Aleister Crowley's The Rite of Mercury, a rock opera Soundtrack
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Audio CD, June 10, 2009
This is the original sound track recording of Aleister Crowley's The Rite of Mercury, a rock opera, as composed and recorded by Eleusyve Productions in 2009.
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There's a different kind of memory, however. Disciplined, structured memory. We do well to remember that written history, as near as we can tell, extends back only, perhaps, 6,000 years. Before that, memory was all there was. Culture was carried in memory. Humanity as we know it today, Homo Sapiens, has been around for at least 40,000 years. People as smart and presumably as articulate as anyone you know. Relationships as complex and fraught with peril as relationships are today. Families and clans and tribes and communities needing organization, boundaries, rules and protocols to function effectively and to provide for the common good. Skills to be passed along, histories to recount, explanations of who we are and where we came from, and why we find ourselves here, to be passed along from generation to generation. All this information and structure carried in memory. Committed to memory in an organized way, to be pulled out quickly and reliably when needed - not just for enjoyment and reflection, but for survival.
Memory is integral to the discipline and practice of Magick. Generally speaking, the more powerful the Magick, the more complex the work, and the more there is to remember. One of the enormous differences between an enthusiast of Magick like me (one who reads, studies, and enjoys unraveling some of the secrets of Magick and the finding of themselves in the delightful company of others in the alternate stream of occult history) and a magician, a true magician, is the possession of a disciplined, highly functional memory. One capable of absorbing long spells and rituals, often in obscure languages (in the case of Enochian Magick, not even a human language) - obscure language and sounds that simply must be memorized as received, without many of the usual mnemonic tricks speakers use to keep themselves moving forward through a long recitation.
From my administrative perch in the mid-levels of a state government "super-agency" with 14,000 employees, I am surrounded by and, at times, in danger of being totally immersed in a rapidly flowing stream of momentarily important but ultimately trivial bits of information, appearing in front of me by the moment, clamoring for attention only long enough to be quickly read, responded to (quickly), thrown into someone else's stream, tossed into a bucket beside me, or thrown back. The conditioning caused by years and years of this daily minute-by-minute "read, respond, route or ignore" activity, shared by millions of other overloaded office workers in electronic sweatshops around the globe, is to discourage retention, to let this information pass in and out of memory seamlessly, with the minimum necessary comprehension, little or no reflection, and immediate disposition.
This conditioning, of course, stands in almost exact opposition to the work of the magician, which is, in great part, to thoughtfully and carefully read and absorb volumes of information; to internally organize and reflect upon that information at length; to move from complex detail to comprehensive understanding; and to retain both these details and the organizational structure of this information in memory for general and specific ritual use.
At the recent NOTOCON VII in Seattle, as part of his excellent presentation on The Book of the Law, Bob Stein spoke about the utility of memorizing parts of the Book, having it literally in mind for quick comparisons and discussion. Bob bemoaned that fact that memorizing poetry is no longer a standard part of the educational training of young minds. The famed Renaissance Magus and Gnostic Saint, Giordano Bruno, would no doubt agree with Bob on this point. Bruno was renowned for his gifts of memory, and taught others his method for organizing memory as he traveled across Europe in the waning years of the 16th Century. Bruno memorized vast amounts of text, whether written in Italian, English, French, German, or, of course, Latin.
The "Memory Palace" technique of training the mind to accomplish such feats, used by Bruno and the Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci was recently well described as a technique used by America's favorite evil genius, the fictional psychiatrist and cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lector. "The memory palace was a mnemonic system well known to ancient scholars, and much information was preserved in them through the Dark Ages while Vandals burned the book. Like scholars before him, Dr. Lector stores an enormous amount of information keyed to objects in his thousand rooms..."
The Rites of Eleusis are being staged here in the Northwest by a troupe of musicians, dancers, and actors who have, to a degree, a symbiotic relationship with Horizon Oasis, and these productions offer a remarkable opportunity to see Crowley's Rites staged as Rock Operas, with all the advantages of modern musical forms, instruments, recording techniques, lighting and special effects, along with imaginative sets and beautiful costuming. But that's not all. These productions also offer an opportunity to see remarkable feats of memory, particularly by Jon Sewell, who, along with Melissa Holm, is the driving force behind these productions - principal composer, guitarist, primary vocalist, frequent leading man. Setting Crowley's complex ideas and lengthy recitations to music is, in itself, quite a feat - but remembering these complex verbal and musical structures over the length of an evening's performance, delivered with unflagging verve and enthusiasm, is a wonder to behold. Sewell's many years of training and experience as both musician and magician are brought to bear on this task, and he truly shines.
In a recent conversation, Sewell agreed that staging the Rites of Eleusis indeed involves feats of memory. The length, complexity and variety of Crowley's libretto (for such it becomes in an opera) present a challenge to the performers. Attaching prompts to memory helps, according to Sewell. The stage movements mapped out for the performers helps to prompt what comes next, for example. Setting the words in a context of music is helpful in itself, as music and spoken language involve different parts of the brain, and linking the two in context can help a performer's memory stay on track.
The form of a song (as in verse, verse, chorus, verse), if such a form exists, also helps to break up the song into smaller consecutive pieces that can be memorized in order and linked together in a chain. However, a piecemeal form of memorization can also present problems, says Sewell, if it is not done in order - memorizing favorite sections of the Book of the Law in a random way, for example, can make committing the entire work to memory more of a challenge, when the order of their appearance becomes of paramount importance.
Attaching words to images was an early method of memorization for Sewell. He memorized the Tarot deck, card by card, with each card and its image prompting memory of the associated characteristics of the card. This method is similar to Bruno's "memory palace," where memories are associated with, and organized into rooms in the palace - entering each room along the great palace hallway gives access to different topics and their more detailed information. Meditation; attaining certain mental states that lend themselves to "loading" information into memory, is also important. Working with memory when walking, sitting in a hot tub or bath, or simply setting quiet time aside for memory work is important. Memorizing is work, however enjoyable, and it must be done in a structured and repetitive way to be successful. Sewell adds that memorized material must also be maintained - pull it up and work with it periodically - "use it or lose it" in short.
"Aleister Crowley's The Rite of Mercury" has not yet been staged by Sewell, Holm and company, so this is of necessity a review only of the CD. First off, I can say with certainty that readers who enjoyed the previous productions of "Luna" and "Venus" are going to enjoy this music! To these ears, as a stand-alone CD "Mercury" is a leap forward from previous productions. The production values are higher. The performances are more relaxed and powerful. The arrangements, both instrumentally, and especially vocally, are more complex and play to the performers' strengths more effectively. I've listened to this CD many times, both in my car and at home, and it stands up well as a musical composition - it is enjoyable and rewarding to listen to on its own. The problems one often runs into with recordings of musical stage performances - the music taking a back seat to associated stage pageantry - are almost entirely absent here. Even the long cuts on the CD easily capture and sustain the listener's interest, due to their complex mixes of instrumental, vocal and lyrical content. "Orpheus Invokes Hermes," just a little shy of eight minutes, is one of my favorite sections, with Sewell's guitar and vocals right out front, alternating between exhilarating power chord hooks and intertwining baroque vocal melodies, a constantly shifting musical tapestry that never lets up! "The Invocation of Thoth," another long piece, again sustains musical interest throughout, leaving one a bit dazzled by this troupe's rapidly evolving compositional (Thea and Sewell here) vocal and instrumental prowess. The overall production and sound are, again, a treat to the ears.
I don't want to completely unpack this jeweled box - I'll leave that happy task to you, reader and listener. I must call out Daniel Randall's excellent work on bass, however - a fine tone and a wonderful counterpoint to Sewell's guitar at many points - Melissa Holm's composition "The Hexagram Ritual," with its mysterious sliding fretless bass line and strong vocal by Andrew Bryce is a high point of this fine collection of magickal music.
Sewell persists in referring to this crew as "an amateur theater group," but the term "amateur" here harkens back to the Victorian use of the term in the best sense - "a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit." The pleasure that Sewell, Holm and company derive from their loving work is both evident and contagious. I suggest that you partake!
This is not something you want to miss!