“Putrefaction is so effective that it destroys the old nature and form of the rotting bodies; it transmutes them into a new state of being to give them a totally new fruit. Everything that has life, dies; everything that is dead putrefies and finds a new life.” (Pernety, 1758)
In alchemical philosophy there is a stage of progress called Putrefaction. It is a stage of fermentation, and decomposition, a phase they call the black dragon or nigredo or just the blackness. It is a time when the old forms break down and through decomposition are transformed into a raw material from which a spiritually elevated form of life can arise.
A similar idea is described by the tarot card called the Tower. In the Tower card the lightning bolt, symbolizes a flash of spiritual insight that destroys the fixed shape of the tower which symbolizes the fixed opinions and dogmas we have built up in our lives over time. It represents a time of upheaval and disruption. Similarly the time of putrefaction is activated by ones own inner fire.
Change can only take place if the old is allowed to die. Renewal cannot take place unless destruction of the old takes place. On the mythological level, nigredo signifies the difficulties man has to overcome on his journey through the underworld. We all go through these sorts of changing phases – those disruptive phases of our lives we call transitions. Life’s transitions can be challenging because they are unpredictable, difficult, confusing and disorientating. It is a time when life forces us away from the familiar and so we feel vulnerable.
Here i am attempting to capture the feeling of a life transition musically.
Love and longing
If you take a handful of the greatest songs ever written and pick the one thing out that they have in common what do you think that would be? To me it would be a sense of yearning or a quality of longing. It seems to me that ‘longing’ possesses an actual sound quality, like the bending of a blues note. John Lennon brings this to the fore when he sings “i give her all my love”. Though he is confirming that it is a love song lyrically, his tone of voice and the melodic structure lean towards a sound of yearning. He was a master at this and could bring it to perfection in one word. For example listen to how he starts the song with the word ‘mother’. From the moment you hear him say it you are gripped by the deep yearning! The same with the sound of the voice and melody in two of the greatest love songs ever written in my opinion – Bridge over Troubled Water and The first time ever i saw your face, both these songs posses this quality in the extreme sense. It’s this yearning quality that lifts them up beyond their fantastic lyrics into a place of spiritual longing. There is a sound of longing in Neil Youngs voice when he sings “Jesus I saw you…walking on the river….” , when Bono wails “Sunday bloody sunday”. There is deep longing in the guitar solos of David Gilmour. Robert Plant is soaked in this quality and often times goes straight for this feeling by simply crying out “ooh”. Most often if a song, a piece of music or a guitar solo, doesn’t posses this quality of longing it is short lived in my personal picks list. Much of pop music these days lacks this noble quality . Here is a demo of the tail end of a song we are working on called Hello.
In this song I am aiming at this feeling of longing. The story is this: the viking boy, curious about dreams and feelings he is having about a girl he has never met in real life, goes to the High Priestess of the island and has a ‘session’ with her. She reads the crystal ball and reads his palm, and tells him about a “soul mate” who is also longing to be re-united with him. The opening line of the lyrics describes the boy looking at his palm and speaking to the girl.
hello, to the line upon my hand,
to the line that shows a friend,
to the friend who forms the line.
There is a greater alchemical mystery embedded in this album for those who know, but for now – we will stick to the story.