To Seek Nothing Is Bliss
No one desires the void.- Cynthia Way (Joanna Demers).
To be impartial means to look on suffering as no different from nirvana, because the nature of both is emptiness.- Bodhidharma.
We seek to speak of drone and emptiness. We seek to see drone as an expression of cosmic pessimism and apocalyptic nihilism. We seek to see it positioned as absolute nothingness and as void. We seek to listen to drone as a portal into the dark void. It is this void that renders us insubstantial nothings ourselves. Marcus Boon, Eugene Thacker and Joanna Demers position drone in relation to the human dissolved and swallowed whole. We seek to see through the horror of emptiness into the emptiness of emptiness. With specific reference to Sunn O)))’s Kannon and the drone compositions of Keiji Hanno, we seek to speak of drone as the audial essence of emptiness. In doing so we will focus on Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamika philosophy and the teachings of Zen Masters. This will allow us to speak of nothingness and void as sunyata and of attentive listening as a practice in proximity to zazen. It will let us point to a nonduality exceeding our terror of insubstantiality. This will prepare us for the claim that drone is a skillful means on the way to satori (enlightenment), the dissolution of ego and suffering. Finally. This will allow us to speculate that drone is the audial emptiness of emptiness itself. We seek to speak of nothing. We seek to speak nothing. We seek nothing.
Shibboleth’s drone has limited value as long as it is opposed to discovery. It is the secret kernel at the heart of a droning secretion, whose means are also its ends. Even the demystification of Shibboleth’s drone only serves to further mystify it, though it has nothing to hide. It is secreted from top-secret underground spy stations; forever extending over the horizon; a dark projection of subterranean architectural power. The things-aren’t-quite-what-they-seem Lynchian diffusion of Shibboleth’s creeping insinuations permeate the radio-waves, spilling everything yet evading discovery; a secret eminence of secret immanence.
The conductors of Shibboleth that concern us in this essay are the shortwave radio spectrum, Numbers Stations, the Duga over-the-horizon radar system, and their corresponding skywave propagations1 and skip zones2. The shortwave radio spectrum is the perfect method of anonymous secretion of the droning, invisible rays of Shibboleth. Unclaimed conductors such as Number Stations and the Duga have become sources for much speculation, giving rise to theories such as Soviet mind control and weather experiments. These clandestine stations broadcast Shibboleth, a rebel force constantly rallying clandestine operatives for unknown dark ends. The content of these stations is encrypted, and their purpose remains a mystery. The underlying feature which binds these conductors is the extreme length of time that the drone of Shibboleth is broadcasted. This is no furtive missive. It matters little what Shibboleth’s goal is. To intercept it is to become part of it. The clandestine operators of drone are no less secretive than what they are in a position to disclose. The content is the user and the medium is the message.
Shibboleth is a kind of puzzle waiting to be solved, but it must be delivered. The drone of Shibboleth, the galactic power and scope of its transmission, is necessitated by the complexity of its encryption. Numbers Stations, for instance, send enciphered messages using the crypto-system of the one-time pad.3 The extremely powerful (and virtually indecipherable), over-the-horizon secret of the Duga was first transmitted from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in July 1976, and it was detected worldwide (though it initially went unclaimed, and triangulation was required to pinpoint its source). Random, shortwave radio blasts from the Duga4 appeared without warning, sounding like a sharp, repetitive tapping noise. These random, extremely powerful bursts of Shibboleth disrupted radio broadcasts all over the world.5 But just as abruptly as they appeared,, the signals became less frequent before disappearing altogether. The reasons for the shutdown of the Duga systems have not been made public. The way in which Shibboleth imposes itself and spreads is just as important as the secret it seeks to secrete. The spreading of Shibboleth is itself shrouded in secrecy, but it is always sneaking, inserting, or introduce itself into the public domain. We intend to demonstrate how Shibboleth has gone from something defined, localized, and belonging to the past, to an a priori general form of a nonlocalizable something that has happened; from a Shibboleth defined as a hysterical childhood content to an eminently virile paranoid form.6
1 In radio communication, skywave or skip refers to the propagation of radio waves reflected or refracted back toward Earth from the ionosphere, an electrically charged layer of the upper atmosphere.
2 A skip zone, also called a silent zone or zone of silence, is a region where a radio transmission can not be received. The zone is located between regions both closer and farther from the transmitter where reception is possible.
3 One-time pad (OTP) is an encryption technique that cannot be deciphered if used properly. The crypto- system uses two identical sets of random numbers printed on numbered sheets known as pads (the "pad" part of the name comes from early implementations where the key material was distributed as a pad of paper, so that the top sheet could be easily torn off and destroyed after use); one pad is kept by the sender and the other is kept by the recipient. The original message is mathematically added to one of the random numbers on the pad. The random number used is pre-determined by the sender and recipient so that both are in sync. After Shibboleth has been secreted the random number is discarded, leaving zero possibility of decryption.
4 Duga was a Soviet over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system used as part of the Soviet ABM (anti-ballistic missile) early-warning network.
5 David L. Wilson (Summer 1985). "The ‘Russian’ Woodpecker... A Closer Look". Monitoring Times. “Also known as the "woodpecker" or "pulsar," this device has drawn much interest by the interference that it generates.” Wilson provides a detailed analysis of the Duga’s encryption of Shibboleth.
6 Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Sublime Backwash: Drone as Puncturing of the Weird Threshold
This essay will explore forms of drone music as mediums which best share the philosophy of The Weird, as originally articulated by writers such as Arthur Machen (1863-1947), Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) and H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Fascinated with the numinous, practitioners of The Weird depict the unimaginable, interrogate the unthinkable and desire the unknowable. For Machen – Welsh visionary and mystic – a hidden mystery lies at the heart of everyday life and common objects: “the sense of the eternal mysteries, the eternal beauty beneath the crust of the common, trivial things; hidden and yet burning”.[i] As Andrea Franzoni argues, the central message of Machen’s work is that it is “through the arts that the modern man can still be exposed to ecstasy, can avoid the otherwise unavoidable fall into chaos and live on the threshold between our world and the ‘world of the spirit’”.[ii] In a similar manner, China Miéville has asserted that The Weird “punctures the supposed membrane separating off the sublime”, allowing “swillage of that awe and horror ‘from beyond’ back into the everyday” – a “radicalized sublime backwash”.[iii]
I have argued elsewhere that extreme metal in its numerous forms is the sonic medium that best expresses and captures the aesthetics and philosophies of The Weird.[iv] This essay will develop these ideas, focusing on drone metal as a fundamentally estranging musical mode well suited to capturing sensations of Weird horror and existential dread. I discuss drone metal as (pseudo) spiritual practice that acts as vehicle to transport the listener through the “threshold between our world” and the “world of the spirit”[v], following Owen Coggins’ assertion that “drone metal listening is reported in terms of imaginative temporal, spatial and bodily ‘elsewheres’”.[vi] Drone metal also offers impressions of sounds from the Weird space beyond.
Drone is Machen’s “link between terror and ecstasy, that leads to the abyss”.[vii]
[i] Arthur Machen, The London Adventure; or The Art of Wandering (Newport: Three Imposters, 1924; 2014), 64.
[ii] Andrea Franzoni, ‘Mysterium tremendum: Terror and ecstasy in the works of Arthur Machen’, Disputatio Philosophica, 16.1 (2015): 159-168.
[iii] China Miéville, ‘Weird Fiction’, in The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, Bould, Mark, et al, eds. (Oxon: Routledge, 2009). 510-517.
[iv] Joseph Norman, ‘“Sounds Which Filled Me with an Indefinable Dread”: The Cthulhu Mythopoeia of H. P. Lovecraft in “Extreme” Metal’, in New Critical Essays on H.P. Lovecraft, David Simmons, ed. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
[v] Op cit., Franzoni, 168.
[vi] Owen Coggins, ‘Drone Metal Mysticism’, unpublished PhD thesis, The Open University, 2015.
[vii] Op cit., Franzoni, 163.
Re-establishing Language as a Sound System: Deceleration and Drone
This essay considers the drone by re-establishing its connection with language as a sound system; the drone will be conceptualized as the instrumental equivalent for the extension of a voiced consonant, vowel or noise beyond the limit of a human breath and tending towards stasis through its deceleration. Deceleration contributes the sense of affirmative negation present in drone and its sonic predecessor, doom. If the drone can be considered akin to the arresting of a basic unit of language in the moment of its articulation, a sound paused to resound before it can encroach on or include other units, deceleration reveals difference to be located within the drone itself. Musical works featuring drones or drone-like elements, recent work by Sunn O))), “So, Black Is Myself” by Keiji Haino and “Bass Pulse In Open Air” by Eleh, will be analysed in order to establish a micro-metonymic structure audible inside the drone which establishes a dialectical ‘switching’ between a sense of repletion and a sense of lack for the listening ear. Sonic ‘heaviness’ (Sunn O)))) produces a deceleration heading towards negative inertia; in Haino, noise is used as a method of destroying temporality. Recognising Alain Badiou’s (2007) assertion that the binary features of negation, subtraction and destruction, enable a revolutionary overhaul that is both political and creative/ artistic, we argue for the value of deceleration as a third and complementary feature.
Drone Production as a Hieroeidetic Process
In 2004 Arthur Versluis suggested that esoteric art is ‘hieroeidetic’, in that its contemplation encourages the audience to orientate their perceptions toward an imaginative field 'midway between the mundane and the transcendent’. Although discussions around esoteric art often focus on the final art-object, it is the creative process - the sense of channeling higher powers, or the imaginative unfolding of symbolism - that is of prime importance for many artists we may traditionally consider esoteric, such as painter Cecil Collins and poet, agriculturist and painter AE (George William Russell). However, these processes, and their importance to the production of art that may be deemed hieroeidetic, have only recently begun to be acknowledged by academics in musical fields. To contribute to this discourse, this paper will explore the importance of 'inner-sense cultivation’ (Noll, Luhrmann, Asprem & Taves) in the production of drone-influenced works deemed to possess hieroeidetic properties.
While some precedents exist in, for example, the music and mythos of prog-rock band Gong (who encouraged their listeners to commune by meditating to the music at the full moon), or the visionary approaches of Coil’s Jhonn Balance, two particular artists are suggested for this study. Firstly, the American composer Kim Cascone, who has recently toured Dark Stations - a drone composition ‘for meditating audience’ – alongside workshops on ‘inner ear cultivation’ for artists. Furthermore, Cascone’s recent paper on Transcendigital Imagination can almost be read as a manifesto for hieroeideticacy in a digitally-mediated creative process. Secondly, the author seeks to approach his own portfolio of work from an etic perspective: this includes many works of ‘rural’ drone whose influences were ascribed to imaginative encounters with the genius loci. This relationship with place was further developed as part of an open-ended production technique incorporating successive iterations of improvisation, editing and imaginatively-engaged listening with the intention of presenting not only a record of experience, but and invitation for sympathetic listeners to also engage imaginatively with the sources of the music. Through an auto-ethnographic process, a framework developed from cognitive science of religion (CSR) approaches will be proposed toward an exploration of the roles of ‘special’ experiences (those deemed religious, mystical or esoteric), inner-sense cultivation and quasi-ritual path-goal processes (Taves) in the production of hieroeidetic sound works.