Strange. But. True. Many keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community feel a reluctant reverence for core ’60s icon Paul Sir McCartney. Beneath that sentimentally saccharine surface, that merry “Macca” mask, they sense something deeper… darker… dangerouser…
“He ain’t as appallingly unesoteric as he appears, man,” these keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community mutter meaningly…
I’ve tried to capture something of this Morbid Mac in a series of animated gifs that display Macca mise en abîme or “sent into the abyss” (pronounced “meez on abeem”, roughly speaking). That’s the artistic term for the way some images contain smaller and smaller versions of themselves.
Here’s Macca at stage one:
And stage two:
And further stages:
Here’s a Maccabisso using a bit of negative:
And finally, here’s Macca playing a bit of rock’n’roll…
In a prev-previous post, I looked at this interesting fractal image on the front cover of a Ray Bradbury book:
It seems obvious that the image is created from photographs: only the body of the centaur is drawn by hand. And here’s my attempt at extending the fractality of the image:
• Mythical Mathical — Man-Horse! — the pre-previous post about the fractal centaur
That’s a striking cover — and more than that. The blog where I found the cover says this: “This very odd cover clearly features a heavily rouged glam rock centaur with a rather natty feather-cut hairstyle flexing his biceps, his forearms transmogrifying into miniature bicep flexing glam rock figures. I think I’m slowly losing the plot here.” Losing the plot? No, losing the mathematicality in the mythical. The artist has started to make the centaur into a fractal. Or rather, the artist has started to make more explicit what is already there in the human body. As I wrote in “Fingering the Frigit”:
Fingers are fractal. Where a tree has a trunk, branches and twigs, a human being has a torso, arms and fingers. And human beings move in fractal ways. We use our legs to move large distances, then reach out with our arms over smaller distances, then move our fingers over smaller distances still. We’re fractal beings, inside and out, brains and blood-vessels, fingers and toes.
Below is one of the best album-covers I’ve ever seen. It’s a triumph of subtlety and simplicity:
The American blackened doom sludge-sters Burning Witch used Sorgen / Sorrow (1894-5), a painting by the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914), to conjure an atmosphere of despair and darkness. Here is the original painting, skilfully combining snow, darkness and despair:
But while the painting and album are good examples of less-is-more, the album is also an example of less-and-more. Part of its power comes from the contrast between the simplicity of the wandering figure and the complexity of the scripts used for the band’s name and album title:
Usually images are more detailed than writing. Here it’s the reverse. And while you can easily read the writing, despite its complexity, you can’t “read” the figure, despite its simplicity. Kittelsen’s skilful simplicity raised questions that can’t be answered. Is the figure male or female? Why is it sorrowful? Where is it going?
Well, you can say where it’s going in one sense: it’s walking from left-to-right. And that made me wonder whether the album could have become even starker in its contrasts. If you’re literate in Norwegian or English, you naturally read images from left-to-right, because that’s the direction of the Roman alphabet. On the album, you read the figure and the writing in the same direction. They contrast starkly in other ways, but they don’t contrast there. So let’s try making them contrast there too. Compare these two versions of the cover:
I think there’s something emptier and more despairing in the mirrored figure, walking from right-to-left. On the original cover, the figure is in some sense walking into the future, despite the weight of sorrow it carries. As we read from left to right along a piece of writing, what’s to the left of our eye is the past, and what’s to the right is the future. The figure carries the same implication. And because the figure moving towards the highly-complex-but-perfectly-intelligible band-name-and-title, there’s almost an implication that its story will be told, even if it’s moving towards death or suicide.
When the image is mirrored, all that disappears. Moving from right-to-left, the figure seems to be walking into the past, not the future. It’s no longer near or moving towards the complexity-and-intelligibility of the band-name-and-title. It’s abandoning the world more strongly: there’s no hope, no future, no implication that its story will be told.
I think the same happens, though less strongly, when the original painting is contrasted with a mirrored version:
The contrast is less stark because, unlike the album-cover, there’s no complex patch of writing in the painting and the figure is moving away from what writing there is: the artist’s signature in the bottom left. In the original, the figure is abandoning identity and intelligibility by moving away from the signature. That’s why I’ve removed the signature in the mirrored version of the painting. It would be anomalous on the right, whether or not it was mirror-reversed, and it would be anomalous if it stayed on the left.
Finally, here’s a photo of two musicians in Sunn O))), the band into which Burning Witch eventually evolved:
In the original, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are walking from right-to-left. Here’s a mirrored version for comparison:
I think the original photo has more power, because the robed figures are walking against the grain, as it were — against the direction in which our Roman-alphabet-conditioned eyes read a photo.
“Ich habe unter meinen Papieren ein Blatt gefunden,” sagte Goethe, “wo ich die Baukunst eine erstarrte Musik nenne.” — Gespräche mit Goethe, Johann Peter Eckermann (1836)
• “I have found a sheet among my papers,” said Goethe, “where I call architecture a frozen music.” — Conversations with Goethe
N.B. The aphorism “Architecture is frozen music” has also sometimes been attributed to Friedrich von Schelling (1775-1854) and Ganopati Sthapat (1927-2011).
The toxic title of this paronomastic post is a key reference to core Beatles album Please Please Me (1963).
Although this blog stands strongly and sternly against the use of any drugs weaker than water (which is all of ’em), some interesting art has been inspired by those weaker drugs. The front cover of Bongzilla’s Gateway (2002) is a good and skilful example. Please be aware, however, that smoking grass is more likely to induce psychosis than turn you into a golden goat-god. Especially coz artificially strengthened varieties of grass are not what Gaia intended. (dot dot dot)
Yes, the horns on the album-cover are those of a bovid, not a caprid, but I like to think of the image being that of a goat-god rather than a bull-god.