal points around the fountain.  It reminded me of a passage from the Song of Solomon 4:15: A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon..., which the Grateful Dead also reference in their song Ripple from the American Beauty album.

Setting mics to be invisible in the frame was the next challenge.  I had liked the way the C24 stereo tube mic had been flown overhead by the grip department in Essaouira.  So, just to see if it was possible, I pointed to a spot in mid-air above the stage and told Thomas, who was already there running electric, that I wanted to put a mic there.  He immediately came up with a plan to rig it there, but then later it turned out that it would still be in the frame.

This miraculous ability to set up a mic anywhere imaginable set me thinking about a project I've always wanted to do which is to rig powerful shotgun mics on tall buildings and high points to record the collective ambience of cities.  For instance, I would put four, one for each direction, on the Chrysler Building to record Midtown Manhattan, a set of mics on the Woolworth Building or the new World Trade Center for Wall Street and downtown New York, the Basilica in Paris to capture the Montmartre area and North Paris, the Eiffel Tower for the other side, atop Big Ben in London, on the famous statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro, the International Commerce Center in Hong Kong, the Sydney Opera House, the Burj Khalif in Dubai to get some Middle East representation, etc.  When I collected all of these recordings I would then process and splice them in and out of each other a la William Burroughs while also making them sound as musical as possible, maybe overdubbing other musical elements  ... and see what happens.

Back on Earth in Morocco, new drama was about to unfold with the Pro Tools laptop computer saga.  Although we had found a solution using a different computer, Production wanted to fix the computer that had been brought down by pirate software.  I would have preferred to fix it by tossing it into the ocean.  To that end, they brought in a crack team of young computer experts dressed in white lab coats who completely reformatted the internal hard drive and then reinstalled the Operating System.  The Pro Tools X demo software was installed and the necessary drivers to interface with the O3 mic pres.  Pro Tools booted up, it looked like it would work.  Previously, the program wouldn't even open.  The computer team left me to connect the mics believing everything was in order, and took the good laptop, the one that we knew worked, with them.  They told me we had an hour to go until filming.  I got moving.  Quickly connected the mics, went to check them and... nothing.  No input at all.  Resisting the urge to panic after trying everything I could think to do to get them working, I phoned and insisted they bring the other laptop back.  They brought it right away, and everything worked, but I was getting weary of these last minute scares.

During a lunch break I had a warm reunion with Bachir Attar and Cherie Nutting whom I hadn't seen since 1991 when we recorded Bachir's group, the Master Musicians of Jajouka.  for the Axiom album Apocalypse Across the Sky.  They both looked great, high energy and good spirits, it felt great to catch-up.  Bachir would become a principal character in the film a few days later.  Today they were here to meet Bill and to see the Jilala lila in the evening.  Later, as the Jilala group were about to begin their opening procession into the Palais Ben Abbou, Bachir asked what I'd been doing these past 23 years, and wondered if I just worked with Bill?  I asked him if he had heard of Tom Waits.  He thought for a moment, then the dawn of recognition spread over his face and he said, very excitedly in his distinctive North African accent, "Tom Waits was Paul Bowles very, very, favorite rock musician!!!"  I thought that was pretty cool, another Bowles connection revealed!

A little earlier, while waiting inside the Palais, I asked Bachir to show me where he and the band set up when they recorded with the Rolling Stones in this room.  He said the Stones were on one side of the room facing the Jajoukans set up on the other side.  They played and recorded together live.

Mick Jagger and the Master Musicians of Jajouka recording at Palais Ben Abbou.

Prior to the music, this  location, now looking like an ancient royal chamber of some kind - the lack of daylight pouring in from the open roof made the interior feel more solemn and invocational even though the movie lights kept the set brightly lit - saw a lot of activity,  photos, interviews etc regarding the family reunion aspect of the evening.  Jay was in fine form, running the filming operation like a captain gently guiding a ship threw narrow straits.  High energy, but low key, relaxed and focused.  I commented to Bill that he certainly had the wardrobe of  a young, cutting-edge director sussed out looking exactly how I would think one should.  Jay's last gig was with Martin Scorcese  so I imagine some kind of subconscious osmosis going on, a subtle passing of the Director's dna baraka torch even as far along as appropriate attire.   A couple other members of Production dressed in  elegant native costume as they might potentially end up in audience shots.    Andy Karsch, with his white turban and flowing robe suddenly bore an uncanny resemblance with Aleister Crowley in the photo that appears on the cover of The Heart of the Master.  Same facial type and complexion, and same age.  Adam Haggiag also donned Arabic garb and suddenly took on a royal bearing reminding me a bit of Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia.  The royal aura probably attests to his lineage.  His family once owned a string of oases stretching from Tripoli to Timbuktu, and his Grandfather was a respected movie mogul in Hollywood and Italy.

The difficulty recording the Jilala music would be to get a loud enough recording of the flutes and vocals without too much bleed from the drums and percussion.  The balance picked up by the ambient mics would sound overwhelmed with the loud booming frame drum and the piercing metal castanets.  I put two of the dpa lavaliers underneath the robes of the flautists to get some kind of  invisible close mic pick-up, and two for the singers.  This would have worked, and it did sound good when the mics were in place, but unfortunately the musicians played very vigorously and the mics on the flutes got knocked out of position.  During a short break between songs I asked an A.D. if I could go reposition the mics.  I got a nod in the affirmative and went out to the stage.  First it meant finding the tiny clip-on mic and affixing it back into place.  About a minute away from getting the mic back on the first flautist I suddenly heard my named being screamed to get off the stage.  I ignored them as the screams at me got louder and more passionate resounding through the room like a giant cane trying to pull me offstage.  I knew that if I didn't get at least one close mic up on the flute it would be impossible to hear the flute clearly when they went to mix.  I did get the mic in place on the first flute and knew there was no hope of time for the second one so quickly exited stage left.  The musicians seemed pretty relaxed, they weren't the ones in a hurry.  It seems some of the people going into trance got concerned that the long pause would break the spell.  Apparently, if the trance gets broken too abruptly it can lead to death ... not just a ruined high.  I had no idea of potentially endangering someone's life by positioning a mic.  No deaths were reported to my knowledge so I assumed everything ended up ok, and the flute did get recorded.

Though some found it repetitive, I found the Jilala music interesting and subtly hypnotic.  Boom boom repetitive frame drum low booming sets the course for dark directions unknown powered by loud clanging metal percussion shaking the dust off the ages, driving out the demons, providing motive force, becoming wings for this unified sonic vessel,this non-organic voyaging machine.   Underneath the kinetic rhythm drone the liquidy, fluidic flutes recalled every river you've ever known both real and surreal from the mighty Mississippi to the fertile Nile, the five rivers of Hell: Styx - the river of hatred, the Acheron - the river of pain, Lethe - the river of oblivion, Phlegthon - the river of fire, and Cocytus the river of wailing.  They mostly reminded me of the million-miled river of reincarnation, the geographic centerpiece in Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series.  After all, tonight's drama concerned the return of the prodigal son ready to take on a new incarnation in his family life.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Aleister Crowley's Sex Magick

 It's all right now, 
in fact it's a gas,
It's all right, 
Jumping Jack Flash is a gas gas gas

- Keith Richards favorite Stones song

Last summer a series of posts launched attempting to present what I know of Aleister Crowley's School in a down to earth fashion.  Now we'll look at sex magick, a subject Crowley considered of paramount importance, one found in  many of his writings.   It seems most of his rituals from about 1910  on had a sex magick component to them.  He considered it the most powerful method for practicing magick.

The story goes that Crowley became enlightened to the efficacy of sex magick when Theodore Reuss, head of the O.T.O. at the time visited Crowley around 1912 or 13 and told him that he'd exposed the Supreme Secret of the O.T.O. in the recently published Book of Lies.  Crowley supposedly said that this wasn't possible, he didn't know this Supreme Secret whereupon Reuss showed him the chapter that  revealed it.  Crowley then writes in his autohagiography, "The entire symbolism, not only of freemasonry but of many other traditions, blazed upon my spiritual vision.  I understood that I held in my hands the key to the future progress of humanity."  He doesn't say which chapter Reuss showed him.

In Cosmic Trigger, Robert Anton Wilson states that Book of Lies chapter 69, The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs! contains the O.T.O. Supreme Secret because it suggests mutual oral sex as a form of meditation.  Lon Milo Duquette nominated chapter 36 The Star Sapphire as the one with the Supreme Secret in The Magick of Aleister Crowley.  He writes, "The Star Sapphire is written as if it could be a complex act of ceremonial lovemaking."  Both chapters appear closely related.  The commentary for ch.36 says: "This chapter gives the real and perfect Ritual of the Hexagram."  Ch. 69 starts: "This is the Holy Hexagram."  Both chapter numbers have a strong relation with the number 6 which figures as they both describe the Hexagram.  36 = 6 x 6 while 69 comprises a 6 and an inverted 6.  6 indicates a solar number and also the key number for Tiphareth, the central Sephiroth on the Tree of Life.

One can infer that the OTO's Supreme Secret has something to do with sex.  I'll hazard a guess at this secret despite never having joined the OTO.  It has to do with focusing the energies raised during lovemaking and directing them, through imagination and visualization, to a specific intention particularly at the moment of release and right after.  However, this seems one of those "secrets" that can be communicated in a few minutes but take a lifetime to master.  Crowley writes in The Confessions:

" I personally believe that if this secret, which is a scientific secret, were perfectly understood, as it is not even by me after more than twelve years' constant study and experiment, there would be nothing which the human imagination can conceive that could not be realized in practice.
 ... for at present, we are compelled to admit that the superstitious reverence which has encompassed it in past ages, and the complexity of conditions which modify its use, place us in much the same position as the electricians of a generation ago in respect of their science.  We are assured of the immensity of the force at our disposal; we perceive the extent of the empire it offers us, but we do not thoroughly understand even our successes and are uncertain how to proceed in order to generate the energy most efficiently or to apply it most accurately to out purposes."

In actual fact the Book of Lies has a great deal of information on sex magick also known as sexual alchemy. Much of it appears veiled in qabala, symbolism and metaphor though it begins to get more obvious when knowing in what direction to look.  Chapter 35, Venus of Milo starts a cycle of chapters related to working with sex magick, the other chapters of the cycle are given in the commentary.

Crowley calls this a scientific secret.  That may seem an extravagant claim until we remember that one scientist, Wilhelm Reich, spent a great deal of time and experimentation investigating the uses of sexual energy which he called orgone, and which he considered a universal life force.  His beliefs about the changes orgone energy could bring about seem as expansive as Crowley's beliefs regarding the power of sex magick.  Former Crowley secretary and student Israel Regardie eventually became a Reichian therapist.  He connects Reich's ideas about orgone with Crowley's sex magick researches in The Eye in the Triangle.

Reich designed a special box to concentrate and collect this force calling it an orgone accumulator, basically a faraday cage big enough to sit in.  Faraday cages are enclosures designed to block external electromagnetic radiation.  William Burroughs consistently used and advocated orgone accumulators managing to get one built for himself nearly every time he moved.  A friend of mine told me he regularly used one but stopped.  At the time my friend was a cigarette smoker, but whenever he came out of a session in the accumulator it felt like he had never smoked before.  He enjoyed smoking, but accumulating orgone took that pleasure away.  I have not as yet had the opportunity to try one.  I have wondered what it would be like to build one around a floatation tank?

Crowley claims, a little theatrically in my opinion, to being unaware of the sexual mysticism in The Book of Lies and the importance of sexual energies in magick until Reuss pointed it out to him.  He probably didn't know what Reuss meant by the Supreme Secret of the OTO, and maybe he did have a further realization at that moment, but significant instruction on sex magick can also be found in The Book of the Law which he received in 1904.

The Book of Wisdom or Folly, Crowley's epistle to his magickal son contains much further instruction and elaborations in these matters.  A technique for focusing the energies on the intent of the operation by creating what he calls a 'Bud-Will' lives in the chapter On the Complete Formula.  He ends this short sexual ritual/meditation saying: Now then do this continuously, for by Repetition cometh forth both Strength and Skill, and the Effect is cumulative, if thou allows no Time for it to dissipate itself.  Crowley really likes using capital letters in this book!

Austin Osman Spare offers a similar, but different approach with his sigil magick and Alphabet of Desire.  Very simply, you write a sentence or phrase describing your desire.  Then take the first letter of each word and construct a sigil, an artistic collage/coherence of the letters any which way you want to put them, without repeating any letters.  You can rotate it to see in what direction looks the best, looks the most alive.  You are supposed to forget the original sentence, consciously forget the desire, and let it sink into the subconscious mind.  You then want to charge the sigil by whatever arts and skills you possess. Many people use sex magick for this purpose. The sigil creates a material focal point.

Four sex magick rituals appeared in various issues of Crowley's Equinox Volume I which Regardie collected into section V of the compendium Gems from the Equinox.  Nowhere in any of his writings is Crowley straight forward and direct with sex magick instruction.  It's all versed in complex, sometimes obscure symbolism and what one could call code.  Why, one might ask?  Medieval and renaissance alchemists had good reason to code their sex magick workings -  to avoid persecution and death from The Church.  Early Roman Catholic image makers of some ilk created a fictional boogeyman they called the Devil which appeared to personify and externalize their fear of sexuality.

Crowley may have covered his tracks because the subject and practice can get very dangerous, fraught with possible peril and pitfall, walking a razor's edge of sensitivity and balance.  In one tradition it goes by "tickling the dragon's tail."  If you tickle the dragon too much and wake him up too fast it can feel extremely uncomfortable and overwhelming.  It's also known as the awakening and rising of the kundalini.  The unpleasant  side effects of forced accelerated kundalini get recounted by Gopi Krishna in his book Kundalini, - sensations of fire, unbearable heat, bleak depression, extreme sensitivity to everything.

 Crowley apparently had direct experience with followers misunderstanding his tantric teachings particularly in reference to the Agape Lodge that operated in Los Angeles around the end of his life. As recounted in The Unknown God by Martin Starr, Crowley basically fired the head of the Lodge, Wilfred Smith.  Though I don't recall the specific reason he gave, he must have obviously thought that Smith wasn't doing a good job.  It seems the Lodge may have turned into a bit of a love cult with Smith placing emphasis more on sexual conquest and endurance than on the postbiological activities, voyages, or magick it's meant to fuel.

Further evidence for this supposition might be found in the science fiction classic, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.  Heinlein had visited the Lodge, attending at least one party there, and was friends with Jack Parsons who took over the leadership of the Agape Lodge when Smith departed.  Plausible rumor has it that Heinlein got the assignment to write a popular account of Crowley's teachings.  I call it plausible because Stranger does read as an excellent presentation of Crowley's basic gist with the added benefit of only indirectly referring to him once with the mention of The Book of the Law thus avoiding the association of these liberating ideas with his sinister reputation.  In Stranger, Heinlein seems to satirize, ridicule and skewer the whole love cult aspect of the new religion presented by the central protagonist  Valentine Michael Smith.  I suggest that this may have been a commentary on the Agape Lodge. 

Robert Anton Wilson, Crowley interpreter extraordinaire, puts a significant amount of sex magick instruction (and Crowley) in his fiction.  He appears to have given away one of the basic secrets for getting off the ground when he quotes Jesus from the gonstic Gospel of St. Thomas at the beginning of the 1988 edition of The Universe Next Door

 Not until the male become female and the female becomes male shall ye enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

This seems an allegorical not literal instruction. Contemporary psychologists tell us that every male has a feminine side and vice versa so it may be a matter of changing the balance.

 E.J. Gold shares a similar view in his book Alchemical Sex (p.35-36):

 Most human beings in the sense of those falling under the category of organic male gender together with the corresponding automatic gender identification and vanities necessary for the maintenance of their gender identification, are notably lacking a sufficient poetic sense of wonder. 

Their tribal preoccupations are primarily with hunting and killing - if not with a spear or bow and arrow or a chipped-flint knife - with a briefcase, pick and shovel, typewriter, or blunt instrument

.Only a very small, utterly unmeasurable in the statistical sense, percentage of men stay behind with the women to become a shaman, while the other men go off joyfully to pursue the hunt, or to raid a nearby village. 

To become a real shaman one must strive to understand, and even to sense, from the women's view, the process of inner evocation. 

The instruction of changing or relinquishing, even temporarily, gender identification seems symbolically all over The Book of Lies appearing immediately in chapter 1 with the formula of N.O.X. 

Very simply, these letters can mean:
N = nun = Death (tarot)
O = ayin = Devil (tarot) = male sexual energy
X = the Cross which Crowley equates with the phallus in this chapter, but it can also mean The Star.
Of course the formula always goes death/rebirth, also mentioned in this chapter.  Therein lies the magick.  Not mentioned in this chapter - the space in between death and rebirth where the actual reprogramming or magick occurs which Tibetan Buddhists call the Bardo.

I found a different formulation of the same quote from the Gospel of St. Thomas that may prove helpful:

Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, then you will enter [the kingdom]

The Book of the Law has excellent general guidlines for sex magick. Among my favorites:

 II:70:   There is help & hope in other spells. Wisdom says: be strong! Then canst thou bear more joy. 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!

Aleister Crowley's Thoth tarot deck contains quite a bit of sexual alchemical imagery. See Lon Milo Duquette's excellent Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot for insight along those lines along with Crowley's own explanation of the tarot in his Book of Thoth. Reading those two books back to back sheds much light on the alchemical, astrological and the rest of the symbolism in the cards.

Many of the trump cards seem to describe processes as well as techniques. One card in particular, The Sun, seems almost a photographic snapshot of an energetic process. The two genderless cherubs joined as one in joyous dance and posture could easily represent what John Lilly calls the Dyadic Cyclone - a working couple in motion - in full bloom, with the rays of the sun symbolizing the energy they release. This energy appears palpable and sensible to the participants. A visual display of the line:  Every man and every woman is a star.

 An audio equivalent of this picture can be found in the album Day of Radiance produced by Brian Eno featuring Laraaji on a heavily treated and multiply overlaid hammer dulcimer. An experiment I tried in the early 80's when Walkmans first came on the scene was to walk around my hometown, Calgary, Alberta, playing Day of Radiance while sensing/feeling/visualizing this card and seeing what effect, if any, it had on other people.  It sure made me feel high.

The name Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of qabalist James Joyce's Ulysses, could indicate a literary allusion to this card, Leo being the lion and all.

Christopher Hyatt (his magickal name), another progeny of Crowley's, wrote an excellently practical, straight-forward, easy to understand introduction to sex magick called Secrets of Western Tantra that seems a safe and gentle approach to a practice that will eventually blow your mind.  Hyatt combines very simple breathing techniques with Reichian muscular relaxation techniques to prepare the bodies for the stronger and more intense energies they will experience later on.  This can be a good place to start.  Strengthening attention also seems a requirement.  The space changes will speed up as the body gets left behind requiring a greater than normal level of attention to maintain focus.

It should be said that the spiritual energy we talk about raising - the orgone, baraka, shakti, the force etc. whatever you wish to call it can get raised through many other, non-sexual methods.  Reich made a lot of experiments using orgone without sex including affecting weather patterns.  We all know that reading a good poem or listening to a special piece of music can suddenly open tracks into an expansive mood or set the soul on fire.