Sunday, May 31, 2015

Blackbirds and Fox Bones – Notes from an imaginal pilgrimage

By David Metcalfe

We that walk at nights, looking after our sheep, see many strange sights, while other men sleep, (from the 2nd Shepherd’s Play, Wakefield Cycle)

Surprise and excitement accompanied a note I received from Phil Legard mentioning that Hawthonn was ready for release.  As a collection of music that he and his wife Layla recorded in honor of Jhonn Balance, a creative soul who has long been a personal inspiration, I’d been eagerly awaiting the album. As a topic of conversation between my roommate and I just minutes before Legard’s email arrived I was surprised that the first digital release of the collection had come at such a coincidental and timely interval. Yet, so it goes when one walks the borderlands of reality and imagination.

With the song of blackbirds and rattle of fox bones Hawthonn opens an invitation to journey through the imaginal landscape of Jhonn Balance’s post-mortem pilgrimage from Worlebury Hill in Weston-Super-Mare to where his ashes were scattered by his lover beneath a Hawthorn tree which sits on the grounds of St. Bega’s church overlooking an inland lake at Bassenthwaite. Ethereal atmospheres of sound and voice draw the listener to the edge of that summerland beyond the veil, where spirit supplants flesh and all time comes together – a place well walked by Balance long before his transition.
If you kill me, I'd have to live forever,
(Jhonn Balance in response to an audience member at a concert in 2004)
Best known for his experimental sound work with Peter Christopherson under the moniker of Coil, Balance is one of the premier visionary artists of the late 20th century.  As a testament to their vision – Coil’s multiphasic amorphous musical assemblage continues as one of the most challenging, primal, and beautiful examples of contemporary sound experimentation by way of “pop music,” despite the passing of both Balance in 2004, and Christopherson in 2010. Hawthonn’s success as a conceptual album can be seen in its eerie evocation of Coil’s underlying themes – ghostly sketches of possibility emerge from these sonic landscapes, a peculiar and specific spirit hovers over the work. Using what can in some sense be described as musical necromancy the Legards have created a series of sound evocations that allow the listener to embark on a mythopoetic voyage beyond the waking world. Diving deeply into the album’s compositional techniques one begins to understand the delicate process which lead to this effective evocation of Balance’s spirit.
Don't believe AE, see for yourself the summer fields. See for yourself the summer fields, before the tractor comes and wakes you, before the cereal is sown, (Beestings, lyrics by Jhonn Balance)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Half of the Literature Is False Science Journalism

The realities of the daily grind don't always mesh well with the necessities of good journalism, let alone good science.


Why A Journalist Scammed The Media Into Spreading Bad Chocolate Science
"He's really only scratching the surface of a much broader, much deeper problem," Schwitzer says. "We have examples of journalists reporting on a study that was never done. We have news releases from medical journals, academic institutions and industry that mislead journalists, who then mislead the public." And the pressure to publish or perish, he says, can lead well-intentioned scientists to frame their work in ways that aren't completely accurate or balanced or supported by the facts.
And this is even more damning, supposing of course that the supposition is correct,
In the past few years more professionals have come forward to share a truth that, for many people, proves difficult to swallow. One such authority is Dr. Richard Horton, the current editor-in-chief of the Lancet – considered to be one of the most well respected peer-reviewed medical journals in the world.
Dr. Horton recently published a statement declaring that a lot of published research is in fact unreliable at best, if not completely false.
“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.” (source)
This is quite distrubing, given the fact that all of these studies (which are industry sponsored) are used to develop drugs/vaccines to supposedly help people, train medical staff, educate medical students and more.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Bullying and the Cycle of Abuse

Research suggests my experience isn’t unusual. UC Davis sociologists Robert Faris and Diane Femlee have studied bullying extensively; in a CNN interview, Faris summarized their findings:
"Kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status ... It’s really not the kids that are psychologically troubled, who are on the margins or the fringes of the school’s social life. It’s the kids right in the middle, at the heart of things … often, typically highly, well-liked popular kids who are engaging in these behaviors. When kids increase in their status, on average, they tend to have a higher risk of victimization as well as a higher risk of becoming aggressive."
Abuse isn't restricted to one history or narrative. Abuse compounds abuse. That cycle passes from hand to hand and person to person.

Such truisms can be deceptive, but that doesn't make them invalid. For one person it's their childhood trauma, for another, its when their brother was killed by Palestinians. For another it was growing up poor and having a meth addicted mother. Whether you turn around and take it out on someone else or whether it changes you in more subtle ways, you can't help but react to your history with every action you take, and inflict that history on others, maybe even without knowing it. Given how endemic cycles of abuse are, it seems unlikely we can heal all wounds, so long as you have to remain in this world to heal from the world. How do you get the goose out of the bottle? 

More than any of these simple categories, more than even what we think we know about ourselves, our lives are conditioned by the unspoken and the unconscious. Yet there must be some commonality to our experience, for us to be able to even begin to understand one another, so maybe it isn't all shadow and silence.

What can we say? In a statistical sense, certain populations are more systemically fucked than others. No doubt. So understanding may have to begin with these generalities. But it can't remain there, or we're just stereotyping one another in a new way. Do we not want to know other people's stories, because they might contradict what we already think we know about the world? Or is the complexity of difference simply too much for us to comprehend?

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Friday, May 22, 2015



In 2023, Hive (human interface for virtual evolution) is an augmented-reality technology that consolidates an individual's devices and technology into a holographic visual display that is projected from their mind. Millions connect and become a collective consciousness, while The Disconnected are left in its wake; forced to adapt to a primitive lifestyle in the outskirts of Hive cities. Conflict is inevitable, however the reality behind Hive may be even stranger than anyone realized. Propolis follows nine-year-old Samantha Plessis, as she witnesses her family opt-in to beta testing this new product to receive health insurance benefits to treat her immune disorder. Since her disease prevents her from connecting to Hive, she becomes gradually alienated by her family whose method of communication is now changing. Hive is a science-fiction transmedia project told through a series of books, films, social media and real-world interactive events. This six-part novella series is the main narrative. The story takes place from the year 2023 to 2050.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Lifespan of a Fact

The Lifespan of a FactThe Lifespan of a Fact by John D'Agata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lifespan of a Fact caught my attention recently, in the course of a number of project-related conversations about truth and journalism. Overall, I would say that it delivers on exactly what it promises: a discussion, sometimes debate, about the nature of literature and fact. The Talmudic formatting is interesting, and allows the conversation to flow around the central text. The only way I think you're liable to be disappointed by this book is if you're looking for any final conclusions. But this is not a subject that can — or should! — have a final conclusion. It is meant to be struggled with.

I think all writers that have worked in "nonfiction" wrestle with this issue — how narratives can't help but manipulate an audience. Literary journalism is kind of inherently manipulative, certainly you can bring out nuances and the complexity of a character, but ultimately you're painting a sympathetic or unsympathetic picture. The closest you can get to the facts would be to read out a list of data points — at this time, according to this source, this thing happened.

The further we stray from that, the more it's didactic. But I think that narrative speaks directly to how we actually engage with the world. We aren't, fundamentally logical creatures, so that "pure fact" approach is actually more alien in some ways than appealing to people through a narrative that you've constructed out of a *particular evaluation* of the facts.

The main issue with full out gonzo journalism is that it was often used to intentionally lie, or use people's ignorance against them. Like when Hunter S. Thompson went after Muskie by making a wild claim about ibogaine, knowing people take the mere suggestion of a possibility, frequently repeated, as fact. We can laugh about that, but I'm not sure there's much difference between that and what Fox News does, except that we might personally agree with Hunter's politics more.

So there's a kind of contradiction here, the understanding that we make sense of our day-to-day world primarily through narrative, that journalism should play to that, and yet on the other hand, recognizing that narratives are inherently misleading, if not outright duplicitous. There are many ways of dealing with this complexity. My inclination is to own a bias, rather than try to cover it up with feints toward "fair and balanced objectivity." But there is no one, or easy solution.

View all my reviews

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media


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