iChing


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5.15.24 - Jung and the I Ching
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I met a new friend and fellow I Ching practitioner, who shared a wealth of knowledge and resources relating to the I Ching as well as writings on divinatory practices. One of these is the Gnostic Book of Changes, a website which compiles several translations on each hexagram. I found that these readings combined help to illuminate some of the deeper potential behind the relationships described by the original texts, and while this doesn’t constitute a definitive explanation, it has inspired me to revisit the use of English words in my performance. So I’ve gone through the 64 hexagrams and assigned each one an English word that feels most appropriate in a performance context. Future performances will include a transcription of both the ideogram and my chosen English translation (subject to change, of course)



On Divination and Synchronicity - by Marie-Louise Von Franz
This is a series of lectures given by Von Franz, a student of Jung. In it she makes a case for divination being an alternative yet complementary form of scientific experimentation. Where science seeks to analyze a specific phenomenon by eliminating chance, divination uses chance to illustrate fundamental truths about psychological states.


1.25.24 - What Makes for Good Research Material?
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I have a growing collection of books that I keep in rotation, in the hope that their influence will make its way into the musical iChing practice. They tend to fall under a handful of categories...books on ancient Chinese philosophy and daoist ways of life, books that help understand Chinese forms and aesthetic practices, books about artists, books about divination, books that attempt to describe performance practice in different ways, books that lie at the intersection of sound and nature. Here are some examples:

- Hunger Mountain, by David Hinton
One of my favorite books about Chinese language. Really beautifully illustrates the aesthetic considerations inherent in a pictographic language, particularly in early Classical Chinese where grammatical structure was more fluid, and the ambiguity of characters was utilized to capture ineffable concepts. Really fascinating if you have any interest in the Chinese language.

- The I Ching: A Biography, by Richard J. Smith
This book has a lot less useful stuff in it than I originally hoped, given the title. Attempts to cover historical background of the I Ching, and is palpably Western in its thinking. I haven’t given up hope on it yet though, and think I might just be reading it with distracting expectations.

- Sounds Wild and Broken, by David George Haskell
While this book has little to do with music improvisation or divination, it contains some beautiful passages describing and recontextualizing the sounds of nature - how they interact with one another and create form:

”The functions of animal sounds are more diverse than our simple classification allows. Often the division between song and call is arbitrary and usually reveals more about the effect of the sound on human aesthetics than its roles among nonhuman animals.”

- Standing In Space, by Mary Overlie
A workbook identifying and examining what Overlie calls the Six Viewpoints of performance: Space, Shape, Time, Emotion, Movement, Story. It’s been a puzzling challenge to interpret from a musical standpoint, but also reminds me of the physicality of live performance whether or not “movement” is centered in my personal practice.

- 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, Eliot Weinberger & Octavio Paz
My brother Edwin gifted this book to me recently - a single classical Chinese poem, translated 19 different ways, + explanations. I’m hoping for this to help expand my approach to interpreting Chinese characters.

- The Chalice and the Blade, by Riane Eisler
Picked up this book a while back, curious to revisit. An overview on the impact of heteronormative biases in anthropological research...i.e. archaeologists would interpret cave drawings as spears before plants, and were later proven incorrect based on additional findings.



1.25.24 - Practicing With Movement
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This past weekend I met up with a friend and mime/movement artist YT (aka Young Tseng). We have a show coming up, performing a musical I Ching reading as part of a Chinese New Year celebration in February. For practice we ran a series of short readings, each followed by a brief discussion.

In this new arrangement I begin to notice an order of operations. First, the Octatrack delivers its randomly generated reading/melody. I usually decipher the reading on first listen, and then wait for the second to confirm. During the second playthrough, I transcribe each line as each note plays out. Then I draw the corresponding hexagram. I usually decide on a way to begin, and YT follows from there.

The body of the piece - how it develops between us - is still finding form. Often we get caught up in our individual worlds. I’m usually trying to reflect the elemental relationship in each hexagram as well as the character, exploring ways to illustrate it with my musical choices. YT has told me that since he’s a little less experienced with the hexagrams and their meanings, he takes a more impressionistic approach to the visuals and music.

In my solo performances, I’ve discovered that the most powerful moments involve a synchronicity that is felt and held by both audience and performer. Maybe something in the environment happens that couldn’t possibly have been planned in advance. Or maybe something internal happens - a sense of flow or channeling is achieved which feels shared both inside and outside my experience as the performer. With YT I think the goal is to cultivate these kinds of moments, not just in our singular practices but also together.

Another note - despite my desire to “focus” on the musical portion of the reading, it’s becoming clear that the process of transcribing the hexagrams is itself a magnetic piece of performance art. YT told me that the initial tones from the Octatrack, paired with the movement of my hand across the paper help inform his own movement. I think it’s time to give that aspect of the performance a bit more care and aesthetic consideration.




1.10.24 - Huzi and the Shaman
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This is one of my favorite stories from Zhuangzi.

Excerpted from Chapter 7: Sovereign Responses for Ruling Powers (trans. Brook Ziporyn)

There was a shaman in Zheng named Jixian who could discern whether people would live or die, survive or perish. He knew how long their lives would be and what turns their fortunes would take, giving the exact year, month, week, and date for each event like some kind of god. When the people of Zheng caught sight of him, they would turn and run. Liezi went to see him, and his mind became quite intoxicated. He returned and told Huzi about it, saying, “I used to think your Course was the ultimate, but now I see that there is something beyond it.”

Huzi said, “I have only finished showing you its outward ornament, not yet its inner reality. Have you really mastered this Course? […] You use the Course to browbeat the world, insisting that people believe in it. Because you try to control others, you have allowed yourself to be controlled. That is why this man was able to read your fortune on your face. Bring him here, and I will show myself to him.”

The next day, Liezi brought the shaman to see Huzi. He came out and said to Liezi, “Alas! Your master is as good as dead! That is not a living being in there! He has at most a few weeks left. I saw something very strange in him, something resembling wet ashes.”

Liezi went in, his collar drenched with tears, and reported these words to Huzi. Huzi said, “Just now I showed him the patterns of the earth, sprouting forth without any strenuous rumblings and without straightening themselves out. He must have seen in me the incipient impulse of the Virtuosity that blocks everything out. Try bringing him again.”

The next day, Liezi brought the shaman once more. He came out and said, “Your master is lucky to have met me! He’s recovering; there are healthy signs of life! I could see his blockage moving into balance.”

Liezi went in and reported this to Huzi, who said, “Just now I showed him Heaven’s soil. Impervious to both names and realities, renown and profit, the incipient impulse nonetheless comes forth from the heels. He must have seen in me the incipient impulse of all that flourishes. Try bringing him in again.”

The next day, he brought the shaman yet again to see Huzi. He came out and told Liezi, “Your master is an incoherent mess, I have no way to read his face. Have him get himself together, then I’ll come back and do a reading.”

Liezi went in and reported this to Huzi, who said, “Just now I showed him the vast gushing surge in which no one thing wins out. He must have seen in me the incipient impulse that balances all energies. […] Try bringing him in again.”

The next day, Liezi brought him to see Huzi again. But before the shaman had even come to a halt before him, he lost control of himself and bolted out the door. Huzi said, “Go after him!” But Liezi could not catch up with him.

Huzi said, “Just now I showed him what I am when not yet emerged from my source - something empty and serpentine in its twistings, admitting of no understanding of who or what. So he saw it as something endlessly collapsing and scattering, something flowing away with every wave. This is why he fled.”

That was when Liezi realized he had not yet learned anything. He returned to his home and did not emerge for three years, cooking for his wife, feeding the pigs as if he were serving guests, remaining remote from all endeavors and letting all the chiseled carvings of his character return to an unhewn blockishness. Solitary like a clump of soil, he planted his physical form there in its place, a mass of chaos and confusion. And that is how he remained to the end of his days.
 




1.10.24 - Reflections from Treepeople
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Finished out the year’s performances with an I Ching reading overlooking the Valley. Floating provided a cool blue lighting and the venue, Treepeople. I should have a video together within the next month as well!



This was my first time using an overhead projector to share the pictogram. The reading was Hexagram 59: Air over Water, (dispersing). The pictogram shows rippling water and hands pushing open a door. Quite an evocative reading for a transition into the new year! 




12.9.23 - A Personalized Set of Pictograms
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In anticipation for my December Floating show, I’ve completed a personalized set of 64 pictographs. The plan is to be able to recall the reading from memory and draw it on an overhead to accompany the musical improvisation.

After I began learning the pictograms last month, I started to notice certain relationships between the readings and characters felt weaker than others. So I took greater and greater liberties to redesign the characters so that they would make more sense to me. I figured this would also help with memorization on such a tight schedule!

I like the idea of a language that evolves each time it’s written. Less a standardized, 1:1 definition and more an iterative & interpretive practice. Before Chinese was standardized, it existed in myriad hyperlocal forms, practiced among diverse communities with equally diverse customs and perspectives. It’s likely these pictographic languages were constantly in flux, depending on who was doing the carving (the earliest records are bone carvings).

As this practice develops, I may set up a wing of this site dedicated to how my 64 pictograms evolve alongside my practice.







11.28.23
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I've started practicing writing each of the hexagrams’ characters in order, in a Chinese handwriting workbook - my first time writing in a workbook like this since I was in middle school. This time I’m revisiting the paper with fresh eyes, much like my latest return to sheet music. The guidelines on the page are simply suggestions, scaffolding for further creativity. I don’t need to follow any aesthetic guidelines, or strive for consistency, because I am discovering all kinds of things even as I write. I find myself repeating the phrase, “The point is not to be pretty, the point is to be clear.”

What are my intentions when I read? What are my motivations?

There is definitely a part of me that desires beauty, or at least a logic of some kind. The part of me that knows how to play is eager to fill the silence. But in order to be clear, I must practice letting the space speak as well, opening the frame to the potency of the shared experience. Setting a pace of attention that I can fill with intentional decisions.

I want to be as clear as possible. When I hear the melody, I want to see the hexagram and its associated imagery - yin & yang, arrangement of the trigrams, and the character. I want the music to communicate these images and aesthetic relationshipss - in harmonies, in motion, in how each piece develops over time.




11.27.23 - (Zhuangzi, The Cook)
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My translation is by Brook Ziporyn. From the chapter titled “The Primacy of Nourishing Life”

“The cook put down his knife and said, ‘what I love is the Course, something that advances beyond mere skill. When I first started cutting up oxen, all I looked at for three years was oxen, and yet still I was unable to see all there was to see in an ox. But now I encounter it with the spirit rather than scrutinizing it with the eyes. My understanding consciousness, beholden to its specific purposes, comes to a halt, and thus the promptings of the spirit begin to flow. I depend on Heaven’s unwrought perforations and strike the larger gaps, following along with the broader hollows. I go by how they already are, playing them as they lay. So my knife has never had to cut through the knotted nodes where the warp hits the weave, much less the gnarled joints of bone.

‘A good cook changes his blade once a year: he slices. An ordinary cook changes his blade once a month: he hacks. I have been using this same blade for nineteen years, cutting up thousands of oxen, and yet it is still as sharp as the day it came off the whetstone. For the joints have spaces within them, and the very edge of the blade has no thickness at all. When what has no thickness enters into an empty space, it is vast and open, with more than enough room for the play of the blade. That is why my knife is still as sharp as if it had just come off the whetstone, even after nineteen years.


‘Nonetheless, whenever I come to a clustered tangle, realizing that it is difficult to do anything about it, I instead restrain myself as if terrified, until my seeing comes to a complete halt. My activity slows, and the blade moves ever so slightly. Then all at once, I find the ox already dismembered at my feet like clumps of soil scattered on the ground. I retract the blade and stand there gazing at my work arrayed all around me, dawdling over it with satisfaction. Then I wipe off the blade and put it away.’”

I’m fascinated with this idea of meeting resistance with restraint, cutting off “seeing” and letting a moment resolve itself (“my understanding consciousness comes to a halt, and the promptings of the spirit begin to flow”). This sentiment is echoed throughout the I Ching, the idea that inaction is a powerful choice, which allows a circumstance to resolve itself and lead to clarity. I also notice parallels with Mary Overlie’s invitation to encourage stillness and self-awareness in movement, and Jodorowsky’s description of trance - “in a trance there is no such thing as a missed opportunity or accident.”

I’m encouraged by these texts to embrace and perform discomfort, tension, and silence as necessary openings for ease, resolution, and sound.



11.15.23 (Mary Overlie)
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In her book Standing in Space, Mary Overlie breaks down live performance into six Viewpoints, or “materials.” One of these materials is “emotion,” which she combines with the idea of presence in movement practices. I noticed some parallels to Jodorowsky’s tarology talk of becoming a “mirror.” Both authors encourage an initial interrogation of intent.

From the chapter “Emotion”:

“Many performers edit out these minute details of their own state of being; it does not occur to them to include this level of detail from themselves. This editing results in a partial disengagement., an incomplete state of being, an abridged version of existence. In my opinion editing the self in this way ultimately creates a less powerful performer.
“Unless gifted with presence awareness, the performer must work against a protective impulse to hide information or hiding mechanism that is triggered by lack of trust. Human instinct advises us to hide information, to avoid being fully witnessed by ‘the others’ as a survival device in daily life [...] for dancers and actors the ability to release this protective mechanism allows them to draw closer to the audience and the audience to draw closer to them. In both acting and dancing, skilled presence work allows for greater visibility, since the performer is not only reaching outward but inviting the audience to come closer and watch them execute these roles as human beings.


“The technique of presence reminds me of the Zen koan. Both are minimal, elegant and yet contain so much in such a small act. Powerful aspects of performance, being in contact with a microscopic awareness of yourself and how you are received that is often hidden by conventional acting and dancing, can surface when Emotion is reduced to presence. This ‘koan’ begins with placing the performer onstage without anything, narrative or choreographic, to perform.”

I’m sensing a slight difference in Jodorowsky and Overlie’s approaches. Where Overlie sees presence as an active awareness of self, maintained throughout a performance, Jodorowsky encourages a certain removal of the emotions and ideas of the self. Regarding a practice that fuses live improvised performance with divination, which approach is correct?

For me, the answer is a fusion of both approaches...
  • Begin with a moment of silence, a koan of reflection, around my intentions as both oracle and performer.
  • In the case of performaing for an audience (rather than a single querent), the space and its interwoven energies serve as a collective recipient to the reading. If the performer wants to become a mirror, they will be reflecting the energy of the surrounding space rather than the energy of an individual.
  • Attempt to achieve Jodorowsky’s trance, with the added notion that the responses of the internal self are as much part of the environment as anything occurring outside the body. “Every gesture, every action is perfect.”



11.14.23 (Jodorowsky & Tarot)
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Some relevant passages from Jodorowsky’s book The Way of Tarot - from the chapter titled “How to Become a Mirror”:

“If the tarologist, without advance preparation, tries to lead the reading subject toward a transformation that raises their level of consciousness, this individual will react as if their teeth are being pulled. To change, there must be a wish to change, the knowledge that this change is possible, and that, finally, the consequences of this change can be accepted.”

“The tarologist, leaving aside the prediction of the future, should be capable of realizing the motives that drive them to read [...] If our position as reader is unclear, the reading will not be clear either. The Tarot being a set of symbols - which are obscure because they are initiatory - it becomes an essentially subjective language. The tarologist needs to know what kind of psychological content their subconscious is projecting on the reading. 

“Constant attention and a strict state of alert, and a sincere acceptance of the impulses that ask us to control and direct them toward objective interpretations, should guide our reading [...] It is impossible to say, ‘I will not make any projections,’ but it is quite possible to tell yourself, ‘I will be conscious of my projections.’

What drives me to perform these readings?

“In order not to fall into these errors, I made a vow to myself never to give advice, but to structure the reading in such a way that the solution comes to the person. To manage this, I relied on my study of dream analysis: the psychoanalyst should not explain to their patient the meaning of oneiric symbols [...] The analyst can present different ssolutions. The individual should choose the path that best suits them.

“To this end, the reader should attain a state of perfect neutrality by ignoring their desires, feelings, and opinions, in an extreme act of self-sacrifice. If the tarologist succeeds at turning themself into an ‘invisible man,’ who then is reading the Tarot? Using a metaphor, I say it is a mirror. The level of the individual’s consciousness is reflected by the purity of our mind. Using their own language (if it is a child for example, we use a childlike language), and taking on the appearance of the other, through our own emptiness, and through our words and gestures, we shall manage to get the individual to read their own Tarot.

What kind of audience am I mirroring? What do I know about them?
“For more authenticity in the reading, which is to say so that there is the least possible potential for a projection of the reader’s problems, personal morality, or intellectual notions [...] the tarologist must do it in a trance. Contrary to what is commonly thought, a trance is not an unconscious or irrational state. It begins with an intensification of attention and ends with the abolition of the spectator/actor reality. The person in a trance does not observe themselves; they dissolve into themselves. They are an actor in the pure state. By ‘actor’ we mean not the performer on a stage but an entity in action. For this reason, for example, trance does not allow the memory to record words, events, and actions performed. For the same reason the trance can presume the loss of the notion of time.

“In a trance there is no such thing as a missed opportunity or an accident. We have no notion of space, for we have become space. We have no notion of time, for we are the phenomenon that is happening. This is a state of extreme presence in which every gesture, every action is perfect. We cannot deceive ourselves, because there is no plan or intention. There is only the pure action in the present. 

“An animal in a cage has movements comparable to the rational position. The movement of a free animal in the forest is comparable to the trance [...] The individual in a trance is not moved by what they have learned but by what they are.”




11.14.23 (Songs of Trees)
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The I Ching can be traced back to the origins of the Chinese language itself - with oracle bones used for divination, carved with the pictographic inscriptions that have since been abstracted into what we call modern Chinese.

These pictograms illustrate a particular way of life, and a deep relationship to nature that is further elaborated on in the Tao Te Ching. Because of this, I’ve been inspired to look to environmentally conscious writers and thinkers for inspiration. I’ve been slowly making my way through David George Haskell’s The Songs of Trees, and the introduction in particular contained some words that have stuck with me for the past couple months:

“For the Homeric Greeks, kleos, fame, was made of song. Vibrations in air contained the measure and memory of a person’s life. To listen was therefore to learn what endures. I turned my ear to trees, seeking ecological kleos. I found no heroes, no individuals around whom history pivots. Instead, living memories of trees, manifest in their songs, tell of life’s community, a net of relations. We humans belong within this conversation, as blood kin and incarnate members.”

“We’re all - tres, humans, insects, birds, bacteria - pluralities. Life is embodied network. These living networks are not places of omnibenevolent Oneness. Instead, they are where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved. These struggles often result not in the evolution of stronger, more disconnected selves but in the dissolution of the self into relationship.

“Beause life is network, there is no “nature” or “environment,” separate and apart from humans. We are part of the community of life, composed of relationships with “others,” so the human/nature duality that lives near the heart of many philosophies is, from a biological perspective, illusory.

“We cannot step outside life’s songs. This music made us; it is our nature.”