by Dave Skipper
SERIES PAGE: ELIJAH
PREVIOUS: Track Notes 10/11/12: Scorching! Seismic! Scorching!
Story Summary: 13 Susurrations of the Almighty
After the destruction and cacophony of the rock-shattering wind, the earthquake, and the fire, came ‘the sound of a low whisper’ (ESV), also translated as ‘a thin silence’ (ESV footnoted alternative), ‘a gentle whisper’ (NIV), ‘the sound of a gentle blowing’ (Amplified Bible), or ‘a sound of minute stillness’ (Robert Alter). Elijah wrapped his face in his cloak and stood at the entrance of the mountain-side cave to hear what the Lord would say…
Sounds & Structure
This track is unique on the album for its gentleness and low volume level. More than just being quiet, though, I wanted to convey something of the awe and intimate mystery of what Elijah must have experienced. The opening part is actually a discarded section from my Cyclonic! Jam, when I had mistakenly left some feedback in the system. However it sets the mood perfectly here. The reuse and reconfiguration of errors and sonic detritus is a common noise methodology which also beautifully reflects the way that God leaves nothing to waste, even bringing good out of evil (Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28 are a couple of classic Bible texts on this). The rest of the track is comprised of two overlapping recordings, hard-panned left and right, of me whispering the names of Elijah (pronounced Hebraically as ‘Eliyaaf’) and Yahweh (pronounced ‘Yah-vhay’). Some soft clicks underneath and in between these susurrations (whispering sounds) were unintended but sound to me like a gentle clock ticking away, indicating God’s entrance into and presence within time. The bass sound that enters in lends some additional gravitas to the scene.
I think it’s interesting that arguably one of the most intriguing and significant parts of the whole story is so subtle, in great contrast to the heavy noise that makes up most of the album.
I discovered the word susurration while searching for unusual sound-describing terms. It means a whispering or murmuring sound, exactly right for the ‘low whisper’ or ‘sound of minute stillness’ that Elijah heard. Here are some other cool words I found:
- Borborygmus (a gastro-intestinal rumbling sound)
- Crepitation (crackling sound, e.g. a crunching sensation felt in certain medical problems, or a mechanism of sound production in grasshoppers during flight)
- Deave (to make deaf) – maybe I should change my noise artist name to ‘Deave Skipper,’ hahaha!!!
- Euphony (agreeableness of sound; pleasing effect to the ear)
- Gride (to make a grating sound; scrape harshly; grate; grind)
- Plangent (resounding loudly, especially with a plaintive sound, as a bell)
- Rale (an abnormal crackling or rattling sound heard upon auscultation of the chest, caused by disease or congestion of the lungs)
- Rataplan (a sound of, or as of, the beating of a drum)
- Reboant (resounding or reverberating loudly)
- Scroop (to emit a harsh, grating sound)
- Sibilation (hissing sound)
- Stertor (heavy snoring sound)
- Stridulation (a shrill, grating sound, as a cricket does, by rubbing together certain parts of the body; check this link for more info on the ‘biology of insect song’)
- Tintinnabulation (the sound of bells ringing)
“The deaving gride was yet a euphonic scroop to mine ear!” – my thoughts exactly on listening to anything by the amazing Knurl!
According to Peter Leithart in his marvellous commentary on1 & 2 Kings, “Yahweh comes roaring to [Elijah] in wind, earthquake, fire, and voice – all associated in Scripture with Yahweh’s advent (2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 11:6; 104:3; Isa. 29:6). But 1 Kgs. 19 emphasizes that Yahweh is more fundamentally associated with his word than with any other phenomena.” Indeed, it was by his word that he created the heavens and the earth, and his breath gave life to the first man Adam. It is his word that governs all things, sustains all things, remakes all things. Jesus, as the eternal Son of God, is described in the New Testament as the Living Word of God, and as God’s final word to mankind. And the Holy Spirit of God breathes new life into human hearts through Scripture, the written Word of God. In the end, noise – for all its power and revelation – must be supplemented by and interpreted by and governed by God’s Word – spoken, Living, written, eternal. And to know God himself truly, we need to hear not merely the noise of his creative power or recreative activity, but we need to hear his small still voice piercing into the silence of our innermost being.
Further to these thoughts, the New Testament provides insight for significant interpretation to Elijah’s mountain experience:
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
God’s gentle appearance to Elijah was a foretaste of the intimate access into his presence: Jesus provides access to the throneroom of Almighty God. He becomes our heavenly Father, full of love and mercy, removing all fear.
And there is one more New Testament episode to think about, one more encounter with God on the mountain. This time Jesus’ divine glory is revealed, and alongside him appear Moses and Elijah themselves. God met Moses on the mountain through fire and quake; God met Elijah on the mountain in the quietness of God’s whisper; now God in the person of his son Jesus meets Moses and Elijah along with three of his disciples to witness a glimpse of the transfiguring glory of God, a foretaste of future glory:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Back to Elijah on Mount Horeb, and we have one track left, when God speaks to him with detailed clarity…