Anyway, People Die
An appreciation of silicon and organic mortality plus funereal aquatic ambience from ID Music
One thing that I have appreciated about my low-follower, private Twitter page is the brief but sincere and sometimes very vulnerable conversations among the wonderful cohort of
740 737 731 724 723 people who remain interested in and/or tolerant of my posting, and who also have not yet fled the site in disgust over its new owner and his cadre of Silicon Valley ghouls. It can be good for people to talk about mental health more often, but maybe not with their bosses or HR or their PCP depending on their PCP’s understanding of head versus body problems. And perhaps not for much longer on this increasingly hostile social media platform.
For example once I answered a rural West Texas nurse’s question about suicidal ideation with the famous Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil line, paraphrased in Matt Groenig’s Life In Hell as “The thought of suicide is a powerful solace: by means of it one gets through many a bad night.” Despite my assurances that I did not have a plan or actual intentions of self-harm, the consultation went downhill from there. Eventually I passed several other 5-10 question multiple choice tests and was allowed to go home rather than remain overnight for observation.
Living at the Indianapolis Zen Center offered many opportunities to talk about my mental health experiences. People visit Zen centers when they’re feeling shiteand if they lingered on their cushion long enough after we told them we didn’t have any answers, I would sometimes offer conversation about how Zen has intersected with my mental health regimen. Too often mindfulness people trash head meds or therapy: It’s good to be critical, but mindfulness people aren’t always the best people to consult when it comes to persistent mental health issues, diet, or medication. Just as West Texas nurse practitioners may not be the best advisors when it comes to existential crises.
Meditation is not head meds, and dharma teachers are not therapists. For me, zazen can be a break from those attempts to change things. It works with both of those practices for that same reason. I’m taking head meds and paying to talk to someone with a license in talking about depression because I’m trying to get better. I’m doing zazen to sit and see what’s there and let it be. It’s not always pleasant, but if you’re lost in an ocean sometimes it’s okay to stop swimming or hollering for help or watching for sharks and just float in the cold darkness for awhile. As I wrote in a review of Bull of Apis, Bull of Bronze’s transcendent black metal for Aquarium Drunkard, “It all depends on whether today’s practice is about escaping from your head, or making peace with the void pulsating in your chest. Trying to find a remedy for what ails you, or letting it be and practicing what Zen teacher Ezra Bayda calls “experiencing equanimity in the midst of discomfort.”
“Zazen is Not the Same as Meditation” is one of my favorite textsabout meditation posture. Issho Fujita describes zazen, or sitting meditation, as “neither an anti-gravitational way of fighting with gravity through tense muscles and a stiff body, nor a pro-gravitational way of being defeated by gravity with flaccid muscles and a limp body.”
Likewise, zazen is neither fighting for self-improvement through psychology, nor a defeated descent into self-destruction. It’s okay to stop purposely coming up with reasons why it sucks that I suck while staring at the floor, and to instead just stare at the floor.
Which is a long way of coming around to an expression of gratitude for your patience with the intermittent Void Contemplation Tactics publishing schedule. I have been depressed for the usual myriad reasons that drag me down. It is a cycle of dissipation and coalescence that at 47 I’m able to predict, but am no less wearied by. As all of you who have been depressed – and by that I mean all of you – have likely experienced. I’m feeling much better at the moment!
Twitter hurts because it offers a constant flow of breaking news about terrible things, and terrible reactions to terrible things. But then it helps with angry, absurd, compassionate, and often very funny reactions to the terrible things. Twitter is … was?… good for brief glimpses of “you are not alone” that didn’t last long enough to wear out their welcome. Something terrible has happened! And here are other people yelling about it and taking the same impossibly naive humanitarian leftist ideological positions that I do. Or being as rude as possible because why are you worried about obfuscating the F-word while we’re watching real-time waves of death signaling the end of Earth as a habitable ecosystem. It is the opposite of NPR's dulcet tones of reasonable centrist acceptance.
It sucks that so-called “third places” – a place that is neither home nor work – in the US are usually alcohol vendors. But when Twitter is good it reminds me of my favorite nights out at a local – Little Joy in Echo Park, La Kiva in Terlingua, Padre's Marfa, whatever Stormy's bar in Ruidosa was called, Savage's here in Muncie. Or at that foreign dive in Cloudcroft or Redway or Landers or Jemez Springs that somehow delivered on cryptical allusions to camaraderie made by the signifiers on its facade. At some point, people either know youor trust you enough to let you be a little sloppy with your confessions, awkward with your jokes, and righteous with your outrage. It's a riff on the stock dialogue from last call: You can stay here, or you can go home, anytime.
And so another round of gratitude to all of my friends from “on there” who have found the Void Contemplation Tactics newsletter during this drawn-out social media exodus. Your companionship has been a blessed refuge throughout the pandemic, even if I have no idea what your real name is, or what you look like in the full lightof day.
Much of what unfolds with Void Contemplation Tactics is workshopped on Twitter. I have a private account – however flimsy that line of protection may be now that right wing partisans, actual neo-nazis, and transphobic Silicon Valley monarchists are fully in charge – and input from a dwindling number of online friends continues to encourage and shape my thinking and writing. That includes the depression that kept me in bed for a few days that I now have trouble remembering without checking my body monitor/watch apparatus to see which days I made fewer than 1500 steps. My blues were fueled in part by the possibility that this strange community of queer metalheads, psychedelic Zen people, and non-denominational and/or non-binary dropouts and goners might continue to fade. Although it is also deeply weird and depressing yet also funny to watch, in real-time, as the new owner capers for approval from terrible Twitter-endemic people who are unknown outside of their reputation for being very racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and so so very sad and lonely online. It’s enough to make you wonder if having 121.7 million followers and billions of dollars would finally be enough to achieve perpetual happiness.
One of the best times to be in the Twitter flow is when someone beloved dies. My octogenarian Aunt Judy died last week after a long and fulfilling life, and I feel more comfortable typing those words after talking with her brother – my dad – offline about death. After we talked on the phone about the eulogy he’d written for his sister, I sat listening to Current 93. David Tibet’s always-shifting visionary/apocalyptic folk project is one of my go-to soundtracks for persistent, aimless, ambient depression because the melancholy is so delicate and beautiful. And the occasional episodes of screaming – e.g. "DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD" from “All The Stars Are Dead Now” – are terrifying. While I know there is intention behind the vibe, I often have no idea what's going on. It’s the “only don’t know”of psych-folk gnosis.
That's why the high weird lonesome of C93 helps: As an adult, I only knew Aunt Judy from a distance, but we share genes and I have no memories of a time where she – or my cousin and uncle who are now in mourning – did not exist. The fact that we all suffer means that no one is alone. We don't need to understand the whole story.
“Anyway, people die” goes the line from Island, C93’s lesser-known 1991 collaborative albumwith HÖH. And while we all have our work cut out for us in determining just what that means, on Twitter it means that when people die there is an outpouring of remembrance and celebration, sharing of their work, and recounting of where our paths may have crossed. Such is the case when renowned artists from Olivia Newton-John to Shock G go, as well as artists with smaller reach, such as the recent untimely passing of Norm Chambers, as discussed on the 20221111 episode of Inter-Dimensional Music (see below).
It’s also another opportunity for me to be grateful for my lack of success in building a social media audience: As a forever lowbie, I'll always remember Twitter as a special little place where everyone understood emotional reactions to Current 93 and empathized about nicotine addiction or eating too many edibles or fighting with our health insurance and we all laughed sadly about how dumb the end of the world turned out to be. Even if nobody there knew my real name.
Thank you as always for reading the words, listening to the show, lurking, sharing, subscribing for free, subscribing for money, or unsubscribing if this just isn’t your thing.
blessing up and blessing down,
ID Music 20221111 – Norm Chambers RIP
North America's Gnarliest Mix for when we are a wave appearing on the surface of the ocean
For this week's session, we'll hear an hour of hydrosphere-centered music as we meditate on the recent passing of the artist Norm Chambers, aka Panabrite, Spiral Index, and Jürgen Müller. It has been a melancholy pleasure reading so many eulogies for a person who seems to have been as beautiful in person, as he sounded on the synthesizers that have emanated from my speakers over the past decade.
Chambers was an essential part of my introductionto what somebody somewhere once referred to as “cassette tape earth psych.” His ambient music flowed effortlessly into work from Sundog Peacehouse, Emeralds, Ashan, Thoughts on Air, and other practitioners of the new wave of underground ambient and revisionist New Age music that flourished on spools and audioblogs in the ‘00s and '10s. His breakthrough to a wider audience came in 2011 as Jürgen Müller, an alias with an ornate and mostly imaginary backstory. Library music collectors got mad because he was pretending to be a “self-taught composer studying oceanic science” in Germany in the ‘70s, but most of us just fell hard and happily for the pitch-perfect Cousteau vibe that he created, regardless of its hallucinatory provenance.
I didn’t know Chambers personally and don’t think our paths ever crossed, but it was wonderful to hear stories from our mutual friends in the ambient and experimental music community about his real-life beneficence and inspiring humility. Read more about Chambers in this remembrance in The Stranger, or this interview with longtime supporter and collaborator Foxy Digitalis.
As for this episode, listen for songs and instrumental abstractions about streams, waterfalls, waves, beaches, and sea caverns that also share the imaginary vintage tones and hallucinatory provenance of Chambers work. Our selections come from fellow ambient music practitioners as well as from the ‘00s vintage guitar psych seekers that paired so well on my home soundsystem with those marine and fluvial synthesizer habitats.
Throughout the broadcast, language from Thich Nhat Hahn in The Art of Living:
We are a wave appearing on the surface of the ocean. The body of a wave does not last very long – perhaps only ten to twenty seconds. The wave is subject to beginning and ending, to going up and coming down. The wave may be caught in the idea that “I am here now and I won’t be here later.” And the wave may feel afraid or even angry. But the wave also has her ocean body. She has come from the ocean, and she will go back to the ocean. She has both her wave body and her ocean body. She is not only a wave; she is also the ocean. The wave does not need to look for a separate ocean body, because she is in this very moment both her wave body and her ocean body. As soon as the wave can go back to herself and touch her true nature, which is water, then all fear and anxiety disappear.
artist - work
Panabrite - Nautica
Saphileaum - Relaxing Stream (Oasis)
Isolee - Beau Mot Plage
Salem - Water
Clams Casino - Waterfalls
Ilyas Ahmed & Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Ocean Blue
Ed Askew - Deep Water
Hush Arbors - Water II
Julian Lynch - Water Wheel Two
Dreamers Cloth - Ecstasy Waterfall
Fluorescent Heights - Making Friends with Palm Tree Shadows
Panabrite - Index of Gestures
Surya Botofasina - Waves For Margie
The Stone Roses - Waterfall (demo)
N Chambers - Aida
☸️ Thich Nhat Hanh
If you know anyone who might find value or otherwise enjoy some aspect of Void Contemplation Tactics or Inter-Dimensional Music, please pass it along. It means a lot to me!
My reach is limited on social media, which I’m increasingly convinced is a good thing. As Dōgen's teacher told him, “You don't have to collect many people like clouds. Having many fake practitioners is inferior to having a few genuine practitioners. Choose a small number of true persons of the way and become friends with them.”
Sorry for the affectation I have many UK followers so saying things like “shite” and “lorry” are very natural to me. Also while Twitter is not a terribly straightforward place in terms of language, I am still bad at sarcasm there, and the dialect likely does not translate well to any other linguistic ecosystem, and so it sounds very odd on here.
From “Zazen Is Not the Same as Meditation,” remarks excerpted from Rev. Issho Fujita’s workshop at Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, March 2002.
Like extreme metal, agave spirits, or The Walking Dead, Twitter is something that I enjoy but if you aren’t already in the zone maybe don’t? It’s rough.
I’ve been enjoying Demanding The Impossible: A History of Anarchism from PM Press all year long.
Five hundred followers that are not all white/cis/het Gen X dudes is where this happened for me. I think it’s a matter of having enough mutuals passively vouching for one another. It also came after a long and stressful series of public posts that I’ve made over the years pointing to the openly fascist affiliations of artists such as Drudkh and Dominick Fernow aka Prurient aka Ash Pool aka Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. It was enough for people to see that while I may be annoying and verbose, I am probably not a creep. I am grateful for your trust … and patience!
I like The Hold Steady fine but they’re not my thing mostly. However! “Sequestered in Memphis” is one of those songs that is forever stuck in my head, ready to surface at the right turn of phrase so now I’ve got “in the bar light, she looked all right / in the daylight, she looked desperate” on a loop. I like story songs where the narrative isn’t easy to figure out. I also appreciate the line “We didn't go back to her place / We went to some place where she cat-sits” for being way too real.
From The Compass of Zen by Zen Master Seung Sahn: “… I don't teach Korean or Mahayana or Zen. I don't even teach Buddhism. I only teach don't know. Fifty years here and there teaching only don't know. So only don't know. OK? Only don't know, always and everywhere. Our don't-know mind can do anything.” Continue reading on the Kwan Um Zen website.
Also featuring Björk!
Find more sounds from this era on Backcountry Chillout Vol. 1 a 2013 mixtape from Inter-Dimensional Music + Arthur Magazine
From the liner notes: This first edition of Backcountry Chillout is a collection of contemporary New Age music hand-picked for arid wilderness viewing stations. So light that special incense you’ve been saving, reposition your moonlight gemstones however the plant mind directs you, point the speakers toward the screen door and adjourn to the porch. Leave us on repeat until everything’s back to tranquilo again.
Just to say that I have encountered your words and mixes for the first time this year, and both have been a continual source of comfort, guidance and joy in a year that’s been... a lot. Thank you for all the work you do, and looking forward to continuing to follow in 2023.