A Journal Of The Dark Arts
When you think of midwinter rites and rituals, you likely think of yule logs, ancient hymns, spiced eggnog, holly, ivy, fairy lights. Towards the end of December, the breeze seems to take on an ancient air, wrinkling time with Cedar and Sandlewood from Bethlehem mix and mingle with the cold ozone of frigid air, car exhaust, and cigarette smoke.
Yule most certainly does NOT conjure images of patchbays, sequencers, or modern minimalism.
Witchcraft (and occultism in general) has an unfortunate tendency to remain rooted and locked in the past. It makes sense that occultism would retain its purist instinct, during the Dark Ages of the Burning Times, when the slightest whiff of camphor or Sulfur would be enough to get you lit up like a matchstick. With the rise of all humanity’s collective knowledge, with the endless archive of the Internet emulating the mythical Akashic Records, that need is less-necessary – perhaps even counter-intuitive, some might say.
Solis is a recording of a performance from the shadowy Hermione Harvestman, a classically trained pianist and church organist, as well as an early progenitor of DIY/outsider/cassette culture. Initially intimidated by the bookish, unwelcoming world of “folk/early music”, Harvestman experienced an epiphane after discovering the Clavivox, an early synthesizer created and championed by Soothing Sounds For Baby/Looney Tunes maestro Raymond Scott.
Speaking of her revelation, Harvestman said about the Clavivox:
‘This was my epiphany – it one stroke it solved all my problems with regard to Western Tonality. Increasingly, I was drawn to monophonic music and modality, but I was ill prepared to join the elite who called themselves Folk Musicians or Early Musicians; bourgeois sub-sects striving for an authenticity so enamoured of a certain mind-set which I’d never been able to relate to. Neither was I too enamoured of Atonal Experimentalism. The music I heard in my heard was far richer than that, somehow – at least it was to me. I dreamed of hurdy-gurdies – of drones and monophonic keyboards playing parallel 3rds, 4ths and 5ths. In reality, hurdy-gurdies sounded ghastly (with significant exception). On hearing the Clavivox I heard the music that dreamed of astrological continuities between ancient music and future possibilities; it touched the essence of what music was at its most primal – that of both the planets of the Pyramids; that of the stars and Stonehenge.’
Circuit boards and soldering irons, patch cords and pulsing oscillators, being used to recreate the sounds of hurdie-gurdies, as well as The Pyramids and the Music Of The Spheres? Not only is this one of the purest instances of Fourth World music we’ve come across, but also a concept of what Harvestman calls “electronic folk“.
Solis is comprised of three lengthy drones, “Preludium”, “Secondus”, and “Locus Tempus”. The pieces were commissioned for a performance on the Winter Solstice 1979 for the Dunholme Coven. Dunhome Coven’s priestess, Portia Cook, approached Harvestman about commissioning some original works for a Solstice ritual, after hearing some of Harvestman’s ritualistic work. Harvestman explained that’s not entirely how her music worked, relying heavily on mood and improvisation, as well as the spirit of the locale itself (the “Locus Tempus” referenced in Track Three.) Realizing her work was tailor-made for ritualistic performance, she agreed to soundtrack the Coven’s fireclad rites at an undisclosed forest clearing on the coldest night of the year.
“Preludium” (meaning both “a prelude”, in music and poetry, and “the Sunday before Christmas”) relies heavily on the Clavivox’s monophonic sequencing, with single notes twining and twirling like a Sadie Hawkin’s Day Dance. Harvestman’s synths are what Ursa Major might sound like, if it were to break loose and go fishing in the Milky Way. Ancient maps and ley lines come to mind, also, with the complex inter-connectedness of the single-note melodies, rising above complex ecosystems of bubbling, burbling bass notes.
“Secundus” (which means “second”, as well as being a title, sort of like “Junior”. Secundus is also a planet destroyed by nuclear annihilation in Frank Herbert’s Dune series, and another planet in Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, a home for sentient arachnids.) Hyper-intelligent space spiders, nuclear threat, and ancient Latin? Amazingly, Hermione Harvestman’s swarming, storming, atonal synths manage to tick all of these boxes, simultaneously, in mood if not in deed. “Secundus” is also much more moody and meandering than “Preludium”, making it a perfect middle section for an occult rite or ritual. It’s the sound of time standing still, of existing in an eternal Platonic state, outside of entropy or external influence.
“Locus Tempus” finishes things off on a drone-y, contemplative note, at an impressive 27 minutes. It”s much less busy and frenetic than the first two tracks, mainly consisting of a single sustained mid-frequency organ, lazily curling above floating, delayed bass sequences, with just a slight hint of hand-operated filtersweeps.
Solis is the most recent installment in the composer’s extensive back catalog, which have been slowly dribbling out from her personal archives after her passing in 2009, curated by Third Ear Band member Sedayne. While these sounds seem a little fresh and au curant to have come from the late ’70s, giving a slight shiff of fakelore, there’s just no telling, making this a solid, indispensably confusing addition to the hauntological pantheon.
Personally, we don’t need definitive answers to enjoy this amazing, contemplative release. One of the wonders of Hauntology is its ability to point back to the past, to keep us wandering in wonder, to keep us digging, wondering what else is out there.
Happy Solstice, to all you witches and warlocks! It’s been a long, hard, dark year – we’re ready for some brighter, warmer days ahead!
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Tune into every Sunday night/Monday morning for Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness @ Freeform Portland! Exploring the dark side of techno, hip-hop, shoegaze, metal, psych, folk, and soundtrack. You can listen to the archives online at mixcloud.com/for3stpunk.