Sep 28, 2014

Sunday Flood: Music to Inspire, and Music You Can Write To

"1982," Illustration by Diego Lara Saltos

Part I. Music to Inspire.

My love affair with music began at the age of 12, when I bought Pink Floyd's A Momentary Lapse of Reason (these days I enjoy Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother a lot more). Then I discovered The Cure -- lucky me, their best album came out in 1989, precisely when I had a little pocket money to spare. Though I became a metal fan early on, I explored The Cure's back catalog as time and finance permitted.

I don't have any hangups about what constitutes "real" music. All music is real, in the sense that it exists. What I can't abide is music-by-the-numbers, stuff that won't sell without a soft porn video to back it up. And no, I am not against porn, I just don't like porn that masquerades as music. Won't name names.

So, you know, fanaticism and exclusion don't work for me. It's good to pay attention to, and enjoy, any kind of sincere music, from Punch to Mike Oldfield to the Master Musicians of Jajouka by way of Orlando di Lasso. And I often need a rich, varied soundtrack to take me where I want to go with my writing. If music be the color of human emotion, then I want to work with a full palette.

What I am about to share with you is the fruit of years and years of musical exploration.

Sep 26, 2014

With Great Power Come the Weirdest Groupies, or, Old Geezer Dreams Never Die

Ribbendorf, long pressed into the service of angels, found the English “magician” quite intolerable. He had introduced himself as John Dee, and the bright silver disc of his face followed Ribbendorf everywhere, asking bizarre questions and barking “words of power.” Ribbendorf would occasionally humor the madman with some holy-sounding gibberish.

Mati Klarwein

1. The "holy-sounding gibberish" is Enochian, a form of angelic (?) speech which some people believe is an actual language. You might as well read the Forty-Eight Calls and make up your own mind.
2. John Dee is the English "magician," quotes and all, bothering Ribbendorf. The latter, in the context of this prompt, actually serves angelic beings.
3. Alan Moore said, and who am I to disagree -- because I would never disagree with that beard -- that John Dee and Edward Kelley encountered beings capable of moving through the fifth spatial dimension and, for lack of a better word, called them angels. But these weren't exactly angels.

You go ahead and debate that beard. I dare not.

Sep 25, 2014

Gropius Thingperson on Why Your House Is Ugly and You Should Buy More Abstract Art

The following is taken from Gropius Thingperson’s monograph, The Stillness Between Seconds: From Bacon to Bacon.

“When Torquemada invented the CIA in the late Middle Ages, nobody could have imagined the prominent role this organization came to play in the twentieth century as a patron of the arts.


“Unlauded, perhaps, but no less relevant to the rise of eminent figures such as Jackson Pollock or Poppy Breckenridge (not to be confused with the psychiatric nurse of the same name), the CIA, more than the SPCA or the NAACP or the NEA, found itself, during the Cold War, invested in the role of tastemaker. (…)

“So freedom of speech (…) and its consequences (…) ultimately lead to a perception of the canvas that deals away with narrative space altogether in favor of (…) a reinvention, a post-Foucaultian reconfiguration of the blank rectangle as privileged (…) receptacle for the artist’s non-verbal (…) deconstructivism in the purest, most Todorovian sense. (…)

“With that in mind, let us proceed with a first look at the objects of our analysis.

Greg Gong, Untitled

“The interplay of tones disguises a subtle assault on commonly-accepted semiotic strategies, defying notions of perception as the starting point for the construction of meaning. In other words, it is as though you had to dress in bloody shark skins to go grocery shopping, and everyone around you just assumed that you were, as a consequence, this unrepentant carnivorous capitalist.

Yoshitaka Iwamoto, Untitled (Quiet Current)

“A fierce deconstruction of societal loci that we ignore at our peril. It examines the downplayed role of vacancy in communicative strategies, which Roman Jakobson was terrified of, to the point that he came up with a function of language simply to dispel that vacancy. By deploying color in a methodical fashion, filling in the blanks with a kind of regimented indiscipline, the artist comments on the ridiculousness of precision in an age where machines can make exact copies of themselves — and therefore builds a meticulous apologia of the human-as-anti-machine by aping the precision of machines while mocking it at the same time.

Kerri Blackman, It's Just the Black Road

“Originally intended as commentary on the Irish Potato Famine, this powerful piece embodies every post-modern longing for the reconstruction of etiological integrity. In everyday parlance, we deplore the transformation of the media landscape into a moral kaleidoscope where every choice is equivalent, except for the ones that do not present themselves. As a meditation on censorship, Blackman’s bold if rudimentary exertions pollute the canvas with the afterbirth of a thousand attempts to silence divergent opinion, which produces the ironic effect (we speak of DeManian irony, obviously) of a turning-against-self, an inversion of the Dasein, something which, paradoxically, the systemic monolith does not desire either, for it does away with the illusion of self that sustains it and pervades every interstice of our consensus reinforcement mechanisms.”


1. I (John Magnet Bell, not Gropius) wrote all my "analysis" completely blind. I hadn't decided which paintings to use in this blog post.
2. Neither of the Poppy Breckenridges is a real person, that I know of.
3. I'm not attempting to parody anybody in particular.
4. The 3 paintings are drawn from my growing Pinterest board of abstract art.

Sep 19, 2014

The Motherlander Wars, Book II of MegaCodex XI: Revenge of the Sovietskis

“Running empire much work!” said Kratoskiev to his privates between two explosions that shook the ground they stood on. The Sinomerican Coalition seemed to have an infinite number of rockets, yet could only fire one at a time. “Next who call Tsarevitch ‘milkpussydongle’ I execute on spot!”

Sovietski Banner Sergeant © John Magnet Bell
Click to Enlarge

By the way, this is where "The Motherlander Wars" comes from.

And while I have no intention of developing the Sovietski world into a role-playing game or anything of the kind, I will confess to having a blast working on the illustration above hahaha a blast get it GET IT? OMFG I AM SO CLE---

Sep 17, 2014

Five Uncanny Beasts from the Secret Bestiary of Pope Innocent XIV

1 The Unicorn.

Contrary to popular belief, the unicorn is not a horse with a single horn growing on its forehead. It’s not even a quadruped, as pointed out by Thucydides in his treatise On the Nature of Hyperborean Megafauna.

The unicorn of the Aleutian Islands resembles a single-mast, seagoing vessel, with eyes on every flank and a glowing orange sphere atop the horn. At night, unwary sailors will often mistake the light for a beacon; and the unicorn knows how to trick them into dashing their ship upon some jagged rock. When the vessel has been wracked the unicorn rushes to the scene and feasts on broken wood and wet sails.

Ilya Komarov

2 The Hairy Sordes.

A flying beast and a cousin to the phoenix. It imitates all human voices with admirable precision, and on Wednesdays it likes to hide in church confessionals, where it hears out the penitents and assigns preposterous acts of penance, such as licking one’s elbows or sleeping under a gravid cow on a full moon night.

3 The Papegoja.

The papegoja is half man and half peacock. It can only be seen at night, for its man half greatly embarrasses him. The papegoja feels irresistibly drawn to britches and pantaloons, for it wishes to conceal its nakedness. Many a mysterious disappearance of gentlemen’s garments has been attributed to the papegoja.

It was known to the Persians under Darius I, who kept several papegojar at his pleasure-house in Pasargadae as they made excellent gatekeepers.

4 The Flying Blank.

Supreme annoyance to natural historians, who struggle to describe this marvelous beast, yet cannot find the proper words.

Paracelsus claims in his Fifth Book of Occult Philosophy that he once read a chronicle by Theophanes the Iconodule (which document is now lost) where the saint mentions a man whose cousin’s sister-in-law’s friend had at one time encountered a flying blank in the desert outside Damascus, and that the flying blank may or may not have imparted great lessons on the nature of the world.

What evidence remains of the existence of the flying blank is jealously guarded by the Ottoman Turks.

5 The Winter Faun.

A short-lived race that keeps to the woods of Normandy and worships rain, snow, and thunder. On the advice of Audoin, Theuderic III sent missionaries to the winter fauns to see whether they could be converted; but the brutes refused to speak in any known human language and clung to their ignorant ways.

Roberto Osti

Procopius wrote in his other Secret History that the winter faun is related to the dancing goats of Thessaly which, having mated with Persian papegojar escaped from the pleasure-houses of Darius I, then gave birth to creatures half-goat, half-man and half-peacock. On the mystery of how a creature can be comprised of three halves, Procopius has nothing to say.

Jaroslaw Jasnikowski

1. Feel free to use these creatures in your fiction.
2. Thucydides, Darius I, Paracelsus, Theophanes, Audoin, Theuderic III and Procopius are all historical figures.
3. You can get a free copy of the Secret History from Project Gutenberg.
4. You should go listen to Howlin' Wolf now.

Sep 12, 2014

What if Your Computer Used YOU to google stuff? And Three Other Probing Questions

What if one day you found out that your computer was using you to search the Mindternet?

Learning from you. Evolving. Gradually becoming you. And as you grew machinelike, so would your computer grow human. You’d meet somewhere down the middle, both of you perfect cyborgs, but in complementary ways.

Photo by Alberto Lanz

What if the creator god of a given universe suddenly found out... 

...that his universe was not the only one, that there were “vacant” universes just ripe for the taking, and would seek to move into one or more of those universes and declare himself god to the natives?

Similar stories have been written before, by Christian and non-Christian Gnostics. One such story is The Hypostasis of the Archons, found in the Nag Hammadi library. The “library,” an ancient cache comprised of thirteen papyrus codices, was discovered in Upper Egypt by an Arab man, Muhammad Ali al-Samman in December 1945. He took the leather-bound volumes home but didn’t know what to do with them, and his mother used some of the papyri as kindling.

What if dogs weren’t real animals, but manifestations of the human psyche? 

A strange form of shared solipsism, that. (And can you really have species-wide solipsism, or should it be called something else?)

We sure strive to create dog breeds “in our image” — meaning, not dogs that look like us, but dogs that seem to answer our longing for an ideal nonhuman companion. Even if we hurt them in the process.

What if sound (vibration) were the raw material of the universe? 

Athanasius Kircher, probably not the first person to conceive of a cat organ, speculated about the possibility of transmitting music over great distances in his work Musurgia Universalis. This was 1673 and, at least on planet Earth, radio hadn’t been invented yet.

It’s difficult to describe a future, as-yet non-existent technology resorting only to the vocabulary defined by the technologies you know. To experience that difficulty yourself, try explaining the Internet in terms of cave paintings.

Illustration from Musurgia Universalis

Sep 10, 2014

Last Secret of the Inverted Tower

We went all four to plead with the Lord of Pain, that he let us bury our fifteen dead in the landslide.
Juu, the least scared of us, crawled up to the man of silver and gold that guarded the steps to the Lord’s palace.

Bruce Pennington

1. As I tend to limit my story prompts to a 50-word maximum, I left out some story information which you are free to use:

Juu would try to get the attention of the man of silver and gold (which I imagined as a kind of automaton, powered by an ill-understood or unknown energy source), and as this man slowly wrenched his head around and down to look at Juu -- Juu would have sidled up to him -- the man's head would have tumbled off his neck and rolled down the steps, leaving his rigid metal body still and motionless. This would have first surprised and then emboldened the group of four to go into the palace and find out what was going on.

2. Why do people love post-apocalyptic fiction? I found some partial answers at SF Signal:

Susan Beth Pfeffer links their popularity to economic recession. Hugh Howey  points to their value as survival stories comparable to the Robinsonades of yesteryear, that help us think about ways to adapt to a catastrophic situations. Other authors have different things to say.

3. Parting shot - here's some more Bruce Pennington for you.

Sep 5, 2014

A Long Trip to the Waiting Room, or, I Want a Parachute for my Birthday

Coitus McLean, favorite poetaster of the Dowager Queen, composer of ditties both gentle and biting, fell down a hole.
“Coitus!” he said to himself, in the act of falling, “you find yourself in a predicament.”
“Indeed,” said a chimneysweep who’d fallen down the same hole, and both men kept falling.

The Valley
by David Van Gough

It's nice to have someone agree with you, even when you find yourself in a predicament. One might even aver that the more predicated your predicament happens to predicate you, the more you appreciate people who agree with you.

The same goes for facts. Humans have this slight tendency to ignore facts that contradict their beliefs.

For example, I refuse to acknowledge that people in Australia live their whole lives upside down or that aliens built the Egyptian pyramids, despite all evidence to the contrary. Nor will I ever be forced to admit that Kim Jong-un is a time-traveling gerbil from the year 2899. Such things do not compute

Yours truly,
Batchu Pikaman

Sep 3, 2014

How Can You Make Inspiration Come to You?

What if one day you ran out of ideas? Hmm. That doesn’t sound right. Ideas are infinite.

“The philosophy of six thousand years has not searched the chambers and magazines of the soul. In its experiments there has always remained, in the last analysis, a residuum it could not resolve.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Over-Soul”

So you’re sitting at your desk and for some reason you don’t want to write. Or you don’t want to draw, compose your next song, even decide what’s for dinner. Oh, I’ve been there.

“Just as appetite comes from eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning” — Igor Stravinsky

The Forest of Improbable Shapes
by John Magnet Bell

What does it take to get you unstuck? Is it passion? Pursuing a goal? Finding a why for your all your hows?

Arthur Conan Doyle gave up medicine at the age of 27 and decided to write for a living because he wasn’t making decent money as a doctor. “I want to make more money” doesn’t sound like a lofty artistic goal, does it? But it provides some kind of motivation.

Conan Doyle would have serious doubts about the artistic merit of all those Sherlock Holmes stories he churned out: They were too easy to write, so maybe they were trash. Having traveled to Switzerland with his wife and seen the raw splendor of Reichenbach Falls, Conan Doyle decided to off his legendary detective right there.

Sherlock’s first death, published by The Strand, caused a meltdown. Twenty-thousand people canceled their subscriptions to the magazine. ACD brought Holmes back with “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” which he set in Sherlock’s early career. It wasn’t resurrection but reminiscence, and people loved it nonetheless.

Secret Splendor of Night
by John Magnet Bell

You can’t run out of ideas, but you can run out of energy. It’s OK to rest. It’s OK to go in search of inspiration, but don’t count on it to get words on paper, or paint on that canvas, or record a song for you. It’s more important to have a body of work than dozens of brilliant ideas that will never see the light of day.