Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Hexenmeister:

This watercolor image comes from contemplating a little (1 & 1/2 square) tintype, made in the mid 1800s, of my great great Grandfather, David Dutton. Hexenmeister is a Pennsylvania Dutch term, applied by others, usually posthumously, for a person with an inherited or inherent ability to manipulate magical power, to harm or heal. In the Dutton family this was passed, along with land, from generation to generation via the seventh son. My Father was the seventh son of a seventh son of a seventh son.

He sometimes joked that he had the power to cure "The King's Itch" (scrofula), and "Swinney" (a withering of muscle tissue in horses), but a story saved by one of my cousins relates that horses were brought by believers to the Dutton homeplace, and healing effected by pouring water from the spring over them.

It is my understanding that typically these hexen, or spells, must be handed down from one gender to the other, father to daughter, & vice versa, (or male older relative to female younger, etc) ~ however, a husband can teach the hexen to his wife, and she may then pass it on to a male heir, or, again, vice versa, mother to father to female heir.

My Dad was keen on Shakespeare, and may have known this quote from Macbeth, cited in "The Devil's Dictionary" - "A cynical view of the world by Ambrose Bierce":

King's Evil (scrofula, a type of tuberculosis of the lymph glands, transmitted via the milk of infected cows):


A malady that was formerly cured by the touch of the sovereign, but has now to be treated by the physicians. Thus 'the most pious Edward" of England used to lay his royal hand upon the ailing subjects and make them whole --

"...a crowd of wretched souls
That stay his cure: their malady convinces
The great essay of art; but at his touch,
Such sanctity hath Heaven given his hand,
They presently amend,..."

as the "Doctor" in Macbeth hath it. This useful property of the royal hand could, it appears, be transmitted along with other crown properties; for according to "Malcolm,"

"...'tis spoken
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction."

But the gift somewhere dropped out of the line of succession: the later sovereigns of England have not been tactual healers, and the disease once honored with the name "king's evil" now bears the humbler one of "scrofula," from scrofa, a sow. The date and author of the following epigram are known only to the author of this dictionary, but it is old enough to show that the jest about Scotland's national disorder is not a thing of yesterday.

"Ye Kynge his evill in me laye,
Wh. he of Scottlande charmed awaye.
He layde his hand on mine and sayd:
"Be gone!" Ye ill no longer stayd.
But O ye wofull plyght in wh.
I'm now y-pight: I have ye itche!"

The superstition that maladies can be cured by royal taction is dead, but like many a departed conviction it has left a monument of custom to keep its memory green. The practice of forming a line and shaking the President's hand had no other origin, and when that great dignitary bestows his healing salutation on

"...strangely visited people,
All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despair of surgery,..."

he and his patients are handing along an extinguished torch which once was kindled at the altar-fire of a faith long held by all classes of men. It is a beautiful and edifying "survival" -- one which brings the sainted past close home in our "business and bosoms."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Indigo Wrap:

This is one of the 17 (?) wraps for The Ancestress in the 3rd quarter of You'll Always Come Back. Years ago I read, in a book about clothing, that the Imperial Princess in old Japan was only seen once in public in her life. The event was carefully staged, with the Princess ceremonially dressed in 17 layers of sewn-in-place clothing. Once cocooned in the complete outfit, she was unable to move, in effect a living sculpture, and, in a way, a symbol and demonstration of both the power of, and sacrifice required by, the woman's role in that society. The description stuck in my head, and YACB's 3rd act is the perfect place to enact it. Bound in place.

The layer depicted in this sketch is of indigo stretch fabric with sewn in ribs made of oak splints. There's a large wrap for the body and two smaller wraps for the arms. The naturally curved splints stick out like the spines of a scorpion fish. The footwear consists of a pair of wood platform clogs, about 24 inches in height, completely studded with nkisi-style nails.

Since the numbers 7 and 9 have more symbolic significance in YACB than 17, and since the 3rd Act is only about 20 minutes long, I'm beginning to think that 17 layers may be at least 8 too many!

The Daisy Oracle:

I was looking through one of my photo albums and happened on some photos of my Mom made by my friend Gabriela. Gabriela is an artist from Iceland. We met when she visited dandyland back in 2006, I think it was ~ she had just finished the work on a video for her friend, Bjork.

Gabriela really hit it off with my Mom ~ she was one of the rare few who recognized the quality of the art that my mom made. She made this photo of one of my Mom's "accumulations" (that's what Cebah called them!) ~ the Feathers.

We went on a walk together, to the pond back in the woods. It was late summer and the meadow there was covered with wildflowers. My Mom showed Gabriela how to find out if someone loves you by plucking off the petals of a daisy, while enchanting "love's me, love's me not, etc." until the last remaining petal reveals the truth. Of course she knew how to cheat at this. If I'm remembering correctly, this was something that Gabriela had never seen ~ maybe there aren't any daisies in Iceland.

I'm missing my Mom a lot. She loved art and could discern the real from the postured variety. These photos remind me, as Gabriela told me then, to "honor the work," and the generosity of spirits who can share it.

(Us in the Underworld)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spiral Text ~

The text is the lyrics for the first half of You'll Always Come Back, written in sepia ink.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Crocus are up ~

The Low-End Theorist visits Dandyland:

My friend and co-conspirator Brent Olds blogged this about his visit to Dandyland, and our work on You'll Always Come Back.
It was one of the best times ever...

"From the period of Feb. 8th to Feb. 18th , I journeyed south to visit and collaborate with artist/composer/musician/anthropologist/professor/all around good guy Dan Dutton. He lives on a farm in southern Kentucky... Somerset to be exact. It's a beautiful, serene place that is in the deep country, the total opposite of the city. It's a place where time starts playing tricks on you and you pay it no attention. There were a couple of reasons for me being there. Dan had asked me to collaborate, conceptualize, and help compose the music for an opera/installation that he is writing that is going to be performed sometime this year. Also in December of last year I had a dream about Dandyland. The dream was probably due to the fact that I was thinking about the music, reading Dans Blog and me getting burnt out on Cincinnati and needing a bit of a retreat from my so called life, which isn't really stressful at all but I hadn't seen trees since Christmas at my Mom's place as well... I need trees and nature in my life!!!! So anyway, I saw this gap of time open up right before I took off for Europe and I called Dan up and he said "come on down"

I really dig talking about stuff that interests me, but other than a few people that can stand it I don't really get to talk about the stuff that I love (and I haven't been writing about it in this blog either) and not only that but long excessive conversations that last for hours, gabbing about everything under the sun, just hasn't happened in a while... pretty much the only person that I can gab for hours with is my Mom, and thats a new found pleasure that recently just happened... so based on the few previous really long phone conversations with Dan, I kind of knew I was gonna have a fun time ultra-gabbing with Dan. And we talked about everything! Art, Music, Traveling, Pop Culture, History etc. It was awesome. You see, Dan is a really good story teller and telling the story of his ancestors is one of the main threads of the opera... so he wove that in with the telling of some of the main points of his life so I could get to know him, and I realized I was doing the same thing! This back and forth of story telling and sharing was great for me because I realize I don't tell alot of stories... I funnel all that energy into telling stories on my bass.... so when I was hanging out with Dan all of my story telling skills started to come back...

So the entire time was spent, more or less, with both of us conceptualizing the performance, telling stories, us listening to each others music, watching relevant(and sometimes irrelevant) DVDs and videos, composing music, jamming out musical ideas(he's a pretty decent keyboardist).... like I said earlier time kindof just stood still and just didn't matter. Not to mention the really really good food that Dan cooked as well, it was most definitely a retreat... but not like a buddhist or yoga retreat or anything like that, because the amount of work that I got done there was alot more than I would've got done slacking in Cincinnati... so it was more of a creative retreat... sigh.. I need more of these.. HA! Once again a HUGE thank you to Dan for being a great host.

About 2 weeks before the Dandyland retreat, I had an AHA moment that involved fusing the programs Ableton Live 8(the demo version, I'm still a poor starving artist), Soundflower and Logic Pro 8... it involves like 5 steps from start to finish but it lets me overide Ableton's disabling of the save function and sync up samples just like an MPC... once I figured that out, my production started to grow a lot faster so by the time I got to Dandyland it started to become kind of transparent and I ran into very little problems... I'm rather proud of my discovery... but it's so simple once you break it down... I'm not gonna bore you with the tech details but lets just say I've been struggling with Ableton Live for like 6 years and to finally get a bit more proficient on it was good stuff... I have to keep up my super genius status you know! HA! Anyway this discovery let Dan and I work at amazing speed... the first couple of days thoughts and ideas were being thrown back and forth between Dan and I like a ping pong match and the output was actually quite amazing, then we hit the inevitable wall and the pace slowed back down to a normal amount... Man, just thinking about the amount of creative flow that happened still continues to amaze and fascinate me... also I know I'm gonna be quite salty when I run into a major writing block and think about the creative abundance that was the Dandyland retreat... oh well, such is life.

So the opera Dan's working on is called You'll Always Come Back... and it's quite a story. Dan has done several of these modern operas before and he's dealt with various subject matter in them... but to write something about his ancestors and what happened some 150 years ago, seems like it would be difficult to pull off... but the themes and characters of the story are really intriguing and it works(especially in a modern theatre setting)... It is reminiscent of what Alex Haley did with Roots, and dare I say a bit more interesting? Plus if anyone can pull it off it will be Dan. I'm definitely in his corner... though the work putting this thing together is gonna be tough. I could go into more detail it would take me writing a small novel to explain it all! I'm sure I'll be blogging about more of it the closer it comes to performing...

And a special shout out to my new friend Alf(fred).. he's one of the coolest most chill puppys I've ever met...

So that's it! That was a brief synopsis of what went down in Dandyland. Man, it feels good to write again, I guess I only write when things that are interesting come around... Nothing was happening there for a while. I was just talking to my sister and my "vacation" lasted about 3 months, I was writing, putting a bunch of thinking and playing time in but it's totally nice to start traveling and working again, plus I'm running out of dough! HA!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Black Mask ~ White Mask

...That's the title of a book by Franz Fanon, well worth reading, and one of the intertwined subjects that Brent and I discussed whilst being snowed in the dandyland central orb for a week & a half. I was also working my way slowly, in bits and pieces when we weren't making music or conversing, through Michael Taussig's collection of anthropology essays titled "Walter Benjamin's Grave," and introducing excerpts as thoughts for us to ponder, such as this:

"Masquerade takes us to secrecy, one of the most persuasive ideas and feelings that fuels metaphysics, amounting to the sense that reality is constituted by a facade behind which lurk forces that form a system. Whether it be God, the psychic unconscious, the economic infrastructure, or whatever occult presence you wish to fantasize about, this two-layered model of the real consisting of a deceptive surface and concelaed deeper truth has driven religions, science, politics, and the police, as so many exemplars of "intelligent design."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ori (= head):

These Ori (Yoruba for "head") are fashioned after a conventional treatment of the face of Eshu, the Orisa of, amongst other things, "indeterminacy." When I started working on the sketch for this watercolor I looked at carved representations of Eshu on the borders of the Opun Ifa, wooden divining trays used to consult the Ifa oracle, and decided to ask my teacher Ajala about the typical 3 cicatrix (decorative scars) on each cheek. Here's his answer:

"Ok Dan,
Is a very good question.In Yoruba we have different marks,like that one it have some family that they taking it.but some sculpture just do it like a design to the opon ifa.But some has mean to who captured it.The head signifies like the top or the head of opon ifa ,when they put it down,for them to no the right way to put it down.About the Mark,We call that mark "ILA"Just to recognize the family who u are.It don't not save any meaning to the opon ifa"

In the days of the US slave trade, the Ila were called "country marks," and recognized as markers of the country of origin of slaves who had them.