Sound and Silence

when necessary, use words



Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place

“Which is more musical; a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?”  John Cage

Welcome to Moop

One of the many delightful new ideas brought to us via Burner Culture is that of moop – “matter out of place”. Meaning predominantly litter and detritus, but also things inappropriately placed. One of the 10 Burner principles is “Leave no trace”, and is designed to make us wasteful westerners think twice about how we interact with the environment.

Afrika Burn (and far more so its parent Burning Man) is not a simple back-to-nature event, despite a strong stream of green awareness and survivalist minimalism. It is more than that, and incorporates at times almost impossibly complex structures bordering on madness, and requiring truckloads of materials and months of preparation. The central piece of Tankwa Town, The Wish by the Upsetters, for example, is an 8 M high spherical installation of hoops within hoops, meticulously designed, transported and assembled for the pleasure of all. Continue reading “Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place”


An Economy of Grace

I have been reflecting on Afrika Burn 2008, with 2 articles, a general synopsis called “AB08 scorecard” and a cheeky cultural crit called “Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place“. But now I want to get to the heart of the experience, from the point of view of the theme camp that our community set up, Sanctuary. Continue reading “An Economy of Grace”

Calling AVJ Twinstar…

moses and the burning bush from // is a “calling?”.

Why are many seemingly happy people not vexed with this question? Are they not listening? Are they not called? Does a calling presuppose a “Caller”? And how, on earth and in heaven, did Moses do it?

Wo wo wo, timeout: this question can be a can of worms.

My consideration is not theological or theoretical, so don’t expect too much theory here. For me, the holy fool, the question of vocation is a messy, dank, all too real Continue reading “Calling AVJ Twinstar…”

Reaping nothing

a step on the via negetiva

when blessing is taken for intrusion
giving, for depletion
motivation, for pressurisation
enthusing, for overpowering
careful thought, for judgment
envisioning, for delusion;

reaching out, becomes flailing
communicating, noise
whole heartedness, a vacuum.

the approach with integrity, unambiguously repels
investing all, and reaping nothing.

Longing and Craving

In arabia it was ... by BidWiya, Dubai

My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. – Psalm 130:6

Can’t get no, (da da daaa), Satisfaction … – Mick Jagger 

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what was promised – Hebrews 11:39

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope. – Reinhold Niebuhr

It’s a universal human feeling to experience lack. Need, hunger, fullfillment, emptiness, desire; these are the drivers which push life onwards. Whether it is a basic drive like hunger, the persistent emotional pull of needing affirmation, the gnawing of unrequited love, or a lifelong vision for a noble truth such as justice, our lives are shaped by what draws us onwards.

What is the “opposite” of life: is it lack? Most people seem to think so. The prevailing view, at lest that perpetrated by the media and the commercial interests it represents, is that in order to experience “life” you need more. More things, more money, more time, more choice. Craving is specifically created by the materialist establishment.

This is largely via sexual desire, as a world weary Joni Mitchell remarked “Sex sells everything, sex kills”. However to target sexuality as the problem will miss the fact that it is part of an overarching materialist “purpose”. This is the battle waged by the corporate powers for the hearts and minds of consumers. It offers a vision of power, independence and wealth, together with the illusion of sustainability and immortality. It is the battle for short term profit at any cost, the cost, not least, of the Planet, and also dignity, and ultimately our hearts, for “what does it profit to gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”.

I have been moving towards the view, however, that the real opposite of life might just be the lack of lack. Firstly, too much of anything does not give satisfaction, but satiation. Eating too much of a great meal, for example.

And secondly, if we never experience lack, we will not have the space in which to appreciate what we do have, and to understand our drives so as to make choices that will sustain us. The space created by longing is a very pregnant one.

One of the key things to grasp regarding any lack concerns the “time to fulfillment” of that lack. A rule of thumb here is that the shorter the time to fulfillment, the less appropriate, or worthy, that lack is, to life.

To get to the synonyms proposed at the start, short term lack, we can call craving. And long term lack, longing (or yearning). It is no semantic co-incidence that longing describes the long term.

Unititled by Charlotte Sterling

Examples of craving are drink, and food. Other examples include a variety of addictions: alcohol, sex, drugs, television. It is obvious that the cycle between need and fulfillment is short, only a number of hours in some cases.

A satiated society does not yearn, it craves. Over stimulation, over consumption drive out the space inhabited by Spirit.

In Maslow’s well known “Triangle of Needs”, he describes a continuum from the more basic Deficiency needs: Physiological (water, air, food), then Safety (security, health), then Love/Belonging (friendship, intimacy, family), then Esteem (respect and self respect); through to the Growth needs; Self-actualization (the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their unique abilities and to strive to be the best they can be) and Self-Transcendence (Spiritual).

What is clear from this analysis is that the “lower”, or deficiency needs, can be filled quickly, and will appear again just as quickly. The “higher” needs can go unnoticed for most of our lives, and can take our lives to fulfill.

What of longing? Without getting technical by setting up some sort of rule about where craving stops and longing begins, let us rather observe that the longest longing extends beyond death, bringing us into the realm of the eternal. Obviously other longings are intermediate, the dream to start a business, start a family, take on a big project. Maybe they concern becoming a certain type of person, generous, wise, loving, for example.

A long term drive does not however automatically sanctify that drive. Deep feelings of revenge can swallow up ones whole life, and even be passed down from generation to generation. Institutionalized customs are often tied in closely with religion and tribe. Ongoing enmity between Shias and Sunnis, Catholics and Protestants, Hutu and Tutsi, lead to very deep wounds which are near impossible to extricate. These toxic traditions are possibly harder to escape than any short term addiction.


what will i do if your answer is no;
if you don’t want me where shall i go?
the sting of your retort will hurt
but what will remain lurks deep beneath the surface
conspiring there with all the gathered history
of like experience,
coagulating, subsumed into the tissue of my being
with a half life well beyond my remaining years.

yet i would rather you saw me off,
clinically severed,
than accepted me under duress
for whatever reason
endured me because i persuaded you
of my worth.
if you don’t see it
tell me now.
just say no,
and i will move on.
this sojourn of belonging
will move on.

A Worthy Worship 8 – Doing it.

Practices, tools, technologies and roles

From Flying Lessons by Rob Mills“Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel … its arrangement, its exits and entrances — its whole design and all its regulations and laws … This is the law of the temple: All the surrounding area on top of the mountain will be most holy”.  Ezekiel 43:10-12 (NIV)

What I have attempted to do thus far is to present a re-envisioning of the concept of Worship. This has been an exercise in faith-imagination, and up to now, it remains theoretical. We have specifically tried to pull back from specifics, so that we can get away from habit, cliché, or tradition, into a space of imagination, in order to re-envision who G-d is or may be. This means forgetting worship as an activity or a form, for a while, so that we can attempt to get to its essence. Then charged by faith-imagination we can come to it anew.

I feel a little nervous, it must be said, coming down from this tower of Ivory, into the real world. I feel like the pure and philosophical is going to be tarnished with the prosaic and the practical. But then I think of the magnificence of the Incarnation, where G-d who is all-poetry, all-truth, chose to be born man and enter history, where Love could be put to the real test of living, to be tempted by all things, boredom, change, suffering, rejection. So with a deep breath, here goes…


A good word to introduce here is Liturgy. This means “work of the people”, and might be the perfect way to describe the creative, the sacred and the communal all in one. Of course, to most people it smacks of religiosity, so we must note that we are trying to reclaim its meaning anew.

Communion at The Cosmic MassI’d bet that most people would consider Liturgy to be the work of the Clergy. As such their view of how to do worship will be pretty religious, and most lightly pretty boring. So, firstly we need to affirm that liturgy is what people, the laity, the proletariat, you and me, do. It does not need to be a formula, but can mean how we apply our imaginations to life.

Liturgy then is about the whole of life. (Repeat this three times, light the candle, then hit the gong to move on…). What follows however, pertains mostly to meetings, and in fact to church meetings, although these give only one model of how to express worship creatively. Activities of organisations like The Cosmic Mass are examples of liturgy re-interpreted. What characterises a meeting of this nature is community and people who are willing worshipers.

The Space
To honor space, it might be best to clear an area of chairs and pews. However, for hospitalities sake, seating should be available (I do like a good retro pouf) … There will always be a mix of participators and spectators.

Consider removing the pulpit in order to devolve the sense of structure and authority into the community. Musicians should also be free to roam, and placed if possible in such a way as to integrate with the non-musicians. Worshipers need to be free to face any direction. Directional exercises such as speaking to the four winds will help people to visualize a G-d who is omnipresent. Dance and movement are core to this worship, and the space should be determined accordingly. Dancers should be given preference to non-dancers. Water should be made available for rehydration, preferably served with ice and lemon or lime slices in fine crystal flutes.

The beauty of a building or its décor is important, and attempts to maximize a creative atmosphere in a space (normally drab and functional if rented) should be made. Flowers, plants and greenery, together with interesting objects, sculpture and artwork, will enhance the atmosphere immeasurably.

Sound and its arrangement are vital to the spatial planning – see the section on technologies later on.

All modes of expression should be considered.

  • Dance and movement are primary. The separation of dance from music in Western Tradition is one of the more damaging dualisms to have occurred. In African worldviews, there is conceptually no difference between a song and a dance. One sings a dance and dances a song. It is perfectly valid to move without explicitly singing. The scriptures instruct us to “Love the Lord your God with all your strength …”. This means potentially, every muscle in our bodies.
  • Rhythm and groove are key tools to celebration. Groove is rhythm which finds “Joy in repetition” (to quote Prince), and like a river current carries the participant forwards. Music which emphasizes rhythm over harmony is appropriate.
  • Activities of Silence are vital. The honoring of space, stillness and quietude are as important as the making of creative sound. See the blog posting on “Silence”.
  • Song is always central. Song forms which allow ease of participation, such as simple chants which work well with Groove based music, are appropriate. The complexity of hymnody with many dense verses and complex melodies and harmonies is far less appropriate to a spirit of freedom than rhythmic chanting.
  • Instrumental music, not as a tolerated interlude, but as a core means of expression, is apt: People can encounter and experience much that lies beyond manipulative wordage. The DJ can play a pivotal role here – see “Roles” below.
  • Speech is the most obvious activity in most meetings. It is generally used to organize, admonish, teach and preach. These things are all good, but their over use as opposed to other expressions mean that they need to find a balanced place in the scheme of things. Above al things, speakers should consider their words carefully. Speaking is an art form. Rappers note: you are very cool, so don’t be over-anxious. Just chill a little, and experiment with the power of less is more. (Atually that goes for every art form – verbosity kills!)
  • Poetry should be used. The tools employed by poets reveal to us ways of seeing that can be highly illuminating. See the blog posting on “A Poetic God”.
  • Drama and enactment are further powerful ways of a community expressing itself. See the blog posting “A Dramatic God”.
  • Ritual needs to be embraced, as a creative expression rather than a habit. Small gestures of devotion – the lighting of candles, breaking of bread, go a long way to firing the imagination in G-d.
  • Traditional Liturgies can be used to great effect, if we can overcome the prejudice we hold regarding their misuse in history. There are events driven by the Calendar such as Easter or Advent. It should be noted that these are usually Roman, but can be Celtic or Hebraic festivals like Beltane or Passover too. There are seasonal liturgies and festivals such as Harvest, and historical remembrances.
  • The Charismatic movement in the Church has brought a great deal of creativity into worship, in as far as it has practiced a faith in the so-called Gifts of the Spirit . Many of these express themselves as spontaneous activities; prophesy, speaking in tongues, “words of knowledge”, as well as prayers for healing and wholeness. They are often inclusive and communal, but can obviously be misused.

We might define technology as that which amplifies the natural human experience. It means that we can project sound and vision so that many people can access what is happening. The use of technology is taken for granted but needs to be used with caution. Marshall McLuhan pointed out that new technology whilst extending or amplifying our abilities also amputates other abilities.

  • Sound
    Sound Tools include a PA system including microphones mixers and speakers. Sound engineers should be included in the “Signal Chain” as integral parts of the creative expression. Output formats such as surround sound can be very instrumental in creating an enveloping experience, although this risks a complexity which might not pay off; stereo is a very good basis for a spread sound. Digital Audio Workstations such as Ableton Live bring unprecedented expressive control to the electronic musician/DJ. A variety of instruments should be used as a means of expressing the vast array of sonic colours available. Whether they are familiar ones such as organs and guitars, or new, exotic or unusual, they need to be played with skill and imagination. It is better to have silence and to use other means of expression than to be unmusical or insensitive in ones playing.
  • Projected Visuals
    Through the use of Projectors and large screens, visuals can be very effective in worship. These through software such as VJamm or Resolume can involve Live Mixing (A VJ – Video Jockey – should be a creative who can bring together sound and appropriate visual elements). The content for this can be widespread: Words (Lyrics, quotes or scriptures), Stills (photos, clippings, and web pages, community-particular content such as artist works or community activities), abstract computer generated washes, moving content (movies and clips from various sources), and Live camera feeds to the audience.
  • Sentient objects
    It is important to keep a balance with real things. This includes objects of beauty or ritual, sculptures, crafts, and found or natural objects. A classic component of Christian meetings would be the bread and wine of the Eucharist. The chalice and the platter are objects with tremendous sacred and artistic potential. Other elements can be useful in order to involve the senses – Fire, Smoke and incense.
    I always feel that food has a potentially sacred quality, and eating together is a high point of community. I felt I should mention this although how to integrate eating and relaxing with the more intense and focused activities above will probably be a creative challenge.

New Roles
There are a number of roles I would like to highlight as being key to Doing Worship. These are the DJ, the VJ, MC (Master/Matron of Ceremonies) and Installation Curator.

  • The DJ role opens up the musical expressions to ALL music not just “worship” music or self-composed music. It’s very inclusive. There is a universe of music to share with people, the DJ can do this. Of course, if the DJ is a musician, this is a great way to mix “imported” and original music.
  • The VJ takes responsibility for Projected Visuals, and live visual mixing. They should have a rich library of visual resources – stills, movies, text, available to be brought on line in response to a move of the Spirit or the general creative flow. A record of the activities or portraits of members of the community present great potential for meditations or prayer.
  • The MC is essentially a focus for Hosting and hospitality. They give a group confidence and help tie together the whole liturgy, assisting with the flow of events.
  • The Installation Curator is a role borrowed from the art world. A curator is associated with overseeing an exhibition of normally visual art. The installation is a term used to include many types of creative output, not only visual art. Installations are often constructed outside of galleries, in public places for example. They often include a heterodox, multimedia approach utilizing sound and the tactile experiences of sculpture and other constructions, and may be very hi tech in their use of digital and wireless technologies.

My reflections above are just the start. I ask you the reader to add ideas and comments to this list. What do you do or would you like to do, to appropriately and worthily worship a Living God?

A Worthy Worship 5 – A Poetic God

There are many to whom “Poetry” is that flowery quarter of the garden of life where the sensitive ones go to think sensitive thoughts, while they go about the real business of life, organizing, negotiating, doing battle, surviving. To be sure, poetry itself is hard work, most of us were forced to learn this in school. Its not as though one can easily find an hour to read and decode just 14 lines of a sonnet, for example. Why make all that work for yourself, on top of all the demands of making a living? It just sounds like masochism. 

As a teenager, I discovered my way with words, and started to write with great earnestness, trying to emulate those I had been exposed to – Hopkins and ee cummings are two I recall. At the same time, I started my life long commitment to music and song. By my early 20’s I had decided that I would throw my weight into songwriting, and not pure poetry. Poetry is an art form in decline, I reasoned. 

It has only been in the last few years that I have come to refer to myself as a poet again. Not however because I have started writing any, but because my view of the poetic has broadened to the extent that I recognize the presence of, or at least a relationship to poetry, in all I do. I call this the Aesthetic. (The word comes from the Greek word αισθητική meaning a perceiver or sensitive, and is traditionally a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty). 

In considering this Aesthetic, this set of principles by which to live, what is important is not so much poetry – the creative use of image and idea in print – but rather, the Poetic. It is not a technique of language, but a set of guiding principles for a life worth living. It affects our words, for sure, but it plays a key role in our communication; written, spoken, and nonverbal, our quality of life and ultimately in our spirituality and our worship.  

I have been involved to some degree in the practice of communal music making in churches, on and off, for more than 25 years. There have been some times where I felt a genuinely creative outpouring, but on the whole, when I encounter so-called “Worship Music” I am left with questions rather than solace or elevation. And I think I now know what that question is … Where is the Poetry? 

I’ll say it straight out – I believe in a Poetic God, who is worshipped and served poetically. According to the gospel of John, “You will worship God in Spirit and in Truth.” This spirit, this truth, is a creative and a communicating spirit, greatly interested not only in what is said, but also in how it is said. 

So do you have to be a poet, or have to like poetry, in order to worship? No, but what you do need is an Aesthetic. OK, so then do you need to be a philosopher to worship? No, you need to be a perceiver. One who sees, savors, learns and appreciates. Having an aesthetic is a key to being human. I have a feeling that not many people are going to agree whole heartedly with me on this. Let me offer some reasons why having an aesthetic may not be considered that important or relevant:

  • Primarily, most of us in the world are “just trying to survive”. Survival is a full time job and more, for many it can be a desperate fight. This needs to be acknowledged, but I believe that everyone has the capacity or call to live at least some of their life beyond the “survival” mode.
  • The fear of pain – the opposite of aesthetic is of course anesthetic, and having an aesthetic means opening up to all that is potential painful.
  • A belief that it is better to view life in black and white rather than looking at shades of grey, this simplifying approach does help us avoid lifes inherent complexity.
  • A lack of curiosity, fear of taking responsibility, plain laziness, and thus defaulting to the “group” way of thinking. 

We need therefore to ask, what constitutes the Poetic? It is a worthy exercise to examine the rudiments of poetry. This means the basic building blocks of how language is used by the Poet. Once we have a theoretical framework, we can start to apply the principles to living. The principles of poetry include figurative language (metaphor, allegory, irony), musical devices (rhyme and rhythm), and pattern. Some of these we use daily without acknowledging; others we might find hard to fit into current notions of worship. 

We may be surprised by how poetic the bible is. Or any Holy book for that matter…I am wanting to read the Koran to gage its sense of both history and the poetic. For where there is poetry, God dwells.  

I believe that if we take the poetic to heart, we will find ourselves in a new world; that of the Ongoing Creation. Words, conversations, movements, dramas, brand new combinations, fresh situations, new aspects of ourselves revealed, sounds and music, images and artworks, new ways of seeing God, spectacular vistas, beauty in the oddest places, points of view infused with hope. Things that we never imagined existed.

Worship, infused with the poetic, is a rich conversation. Think of the life inherient in a moment of awe or discovery – “Eureka!”, a deep deep howl of pain -“Why have you forsaken me?”, a fine musical conversation between master improvisors, the perfect dinner with loved friends.

If we desire this, this place beyond our wildest imaginations, then there is a lot to learn, or perhaps to unlearn, to get back to a place of awe and wonder, of wildness and potential. Poetry ultimately is not a skill for sophiticates, but a way of seeing the world, a way of seeing G-d. It might just be the ONLY way to avoid to state of being described in Isiah 6:9 – “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.”

A Worthy Worship 3 – Space and Silence

Deep Sky by Rob Mills

What do we mean by silence? Is it an escape from modern life – traffic, kids or insessant demands? Is it the choice of lifestyle for those called to contemplation? Is it perhaps that terrible state in which all our worst fears come out to taunt us? Is it a Rule called “shhh!”? Or simply the “absence of noise”?

Partly. Actually, not really. The most appropriate understanding of the term, for me, refers to an awareness and inner discipline, a backdrop against which all spirituality is allowed to take place.

It is not necessarily a protracted period of low decibels, it is not necessarily vacuous. It is not a place of dread, but of faith; not a vocation, but a practice; not an escape, but a place to be entered into; not a nirvana without desire, but all about Yearning; certainly not a legislated law, for it is suffused with Grace; and not merely defined in negative – it is not an Absence, but the ultimate, in fact, in Presence.

And Space? Well I’m sure you are seeing that space and silence are closely related. Silence exists in the realm of sound and language; space in the realm of the Earth, our Habitat, and how we order our immediate environment. Silence has to do with waves and space with matter, if you like. And Light, which is both wave and matter – well that’s another tangent for another time.

Everyone knows what it means to “give some space”. It has to do with courtesy, respect, and ultimately love. It has its phobias – claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces, and agoraphobia of open spaces.

It might be helpful to ask, what is noise? What can we identify as militating against the practices of the spirit? Here are a few ideas, a few “sins against Space and Silence”:  

Verbosity – saying it in 200 words when 20 would do. Saying it at all when silence would do. More words, and less communication. This is often brought about by the lack of trust in or confusion about what is being said, so it is over emphasized. Or the lack of the ability to say “I don’t know.” Or, simply, the fear of silence.

Cliché  – the regurgitation of someone’s tired idea, or a tired interpretation of anything new. An indication of the fear of finding ones own meaning, of forging ones own vocabulary.

Clutter and Consumerism  The accumulation of stuff made by some corporation dedicated to profit, with no authentic feeling for the product or artifact at all, in order to fill some fear of being without.

Machismo – The forcing of the self onto the world, to make up for the fact that one does not really believe in ones own worth; hiding behind a wall of sound, to escape the responsibility of being alive.

Unless we develop and cultivate a feeling for space and silence, we will not become worshippers. The Creator inhabits not temples of stone, but the praise of people, the worship of those who believe and belong to him-her. In fact, even inert rock worships.

Is it enough to say, “I am quoting from the BIBLE, this is worship. This hymn is from the HYMNBOOK, of course its worship. We’re in a church, aren’t we? Can’t you see that this is a religious activity, you querulous infidel?”

Well, yes, I can see a religious activity; it’s just that God seems somewhat absent from it, all the religous noise has made it impossible to hear anything of value.

When I listen to the story, the pain or the joy, of another, I create space. When I hold my response, when I am patient, so as to give them time to formulate their thoughts, their questions, I create space. When I listen to the birds, the wind, when I watch the ripples in the grass, I create space. When I allow myself or another to question, verbally or otherwise, without rushing in with a solution, I create space.

When I lay a table with a vase of freshly picked flowers, I create an environment for community. When I allow an instrument to reverberate, to let it interact with its environment, when I don’t impose a response on one hearing my songs, when I let words breathe, and my ego steps back, when I am lost in the wonder of a child’s imagination, when I take a path less worn, honor my curiosity, when I listen, look, or savor, a space emerges which begins to give way to a worthy worship.

Listen to “Space in the World”, off my album “The middle of it all”.

Find out more.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑