The Divine Invasion
May 17, 2009
I don’t listen to straight-up electronic music much anymore, but I’ll listen to anything that my pal Evan Bartholemew cooks up. He’s worked on minimal techno, dub, deep ambient, and modern classical, but he’s made his most celebrated music—“psychedelic down-tempo” is a good enough pigeon-hole—under the handle Bluetech. What makes Bluetech’s music stand out are the almost impish sophistication of the melodies, the unique tactile pleasures of the various beats and timbres, and the delicacy with which these various layers are superimposed.
The Divine Invasion is Bluetech’s latest, a lovely and lonely exploration of the archaic spirit trying to free itself from the technologies it relies upon. When I saw him last, Evan admitted to me that he has been getting increasingly interested in making more organic music with live musicians and instruments like the Fender Rhodes. Maybe it’s just my own modest fatigue with the down tempo genre, but some of these beats and sounds seem less fresh to me than other records I have heard from Evan of late, both his Somnia releases Caverns of Time and Secret Entries into Darkness, and especially his foray into ECM-like territory with 2007’s Borderlands. I suspect that The Divine Invasion may be the final phase of the original Bluetech sound. Evan may now find himself at a crossroads that all mercurial musicans inevitably confront (need I mention he is a Gemini?): you grow out of a style, even a name, that has made a mark and enabled you to make your living as a musician. But ya gotta move. And whether as Bluetech or not, Evan is definitely on the move.
Even got the title of The Divine Invasion from a late great Philip K. Dick novel that Bluetech thought captured his own deeply felt neo-shamanic sense of spiritual life as the in-breaking of sacred planetary forces into our deluded technological trance. I was teaching a course on gnosticism on the time he was finalizing the album, and Evan asked me to pen something for the inner sleeve, and the following emerged:
THE DIVINE INVASION
There is a beautiful old story found nestled within the “Acts of Thomas,” an apocraphal gnostic text from the ancient world. The story is sometimes called “The Hymn of the Pearl,” and, while it is really about your life, on the surface it resembles an adventure story from the Arabian Nights. At the beginning of the tale, a young prince says goodbye to his friends, removes and stores away his precious jeweled robes, and prepares to leave his kingdom at the request of his parents, who want him to fulfill a secret mission. According to their instructions, which are also written in his heart, the prince is first to travel west, through hazy realms ruled by mischevious tricksters, until he comes to the land of Egypt. There he is to win a pearl from a great rasping serpent who dwells in the sea. After he returns home with the prize, he will once again put on his bling and rule the kingdom.
Once the prince arrives in Egypt, he heads straight for a tavern at the edge of the sea. He buys the right clothes so he can blend in. Then he recognizes another fellow from his homeland, and the two bond off somewhere in the corner. His companion warns him about the conniving ways of the locals, and that he must beware. Despite the warning, the prince starts hanging with the other folks in the tavern, who seem pretty cool. They are onto him though, and they dope his food, with the result that the prince completely forgets who he is and what he’s there to do. He is walking and talking, but totally asleep.
Luckily his parents are keeping tabs on him from afar, and they write him a letter, signed by all their fellow nobles. It is a wake-up call that shape-shifts into an eagle, which flies through the realms and alights before the now ignorant prince. Hearing the music of its message, which invades him like joyful noise, the prince hears something he already knows: the song written on his heart. In the sound he remembers who he is and what he is there to do.
Enboldened, the prince goes to meet the great snake. It is said that he charms the creature to sleep with a spell, and then snatches away the prize. Tossing off the local threads, which are no longer necessary and which he never really cared for, he starts back home alone. The way is long and hard. As he travels along the road, he stumbles upon the letter once again, crumpled up like a beer can in the gutter. It rises and unfolds and begins to shine like the finest silk, lighting his way through the hazy realms ruled by mischevious tricksters. Reaching the shore of a distant sea, he meets emmiseries from his parents, and they give him the very same bejeweled robe that he had stored away in his closet so long before. He once again admires the cut, and especially the extrordinary crystals and earthstones woven into its irridescent fabric, which shimmers and pulses with the vibrating rhythm of gnosis, of living wisdom. Then he realizes that the pulsations of the robe are the beats of his heart, that they are one and the same vibration. And then he slips on the robe and goes home to meet his folks.
Great debates still rage about the meaning of the tale, which in the end is for you to decide. Most agree about the letter: for those who are asleep in their lives, which is perhaps all of us, then the blessings and messages of the divine first appear like invasions, like squacking eagles or troubled dreams or a secret code that lies crumpled at the side of the road and that only you recognize. But once the invasion occurs, the blessings and messages melt into you, until you remember that you yourself are a blessing and a message.
But the various schools of the gnostic underground cannot decide what the prince says to the serpent, who coils at the heart of things like the strands of DNA. How do we retrieve the pearl? Some schools proclaim that the prince’s words are simply a trick, like Bilbo’s riddle or the mesmerizing speech of hypnotists. The most extreme say that he actually kills the creature, the way that St. George slayed the dragon, though many believe this to be the fantasy of madmen, for violence is the deepest sleep. The most pragmatic sect assert that the prince is just trading knowledge with the serpent, and they use as their proof the story of the great sage Nagarjuna, who received a copy of the Buddha’s most cosmic wisdom teachings from the naga-lords when he agreed to teach them in their realm beneath the sea. One small but obsessive heretical group insist that the prince must proclaim allegience to the snake, while their rivals, a more mystic tribe, assert that the serpent is actually coiled inside, and the words are a mantra that coax the serpent up the spine, where it disengorges the pearl at the top of the skull.
But the most recent sect is the simplest and most joyful. They smile and say you just need to the serpent a funny joke, or a good story, or, best of all, just sing him a wordless song.