Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I love this holiday! To cement the mood, I just ordered a print of this darkly beautiful painting by the late Zdzisław Beksiński:

For more information about this artist of the fantastic, check this Wiki article: Zdzisław Beksiński

For some "Halloween Music" to go with it, you might like a darkish ambient piece of mine called Touch. Enjoy!

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Soft Apocalypse

I'm a fan of many types of speculative fiction and, one of the most interesting, is science fiction that came out of the Soviet Union during the U.S./Soviet cold-war-era. Two real masters in this period were the brothers Akady and Boris Strugatsky. Science fiction was sometimes the only way writers could slip something past the censors - the subtext is always worth closer scrutiny in these books.

My favorite book of the Strugatsky brothers, The Ugly Swans, is not their most well-known but, every time I re-read it, I walk away with a deeper, visceral understanding of human nature and how it interacts with inherited culture within the confines of external political force. No, really. ;)

On the surface, the story concerns what may be a new race of humans evolving beneath our very noses but shunned as if they were lepers as they are seemingly victims of a chronic malaise. For most people, these "Slimies" as they are called are out-of-sight/out-of-mind. While most adults take no notice of these "poor souls", the children however are attracted to them and begin to learn from them just how flawed all the driving factors of the adults actually are. At some point these children, who have become all too bright, have no use for the adults anymore with their passion-driven actions, their hubris and ignorance. The children hold no hate for these flawed, very human adults, only pity - for they are merely slaves to their desires, fears, hopes and lust for power, only partly tempered by their intellect.

The Ugly Swans is a strange cautionary tale of a slow, subversive change from within that may end up being an unexpected kind of cultural as well as physical evolution. It's an ambiguous change, neither malignant nor uplifting in any usual sense and the reader is left to ponder much of this out alone.

If you can dig up this beautiful novel in the back of some dusty bookshop, its well worth the effort. The style is a little odd as the authors' voices have to shine through the lens of translation but fortunately you can hear the brothers loud and clear. While Russian idiom and some of the sentence structure is a little alien, even in translation, to me these quirks are both attractive and novel at the same time. The characters are all deeply envisioned as three-dimensional people by means of a sympathetic omniscience I found refreshing. There are more interesting things at play here in the subtle ways writers of this era found to talk about freedom of speech, or the lack thereof , in an environment where all media is controlled by the government to quash subversive or dissenting voices. Even the title is redolent with multiple meanings and I always grin at its humor. You can even hear echoes of Clarke's "Childhood's End" here, though it's a very different approach viewed through the eyes of a very different culture - much more subtle and subversive is this memorable "Soft Apocalypse".

Ravens and Crows

Ravens and crows are extremely fascinating creatures to me. This painting is one I executed in acrylics of this iconic bird a few months back.

I've felt a strong connection with these noisy tricksters for as long as I can remember and they have appeared in my artwork time and time again as symbols of birth, death and gnosis.

I have always loved the depiction in Northwest Indian legends of Raven as a Promethian figure stealing the Sun, Moon and Stars from the gods themselves for the benefit of mankind:

"Long ago, near the beginning of the world, Gray Eagle was the guardian of the Sun, Moon and Stars, of fresh water, and of fire. Gray Eagle hated people so much that he kept these things hidden. People lived in darkness, without fire and without fresh water.

Gray Eagle had a beautiful daughter, and Raven fell in love with her. In the beginning, Raven was a snow-white bird, and as a such, he pleased Gray Eagle's daughter. She invited him to her father's longhouse.

When Raven saw the Sun, Moon and stars, and fresh water hanging on the sides of Eagle's lodge, he knew what he should do. He watched for his chance to seize them when no one was looking. He stole all of them, and a brand of fire also, and flew out of the longhouse through the smoke hole. As soon as Raven got outside he hung the Sun up in the sky. It made so much light that he was able to fly far out to an island in the middle of the ocean. When the Sun set, he fastened the Moon up in the sky and hung the stars around in different places. By this new light he kept on flying, carrying with him the fresh water and the brand of fire he had stolen.

He flew back over the land. When he had reached the right place, he dropped all the water he had stolen. It fell to the ground and there became the source of all the fresh-water streams and lakes in the world. Then Raven flew on, holding the brand of fire in his bill. The smoke from the fire blew back over his white feathers and made them black. When his bill began to burn, he had to drop the firebrand. It struck rocks and hid itself within them. That is why, if you strike two stones together, sparks of fire will drop out.

Raven's feathers never became white again after they were blackened by the smoke from the firebrand."

Ravens are also excellent tool-makers and puzzle-solvers. They are so good at this that one man wanted to train them to collect garbage from the streets by way of a vending machine that would give them a treat for each piece of garbage collected. They have been known to use thin twigs to collect grubs from deep inside logs. In the following video a raven figures out how to bend a piece of wire into a hook to retrieve a prize. Amazing!

Here is another video showing a novel way to crack nuts that these beautiful birds worked out on their own:

Once they learn a new talent, it's passed on to the group rather quickly. I love these guys for their intelligence, adaptability and vigorous personalitys. Viva La Corvus! ^_^


• I'm happily married for many joyous years to a kindred spirit
• Hawaii's "Big Island" is the best place on earth...other than my own backyard
• I can see a machine for the first time and usually be able to tell you how it works in detail
• The SCI Prophet T8 is my "favorite synthesizer I'll never own"
• Navy Blue is cool, but not as cool as Chartreuse
• Jazz is wonderful but I can't play a note to save my life
• I've never been completely happy with any one musical piece of mine (see next item)
• I'm a perfectionist but have learned to settle for "good enough"
• My visual art is where my real epiphany lies - I have no idea where those images come from
• When I turned 40, I dyed my hair magenta and kept it that way for almost a year
• Blueberries are the best fruit ever...except maybe for mangoes
• The Marx brothers are brilliant though Simon Pegg and Nick Frost make a good team as well
• Cats are better than dogs and not just because they smell better
• I have a dinner fork that telescopes to three feet
• I have two guitars but can't play because there's never enough time to learn
• Homebrewed beer is better than anything available in the stores
• The world is a Sacred place, still filled with magic and mystery
• Most people will never realize that the world is a Sacred place, still filled with magic and mystery
• The scientific method is the only tool we have to actually know anything - including spiritual things
• After years of wanting one, I finally got a nice Weller soldering station but don't know if I'll ever find the time to build anything