Diapason (ricercares) wrote,

  • Music:

Trivia Time: John Dee & XETB

I've been meaning to put together a list like this for some time. Since I will shortly be re-releasing Gamaaea on Larkfall I thought this would be an appropriate time. So… here's an undoubtedly incomplete list of direct and indirect references to John Dee in the music of XETB. Some of the following was extracted from a lexicon of XETB influences that I began in 2005 after Dave Colohan asked me whether I'd be putting out any maps or documentation to accompany my music. While the lexicon is still a work in progress I think a few of the entries below may tie together some of the seemingly disparate articles on this blog. Less self-indulgent posts to follow in the next fortnight!

Aldaraia (Under a Soular Moon)
Aldaraia, or The Book of Soyga was a work on magic belonging to John Dee, who thought it to be of Arab provenance. Dee was obsessed with 36 magical tables contained within and lamented to the angel Uriel "Oh, my Great and long desyre hath byn to be hable to read those Tables of Soyga" (Mysterium Liber Primus). The mystique of the tables and Dee's obsession with them seem to have been a direct influence on Dee's "Enochian" magic, filled as it is with alphabetical squares and incomprehensible language. The tables themselves are in fact algorithmically generated sequences, as cryptographer Jim Reeds proved in his paper John Dee and the Magic Tables in the Book of Soyga (1998). Reeds shows that the tables are constructed by a simple algorithmic technique. I wrote a program to replicate the technique (available on request) and reconstructed the 36 tables. The patterns formed by the letters on these tables are quite hypnotic when neatly written out or colour coded and it was while contemplating the table of Taurus that the track Aldaraia was recorded.

I have since learned that the composer Jerry Hunt (1943-93) not only used Dee's "Angelic Tables" as compositional devices, but also created a piece entitled Tabulatura Soyga for 0-11 instruments and electronic system (1965), which remains unperformed.

EDIT: In one of those strange coincidences I now find that the name Aldaraia itself is a corruption of Al-Thurayya, the Arabic lunar mansion that begins in the last degree of Taurus.

Dai Amaeth (Toadsman's Bell)
I frankly find Dee's conversations with angels the most tedious chapter of his life, but have always been struck by his reconstruction of the so-called Sigillum Dei Aemeth - the Seal of God's Truth. Ultimately this comes from the thirteenth century Sworn Book of Honorious and is employed as part of a magical ritual for the beatific vision - and afterwards it is implied that it has the power to summon angelic aid. Post-Dee, Athanasius Kircher made some particularly scathing comments about the Seal. Since Dee was a Welshman and since that language holds a particular sway over my imagination, I corrupted the phrase Dei Aemeth into two phonetically similar Welsh words - Dai, apparently derived from the old Celtic 'to shine', and Amaeth, 'husbandman' or 'tenant farmer'.

Dew Transmitter (Hieroglyphic Mountain)
Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica has an allegorical/alchemical subtext concerning dew and the appearance of manna to the Israelites in the wilderness. Dew in all its forms has since been a particular inspiration to me.

Gamaaea/Earth Gamathei (The Crooked Pool)
The meaning of gamaaea has been discussed here.

Hieroglyphic Mountain
A play on Hieroglyphic Monad - thinking of Monas as Mons, or mountain - a common alchemical symbol. Could the Hermetic mountain be a symbol of that 'one thing' in which gold or the philosopher's stone may be found?

Horizon of Eternity (XETB & Jani Héllen split)
The title comes from a particularly enigmatic diagram in Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica. The music itself was abstracted from an alchemical-geomantic preparation in The Rosicrucian Secrets, attributed to John Dee, but most likely by 17C occult compiler Peter Smart, who later attributed his works to one 'Dr. Rudd'. Smart most likely copied this material from John Heydon's Rosicrucian Infallible Axiomata (which I'll post about later!). Given Heydon's reputation for flagrant plagiarism this may not even be the original source of the geomantic diagram, although on the other hand he was wont to cast geomantic charts along with horoscopes as a complement to almost everything he did believing geomancy to be the natural counterpart to astrology (to the amusement of his critics).

Pyrognomic Glass
A reference to the prefatory letter of the Monas Hieroglyphica, in which Dee mentions that the angles of the Monad contain the basis for the construction of a lens that will burn to an infinite distance. This reminded me of a diagram in Porta's Natural Magick which the plan for a parabolic burning glass is given, which looks strikingly like the upper portion of Dee's Monad. The cover of the album, showing an extract form Dee's letter alongside Porta's diagram is intended to illustrate this.

Thalia (The Crooked Pool)
This track on the forthcoming double CD came from thinking up acrostic poems for the spirits of the Tuba Veneris while walking through Appletreewick Pasture at dusk. The verse for Mogarip mentioned the silent muse in the first line. The words were dropped, but the music I made around them remains. Agrippa, discussing the music of the spheres quotes this verse:

Silent Thalia we to th' Earth compare,
For she by Musick never doth ensnare…

Voarchadumia (Stella & Astrophel)
The Voarchadumia of Pantheus is an alchemical tract that first appeared in 1530. Dee was particularly obsessed with it and a copy containing his annotations is still held by the British Library. Dee made several passing references to Voarchadumia and the art of the voarchadumacis in the prefatory letter of his Monas Hieroglyphica. Before recording this I was particularly thinking of one of the early chapters in Pantheus' companion work to the Voarchadumia - the chapter entitled Sermon on the Unity of Metals which attempts to set out the great chain of being extending from god, through the planets, metals, musical intervals and so on. As I set foot on the mound upon which Kirklington Church stands, I knew that this would be the song of a voarchadumacis.

Tags: alchemy, dee, dew, gamaaea, geomancy, heydon, hieroglyphic monad, pantheus, porta, xetb

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