Monday 8 August 2016

Radionics Radio - 'An Album of Musical Radionic Thought Frequencies' (Sub Rosa)

Radionics Radio's An Album of Musical Radionic Thought Frequencies is released this month on the wonderful Sub Rosa label, available either as a download, or as a CD (which is accompanied by a 20-page illustrated booklet detailing the history of radionics' relationship with acoustics).

During the course of the Radionics Radio project many people enquired "isn't radionics a quack medicine?"  The answer is not so simple.  Over the years there have been many radionics researchers and practitioners, all characterised by a sincerely held belief that our scientific understanding of reality isn't all it seems.   Overlooking the ins and outs of radionic philosophy, Radionics Radio focusses firmly on the mid-20th century technologies, particularly those of Oxford's Delawarr Laboratories who were dedicated to establishing a physical basis for radionics.  This is because one of the most fascinating electronic soundmaking devices ever produced emerged from this laboratory.

Delawarr Laboratories' experiments with electronic sound began in the late 1940s, culminating in 1962 with the emergence of the Delawarr Multi-Oscillator.  The purpose of the Multi-Oscillator was to provide its operator with a means to find combinations of audio frequencies that related to thoughts (in a process similar to dowsing).  To those unacquainted with radionics, this may seem odd, yet composers do that selfsame thing whenever they compose: a theme is held in the mind (e.g. "a horse") and the music is intuitively built up.

In practice, the clinical Multi-Oscillator produced very dissonant drones in odd tuning relationships.  The sounds weren't viewed as music by Delawarr Laboratories, although coincidentally, the soundmaking techniques paralleled developments in avant-garde music.

Radionics Radio was launched in 2014 as an application: a web-based reworking of the Multi-Oscillator.  Controversially, I believe it's the UK's first ever publicly-funded radionics 'device' (funded by the Arts Council in a roundabout way).  The app was a single oscillator that users could control whilst thinking of a thought, intuiting any moments where the frequency corresponded with the thought.  A list of intuited frequencies would be sent in alongside the thought or phrase, and I would re-constitute them as drones to be broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM.  Gradually, sets of different thought-frequencies were sequenced in time, or even merged if harmonies corresponded.  Ultimately, a system was developed where microtonal scales could be built-up from thought-frequencies.

As I'm not a radionics practitioner, the app's main purpose was to collect sonic material for my compositions.  These compositions (such as 'Peter send me money so I can fix the boat you promised') are microtonal due to the nature of the frequency selection (which either "occultly" embody the thought, or are merely arbitrary selections, depending on your viewpoint).  It is during the process of composing with the frequencies that a form of mental searching takes place (comparable to radionic technique) to musically capture the mood of the thought.  Initially, Resonance FM listeners sent in thought-frequencies, but over time, more and more radionics aficionados from around the world experimented with the Radionics Radio app, producing submissions that somehow seemed more "plausible" (e.g. frequencies spread out more evenly)

An Album of Musical Radionic Thought Frequencies is the culmination of compositional complexity.  It only contains a handful of submissions (out of over two-thousand) that I have musically-worked-out as pieces.  Initially, I treated all the thought-frequencies as immutable chords, but soon realised that octaves and sub-octaves could be created from those frequencies without interfering with the unique harmonic moods (or detracting from radionic philosophies, viz. remarks on sympathy between octaves in Matter in the Making [1966])

An example is shown here.  One of Delawarr Laboratories' original thought-frequency sets is "Resentment" (8Hz, 59Hz, 80Hz, 130Hz and 350Hz).   Although it's a microtonal run of frequencies, it can be broadly represented on a score:

Microtones cannot truly be reduced to standard musical notes, but a full scale of "Resentment" in all its octaves and sub-octaves would look something like this:

And so this is the basis of the Radionics Radio album, which marks the end of my Sound and Music sponsored composer residency at Resonance FM.  A massive thank you to everybody who helped with this intricate project, and to all users of the Radionics Radio application!

Resonance FM will be repeating early episodes of the Radionics Radio radio series starting on Thursday 11th August.

Sunday 24 July 2016

Post-Electronic Music and Electromagnetic Force Fields at Hackoustic 2016

Yesterday I had the unexpected honour of giving the first presentation at the first ever Hackoustic Festival at the Machines Room, Hackney.  Prestigious as it sounds, this scheduling was a rather a chance outcome of other performers dropping out at the last-minute.  Nevertheless, it was a privilege to present an overview of my work there and it seemed to resonate perfectly with the Hackoustic theme.  I spoke about post-electronic music - something I've been steeped in since an epiphanic acoustic experience on a train in 2004.  Post-electronic music has its pros and cons: miraculous agitations are possible (that is, emergent sonic effects), but the instrumentation is often cumbersome and difficult to transport.  Inspiringly, some other Hackoustic performers had collapsible instruments: a very useful feature indeed, and something that should always be factored into apparatus-building at the planning stage (but which is easier said than done when working with found objects).

My presentation was prefaced with a preamble on the value of electromagnetic feedback force-fields in the resonating of objects.  Through the use of electromagnetic relay coils (akin to large EBows), it is possible to establish the elusive element of sustain in the Attack-Decay-Sustain-Release post-electronic system.  Attack, decay and release are all qualities achievable physically, but the sustain parameter - achievable with electromagnetism - completes the electronic / acoustic envelope control analogy.  Crucially, it allows physical waveshaping operations to be performed.  The summation of many years of these electromagnetic post-electronic experiments can be heard on the upcoming Oscillatorial Binnage album Oscillations: Post-Electronic Music (which should finally be released this year), featuring myself, Fari Bradley, Toby Clarkson and Chris Weaver performing on post-electronic electromagnetic assemblies (which actually tended to couple acoustically through the table to become a single super-instrument).

A multi-player instrument from our Oscillatorial Binnage post-electronic recordings
Somebody asked where further information on post-electronic music can be found, so the main purpose of this blogpost is to provide links to these two newly-uploaded papers: 'Miraculous Agitations: On the Uses of Chaotic, Non-Linear and Emergent Behaviour in Acoustic Vibrating Physical Systems' and the shorter 'Dumpster Diving and Post-Electronic Soundmaking' (originally published in the 2012 and 2014 Leonardo Music Journal respectively).  The former may serve as a primer or manifesto on the technique.  Both were written at a time when access to workbenches came easily - alas, it is all too easy to take such spaces for granted, as I'm currently in more cramped conditions.  Space is the major issue in the construction and recording of physical instruments.  Most of the aforementioned Oscillatorial Binnage album material was recorded at the wonderful Borde Basse studio in Southern France where we were spoilt for choice with vastnesses of space (hauling the stuff there was our necessary endurance for this luxury).  And so spaces such as the Music Hackspace (to which the Hackoustic Festival is attached) and its satellite workshops must be cherished.  Such spaces are the stronghold for acoustic experimentation in a digital world...

Post-electronic preparations at Hackoustic 2016

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Further remarks on synchronicity and coincidence...

One of my research interests is in old anonymous literature and how digital archives may be used to uncover the names of those long-unknown authors.  A few years ago Fortean Times published my exposé of the 1935 book Crook Frightfulness (written by an apparently delusional man pursued by evil ventriloquists).  As mentioned in the previous blogpost, this month, the Fortean Times #341 (June 2016) contains the fruits of my latest research - unmasking the identity of the author behind a strange book called Atomic-Consciousness published in 1892 - written by John Palfrey.

I found Atomic-Consciousness a few years ago at a junk shop, and considered it unusual enough to merit further investigation.  It turned out that the book was pseudonymously authored by a man who continually experienced (and instigated) coincidences.  He tried to turn this to his advantage with his attempts to force wished-for thoughts to recur as real events.  Coincidentally, this month's Fortean Times also contains Jenny Randles regular column which happens to be about coincidences too, or rather, Jungian synchronicity.  Randles observes first-hand that talking about coincidences causes them to happen.  This rings very true, because during my research into Atomic-Consciousness I decided to keep a detailed synchronicity diary of my own, just like its author did - full of events and dream-fragments - and every few weeks a few convergences of thought were noted.  But whether this was simply selective-perception or not, I don't know.  Most were recurring frames of inner thought rather than appreciable coincidences.

I'm not a natural diary-keeper and I've stopped maintaining the diary now, but my final synchronicity entry is a worthwhile example...  In the Fortean Times' 'Atomic-Consciousness' article, I cursorily cited Noel Edmonds' 2006 book Positively Happy.  In many ways Edmonds' book is similar to Atomic-Consciousness - it's full of semi-autobiographical anecdotes supporting the idea of willpower as a force to actualise wants.  The main difference is that Edmonds focussed on upbeat positivity, but Atomic-Consciousness is laced with profound negativity.  Its down-at-heel author was prone to ranting, particularly in later abridged editions where he raged at the lack of recognition of his genius - the publication of Atomic-Consciousness was said to be "a thunderbolt falling from Jovian sky".  Palfrey writes with great grandiosity (and weirdness): "Atomic Consciousness at first aroused, on account of originality in avalanching concept of thought, revelation and teaching: and by contravening established customs and opinions, with engrafted beliefs, counterblast of cyclonic furore in all classes..."

On the day I received the Fortean Times, I observed the 'Atomic-Consciousness' article and noted my mention of Edmonds' book, briefly wondering whether the jump between 1892's Atomic-Consciousness and 2006's Positively Happy was a too-surreal juxtaposition.  Then... synchronicity struck!  Half-an-hour later, I read on a news website that Noel Edmonds "blasts the BBC in YouTube video" where he dressed as a character named "Priscilla Prim", a nominally comedic video that some commentators interpreted as a "bizarre" and "bitter" rant at the BBC with reference to his own previous TV work.  This instantly conjured to mind John Palfrey's bitter Atomic-Consciousness effusions, but also the fact that John Palfrey wrote under the pseudonym "James Bathurst", just as Edmonds adopted the guise of "Priscilla Prim".
It seemed a very strange coincidence.  Mystery can be enjoyable, but to be frank I'm glad I'm no longer keeping a synchronicity diary, as expending energy in merely noticing these things can be distracting.

Saturday 28 May 2016

Fortean Times - June 2016 - John Palfrey aka "James Bathurst" - Founder of Modernism?

June's Fortean Times (#341) contains my feature that unmasks the self-proclaimed Founder of Modernism "James Bathurst" - now identified as John Palfrey (1846-1921) - visionary author of Atomic-Consciousness (1892) (and two smaller editions: Atomic Consciousness Reviewed [1902] and Atomic Consciousness Abridgement [1909] published with the help of his brother-in-law William Hurrell Popplestone).  The odd title is listed in the 1926 Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature, and it's only now that the author can be positively identified (which was no mean feat - but I'll save the investigative ins-and-outs for another blogpost). John Palfrey was a working man plagued by coincidences (or synchronicity, as Jung would later term it) which he often initiated himself through contemplative thought.  Atomic consciousness can be seen as analogous to Jung's collective unconscious, except that it actualises thoughts as events.  Atomic-Consciousness has too many dimensions of oddness to summarise here.

Atomic-Consciousness (1892)
The details of Palfrey's life and work appear in Fortean Times #341 (out now - and jam-packed with many other interestingnesses!).  This blogpost will offer another perspective.  What I find striking about Atomic-Consciousness is the seething resentment of its downtrodden author, particularly in the two later editions.  Under the guise of "James Bathurst", Palfrey later wrote that "gradually the theses propounded [in the 1892 book] became verified in all countries, regenerating conformably thereto, the field of science, and formulating the New Psychology.  Then a host of plagiarists voraciously consumed the fruits of my wisdom and labour".   There is a grain of truth that Atomic-Consciousness was rather ahead-of-its-time in its synthesis of science and the occult, but it was an obscure self-published book, and unknown to most people.  What was happening, Palfrey claimed, was that his thoughts were being intercepted: "my ideas taking flight as they come, the lesser or greater in resuscitation or origination, to sickening repetition of continuance by thrice hated parasite pests in profusion abounding".  He believed that the moment he conceived any novel phrases, they would be immediately stolen, later to reappear in print.  The only remedy was "deeper abstraction" (whatever that means).  'Abstract' would certainly be a suitable description for Palfrey's prose in the two abridged editions.

The original 1892 Atomic-Consciousness began with a humble apology asking the reader to bear in mind that its author was an unschooled working man.  By contrast, in the 1903 and 1909 abridged editions he furiously ranted in purple prose about the brilliance of his original work.  He titled himself as "Founder of New Psychology, the New Age [...], the New Mysticism, and Modernism".  Embittered by the lack of recognition, he blustered: "My sciento-philosophical work was the last and greatest accessible within finite apprehension; subsequent chance discoveries of manipulative wireless telegraphy, and the X rays, though of practical importance, were insignificant beside the profound problems expounded in my book".

Perhaps Palfrey is, in fact, the Founder of Modernism?  The anxious coveting of originality and the abhorrence toward plagiarism is a symptom of the modernist condition.  Indeed, he seems to have experienced the upheavals of modernity first-hand, both mentally, and as a physical confessed "human wreck" hailing from the Devon village of Whimple, "compelled to labour" in industrial towns, wishing himself to be maimed or injured during his railway employments simply to be freed from work.  His 1892 masterwork starkly articulates the plight of the thoughtful Victorian worker - suicide seemed attractive to him.  However, Palfrey was too self-regarding to champion any workers' causes: describing himself, he writes that "a man of thoughtful expression incurs from the lower ranks scoff and ridicule; so great is their ignorance" (Palfrey was, after all, gifted with an ability to intuit things most people fail to notice).  Experiencing the horrors of industry first-hand, the super-cantankerous Palfrey bemoaned civilisation, and once, when observing from a hillside a squalid townscape blotting the natural landscape, he nihilistically pondered with sneaking optimism "as to whether a few thousands of particularly developed minds, with strong will, may not cause some plague or fire to devastate 'civilised' countries".  As "James Bathurst", Palfrey was able to elevate and reinvent himself as a grandiloquent philosopher-seer with anarchist tendencies, critiquing everything, obsessed by the concept of transmissible thought energies, viewing mental processes in terms of electromagnetism...

Palfrey described how the etheric agency of atomic-consciousness causes any single thought to recur - "duality" is the law.  This means that coincidences occur in pairs, but Palfrey remarked that further repetitions may follow ad infinitum "if one bestows on a second or successive occurrence that thoughtful contemplation accompanying the first".  To frustrate and complicate things, atoms have polar (+ / -) properties, and since everything is comprised of atoms (including the human mind) one must therefore be "positive" or "repellant" to bring about any desired occurrences (which is a self-confident state of mind devoid of any wishfulness), and not "negative" (anxious, timid or wishful) otherwise adverse influences may take effect, creating an opposite outcome.  Because Palfrey was very emotional and downtrodden, he had difficulty maintaining the correct state of mind so conducive to bringing about his wants.

William Burroughs cruelly illustrates in The Western Lands (1987) how, when a mysterious "Wish Machine" is introduced that operates on occult principles, there is the warning: "Feed a whiny wish through the Machine, and you will soon have ample cause to whine".  On the mean streets of Victorian west-country towns, Palfrey illustrated that same unforgiving principle at work...

For more on Atomic-Consciousness, see this month's Fortean Times #341...