“All notions of absolute truth only exist if we choose to believe them at any time” (Phil Hine)
Last time I talked in general about magic and music and for the next few articles I’m going to discuss simple ways to move theory into practice. What I suggest is not the be-all and end-all of how to implement these ideas but maybe they will give you some ideas to help you jump into the murky depths of abstract musical composition. Its not my intention to provide you with a step-by-step set of instructions on how to use a piece of software every month and its important that you read the manuals (THE HORROR!!!!) so that you can get the most from the software and move the ideas on beyond the basic concepts talked about here.
Perhaps the easiest entry point into realizing magickal ideas is making some sigils, graphic representations of statements of intent, and using software to turn these into something that makes midi data. We will be using software called Nodal (you can download a trial for mac and PC from here ) to actualize this, Nodal creates grids of nodes connected by lines that output midi data to a sequencer or synth and so is perfectly suited to adapting graphical formats into musical data. In future months we will be looking at more complicated methods of implementing these ideas such as using the I-Ching or Tarot cards, but for now we should focus on sigils as both this column and the next will be using this technique to create music.
Firstly we should talk about sigils, what they are, and how to make them. Basically a sigil is a statement of intent boiled down into an abstract graphic representation, we create one by first defining a statement, for example:
“It will write a song that evokes HP Lovecraft”
Then you remove all the vowels, leaving you with:
“T WLL WRT SNG THT VKS HP LVCRFT”
The we remove all duplicated letters
“T WL R SNG H VK P CF”
After you have this set of letters you need to spend some time working them together into a graphical representation. Combine the letters and move them around until you have an image that you are happy with and that feels somehow magickal. Keep it simple, the more lines you can remove the better, what you want is to abstract the sigil as far from the statement of intent as possible so that the graphic bears no resemblance to the original idea “You know you’re done when it looks magic enough.” – Grant Morrison.
You may end up with something like this:
Bear in mind that there is no wrong way to do this, but the more time you invest into the creation of the sigil the better it will be and as you make more sigils you will start to get the feel of how to do this and also what works best in Nodal. If this explanation of sigils is over-simplified or you want to read more about the idea please check out the further study section at the end.
Once we have our finished sigil we need to do something with it so it’s time to fire up Nodal, your sequencer of choice (I use Logic), a synth or some drums and get started. As I said previously in Nodal we can create grids that are joined by points, and having made a sigil im sure you can see that it doesnt take a huge stretch of the imagination to implement the design. Simply decide how big you want the sigil to be on the grid (grid squares represent divisions of time specified in the Nodal setup so choose something sensible) and start laying down the nodes at the important intersections in the sigil and join them together as such:
If you have your sequencer set up to receive input from Nodal (refer to the nodal manual for help setting this up, and to learn about the different things you can do with Nodal) and you play the sequence you will notice that there are some problems with the above design. As I said previous grid squares in Nodal represent units of time and thus if we have a sigil with diagonal lines we can end up with some weird musical results. Therefore after making a literal translation of my sigil I tend to rationalize it down into something with straight lines that becomes a bit more usable:
But play this back and we still have a problem, in Nodal data can flow out of any configuration we make if it gets to a node and has no choice of where to move to next. Rather than having to continually trigger this configuration we can give the nodes some additional options about where to move to next and create a loop:
In the above image I have created some additional pathways to keep data in the configuration and given a few of the nodes the ability to send data in a random direction to add variation (again refer to the manual for different settings for nodes and pathways but most importantly experiment and see what works for you). So now we have a loop that we can use to send data into Logic.
I have created a brief example mp3 of data from this sigil being sent to Ultrabeat in Logic. This simple 3-note pattern looks like this in the piano roll in Logic:
And sound like this:
To make this example I just recorded in the sigil playing back a different midi note each time its played through and altered the grid divisions to create differences in pattern. However you can get far more advanced than this and, for example, get each node to trigger a different note each time its hit, or create different versions of the sigil that each trigger a single note and run them all together (very useful, and cool, for live improvised performances)
Of course, you can also use Nodal to trigger synths rather than drums and the below example has a simple pattern created by inputing multiple note data for each node, in this case I gave each node 2 octaves of the Hirajoshi Scale (C E F# G B) to choose from, set the node to randomly choose a note and recorded the data into logic.
Whilst this is clearly not perfect it could definitely be the start of something interesting and with some refinement and further midi editing (one of the advantages of pulling the data from Nodal into a sequencer) we could definitely start creating an tune. The idea here, as you can tell, is not to instantly create something finished and perfect but to use process to create something interesting and inspiring which may push you down a route that you wouldn’t have taken if you just opened your sequencer and started writing as normal.
Next time: Numerology
www.paganspace.net/forum/topics/sigil-magic-ala-chaos-theory – Some extracts from Phil Hines excellent Condensed Chaos book including the wonderful S.P.L.I.F.F acronym for sigil making
To hear these ideas used in a more refined way check out my EP “A Network of Lines that Intersect” free from www.planetterrorrecords.com many of the initial ideas came from experiments like this and the ones I will demonstrate in future articles.
Also to hear something made completely live with Nodal check out the second half of my set at illfm, available here www.illfm.net/illapp/browse/search?q=ascetic&m=all