by Dave Skipper
SERIES PAGE: ELIJAH
PREVIOUS: Track Notes 9: Scheming Reprobates / Strength to the Suicidal
Story Summary: 10/11/12 Cyclonic! Seismic! Scorching!
Now Elijah is on Mount Horeb, the mountain of God. The Lord God Yahweh tells Elijah to come out to the cave entrance where he is waiting, and says that he will pass by him. First a mighty wind blows on the mountain, shattering rocks (yes, a wind that smashes rock to smithereens!), yet God is not in the wind. Then a strong earthquake, but God is not in that either. Third, a great fire sweeps by, but yet again God is not in the fire. What does this mean? When and how will he pass by? To be continued…
Sounds & Structure
I have grouped these three tracks together in these Track Notes because they form a clear triptych together. And sonically they form a maelstromic unit within the flow of the album. I didn’t use any field recordings for these tracks, but instead I recorded the source sounds directly into the modular (into the Make Noise Morphagene) for instant and extended manipulations there. Cyclonic! Is formed purely from the sound of my blowing breath. Seismic! Was created from the violent rattling and tumbling of a boxful wooden train tracks. Scorching! Was derived entirely from a piece of paper being ripped and crumpled.
These tracks are probably the most ‘musique concrète’ on the whole album, as one of the typical features of that compositional approach is to strip sounds from their origin/context so they are treated as ‘pure sound’ with their source obscured and indecipherable. Indeed, the Morphagene module itself was designed to exploit some of the characteristics and techniques of tape manipulation so common in musique concrète. In this case, I obviously used sounds which do relate to the noise of the respective elements in action, but the power and beauty of modular synthesis is having the ability to amp up the violent drama from quiet, simple sounds into devastating harsh noise chaos. One of the ways I did this was to set the ‘grain size’ of the looping audio to a minimum, and ramp up the ‘smearing’ of adjacent grains so they overlap randomly, and then to scroll through the longer sample for shifts in timbre and dynamics, plus time-stretching/condensing to further alter the timbre and pitch. In layman’s terms, I twiddled knobs to find the noisiest ways to zoom in and distort the blowing/train-tracks-shaking/paper-ripping-and crumpling sounds as much as possible. Various filters, amplification, and distortion modules were also put into action to this end.
Armed with a collection of ensuing jams, I then cut up and edited/layered the results to achieve the results I had in mind. You can see from the screenshots below that the three layers in Seismic! are panned hard left, centre, and hard right respectively, and similarly for Scorching! along with an additional centred layer (though the central layers themselves are stereo so are actually comprised of hard-panned left and right channels).
We are all familiar with earthquakes, but have you heard of moonquakes, sunquakes, starquakes, and ice quakes? Here are some cools facts:
- Moonquakes can last for up to an hour due to fewer attenuating factors to dampen seismic vibrations.
- Seismic waves produced by sunquakes can travel at velocities of 35,000 kph (22,000 mph) for distances of up to 400,000 km (250,000 miles) before fading away.
- The largest recorded starquake (from the ultracompact stellar corpse SGR 1806-20, after which I titled this noise release) is calculated to have released energy equivalent to a magnitude 32 earthquake!
- Ice quakes are called cryoseisms are caused by the release of built-up pressure from freezing ice, rather than from tectonic activity, but can nevertheless produce seismic waves and audible cryoseismic booms.
Shake the heavens!
What was with the wind, earthquake, and fire? And why was the Lord not in those, when he had just told Elijah that he would pass by? This seems like just a strange story until we see how it recapitulates (with some twists) what had happened on that same mountain with Moses centuries earlier.
Moses. The people of Israel had been miraculously rescued out of slavery in Egypt, and when they reached Mount Sinai in the wilderness, God met dramatically with the people. This was the scene:
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
When Moses went up the mountain, God gave his law of the covenant, summarised in the Ten Commandments. God wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone for Moses and the people. Now, when Moses came back down the mountain, the people had grown tired of waiting and fashioned a golden calf to worship as their god, in flagrant disobedience to God’s commands. Moses prays to God to spare the people from his wrath, and this is what happened:
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
After this, the covenant was renewed with the people.
- The thunder, fire, noise, and trembling mountain were indications of God coming in all his might, majesty, and righteous holiness. This elemental drama also demonstrated his divine prerogative to justly consume by fire those who break his covenant.
- Despite the fact that the people did in fact immediately break the covenant and worship their false god, God passed by Moses on the mountain to show his goodness, grace, and mercy – so undeserved!
- The covenant between God and his people was renewed.
Now let’s compare with Elijah’s experience. Elijah was in a cave in the mountain when the Lord passed him by, just like Moses. Here is the text:
There Elijah came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him… And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
1 Kings 19:9a,11-12
The strange thing this time is that the Lord was not in the wind, earthquake, and fire. Why not? He is the Maker and Lord of the elements, and no-one can escape his presence, so in that sense of course he was there in the wind, earthquake, and fire. What kind of ‘not presence’ was it? Well, as we already saw in the sacrifice on Mount Carmel against the prophets of Baal, God’s judgement by fire had already fallen and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice. This was the diversion of judgment onto the sacrifice as a substitute for the idolatrous people. The forces of nature in their full fury are terrifying, and in the context of the Bible they are designed as glimpses of the holy wrath of God against sin. But for Old Testament Israel that wrath had been temporarily averted. So now God is telling Elijah (fearful and alone) that he does not need to be afraid. The covenant has been renewed, fire has already come, and God’s presence is coming to Elijah in that wonderful mode of goodness, grace, and mercy. Elijah would have understood immediately all the similarities and differences with what had happened before on that very mountain with Elijah. All this matches perfectly with what happens next…