Friday, November 06, 2015

Elijah and Weather Warlocks

He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ I Kings 19:11-13
Tomorrow evening the oratorio Elijah will be performed at Bridge St UC and it will be a powerful musical experience. Elijah is one of those enigmatic and God-driven biblical figures who is a fitting subject for such a grand musical enterprise.
What did Elijah hear in the raging storm of the wilderness when he fled Ahab, the evil monarch? And was there music in the silence? Read this Orion piece about a musical initiative which "plays" the weather
QUINTRON, an experimental musician from New Orleans, has invented an instrument called the Weather Warlock. It’s an analog synthesizer that plays, and is played by, the rain, the wind, the sun, the slide of the thermometer’s mercury from one temperature to another. The synth’s base station, which lives in Quintron’s home studio in the Ninth Ward, is a box studded with knobs and switches. Fifty feet away, on the front porch, sensors mounted to a post detect changes in kinetic energy.
Says Quintron: “Analog electronics are breathing things, physical elements of the earth, very touchy and squishy and beautiful, and if you let them hold hands with nature, it’s pretty fucking awesome what they can do together.”
Indeed. For the past week I’ve been streaming the Warlock’s strange, dreamy, drifty, meditative music on my laptop, listening to it through headphones. A drone without beginning or end, an E major chord that goes and goes, it reminds me of the ambient electronica I loved spacing to back in high school. Lying in bed, eyes closed, the song spreads wide in the sky of my mind, morphing slow as a cloud, twitching with lightning, trembling at dawn and dusk. It rises and falls. It pulses. It pushes forward without thought or haste, twenty-four hours a day, all year round.

Says Quintron: “I wanted to make music that feels like looking at a fire or staring at waves, something where it’s repetitive and the same but also always fluctuating and bubbling with unexpected differences.” The Warlock succeeds in this task. It creates textures, fabrics of mood, not symphonies. In a sense, the instrument inhabits a space between nature and art. On the one hand, it gives voice to the more-than-vocal world: the latitude and dew point and moment-to-moment specifics of place that we don’t normally think of as music. On the other hand, the harmonies and tones the Warlock produces lack the structure and conscious intent of all that stuff we do tend to think of as music: the Mozart concertos, the Led Zeppelin riffs.

Says Quintron: “What happens when we take away the human design, the artistic choice to play this or that? What happens when an instrument’s not being played by anybody with any sort of emotion or desire, when it’s just kind of being plucked by blind random weather fairies?”
Eyes tight shut, headphones on, I feel as though I’m hearing this question both asked and answered. Despite lying perfectly still, some deep part of myself is in motion, moving as it has moved countless times before when those blind random fairies, those sprites called raindrops and sunrays and hailstones, plucked at the sensors of my own animal body. I dream. I drift. Memories come and go—lazy afternoons in a hammock, evenings floating across a calm lake, blizzards on alpine ridges, dry desert air, a double rainbow, a dragon of fog, a sweaty t-shirt clinging to my back as virga gauzes the far horizon.

Says Quintron: “I can imagine giving these synths to various climates all around the world. I can imagine tide sensors. I can imagine snowstorms.” The song swerves as a gust rushes up the street in New Orleans.

Okay, the general weirdness of this, not to mention the use of the word "warlock," would have some making the sign of the cross. To me it sounds at least intriguing and maybe even fascinating.

What are your thoughts? Oh, tickets at the door for Elijah!

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