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By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

It was an obvious choice for the Winter Solstice sunset; ‘Hot Scoria’ by John Cale and Angus MacLise. Nine minutes and twenty one seconds, guitar and cimbalon, would be about the time I’d take to drive out there and what sound, outside Coltrane, could be more suitable in preparation? More expressive of primal, Dionysian abandonment and yet, a grip on the reins to guide it. Scoria is, depending on definition, either a type of rock formed from gas-rich lava, or the slag of smelting metal or ore. The scorching movement of bright, hot mass, its path burnt down into the horizon, or, in David Fricke‘s liner notes, a “joyful fury“, a “climbing music“, an ‘Ascension‘. Music that somehow directs the uncontrollable and exults, defiantly, amidst the anger. An avatar, thus, ‘Hot Scoria’, when the beats in the solar pulse skip and slow, for the last hot drops of the dying year, and wild music, in turn, to ride their blinding trail into the other-world.

How important, you must wonder, would such sounds have been, not just as a rich and personally satisfying representation, but as part of the ancient ritual, of matters of life, death and the afterlife? One’s thoughts turn, inevitably, to Wagner’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art, the binding of dawn – the rise of the sun in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ – to Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra‘. As Bryan Magee (1968, 75) points out;

“…because the arts are of widely differing expressive potential – with one of them, music, able to penetrate to the innermost core of things in a way none of the others can – even an ideally realized synthesis would feature some arts more prominently than others, and music would play the star role, would be the most important component of the total expressive medium.”

Our impressions, then, are the shy children of visible context, clung tightly to the shapes that it takes, our aesthetic acceptance, or dismissal, to expectations of what those shapes must be. We should occasionally consider, perhaps, the respective significance of message and monument, within ritual. The circles, tombs and rows, that we gaze at now, may have been an integral part of the stage, part of the cast, even, but no more than that; sight without sound. Beautiful, precious, sometimes sublime, yet only a fragment of the scene. 

Magee, B. 1968 Aspects of Wagner. Oxford ISBN 0192840126

And listen to this, if you get the chance; ‘Hot Scoria’ (1965) on John Cale – Dream Interpretation: Inside the Dream Syndicate Volume II


January 2010

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