De Rerum

This is a hip hop lecture about the beginning of the world.

The religious imagination – with its long memory, appetite for layering metaphors on metaphors, and genial
‘suspension of disbelief’ – often strikes me as more dazzling and profligate than the secular, ‘artistic’ imagination. Whereas the market-pressed artist today chases difference, the religious imagination pursues resonance, drawing on deep cultural memories and freely (re)mixing words, images, symbols and references to that end. This EP was a project of this kind of imagination. As I wrote this ‘history of the world (to c.2000BCE)’ I worked hard to layer each image on a resonant one from a distant source: the Biblical Wheels of Gagallin are imagined as the spinning circles that draw sine waves, sine waves as the regular crest-and-trough of farmland and irrigation channel, irrigation channels as formants in a tone. The result: my own personal mythic syncretism of folk cosmogonies, Lucretian materialism, fake Deleuze, Mesopotamian history, acoustics and, well, a hundred other things.

I have performed it with karaoke track, track and live drums, small chamber group (piano, viola, trombone, drums), and full orchestra (Chicago Composers Orchestra).  I made a video to help the audience follow the words.  Here is part one:

Performances

Press

Lyrics

i. The Angle

It started with the invention of the angle:
a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of an angel
that leaned away from zero, first departure, first intention
and everything that followed was the child of that declension.
What was there before? Nothing but particles in parallel,
falling, yes, but from no heaven and falling to no hell,
frictionless and featureless, columns without deviation
till that first unmeasurably minute inclination.
and the parallel was broken and the collisions multiplied,
and then geometry was born and just as quickly then, it died,
for the reckoning of vector angles doesn't make much sense
when you're in a sea of atoms trapped inside the turbulence.
The first events resembled foamy whirlpools, dynamic
steady-states that organized themselves around a single rule
a basin in a morphogenetic landscape, a chreod, an
attractor in the rulespace that collapses other factors.
Next two vortices began to trade their blank material
and leveled up the steady-state, one more abstraction to conflate, and
the manifold deformed, Michael blew his crumpled horn,
the first barline is drawn and the period was born!
seraph stood on every crest and called out every cycle
a cherub slept in every trough and dreamed of future wires
And down below, in single file, marshal as their master Michael
wheels of gagallin in firey flame and burning fire spin and
spin about the axis dipping low and curving higher
and although the Engineer will stoke the furnace even hotter,
the forces of the deep are still, and still the surface of the water
the face across the deep is still and still the water.

And then the HUM, the waking A, the sleeping U, the dreamless M
And then the HYMN, the half, the third, the 8th and 12th and 8th again
and then the sum of sinusoidal snakes that crawl out of the Furnace
decoding breath, and then encoding ripples on a surface.

And the frothy milk curdled and the substance separated
and upward rose the numinous and the sediment collected into
structures we call continents (they say no man's an island,
but the island pylon constellation rings a thousand klaxtons!)
and the seraphim proliferate and scatter in confusion
and amid the ripple phospholipids fall out of solution
into vesicles that pass between the protein populations
in the loving spores that pollinate the rhizome of creation

It started with the invention of the angle:
the tilt of the excitement pushed the larynx to the final
and the plosives shift according to the glottal and dental
shifting tongue tectonic angles pointing buzzing to the nasal
and the sinus gives a certain frontal shading to the vowel
and over time the ballet of this fear induced inflection
was effective and rehearsed along semantic edges hardened
by the types of ape who imitate and imitate correction
yes, the ones that build and clarify through variance depletion
and the glue that had affixed the new inflection in place has passed
away and it floats freely in the lexical space

the breath that passed across the water 
also passed across the tongue
and ripples still through word and grammar
when words in bardic mouths are sung

we put the stress on every crest to beat out every cycle
and let the weak, the fleet, the rest collect between and settle
in the troughs, and spin out doggerel and treasure whether we are lofty
minnesingers fair or just your humble village minstrel
Everything is of a kind and 119 the number
Everything that you might find you find by counting under
Ships have trailed the roads of whales asunder, nothing was entwined
Everything is of a kind and 119 the number

ii. The Fulcrum

until this time the human gas was undivided into nations
formless though not voided by impoverished relations
for the bond was strong, the bond was blood, covalent and irascible
and yet the structs could not extend beyond the Punnett-passable
divide by food and the orbs of 'we' are equidistant particles
dispersed by Malthus/Law of Boyle Dunbar/kinship molecules
in gaseous state! but in some places, friction's getting warmer...

and the frothy sea curdled and the substance separated
and the sediment collected, pressed and formed the elevated
on a power vector delta shaped to optimize the distances
between the kings and serfs and the prostitutes and the princesses
for the upward only knows a single word, and that is 'higher'
unavoidably inventing the force multipliers, so
mark it now, a barline, for the fulcrum and its birth:
give a place for me to stand and raise me from the earth!
so though it seems they robbed oppressed and fed and clothed enslaved and taught
there's literally nothing a king can think but 'build a ziggurat!'

it calcified a crust around the cooler outer border
with exceptions two: diffusion at the north and western harbours
where the nutrients would flow and pass between the writing-sorters
to the organelles within, the stables and the larders
in the quarters of the able and the tables of the barterers
the alchemists who turn the geese to grain and grain to bitumen
and bitumen to lapis and then taxes salt and cumin
thereby passing through the pipes of state each sediment accumulating
spread across the network parallel, desire activating
channels cut delineating space of every purpose
of the surplus the surplus the surplus the surplus

Ur and Uruk then began to trade their best materials:
linens for the women and the orestones for the anvils
were the pride of Ur, and Uruk had more luck in breeding camels
and each had placed a premium on the other's strain of cereals
so the substances that once had flowed across the ocean currents
were refracted by desire and settled into other orbits
which soon themselves had calcified along the outer margins in
aqueduct-accumulating sediment deposits

alertness in the nucleus, locus of transcription
from the wedges of the reeds of Phoenicians and Egyptians
to the local fluid ether in the space of recollection
to be tested for their fitness or by sexual selection
for adoption by the poets or the princes or the priests
or the fashion of the season or the style of the feasts
or the tools of irrigation or the fear or foreign beasts
or some innovation in the way they honor the deceased
or the nervousness about the rising powers in the east

Sometimes if the words do not seduce but fit the stencil
you must ring out righteous resonance to amplify or cancel.
for everyman's a switchboard and everyman's a funnel
and if he's not a channel or a bridge then he's a tunnel
and if he's spread arboreal he's mirror-image rooted
one is superposed and the other is occluded

iii. The Granary

And the dikes broke open and the granaries poured
through the pockets to the mouths of the radiating horde
who flooded out of Kish
and swept across the valley
and knew the women fully
and sang the contours perfectly
and calculated every lift or dip in elevation
on the contour map of treasure and of fulcrum-chief ascension
and every single corner that they found,
the passage of their flowing smoothed it down.
and back in Kish the granary rose up a little taller.

They swept across the river west to Babylon and Borsippa
and found the basin edge along the frontier of the Amorites
(who in 300 years would be the army of Elam's supple wedge,
a liquid people loosening the cracks prevailed without a fight
to cut the roots of Ur-Nammu and put that dynasty to rest
when swept they did across their river west)
and back in Kish the granary rose up a little taller,
and the pipes of state accumulate and squeeze a little tighter.

Following the river south the flood from Kish at first submerged
the modest city of Nippur and then Isin and Shuruppak
before they reached the greatest prize, Uruk and e'en once-honored Ur
surrendered quickly staving off the men from kish attack for they were
built too low to stay above the downward roll to ocean's mouth
that drinks the river south
and back in Kish the granary rose up a little taller,
and the pipes of state accumulate and squeeze a little tighter,
and the pipes of state accommodate the ever-rising pressure.

Crossing twice the river east they sank the stones of Tell Wilaya
and then pushed south against the highland Kassites in the mountains
into Elam, and then filled the basin pressed by great Malyan
of the thousand apiaries and the olive oil fountains
where the royal train was murdered at a vast mock-victory feast,
for that was then the custom by the rivers of the east.
and back in Kish the granary rose up a little taller,
and the pipes of state accumulate and squeeze a little tighter,
and the pipes of state accommodate the ever-rising pressure
pushing down from up above to fill the basin ever higher.

Ever higher ever higher! Basin deeper basin wider!
The water carves the channels and the channels carve the water.
For every chief in every town was just a power-vector plumber
downward pressing whirlpool so that the fruits of summer
would just roll to him! And pile up, sustain him through the winter --
so when the bigger wave rolls in the chieftain best take cover,
for how easily those oppressed by one are dominated by the other.

But what's the math of entropy among the royal purple?
usurpation by a brother or betrayal by advisors,
or ineptitude of sons or the absence altogether
or bad omens in the entrails of the birds or in the weather
and every batch of new invaders take the shape of their container
every batch of new invaders take the shape of their container
every batch of new invaders take the shape of their container

iv. The Monument

People of the striated! People of the smooth!
People of the zigurrat and people on the move!

People of the striated! People of the smooth!
People of the surface and people of the groove!

the granaries could not maintain the downward pointing pressure
to conform to every contour
and float back all the treasure
and amplify the one refrain the name the name the name!
so the empire curdled and the substance separated
and the waters receded and the Kassites invaded
and the tenuous numinous of Kish all but evaporated
leaving just the silty trace of sediment inflected
into structures we call monuments that channel men of violence
into crystals of accomplishment hallucinating bygones

and in addition to this flattery the pattern of alluvial
silt is mostly pottery, and certain institutional
artifacts that trace the salient paths of influence and back
from leaf to twig and twig to branch to trunk from
province to each city that had sunk be-
low the mandate-waterline whose price you must deliver
to the consort of Ishtar in the land between the rivers

but the dominant shape that the Kishan embrace
left behind was in fact the very smoothness of space
for the flood had swept the lowlands and entrenched a single basin
and a basin, as we know, has a synonym: attraction
so a century of local state identity erosion
dropped the threshold for the subsequent dynastic explosion
of Ur which had no choice but to alleviate the vacuum
so her ships of state proliferate and granaries will bloom
until they burst wide open! flooding out in all directions
through arboreally spreading activation net connections
of oppression, from the nadir of the basin to the canopy
and from the Persian Gulf up to the north and western sea
was once again beneath the wave, primeval deluge sublimated
while the local noble marionettes just ate their dates and waited
for the empire to curdle and like Noah were elated
when the waters receded but then the Elamites invaded.

And a god-king tried, on every crest, in vain, to prolong his cycle
but chaos waits in every trough to down vainglorious pilots,
for you'll never ever find the wavelength home of royal purple
even if you have the mustard seed to move the indigo to violet

Everything is of a kind and 119 the number
Everything that you might find you find by counting under
Ships have trailed the roads of whales asunder, nothing was entwined
Everything is of a kind and 119 the number

v. The Covenant

upward sang the water in a thousand layered drones
that sang the contour perfectly of pasture and of home
and calculated every subtle lift or dip in elevation
and with perfect sight it knew the shapes, the basin and the mountain
and canals. And every single corner that it found,
the shaking of its singing left it round.
And every single stripe was strewn
and every single grid was smoothed
and every single terraced sloped
and every single pattern warped
and every order ruined.

And then the fertile horn curdled and the substance separated
and the pigeon brought twigs and the floodwaters abated
and the sediment remained behind in channels spread arboreal
in patterning that optimized the annexed source alluvial

and next the people there began to sing the tones of Ocean one by
one and laid the Fourier snakes across the valley mimicking the
sun and moon and planets and the constellations they had seen 
across the sky, and the rhythm of relations in between of every
size so when the firmament was rent, and the overocean
poured the bald and lapis-eyed came out to sing in chorus
and the valley was a sweetly thrumming chord

and barley stood on every crest and called out every cycle
and water slept in every trough and dreamed that every tendril
was a string stretched tight across a membrane, and connected
to a ring held right, by the heart, and orthogonal
to the wingèd flight -- of the fingers -- that would someday carve the
thin chromatic embers into structures and apart

and so the many-headed snake that once so terrorized the Zagros
cast the human hand as sculptor and as deity-geometer 
so when the Laborer arrived, the hero-bald from Argos 
saw the work already done for him for thousands of kilometers
and so, a covenant: deluge and the plough conflated
striping earth with intervals that sweetly serenaded
all the radiating milkmaids whose laughter spins out tessellated
braids-become-boulevards that spring up in ten thousand
parades that germinated, amplified, dilated --
and for-loop hit the bracket and the cycle iterated

Everything is of a kind and 119 the number
Everything that you might find you find by counting under
Ships have trailed the roads of whales asunder, nothing was entwined
Everything is of a kind and 119 the number