Updated: Nov 20, 2020
The fool and the phoenix.
This essay aims to outline the intent and methodology behind my concept album ‘the fool and the phoenix.’ Essentially the aim is to tell a story utilising both contemporary musical composition in combination with specific subject areas such as Jungian psychology, Gnosticism, tarot, alchemy and ancient mythology. Furthermore the work will be accompanied by appropriate visuals to help deliver the story, through the use of common archetypes and semiotics. The piece is aimed at provoking audiences into questioning the seriousness of existence, but also to highlight that musical art is not necessarily all about the music. The music in many ways aims to contextualise the visuals which although layered with archetypal and semiotic imagery, may seem somewhat abstract to those who do not necessarily have interest in the emerging themes and subjects. My interest in these topics have been influenced by the subtle and esoteric nature of contemporary artists such as David Bowie, Soundgarden and Vedic teachings.
The plot is based around a common tale which is often retold through myth, religion and esoteric traditions. The main idea being that everything or God or ‘Godhead’ (Kornblatt, J. 1991. p212) are one being. However through reflection and a desire to know the self , everything has divided itself up, consequently creating a world of illusions and dreams (Samsara as it is known in Vedic traditions). Carl Jung explored this idea in his work and tied it closely with themes of alchemy, referring to the process as the ‘hierosgamos’ (Jung, C. 2010. p37). Jung also identified parts of the self as archetypes, which needed to be integrated for self realisation. In Vedic tradition it is implied that this journey or cycle, is one of self remembering, everything has forgotten that it is the almighty. In the Tarot system we see a similar story being told, whereby different archetypes are explored in the form of twenty two cards. The fool being one of those archetypes who ‘innocently yet somehow quite knowingly embarks upon the quest for self knowledge’ (Nichols, S. 1980). The main character of this tale is the fool.
Figure 1: The fool of the Rider- Waite Tarot Deck.
In my work this archetypal character is at the heart , a being trapped in a maze of self rediscovery. Each character a is piece of the self or indeed God. The journey depicts the difficult process of integration. Themes of duality and polarity also permeate , as they must be overcome. Each song depicts a different stage of the story starting with ‘the fall’ which shows a foolish man beginning a ‘Nigredo’ like stage, to the final track ‘rise of the phoenix’ which is the completion of the journey of self realisation.
The intro track is an experimental piece, intended suggest emptiness which explodes into more. The track is narrated in order to give an abstract idea of what the piece is about, however it is left quite open to audience/listener interpretation. The narration expositions the notion that everything is unknowable, but everything or ‘Godhead’ has reflected itself or mirrored itself in order to perceive itself. However, it has failed to notice that these reflections can only ever be perception of the self and therefore are illusory. This in many ways introduces Jung’s archetype of the trickster, who distorts and confuses the truth through self deception. This trickster is introduced in the opening track ‘down the rabbit hole. ’
Track one ‘ Rainbow dreams’.
This track aims to highlight the division of everything into a mere droplet. The scene is a wedding, to signify the birth of duality and the illusion of separation. The bride is unusually dressed in red, as is a common archetype for sin or lust or indeed in the bible the coming of the apocalypse. Here I have chosen it for the purpose of an illusion to distract the self and entangle it in duality and polarity. Throughout the scene an overlay of the main character can be scene filmed in a prison, tied up, asleep with an eye patch over his left eye and the archetypal trickster and lady in red walking around him. This is to symbolise God or everything being imprisoned within itself and that the archetypal characters taunting him are parts of that self. The left eye patch is a common symbol used in contemporary popular music , adopted by the likes of David Bowie and Madonna. This symbol contains many meanings and interpretations, one of which relates to the Egyptian myth of Horus and Set. A myth which also reiterates the notion of duality.
Track two ‘ lovers kiss’
This track takes the lead character further into the illusory, mundane routines of life, the nine to five job, the demanding wife. However he begins to see synchronicities, which signify the start of the self remembering or the waking stage. The synchronicity manifests in the form of a yellow smiling face, which the main character sees repeatedly. This symbol represents life as a joke, an illusory story and had been used many times in pop culture. He also frequently sees the numbers 11:11, representative of a change in consciousness or movement towards enlightenment. The trickster figure appears again in this video, however dressed in green and wearing a mask, symbolic of a false self. The music is intentionally repetitive to compliment the mundane, cyclical nature of his dream.
Track three ‘the darkest hour’.
This track is almost a dream within a dream, the iconic white rabbit of Alice in Wonderland begins to show the main character around the prison of his mind. Each cell contains a different scenario, all seemingly strange and incoherent but laced with esoteric symbolism. The first cell depicts a devil like figure posing very much like that of the devil in the Rider Waite tarot deck. At his feet are a male and female dressed in black and white. This is illustrating both duality and polarity and how they imprison the mind. In the creation of opposites, desire and grasping are created and therefore each part seeks to bring about wholeness. The second cell again shows the trickster character seemingly initiating the lady in red and a male dressed in red. There is a sense of hysteria as they are aware of the illusory nature of what the main character perceives as life. The trickster points to a picture of Jupiter, which can be associated with the number four in Jewish mysticism, the number suggests materiality and solidity, inferring that the characters mental projections have become manifest. Moreover, some groups refer to the storm on Jupiter as the ‘eye of Horus’ and so as our main character can be perceived as a form of Horus due to his blindness in wisdom, the passage hints at ‘Horus’ recovering his sight or wisdom. (Hall, M. 1928. P 151). At the final part of the video the archetypal high priestess or mother appears to bring about the lead character’s initiation to higher realms of wisdom.
Figure 2- The High Priestess of the Rider Waite Tarot:
As seen here the High Priestess sits between the two pillars of duality or polarity. Behind her is the tree of life of the Jewish system of Kabbalah. On the tree grow pomegranates, which symbolise wisdom. (Nichols, 1980).
Track 4- ‘invoke the priestess’.
In this track the arrival of the Priestess illustrates the awakening of the being as he begins his journey into wisdom or enlightenment. This is shown as the Priestess removes his ties and hands him a pomegranate. The video journey through a montage of fast and provocative images to suggest a steep intake of spiritual knowledge. The track itself is fast paced and journey like. This archetypal figure aids in the initiation of “ego death’ (Savage, S. 2010) through unification of opposites, thus as the track comes to an end she hands him a mask, as he can now see himself as nothing more than a false self, which leads nicely into the next track ‘masquerade’.
Track 5- ‘Masquerade’.
This track again takes place in a dream like setting. Filmed in an Alice in Wonderland Café to establish the theme. Here the Priestess is providing wisdom about the false ego, all those who attend the masquerade are masked as the journeyman discovers a new perspective as he sees all ego interactions as false and illusory. Pomegranate is shared round, as a symbol for the sharing of wisdom. The track is upbeat and has a feeling of self discovery.
Track 6- ‘Dust devils’.
An instrumental track whereby the lead is now using his wisdom to overcome his own thoughts and illusions. He is effectively meditating to integrate all parts of himself and overcome the illusion of duality. The track has a bass- led riff to give it the impression of the low murky density of materiality, which the character is now attempting to elevate. The trickster dances around him as he begins to destroy the illusion and integrate opposites. As he overcomes his thought he becomes a complete being represented by the chequered black and white outfit and he finally escapes the self- imposed prison and returns to ‘Godhead’ or wholeness. The final key change signifies this elevation to a higher state of consciousness. The track is based around an Aleister Crowley poem about how thoughts attack the being and cause it to manifest things that are unreal, Dust devils. (Crowley. A. 1944. p73).
‘In the wind of the mind arises the turbulence called I.
It breaks; down slower the barren thoughts.
All life is choked.
The dessert is the Abyss wherein is the universe.
The stars are but thistles in that waste.
Yet this dessert is but one spot accursed in a world of bliss.
Now and again travellers cross the dessert; they come from the Great sea, and to the Great sea they go’. (Crowley. A. 1944. p73).
Track 7 - ‘Rise of the phoenix’.
The final track surmises the story and uses the symbolism of the phoenix to highlight a spiritual transformation. Reference in the lyrics to the ‘black sun’ take influence both from Soundgarden’s Black hole sun and David Bowie’s Blackstar. The black sun or Blackstar refers to the ‘nigredo’ stage of alchemy (Jung, C. 1953. p88). The decay is necessary for the transformation as can be observed from Carl Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy:
Figure 3 - Mylius philosophia reformata (1622). (Jung, C. 1953. p88).
Reflection and practice:
In reflection, there are elements to the work which I feel need improvement. Mainly in relation to the tracks themselves. The second track ‘forgotten bliss’ requires more work in relation to lyrics and perhaps an additional section. The penultimate track ‘Dust devils’ has been submitted as an instrumental and to an extent work quite effectively as a musical piece and exposing the story, however it may be reworked in the next few months with vocals of some description. The final video for ‘rise of the phoenix’ also may require a new approach in filming, as it does not necessarily portray effectively enough the notion of enlightenment. The process for creating this story was somewhat disjointed with not being able to use the facilities and recording studios as effectively as I had wished, however these issues can be addressed in the future. Overall the aim for this work is to create a new perspective on life. It is intended to highlight the infinite nature of everything and encourage people to not worry about the illusory stresses of life. It is intended to promote meditation and taking responsibility for one’s thoughts.
Check out the album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTQZEa8eWL4&t=1711s
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