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Extreme Music – Michael Tau (2022)

An impulse purchase, but not a bad one. The author dove into different kinds of extremities within music and presents his findings in a 480 page book! Obviously, there is a lot of music that I do not know and there are also scenes that I never heard of.

The book starts with music with extreme sound, such as noise, goregrind, gorenoise, medicore, later going to ‘techno’ with things such as speedcore. In the beginning the sound and thematics run through each other a bit. You can read about people trying to make an extreme as possible sound (the epitome of which the author seems to see “harsh noise wall”, unchanging walls of distorted sounds). Also there are mentions of and interviews with artists with extreme visuals, band- and track titles (from medical encyclopedia for example). It is not all but shock value. Interesting in this part is techno in which the beats got so fast that they are no longer beats but tones which are then worked into music.

From loud sounds we go to silent music. There are artists who record nothing but the occasional plop or tick of amplifying equipment. In different parts of the world, bigger and unknown artists have experimented with silence.

Next up is lengthy music. There have been attempts to cram as much music on a medium (say: a 7″) as possible even if that means loss of sound quality. Boxes have been released with 500+ cds. Also pieces have been written to (ingeniously) last for 1.000 years and much, much longer. Some of these long pieces are actually performed.
Needless to say that short music is up next. From one-minute-tracks to numerous ‘tracks’ within one second. Also here there is a lot of variety in approach.

Leaving the music itself, Tau goes to carriers. All kinds of exotic carriers have been used. Debunked systems such as floppy disc labels, microcassettes, “lathe-cut” (cut your groves in a placemat or an x-ray photo), weird sizes (18″ or 2″ vinyl), even releases that you can only play if you also buy the equipment that allows you to listen to it, even wax cilinders are reused and made again.
Also there have been experiments such as putting liquid blood into a space within a vinyl record, miniature landscapes built on vinyl records, records made from chocolate or ice. Filed under “nontraditional” we encounter experiments with electric toothbrushes and “singing dolls”. The things people come up with.

Then we have the musicians who are not so much interested in using out-of-date formats, but making music with out-of-date means. “Chiptune” actually making music with hacked Commodore 64 computers or an ancient Gameboy. Taking this a step further you come to “Lobit”, music with a bitrate as low as possible, which of course limits the sound you can make. There is even “Lowrate” scene which produces music in as small files as possible.

Towards the end subjects such as “disgusting”, “body fluids”, damaged records, unplayable releases, elaborate packing, “anti-records” and “black midi” (a computer can play things a human cannot) are written about. A short chapter is about “outsiders”.

All in all a lengthy walk through the humongous world of non-traditional music. You can read about artists, labels, types of ‘music’ and what not, that you may have never heard about. There is -indeed- a lot to discover. There are only a handful of references to artists or releases that I know. Much is written about things that do not immediately appeal to me, but since Tau did a lot of interviews and has a nice, objective writing style, the book makes a book source of information if you want to find something out of the ordinary.

2022 Feral House, isbn 1627311246

Reden An Die Europäische Nation / Weapons Of Mass Instruction – Alexander Nym (2023)

  • music

During the 2023 WGT the author/compiler of this book gave a lecture which was also a book presentation. The lecture was announced being about the NSK, the Neue Slowenische Kunst, an art collective that was co-founded by the band Laibach (the following lecture was strictly about Laibach). That much I knew. Much of what Alexander told was new to me though. I have never really followed Laibach and NSK even less so. NSK had an exhibition in the museum of modern art in my hometown in 2016, which I attended (but which is not mentioned in the book), which I attended, but apparently I did not pick up much of the idea behind it all.

In short. Laibach is the German name of the city of Ljubljana and the band was founded in 1980. The band name proved to be typical for Laiback from the start. Ljubljana is nowadays the capital of Slovenia but at the time this country did not exist as the region was part of Yugoslavia. So is the band name a form of ‘regionalism’? Provokingly the band chose the German version of the name of the city, a version that only the Nazis used during the WWII occupation of the region. The band also used a distinctive style for visuals. picking strong images from many different sources, but those that came from ‘contaminated’ sources caught the attention and it did not take long before authorities sought a way to forbid the Nazi band. The city dug up an old law and used it to forbid Laibach from using the German name of the city as a name.

With two like-minded groups of artists the project got the name “Neue Slowenische Kunst” which -again- ironically referred to a non-existing country. NSK had all kinds of provocative performances bringing them a rapidly raising star in the region and later also elsewhere in Europe.

Then in 1990, following the demise of Yugoslavia, there suddenly was a real state called Slovenia and NSK decided to rebrand themselves into “NSK State” or “NSK State In Time”. This still is a virtual state which in the course of time made their own passports, printed their own money, etc., but all as provocative works of art.

Nym describes a “toolbox” for the way NSK State has operated for several decades. This includes methods found in the global art scene, but in a broader context. So when Duchamps takes a toilet into a museum and calls it art, NSK uses such “ready makes” in the art and music, but taken from any field available, from art to politics and back. These “ready mades” are presented without comment and without context. You can understand that Laibach’s use of WWII (type) elements is frequently mistaken.
Another part of the toolkit is: take something and take it to the extreme. So when Laibach decides to use Das Kapital, the result will be an extremely developped form of Communism with the idea to get people thinking. This NSK members do with any type of politics, art, social current or whatever.

Now the part that I mostly missed before is that NSK has many art performances, exhibitions, etc. by (who are left of) the founders, but also of “citizens”. These events usually have some provocative theme and/or imaginary. The book under review is a massive collection (350 pages) with a wee bit of history, but mostly manifestoes, declarations, speeches, visuals and what not. Often this is quite political, but not in a ‘this is how things should be’, but more as in ‘did you ever notice that?’ approach. The virtual NSK State is meant to hold up a mirror mostly to Western society.

I understand the approach. I now also see how this might just have been the inspiration of provocative music and art expressions such as martial industrial, but many of the texts (the author had quite a few speeches) I only quickly scanned. Still, it is interesting to have more context.

Oh, I must say that the book is bilingual. Pages on the left are in German, pages on the right are in English, so you only have half of the 350 pages to read. Unless you want to read both versions of course. Also, the first 99 copies are hand stamped and numbered, so if you are quick…

2023 Edition Outbird, isbn 3948887489

Western Esotericism – Kocku von Stuckrad (2004)

Looking for a Kindle publication from the Western esotericism academia, I ran into the Dutch translation of Von Stuckrad’s Was Ist Esoterik? Kleine Geschichte des geheimen Wissens (‘What is esotericism. Small history of secret knowledge’) from 2004. The Dutch translation by André Haack and Ruud van der Helm got the title Esoterie. De zoektocht naar absolute kennis (‘Esotericism. The quest for absolute knowledge). The English translation of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke kept the subtitle in tact (“A brief history of secret knowledge”) but apparently wanted to place more focus on the fact that the book is about Western esotericism. In any case, this review is based on the Dutch translation, but know that there are different translation of the book out there.

Von Stuckrad (1966-) is a Ghanese scholar who lived in Germany for a large part of his life, but who lectures at the universities of Groningen and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. His focus within his field of religious studies: Western esotericism.

His writings are often fairly dry and academic while his colleagues such as Wouter Hanegraaff more often manage to strike a tone more fit for a general audience. Yet, this general audience is exactly what the present title aims at. The book presents a quite general, and more often told, story of Western esotericism, dealing with Greek philosophy, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Medieval and Renaissance esotericism, the period of the Enlightenment, ‘secret societies’ and using modern Theosophy as a bridge to the modern era ending with ‘New Age’.

There is not really anything here that I did not already know. It is quite obvious that the author is well informed about most of his subjects and here and there he manages to compress a complex worldview into a short description. There are also subjects which seem to be (somewhat) outside his personal interests.

Like I said, the book brings a general history of Western esotericism and will certainly form a descent starting point if the subject is (relatively) new to you. When you have kept yourself occupied with the subjects in this book for some time and/or are looking for the latest findings in the academic investigations of them, this is not the book you should buy.

2004 Beck, 2014 Routledge (isbn 1844657477), 2014 Amsterdam University Press

Freimaurer – Snoek & Heussinger & Görner & Wilk (2020)

Looking in the Kindle store for Jan Snoek, I ran into this book of which Snoek proved to be one of four authors (the others being Heike Görner, Ralph-Dieter Wilk, Werner H. Heussinger. The full title of the book is: “Freimaurer: Wie Sie die Prinzipien des erfolgreichsten Netzwerks der Weltgeschichte für Ihre Persönlichkeitsentwicklung nutzen” (‘Freemasons: What are the principles of the most successful network in world history for your personal development’). Indeed, this is a book in the German language. The title also shows that this is not an in depth book for Freemasons such as other titles of Snoek, but more a general introduction for the general audience.

The book covers the width and breadth of German Freemasonry, which had a development quite unlike Freemasonry in other countries. Different Grand Lodges worked together under an umbrella that changed its name. There were also other Grand Lodges that did not cooperate and this development led to roughly two types of Freemasonry in Germany: Christian (old-Prussian) and Humanistic. Especially the latter is again a varied current with men-only, mixed gender and women-only Grand Lodges for example.

First a few steps back. The book begins with a general history of Freemasonry cultural sources for the symbolism and system, etc. The authors also describe Masonic view of mankind, conspiracy theories, ritualism, community spirit, personal development, young people in Freemasonry, women in Freemasonry, humanism, etc. You will find no Masonic histories, details of the rituals but in support of the general picture. Only the appendices are more specific (early history, women’s Freemasonry and Illuminati).

The authors put quite some stress on “Aufklärung” (‘enlightenment’) and the social (rather than the initiatic / esoteric) side of Freemasonry. The book gives a good impression of Freemasonry in Germany, but because of the language of the book, only for the German speaking audience. I think the unique paths that Freemasonry has walked in Germany, some information would benefit non-German-speaking readers too.

It is a good book for people who are looking for general information. Personally I am more interested ‘Masonically scholarly’ books.

2020 Finanzbuch Verlag, isbn 3959723032

Ontluikend Christendom – Daniël de Waele (2021)

The title would translate to something like “budding Christianity” or “nascent Christianity”. Probably “emerging Christianity” would be a clearer title, but doing away with the ‘feel’ of the original title.

In any case, here we have a book of almost 500 pages about “the cultural history of a new religion in a Greek-Roman world”. De Waele presents an extraordinarily detailed description of the time and area in which Christianity started and developed.

In the first chapters, the author describes daily life in the first centuries A.D. Marriage and the position of women among the Jews, marriage and the position of women among the ‘heathens’ and with the Christians. The same for the position of slaves and more particular subjects such as education, death and burial, religious life, etc. The author compiles his story from a staggering amount of sources and presents it in an easy-to-read narrative. It may sound a bit dull, but these early chapters already are quite interesting.

After about 200 pages De Waele goes to different kinds of Jews, compares their ideas and relations, etc. After that follow the Romans. De Waele effortlessly goes from describing laws and justice to explaining religious and mystic concepts. As far as I was already familiar with them, he does that very well too. The ideas of different Jewish, Jewish-Christian and Christian groups, their sources, etc.

For the development of Christian theology, De Waele also writes about different philosophical schools from Greece, Gnostic groups, all the way up to famous early Christian thinkers such as Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Saint Augustine (of Hippo).

Detailed yet easy to read, very well written and highly interesting. But… so far only available in Dutch.

2021 KokBoekencentrum, isbn 904353661X

Images And Symbols – Mircea Eliade (1952/1991)

There are still works of Eliade that I have not read. This is good. Images and Symbols (original title Images et Symboles) reads a bit like a collection of essays, but it appears to have been written as a book.

In the preface Eliade writes about the rediscovery of symbolism. This rediscovery he mostly attributes to his friend and colleague Carl Jung (see Religion After Religion). This psychological approach is not for me and fortunately it is not everywhere that present. The (re)discovery is present among “laymen” who usually are presented with bad literature.

There are about “Symbolism Of The “Centre””, “Indian Symbolisms of Time and Eternity”, “The “God Who Binds” and the Symbolism of Knots”, “Observations on the Symbolism of Shells” and “Symbolism and History”.

Each chapter has a couple of shorter texts. As we know Eliade we go from Eastern religion to ancient mythology and back. Also Western religion and mythology are mentioned. Eliade apparently thought he had to be careful not to be mistaken. When mentioning elements of Christianity and Shamanism in the same sentence, he explains (over and again) that he does not intend to imply that there are Shamanic elements in Christianity.

Images and Symbols is a typical work of Eliade. It makes a great read. Most subjects can also be encountered in other works, but in the present title there is some more stress about his methodology.

1991 Princeton University Press, isbn 069102068X

Alchemie: und ihr Einfluss auf Gesellschaft und Freimaurerei – Giovanni Grippo (2014)

What I could read from the Kindle store seems to dry up, so I have also started looking at German titles. This one seemed interesting.

This 120 page book in German is only mildly interesting. The general information about alchemy is -ehm- general. Amusing: there is a translation of the Tabula Smaragdina by Newton in German. By way of John Dee, Grippo goes to Elias Ashmole to make the step to Freemasonry, but not until he also dealt with Paracelsus, the Rosicrucians (where he sees a source of Freemasonry) and the Royal Society.

Grippo has a few blunt statements, such as: “One could exaggerate that modern Freemasonry is a German export product.” After the ‘Scotland versus England’ discussion, a very German addition. Of course there had been Mason companies in Germany for a long time, so I see where he is getting at.

There are also statements that are more ‘eyebrow raising’ such as: “There are obvious symbols in alchemy and in Freemasonry – like the hermaphrodite.” or “Nowadays they [true alchemists] no longer call themselves alchemists but have adopted the name “Freemasons”.” This sounds a lot like wishful thinking. I have yet to encounter a hermaphrodite or alchemist within Freemasonry.

The little book will tell you a few things about alchemy and Freemasonry, but the author seems to be not too well informed about the latter subject.

2014 Giovanni Grippo Verlag, isbn 3942187337

The Multiple States Of The Being – René Guénon (2004)

It had been a while since I read something of Guénon and then I found a title in the Kindle store that I had not read yet.

The original title is Les États Multiplus de l’Être and was first published in 1932. It has been published by Sophia Perennis in English in 2001 (translation by Henry Fohr). The edition that I got was published in 2022 by Antiqua Sapientia and was translated by Daniel Bernardo. I was somewhat unimpressed by this book…

The book is too ‘philosophical’ to me. Of course Guénon would abhor such a description and say that he writes from a metaphysical perspective, but the book reads like a philosophical work for me. It is about subjects such as ‘being and non-being’, consciousness, hierarchies, but also ‘the realization of being through knowledge’ which sounds interesting enough, especially when it comes from Guénon, but the book remained only mildly interesting to me.

Can it be the translation or simply the fact that the subject is not much within the scope of my interests? I am not sure. Perhaps I should reread some works of Guénon that I already know and see if I enjoy them as much as I did before. Or should I get the Sophia Perennis version as well?

2004 Sophia Perennis, isbn 0900588594
2022 Antiqua Sapientia

Emir Abd el-Kader: Hero and Saint of Islam – Ahmed Bouyerdene (2012)

The fascinating life of Abd al-Qādir ibn Muḥy al-dīn (1808-1883) is described in this book which was originally published in French. Abd el-Kader was born in Algeria. His father, Muhyi al-Din al-Hasani had a tariqa (Sufi school) in the Qadiriyya tradition of Hasan ibn Ali (which explains the “al-Hasani” in his name). Raised a Sufi, taught in a variety of subjects and early to make the ‘big’ Hajj (not only a trip to Mecca, but also other (Sufi) sanctuaries in different countries). But then the French started to meddle in the area and Abd el-Kader suddenly had another occupation: he became an “Emir”, a “leader of the faithful” at the age of 22.

Abd el-Kader was so heroic that he started to gain respect even from his adversaries. For 14 years he led varying cooperations of tribes to try to keep the French in check. In the end he did not succeed and had to surrender after which he was taken prisoner in France. Even though this history is interesting, I was more curious about the man’s thinking and we are well passed half the book before we get to that. The event with which he made name in the West was when he prevented the massacre of Christians by Muslims.

Abd el-Kader was not only a pious man, but also a curious a well-read man with an interest that went outside Muslim subjects. While in France he met many people and he grew in his understanding of both Christianity and French / Western culture. He was even initiated into Freemasonry just before the Grand Orient de France removed the obligation of faith, which caused him to leave.

Be that as it may, in the second half of the book we follow a man who, after his incarceration in France, went into exile nearer to home, but with the freedom to again travel to Mecca and visit other countries. Bouyerdene has a look at his writings and in spite of spiritual maturity, Abd el-Kader finds a master for the next step on his spiritual path.

In the course of this history, you will learn about Muslim culture of two centuries ago, the role of the West in the region, the curiosity of some people in ‘the other side’, but most of all, about a fascinating man who was both of this world and of ‘the other’.

2012 World Wisdom, isbn 1936597179

Geschiedenis Van De Westerse Esoterie – Jacob Slavenburg & John van Schaik (2021)

Two productive Dutch authors teamed up for a history of Western esotericism. They created a volume of well over 700 pages which I read from cover to cover. It is in chronological order and even though there are chapters per subject, the book is not really presented as an encyclopedia.

700 Pages may make a thick book, when you aim to describe a history of esotericism spanning thousands of years, you are still down to a few pages per subject and that is indeed what happened.

Both authors have written (at length) about Gnosticism (old and new), Hermetica, early Christianity and similar subjects in the past. The chapters about these subject in the present title are concise, to the point and clear. Of course the range of subjects of the book is much wider. It shows (a bit) which movements and thinkers have the authors’ interests and which less so. For example, their information about Freemasonry is pretty weak. The history has holes, there are typos, misunderstandings and cut corners. The information about Rudolf Steiner is better, except, when it comes to his ‘Masonic adventures‘.

I had hoped to encounter more recent information, that the authors had used sources which I had not yet had in my hands. I did not really read anything new. Still the book made a nice read. A summery and retrospect of subjects I read about sometimes long ago. The authors point to some red threads/people and because everything is in one book, make cross references.

Like I said, it is more of a book to get you started on subjects, a general introduction to a wide variety of subjects ranging from Greek philosophy, to mysticism to the Ordo Templi Orientis to New Age. The book is in Dutch and there is some stress on the Netherlands. it comes in a good looking hardcover.

2021 Van Warven, isbn 949317574X