Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Exploring the extraordinary

Just a short review of the recent Exploring The Extraordinary IV conference in York. I attended most of Saturday and Sunday, but alas missed the Friday talks. There were many fascinating discussions and presentations over the weekend and it was  hosted with a great degree of consideration and expertise for the subject matter by Hannah Gilbert and Madeleine Castro.

Talks were loosely thematically grouped. The first session on Saturday comprised of two overlapping groups  from the Open University (Nadia Bartolini, Sara MacKian and Steve Pile), who were pleasingly extrapolating urban geographic research to the realm of the extraordinary. What was particularly welcoming for me, was the gentle sense of inclusivity between the research papers and the experiential reports. My talk was in a mid morning session, between Sarah Sparkes and Jack Hunter. Sarah's talk on GHost continues to gain in richness, drawing in elements of her own practice, her recent extensive research into haunted media and the intelligent canvas of GHost's  Hostings conferences.

Jack Hunter's Expression of Spirithood paper had particular interest, I feel, for Western ceremonial: most explicitly in the practice of the  assumption of Godforms. Jack highlighted a kind of ritualised choreography in states of possession, where certain gestures (such as rolling of the eyes) serve as kinaesthetic cues for full on possession states. The parallel with magical invocation is clear, but also I would suggest similar ritual protocols have a role in healing practice. Very complementary to Jack's talk was Zoe Bran's shamanic excursion, a very unusual and fascinating pathworking. In a way it reminded me of the use of the subconscious as a psychological lateral thinking tool, as expounded in Chris Evans' Landscapes Of The Night. The general consensus of attendees was that this kind of experiential workshop is certainly something that ETE would like to develop and offers very exciting ventures for the future, particularly when one considers the imaginative use of landscape and some incredible locations near at hand in Yorkshire.

Dr Christel Mattheeuws', "Turning the dead to keep the alive" , a report on the Madagascan death rite of the Famadihana touched on the same fascinating terrains, I felt, as Edgar Herzog's Death Demons, though   this particular rite seems like a deliberate attempt to look the tremendum of mortality in the eye. Where Herzog reports the earliest practice of fleeing a deceased tribe member, the Famadihana immerses the bereaved literally in the vicinity of the remains of the deceased. 

James Thompson's paper was an empirical analysis of Psilocybin users' reports of their experiences and also a speculative attempt to discern a common set of reality constructs across the spectrum of psychoactives. I'd heard David Luke's The God of The Thousand Eyes - discussing the certainty of machine elf visions when taking taking DMT - which James also mentioned, but I particularly enjoyed the delivery of this talk - there was a wry humour in the reading of some of the experiences, that both deconstructed the visions whilst also highlighting their ineffability and the difficulty in linguistic articulation of the extraordinary.

Sunday morning grouped two very different talks on music and the paranormality. Adam Potts discussed the possibility of immanence and infinity in Japanese noise music, focusing most explicitly on the work of Merzbow. Actually I wholeheartedly experienced this a few years back, when Merzbow was playing the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. He turned up late, as his car had broken down on the motorway. Looking completely unflustered he wandered onto the stage, switched on his laptops and then beatifically unmoving, constructed his noise machine with such presence that light fittings started falling off the ceiling. Chaos taken to its furthest asymptote of noise becomes calm and timeless.

Adam's talk followed very nicely into Melvyn Willins' demonstration of paramusicology during which Melvyn played some of his field recordings -  including a very moving excerpt of chap who is possessed by the voice of Caruso. A nice contrast between Adam's and Melvyn's talks was the delivery media of their demonstrations. Adam playing Merzbow through the laptop, Melvyn bringing along an 80's style tape deck. They seemed very fitting devices for the very different gambits of their presentations. The solid state infinity of Noise music and melancholic nostalgia of the parlour room cassette recorder.

Wake For A Darkening Land

Following ETE, I headed out to Danby in the North Yorkshire Moors. Paul Devereux's Spirit Roads
discusses a corpse road called "The Old Hell Way" that runs from Fryup to the ancient church at Danby, and I've wanted to go there for ages. The church is dedicated to St. Hilda. Robert Graves makes the etymological (although possibly poetically licensed) connection between Hilda and the Norse, Helga, but also extrapolates a link between Hilda, Hel and Freya (Goddess of the afterlife). So it would seem the church name and the corpse road are synonyms of each other. 

Inside the church there was an embroidered banner for St. Hilda with some runic lettering to the side of the figure. As far as I can tell they are:

Hagalaz (h), Isaz (i), Laguz (l), and Mannaz (m). The first three make total sense in transliterating Hilda, but Iam confused by the use of the Man rune. Anybody with any suggestions as to why this has been used, please do get in touch. Iam very fond of rune poems themselves and I took some recordings of the church and the environment. We're hoping to construct a piece from these rune poems together with the samples I took. 

I was pleased also find that part of  "The Old Hell Way", had the modern name of "The Old Causeway", which fits with the notion that the name causeway is a corruption of "corpse way".

I discovered this dead rabbit in the churchyard, laying like some weird pagan subversion beside a tombstone. An echo of Rowan the sacrificant in Wickerman or a Gravesian poetic prop... "och it's just a silly hare..."

The sunset, I was delighted  to observe was suitably John Martin  - the cloud formation creating a curiously biblical swirl, a fugue for a darkening land...

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