It feels like this post needs a little preamble. I started writing this post in the very early days of 2019, but for a number of reasons and a series of interruptions it took me quite a while to finish. This is going quite a bit against my intentions concerning this blog and these Recent Exploits posts, and the challenge will be to learn ways to be more productive and write more effortless. I hope this will be an exciting undertaking and result in content people will enjoy to read. Events that have transpired in the meanwhile will feature in the next post which, hopefully, will be coming about a bit more swiftly.
We’re well into the new year, without me having indulged into any New Years post… The following deals with last year, actually, but I am not about to embark on a a full recount of the bygone year – you can get a decent overview of my 2018 hijinks by reading through previous posts, unsystematic as that may be – but merely at the most recent items of noteworthyness… and only those, that took place since the last post in early November. Believe me, it wasn’t supposed to take that long….
It’s already November, dark times are upon us. The Light is Leaving us All, the new album by Current 93 (check out the MV for Bright Dead Star here), one of my all time favourite bands, suits the mood and topic well. After a few listens I’m tempted to call it a return to form. While that would be a somewhat inaccurate statement for a number of reasons, mostly for the fact that it’s almost impossible to identify what “form” means for a group with such a diverse output over the years, but also because while there have certainly been weaker and stronger albums, some I like more and some I’m not as keen on, it would be wrong to say that David Tibet and whoever joined him in the various incarnations of Current 93 were “out of form” at any time recently. But what I mean is, that this new album pleasurably connects with what is not only my personal favourite era but is widely considered among fans and critics as their finest period, that string of seminal albums from the 1990s, from Thunder Perfect Mind through to The Inmost Light Trilogy and on to Soft Black Stars and the brilliant Sleep has his House. Gone are, again, the rock influences, drums and distorted guitars or industrial (dancefloor?) drums that imprinted much of Black Ships at the Sky and Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain and beyond. And yet this is no step back: all the familiar elements are there, the wheel hasn’t been reinvented, but has gained a new spoke here and there and new grip and it securely travels its path through an alternate English pastoral. While more opulent in both music/sound and also lyrically, in a way it reminds me most of Of Ruine and Some Blazing Starre… which, in my book is their best album.
It was, hence, a great treat to get to see Current 93 see perform the album as well as a selection of other tracks on my recent birthday at the Shepherds Bush Empire. With special guest Nurse With Wound, the group of long standing Tibet collaborator Steven Stapleton. Sadly I missed some of the beginning of their set, but the bits I heard were rather decent. If, at that, maybe not quite loud enough. (I can hear in my mind, as I write this, my mother protesting: “Does everything have to be so loud?!”… alas. Not everything, no… and really, it wasn’t loud at all. That’s why I wanted louder… but let’s not indulge in this interjection any longer!)
After a short interlude ,spent on a pilgrimage to the merch table and then the bar Tibet & company took to the stage.
I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive and not sure what to expect, after I had left the previous concert of theirs, and also my first, which I had attended some years ago slightly underwhelmed and disappointed. Not so this time. Despite not having listened to the album before I quite enjoyed hearing it for the first time played live. Accompanied by subtle, minimalist projections which I, not generally a big fan of visuals, found nicely contributed to the mood. After a short break they played a few more songs, with Niemandswasser off Sleep has his House and All the World makes Great Blood from Of Ruine or Some Blazing Starre being the highlights of the set for me.
A great history of Current 93, Nurse With Wound and another favourite group of mine, Coil can be found in the form of England’s Hidden Reverse.
A few days later, on the 23rd, another London year had passed, making it 6 years since I took that fateful flight and started my life in a foreign land, in a foreign town. It might be worth to write a reflection on this at some point, if I can find the time and willpower. I won’t go into any detail here, because there’s still a lot to write about in this post. I’m just going to say that things took a different turn to what I had planned or expected, but by and large I’d say better:
Also I became a Zen Buddhist (or Zen practitioner as I prefer to say… but, as I read in a pretty solid argument, that’s splitting hair. Or rather, and I quote: “‘Buddhist’ just points to a practice Not a definition of identity”) This was from the appendix to Susan Blackmore’s Zen and the Art Of Consciousness where her Zen Master John Crook points this out in response to her remarks on the topic of practising Zen without affiliation to (a) religion.
(As an aside: I found myself rather amused at John’s quib: “It is easy to pass through the eye of a needle but difficult to pass the knee of an idol.”)
I’m myself not outrageously religious myself – ironically I harboured the strongest beliefs during the times I identified as a Militant Atheist- but my usual avoidance of straight out calling myself a Buddhist stem from my awareness that I know very little about Buddhism and the teachings of the Buddha as well as the fact that in many aspects I hardly live a life in tune with the precepts.
Zen is, of course, quite fundamentally different to most other forms of Buddhism, although what exactly it is I still haven’t fully grasped. I get some of the basics, sure. And I’ve read books, listened to talks, formed some ideas (should I be forming ideas? Isn’t form emptiness? Aren’t ideas part of the very intellectualising that bars the way to intuitive insight?) and by now sat through many hours of Zazen – or meditation. I’ve got a Zenbook, I named this blog for a pun that refers to it but AM I Zen? (Heavens! Nope, I’m not! But I keep practising…)
And that’s why saying “I practise Zen” rather than “I’m a Zen Buddhist seems to me more truthful and not so much a matter of splitting hair… Maybe in a few years time, or after sudden, unexpected Satori I may update that description…
Fitting my three year anniversary of first stepping into the dojo and sitting down for meditation, on October 1st, I recently not only read the above mentioned Susan Blackmore book but am, at the moment, also about to finish D.T. Suzuki’s extensive and quite scholarly Zen and Japanese culture. In it, after a concise introduction to Zen, he looks at the influence Zen and the Zen monks and masters have had Japanese culture. Somewhat in general, but mostly focusing on certain aspects such as swordsmanship, Haikus, the Art of Tea, etc. While at times highly specific, I found it a very interesting and insightful text and definitely learned a lot about Zen from it which I might not have picked up from books written about it more directly. Not saying that there aren’t those, and among those plenty worthy of reading, as well. But, of course, it’s also not just about Zen why I read the book. As I delve deeper into my fascination for those islands on the Pacific rim (yes, I’m still slowly learning the language), expanding beyond Idol Pop – although the current daily Facebook “on location” updates from the folks who run the alt.idol podcast make it easy to ……. – looking to learn more about its (traditional) culture and history, this treatise seems a worthwhile angle.
While I’m with a group that follows the Soto school of Zen, as founded by Dogen, D.T. Suzuki himself is Rinzai Zen, the other big school. Likewise a disciple of Rinzai was the man most instrumental (besides Kerouac maybe) in kindling my interest in this eastern spiritual discipline, a certain Leonard Cohen who sadly passed away on November 7th two years ago, about a month after releasing his last album, titled – fitting to our current topic – “You want it Darker”. In one of those meaningful coincidences I happened to listen again to his I’m your Man album on the day of this anniversary, only realizing the significance of the date on the next day. I’ve been reading on and off in his recently, posthumously published collection of poems and other writings The Flame, a testament to a true master of easygoing profundity… Sadly I never managed to attend one of his concerts. Which is why these days I’m more inclined to go and see concerts, trying to strike a good balance between carpe diem and FoMo…
Which takes us to the next concert to write about:
‘Twas on all Hallow’s Eve aka Samhain – quite fitting and, I have little doubt, not by coincidence- that giants (pun very much intended) of 80s Goth Fields of the Nephilim stepped into the dry-ice mist copiously poured out across the stage of Shepherds Bush Empire. Playing a set consisting of songs from their first two album, the non-album single and cult hit Psychonaut and two newer songs as encore, the band which these days only counts original members Carl McCoy & Tony Petit in their ranks delivered admirably. The audience quite homogeneously clad in Fields…, some Sisters of Mercy and a few Bauhaus T-Shirts (no others were spotted in statistically significant numbers), many also dressed in reference to the band’s trademark spaghetti western look – man did I stand out sporting a Maison Book Girl T – took it all in with pleasure and thanked with plentiful applause. Compared to when I last saw them at the O2 Islington a few years ago, they were in great form and the venue sound was not too shabby either. From the travellers of inner realms (Psychonaut) to wayfarers of the cosmic expanses it is sometimes but a mere step, especially when Japanese spacerock legends Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. play three nights later in the same town. One of those bands quite randomly discovered on the net – via their Pataphysical Freakout MU! album – a couple of years ago in the halcyon days of soulseek, and despite never on heavy rotation always on my radar, I had missed at least one if not two chances to see them when I was still living in Vienna. And almost missed this chance also as, once again only random brought their London gig to my attention. Random, of course, is a strong force and the art of creating meaning from random and coincidence and by these means effect change, on a personal, societal or even cultural level, seems to me the purest form of magic. Jung, pardon me returning to the topic – although I shall not expand on it here, I’ve previously pondered this – was onto something with his idea of synchronicity. I would like to see that idea collide with Luhman’s Systemtheorie, see what emergence that would foster.
But back to Acid Mothers Temple/Outer space. A very enjoyable show. Psychedelic, at times bordering on disco… quite cosmic (or should that be “Kosmisch”?). As for cosmic, in a different context: Oumuamua is making headlines again, as a new paper questions whether it may be an artificial object. The details are out there (on the web, I mean), so I won’t go into those. But do we need to wonder about possible consequences of Earth having been visited by an alien probe? It made me think of the Three Body Problem Trilogy by Cixin Liu which I recently read, and which paints contact with alien civilisations in a less than desirable light (all hard Sci-Fi, though, so no simple “attack of the monsters” plot!). I found the Dark Forest theory, as presented in the second book (of the same name) a rather sobering thought, since it basically said the only way for a civilisation to survive in the universe is to make sure it isn’t detected by another civilisation. A constant threat of mutual destruction, rather than the cargo-cult idea of advanced civilisations arriving to bring peace and prosperity, so popular in Science Fiction and beyond. If both these things, the Dark Forest theory and Oumuamua being an alien probe were to turn out to be true, then even darker times than a November in London might be upon us…
But let’s not dwell on that thought! It ain’t over till it’s over!
As is tradition, find below a few pictures – this time mostly from mentioned gigs & autumnal London:
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”… I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Churchill speak those words, but it must have been often. This week, more precisely Friday, I heard them again.
Whenever I hear them they are usually followed by the intro riff to Aces High, one of THE classic Iron Maiden tunes. The same Friday July 13th. With a difference. Usually, when I hear them, I’m listening to a recording, most of the time the classic 86 live album Live after Death. This time I heard it stood in the middle of a crowd of fellow Maiden fans and the band which I’ve absolutely adored in my very early teens, and which I still proudly count among one of my favourite bands, were live on stage at Lisbon’s Altice Arena. It was a great experience!
But before going into any more detail about the concert (and I’m not going to write a full review anyway), let’s look back a bit further, all the way to that first Sunday (July 8th), when the location for the Week that Was was being set! It’s worth mentioning at this point – I didn’t want to spoil the intro – that at the time this is being finished and published we’re speaking of the Week that Was previous to the week that just was. Sometimes that’s how it goes.
We are back with our review… a day or so late, but one thing I didn’t get all that much of was sleep. So it took me a bit longer to get this finished.
This bygone week was, again, heavily in the sign of Necronomidol. After having had a chance to meet them at the record signing session at Sister Ray Ace in Shoreditch I was in for two days of waiting – following all the tweets and fb posts about their gigs up north (Manchester, Birmingham) with excitement and growing anticipation – before finally being able to see them live at The Underworld in London’s Camden Town. Now, I’m well aware that I sound full-on fanboy here, but if it hits you, it hits you. Music has always been something pretty well able to wake my inner enthusiast, and while – and because – there have been time where I’d become pretty jaded, I now know to cherish this excitement and go with whatever entertains me.