Sound and Silence

when necessary, use words


August 2007

Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.  [Matthew 9:17]

Nobody drinks aged wine and immediately wants to drink young wine. Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break, and aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil. [Gospel of Thomas 47]

History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today. [Henry Ford]

History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals. [El Malik el Shabbaz (Malcolm X)]

WineskinAfter some decades of bandying about the phrase “New Wine”, meaning the “Exciting, relevant, latest, greatest thing that God is doing” I have been brought short in my tracks by a reading from the Gospel of Thomas. The assumption I have held is that new wine (meaning new content) is better than old, and that new wineskins (new forms) are better than the old.

However I enjoy wine enough to understand that generally speaking, aged wine is finer. The party animals of Jesus’ day, concur. It is mellower, smoother, and the product of nature’s processes. New wine is generally an easier product as it does not take up space for extended periods of time. So old wine is a symbol of quality, and stands against the cheapening contemporary trend towards profit making and comodification we find in any “eminently quaffable Vin Lite“.

I have assumed all along that Jesus stands for “New Wine”, a revelation of Grace, and against the Old, the dispensation of Law. Also I assumed that with the new wine it was necessary to use new wineskins. This for example meant that if you had a revelation of the “Charismatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit”, (non condo bondo shondo, rikki tikki ninga nuum), you should then create spaces in your “liturgy” for that.

So no longer did you adhere to the program of the hymn-sermon-hymn sandwich, but you made room for spontaneous prayer, song, insights, prophesies, readings, dance etc. and tried to go with the flow not merely the established pattern. So, in the church, acoustic guitars replaced the organ in the 70’s, then in the 90’s came the U2-charist, and rave worship, for example.

But now I am not so sure. Maybe Jesus was in fact pro-Old wine. His concern in Matthew seems to be with the wineskin more than the wine. Certainly he rejected the religion of the Pharisees, but that was primarily a stand against hypocrisy and the righteousness of law. And when he says “both are preserved” is he referring to old wine and new wine, or old wine and old wineskins?

Thomas’ rendition makes me even less certain of my old assumptions. The first half, “Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break” seems to be concerned about old wineskins, while the second half “aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil” is mostly concerned with old wine. So is Thomas confirming Jesus’ preference for the old?

RedFrom my current point of view, where I embrace traditions with a new understanding that tradition is not bad of itself, in fact we are in the West very affected by the “cult of the new”. Henry Ford, a preeminent symbol of modernity, shows us in the above quote just how debased our thinking can become when we put Progress on the throne of life.

In more contemplative traditions, this tendency is far less apparent. What matters here is the acknowledgment of centuries-old practices, rituals and creeds. The novel and the current are seen as mere eddies at the edges of the broader main stream, and are of little concern.

So, I have come to see the following concerning tradition:

  1. It is not bad merely because it is old. This view, that of “contemporary chauvinism” is a relatively new phenomenon, prevalent for perhaps only just over a hundred years.
  2. Much of the enduring content of faith is that which has stood the test of time.
  3. The main thing to ask about a tradition is the question of quality, not the measure of time. 
  4. Truth appears in all traditions. I for one consider myself heterodox; an Orthodox view tends to see ONE tradition, for example Catholicism, as the one true tradition.  

Malcolm X, growing up in the whirl of baby-boom, racist America, rejected the culture and spirituality that resulted from Fords vision. He embraced radical Islam, and he lived and died for his faith. He reminds us of the power of remembering. To re-member means to bring together afresh.

So perhaps Jesus was suggesting that as we move towards a future, the quality of the life for which we hope, will be found in our gathering and re-integrating that which is noble, fine, and mellowed, whilst allowing culture and spirituality to naturally evolve and emerge. Both what is new and what is ancient need to be finding their right places alongside one another.



Curating Sacred Sound and Image

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”

avj twinstar

AVJ Twinstar here: It’s a good time to summarise the state of my art. Like all things, any given expression of our souls is a meeting of influences. Some joined the river recently, others can be traced back to the beginning…

I have just assembled a fully functioning AVJ rig. You don’t know what this means, because I just made it up. AVJ is a multimedia marriage of the DJ and VJ aesthetics, in short, and Audio-Visual Jockey. It must be said I don’t care for either of these terms. Audio-Visual has a technical ring I’d like to escape, and the role of Jockey I feel might better be described as Curator. But AVJ has a certain je ne c’est quoi, and I’ll keep it.

So for near on 30 years I have been a musician. I have been interested in sound, and the organisation thereof, otherwise called music. I have been through several phases in this: Rock, Jazz, World, African, Songwriter, Electronica, ECM, all totaling 3 decades. I whole heartedly pursued the disciplines of music, the techniques of guitar and saxophone, theory, songwriting, and recording, as a sustained journey. Did I master any? I’ve given up asking that question, and there is no conclusive evidence in either direction.

AVJ twinstar rigBut in recent years and months, I have been exploring image. But I’m no drawer, painter or sculptor. AND my eyes are finding it increasingly hard to see the detail of things without glasses, too. But there is something in imagemaking, in how pictures, photographs, movies, symbols, even words interact with us that has me under its spell.

Further to that I suspect that as we emerge from modernism, the role of words as the dominant carrier of truth is no longer appropriate. Images, in the age of Film, TV and the internet, are at least equal partners in communicating any messages. Theologically, it is equally valid to say “G-d as the Logos, spoke”, or that “G-d as the Light, shone”. I don’t see why the language of words should feel superior to images in a post-modern culture. Or that images are only alright if they support our sales pitches, lectures or sermons. Powerpointism … an illustration must know its place, it is to serve the spoken and written message.

Edirol V4What I have assembled is by no means perfect or the ultimate AVJ rig, but it works for me. By acquiring an Edirol V4 visual mixer, I now have the hub of a large range of visual sources. A mixer takes multiple inputs and routes them to multiple outputs, enabling the seamless switching and creative combining of images.

Photographs, scans, words and texts, moving image, input from microscopes, oscilloscopes, skype-o-scopes (I googled that and guess what I got NO matches – what a relief to know there are places the googlebot has never been), browsers with internet content or Powerpoint shows can all be combined in real time.

But the best thing is how live camera feeds can form an integral part of the projected output. This means that Liturgy – the work of the people – becomes enabled by making the content the participants themselves. What is this show about? It’s about US. It is integral to community.

As in good conversation, every idea is fair game. If you want to quote Oscar Wilde and you know him, you can. If you want to press a point a little further, you can. If you want to draw people’s attention to a passing cloud formation, you can. In theory any available image can be recalled and combined as desired.

What this takes is someone who sees film as a performance art, and someone who is accepts the curator’s role. A curator in this sense is not just a functionary: the watchman of premises and its contents, with no real feel for or relationship to the collection of works housed at a point in time. A curator is someone who cares for the images of a community.

Further, it is a creative who does not claim exclusive authorship of the content, or may in fact, have no authoring role whatsoever, but who can present sound or images to a gathering in such a way as to read the moods of the room, and in the case of the sacred curator, the will of the spirit too.

The DJ is perhaps the best example of a curator of sounds, songs or perhaps just clips or rhythm. I’ve had a lifelong prejudice against this emblem of our culture, mainly because I saw myself as an author of music, and the DJ was the slaggard who took whatever glory might be inherent in the music with absolutely no role in its creation. I wasn’t surprised but was still amazed to hear this DJ exclaim “Scheesh dude, I suppose now that S*sha is doing it, we will all have to get into production”. Hey, I thought, all I wanted to do for about 10 years before I could afford a Tascam 4-track was record and produce, and you are moaning about having to mimic some vapid pseudo-creator.

VJing comes into the picture on the heels of the fully ascended (but still none the less visually boring) DJ cult, in which randomly accessible images could accompany the music. This form of expression is moving beyond its eye-candy beginnings, with its new and emerging visual language. Nonetheless, almost all VJ activity takes place in clubland, and the idea of the sacred VJ is virtually unknown. Not totally though, The Work of the People is an example of a similar vision.

motion dive tokyoBack to the rigging: I run 2 laptops, one exclusively for (the rather power mad) motion dive tokyo console, a dedicated hardware/software platform for triggering and mixing on-disk images. It contains visual effects too which enable you to composite 2 images in many ways, resulting in hybrid images which are truly fresh.

Most of my material is my own, but I have a library now of natural and urban scenes, notable movie clips, computery graphics, photographs and texts. Always wanted to publicly intersperse your take on what Seal was getting at in “Crazy”, well now you can by fading in your comment or question while he sings “But we’re never going to survive, unless we get a little big.”

It’s about finding truth in unexpected places. You just need the insight to read the poetry in things, and the faith to consecrate that which you believe to bear the sacred. Most moving images are looped – hyper short form film – and can be left to run with great effect.

As in Orthodox worship, some images are iconic, and their very repetition can usher in the sacred. I tend to mute the sound from clips used in this way, as the assumption is the VJ performance will accompany music. However, I can see the potential for using moving image with mime, textual readings, or many other expressions.

Ableton Live 6The other laptop runs both Powerpoint (for clean slideshows, as if) and Ableton Live, a simply superb musical software platform for production, performance and composition. I have used Live for 4 years for songwriting and production of original music, but now it has become a DJ oriented deck for playing my songlists. Additionally, via midi (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) it is able to trigger images on Motion Dive.

Typically I start a song and have the images set up automatically, then VJ live for the rest of the song based on the set up. It’s finding a balance between automation and interaction. I would also like to hook up a USB microscope to this machine so that a gathering might see the ravishing beauty of lichens at 100X or view some sub-visual life form while musing over the wonder of the created order.

Each laptop goes to a V4 input, using dual screen technology so I can retain the Motion dive and Powerpoint master view on their screens. The other 2 inputs are from a live camera and a DVD player. The DVD is really handy for bringing movies or material handed to me in movie format on the spot, into the mix. Also it will play CDs, so one can treat it as a play-all-discs input.

The Camera forms the last source. This is perhaps most important – we are not merely presenting stock footage with which we might have only a vague connection, but much of the input comes from the life and movement, the stories and gestures, of the participants themselves. This presents an opportunity for liturgy – community, creativity and the sacred all working together. By consciously “mediating” – being the medium for – an experience of community, and then projecting these images back to that community, we fill a key role of reflection.

A community should see itself as others see it, and if we bring the classic priestly role into the mix – those who stand between man and G-d – who knows, we might be showing Him-Her to the world.

I’m hopeful that anyone remotely interested in spirituality will see this as a worthy goal.

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