Seven Sermons to the Dead (2020) 30'

(Pno / perc / fixed electronics)

Available from March 2021

 

Programme Note

 

In the early part of the 20th Century, prior to and during World War I, the philosopher Carl Jung experienced intense and extended periods of vivid hallucinations. He thought of these experiences – in which he encountered scenes of absolute destruction and spoke with animals and demons – as visions, and he later came to think of them as the nucleus of the rest of his life’s work.

 

Jung detailed his psychic encounters in notebooks and later transcribed them into a secret illuminated manuscript which he entitled Liber Novus (more commonly known as The Red Book). The final part of Liber Novus is “Seven Sermons to the Dead,” which Jung apocryphally ascribed to Basilides, a real-life early Christian Gnostic religious figure. The Sermons read like descriptions of psychosis – it is almost impossible to follow the thread of the visions – some of sexual obsession and lazy misogyny – and the purported meaning inherent in them. What does emanate from the beautifully illustrated pages is a chilling sense of isolation, with dark apparitions hovering at the edges.

 

Writing later about his visions, Jung recalled that,

 

‘It began with a restlessness, but I did not know what it meant or what “they” wanted of me. There was an ominous atmosphere all around me. I had the strange feeling that the air was filled with ghostly entities. Then it was as if my house began to be haunted. […] The whole house was filled as if there were a crowd present, crammed full of spirits. They were packed deep right up to the door, and the air was so thick it was scarcely possible to breathe. As for myself, I was all aquiver with the question: “For God’s sake, what in the world is this?” Then they cried out in chorus, “We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought.” That is the beginning of the Septem Sermones.’

 

The foreboding murkiness and melancholy in this later description inspired the distinct moods and fluctuating intensity of the piece. Seven Sermons is seven movements:

 

  1. Taut and malignant

  2. It was scarcely possible to breathe

  3. Dusty windchimes

  4. Like droplets splashing onto your face from an old-fashioned New York City air conditioner

  5. Like your heart is wrenching from its tendons

  6. Like there are ghosts beneath your skin

  7. It was as if my house began to be haunted

Gemma Peacocke, Brooklyn, New York

maxandraschapman@gmail.com

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