Billie Holiday remixed, and Belfast, and Cocteau Twins…

A couple more… for it be late and sleep not yet happening. So wandering the realms of youtube, coming across a bunch of new things and revisiting some not heard for quite awhile.

Including this gorgeously sad remix of Billie Holiday by Bent:

And this one, featuring a sample from Hildegard von Bingen and a full two minutes of decelerando at the end, which always brings back a certain June night and a field near the town of Glastonbury, Somerset. 150,000 people off their heads in one form or another. Someone I love re-emerging from the shadow of the Wall. The sun slowly suffusing the eastern sky with a billion shades of orange and pink and red.

And since I happened to mention a certain combination of colors… the unspeakably sublime Cocteau Twins…

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“but this world … will be shaken by a whisper”

From the exquisite album “Nommo” by Slovo, which a couple of summers ago I couldn’t stop listening to and which always sucks me in. Slovo is a project of Dave Randall’s and there have been two releases so far along with various remixes.

The vocals on this one are by Kirsty Hawkshaw, whose voice I’d heard for a long time without ever really knowing who she was, on account of those famous backward samples from Opus III on Orbital’s “Halcyon”

Some really beautiful visuals on this too.

I always think of this paired with one of their versions of “Empires Fall,” since I edited the two together for a personal compilation once. Can’t locate it at the moment, but it’s the one with just the 7/4 guitars of “Weebles Fall” and the Charlie Chaplin sample from The Great Dictator (1940) layered over it. The one that goes (and this seems somehow appropriate to quote today post-election):

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor, that’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible – Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another; human beings are like that. We don’t want to hate and despise one another.

In this world there’s room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life could be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goosestepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in. Our knowledge has made us cynical, and our cleverness hard and unkind.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities life will be violent, and all will be lost. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture, and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me I say: do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress, the hate of men who will pass, and dictators die. And the power they took from the people will return to the people, and so long as men die, liberty will never perish…

the Dalai Lama’s letter to President Obama

“Please accept my congratulations on your re-election to the presidency of the United States.

“When you were elected in 2008, you inspired the world with a call to take responsibility for the problems we face as global citizens. Since then, you have made earnest efforts to live up to that great hope and trust placed in you by the American public. I believe you have been re-elected now in recognition of that effort.

“When you first took office, I remember writing to you that the world places great hope in the democratic vision and leadership of the United States and that I hoped you would be able to shape a more peaceful world, bearing in mind the poverty, injustice and deprivation suffered by billions of people. The need to address these issues remains pressing today.

“As you know, it is over a year since I handed over all my political authority to the elected Tibetan leadership, but as just one among the six million Tibetans I want to thank you for your steady encouragement of our efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the problems in Tibet. I am very appreciative of your support for our Middle Way Approach, which I continue to believe is the best way for us to ensure a solution that is beneficial for both Tibetans and Chinese. Given the recently deteriorating situation in Tibet, of which the tragic series of self-immolations is a stark symptom, I hope your Administration will be able to take further steps to encourage a mutually acceptable solution.

“I am presently on a visit to Japan, and am pleased to send my prayers and good wishes for every success in your second term.”

nice one America

I feel more uplifted with regard to the election results than I assumed I would. Yes, at a federal level we have only vestigial democracy in this country. The electoral system is broken and almost totally corrupted by money, as is the federal government itself in various ways. Media discourse is deeply debased, barbaric even. The platform of one of our two major parties has gradually become more and more dogmatically and frighteningly reactionary.

And yet… I couldn’t help but be moved by the president’s victory speech last night – its graciousness, humility, inclusiveness. This man – in character and temperament, in intelligence – is probably the best we will get for a very long time. And there is some real vindication of this in the fact that he ultimately prevailed against an endless barrage, from Day One of his presidency, of not only intransigent opposition but disinformation and slander, at times crude and ugly beyond belief.

I guess what’s also contributing to this feeling is seeing the 18-29 age group increase its voting percentage this time around, which was unexpected, and the black and latina/o turnout, despite all the efforts of suppression. And of course watching our appallingly destructive “war on drugs” finally get a couple of real, solid blows. And seeing New Hampshire end up with its four-person congressional delegation, plus governor, being all women. That’s truly, truly awesome… And Obama winning even Virginia and – it looks like – Florida too.

Somehow, in spite of myself and everything I know about the state of the country and world, about how nothing has really changed congressionally or – with regard to the system as a whole – structurally, I’m kind of a little bit moved today. Note the disclaimers! – we’re a right mess, no doubt about it. We don’t recognize the reality of complete interdependence, and because of this we get everything – to one degree or another – wrong. We can’t (yet) see our way through to a world without scapegoats and enemies, beyond war mentality.

Obama too is not free of this vision, not free of imperfections in judgment and policy. But I appreciate his gentleness and thoughtfulness, his genuine respect for others and openness to different perspectives, and his extraordinary calm, qualities positively required in his job these days as we look towards a number of exceptional challenges.

Nobody should have the amount of responsibility on their shoulders that he has. But since it seems that he does, I can only hope that more and more of those who over the past four years have sought nothing other than to tear him down, regardless of the cost, will recognize how much of a moderate the president truly is. His heart, I believe, is progressive, but by temperament and style he is rather conservative, and this is actually a pretty ideal combo in a US president for these times.

Maybe, just maybe, this election result can bring about a little less rigidity of view. I know I know, hard to imagine these days. But I think most people really long for that. With just a bit of non-partisan, good-faith support, some fine things could yet be accomplished.

Sandy (2)

(continued from below)

And the results of that unfolding can only be experienced elementally. Earth yields and collapses, water expands and engulfs, heat/fire is generated and consumes, wind overpowers and destroys. Living through an actual earthquake we suddenly remember earth, real earth, not the chemical composition of soil. Maneuvering through turbulent sea or sky we remember, in our bones and blood – not “H2O” but real water, not a mere list of gases with approximate compositional percentages but real air. Our very emotions, kinds of insight, styles of personality, along with all our bodily processes, correlate remarkably beautifully and profoundly with these fundamental qualities of energy – symbolized for example by the five colors of Tibetan prayer flags.

The entirety of taoist practice and Chinese medicine, too, emerges out of elemental sacred vision and experience – again five energies, as it happens, though seen and worked with in somewhat different ways from the Indo-Tibetan. I know very little about other systems than these but enough to say that wisdom traditions in every continent seem to have arisen out of this kind of awareness.

By contrast, what does a purely scientific – that is, fundamentally conceptual and analytic – way of understanding what is “elemental” have to tell us about ourselves? About how we actually experience our lives, day to day, moment to moment? Copper, phosphorus, bromine, praseodymium: these truly are abstractions utterly disconnected from our bodily human reality. They take their places within an elegant and revelatory periodic table, yielding crisp, pristine, purposeful answers to a multitude of material concerns. And at the same time … they have nothing to say to us as we meet, personally, the phenomena of our inner lives in every instant.

I’m as much a product of my times as anyone and I’ve been experiencing Sandy, yes, as a rational phenomenon that can be “explained” via translation into meteorological language. But at the same time … there has been something, no not sentient, but in any event truly, fully alive taking place in “her.”

Today while walking, for instance, I couldn’t help but sense the closer presence of the storm. Vastly weakened from its peak, it is now passing about as close to us here as it will, and somehow this truth registered despite mostly gorgeous mild weather this last day of October. It announced itself in astonishing cloud formations and in the smell of the air, a sense of something mighty, commanding complete respect, having been discharged, of release and decline. Of the return to harmony after so monumental a display of power. Uneasy reprieve (those clouds belonging, after all, to the very same system that pulverized NJ and NYC), a feeling of some giant gliding past, all of us tip-toeing and holding our breaths as it were, hoping to avoid notice, lest maybe this Sandy character might change its mind and decide to go out, after all, with just one more bang…

a thought on Sandy

Ultra-clever apes as we can be, we “developed” Westerners have seen fit to banish all elemental/energetic understanding from our universe. All “ordinary magic,” all sacredness.

We “know” that earth, water, fire, and air are not “real” elements but rather incoherent, primitive categories of “developing,” pre-scientific cultures. We know that there is only one possible way of understanding the elemental: conceptually, via thoroughgoing analysis. In fact, really, we can’t any longer conceive that there could be an alternative mode of seeing.

We know that the universe is really made up of Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium and so on, all the way up to … Flerovium and Livermorium now, it looks like. It never occurs to us that these too are actually human creations, abstractions. Except we also know that at the sub-atomic level all that solidity breaks down in very peculiar ways difficult to conceptualize. In fact at that point it all looks rather like what the buddhists call space – their fifth element, the non-material one of accommodation/complete openness which makes all form and phenomena possible. Which makes all combinations of the other four possible.

And yet, how interesting it is that for example we also give our hurricanes names. Human, mortal names, as befits a would-be democratic age, but names all the same. How is this so very different from the practice of cultures all over the world in naming deities of Ocean, Thunder, Fire, particular territories of the earth, the animating spirits of individual animals or plants? We no longer say Briareos but rather Sandy or Irene, but the impulse is the same, isn’t it?

The objection of course will be: ah but we don’t actually believe there’s a sentient being in there somewhere, animating that storm with purpose. This is true, but also not quite the point.

An energetic or sacred understanding of reality is not at all antagonistic to a scientific one as such. The two modes of perception simply operate in different registers, different realms in a sense. Side by side with all the explanations of why this storm was so unprecedented and powerful, with the hourly projections concerning trajectories, timing, wind speeds, rainfall, surge heights, another form of experience could yet be sensed within the discourse, dimly but unmistakeably. Underpinning the assumption of pure rationality lay, in fact, an attitude of awe, and fundamental incomprehension. Something like the “beginner’s mind” of Zen.

With all of our knowledges, we will never capture a storm in the pure abstraction of concept. We know, too, that we cannot master a storm. We may split atoms in a kind of ultimate display of techno-analysis, but even the terrifyingly murderous weapons that can be produced from such cleverness are still no match for an “entity,” that is to say a process, like Sandy. So we may only sit, and watch, and wait, as something far bigger than what our comprehension can encompass … unfolds. In its own sweet time.

(to be continued)