Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mirag - Black Temple Carved In Smoke


"A high platform, roofed and pillared, approached on three sides by tiers of steps of its own length and width. At one end, a deep, semi-enclosed shrine in which, dimly half-visible, looms the figure of the goddess. Black of face she is, with a monstrous lolling tongue, dripping blood. Of her four hands, one grasps a bleeding human head, one a knife, the third, outstretched, cradles blood, the fourth, raised in menace, is empty. In the shadows close about her feet stand the priests ministrant.

On the long platform before the deity, men and women prostrate themselves in vehement supplication. Among them stroll lounging boys, sucking lollypops fixed on sticks. Also, a white bull-calf wanders, while one reverend graybeard in the midst of it all, squatting cross-legged on the pavement before a great book, lifts up a droning voice.


Of a sudden, a piercing outburst of shrill bleating. We turn the corner of the edifice to reach the open courtyard at the end opposite the shrine. Here stand two priests, one with a cutlass in his hand, the other holding a young goat. The goat shrieks, for in the air is that smell that all beasts fear. A crash of sound, as before the goddess drums thunder. The priest who holds the goat swings it up and drops it, stretched by the legs, its screaming head held fast in a cleft post. The second priest with a single blow of his cutlass decapitates the little creature. The blood gushes forth on the pavement, the drums and the gongs before the goddess burst out wildly. "Kali! Kali! Kali!" shout all the priests and the suppliants together, some flinging themselves face downward on the temple floor.

Meantime, and instantly, a woman who waited behind the killers of the goat has rushed forward and fallen on all fours to lap up the blood with her tongue --"in the hope of having a child." And now a second woman, stooping, sops at the blood with a cloth, and thrusts the cloth into her bosom, while half a dozen sick, sore dogs, horribly misshapen by nameless diseases, stick their hungry muzzles into the lengthening pool of gore".

Katherine Mayo, "Mother India", New York 1927 (via Georges Bataille, "Kali", Documents 6, 1930).


Mirag is another of the maniacally prolific Matthew Bower's (Skullflower, Hototogisu, Sunroof!, Total, Pure) many projects.

The project's name possibly refers to the Mi'raj or "Night Journey". This is the ascension of the Prophet Muhammad to the Heavens, an ascension which "... exhibits shamanic content" (Eliade). If my interpretation is correct, it is the second reference to Islam I've spotted in Bower's work - the other being Hototogisu's "Prayer Rug Exorcism".

However, the spirit animating the 15-minute release "Black Temple Carved In Smoke" is very far from the spirit of doctrinal orthodoxy dominating Islam, the 'legal religion' which seeks to subject the tiniest details of domestic and private life to the rule of law.

"Black Temple Carved In Smoke" does not bow to the rule of law but instead exalts night, terror, destruction and chaos - those very attributes the Hindu goddess Kali, whose temple is described in the opening quote of this post, embodies. The gory and chaotic guitar noise bleeds out of the speakers like the blood of the sacrificed goat flows over the temple's dirty pavement. Far off is the blissful and bright electric guitar light of Bower's Sunroof! project: the smoke in which this black temple is carved is as thick as the heaviest incense, as hallucinatory as opium fumes and as lethal to inhale as a cloud of soot, tar and ash. It sounds like a sick, sore and horribly misshapen Tony Conrad, like a monstrous and four-armed La Monte Young, like a John Cale with a red, lolling tongue dripping blood. It is perhaps the most frightening thing Bower has ever done.

"Black Temple Carved In Smoke" is released by Battlecruiser, a sublabel of Celebrate Psi Phenomenon which is run by one of Bower's frequent collaborators: New Zealand's noisemeister Campbell Kneale (Birchville Cat Motel, Black Boned Angel, Ming). Battlecruiser ("New Wave Of Bad-ass Heavy Metal") is used by Kneale to put out more metal-oriented material than on the main label. The Battlecruiser label's artwork consists uniformly of an outtake of some sinister medieval woodcut and an almost-unreadable Metal-style band name logo in silver against a black background. The artwork serves to present a strong aesthetic unity for it's releases, in a manner not unlike Berlin's Chain Reaction label.

I found Bower's two-track album so powerful as to disturb my sense of time - after listening to the album for the first time I was unable to tell whether ten minutes or an hour had passed. So the short duration of this release should not dissuade anyone from purchasing it: it is a generous offering regardless of it's duration in minutes.

So stick your hungry muzzles into this pool of musical gore, fling yourselves face downward on the floor of this "Black Temple Carved In Smoke": it is intoxicating.

Post scriptum

Bataille's highly interesting entry on Kali in Document's critical dictionary will perhaps be the subject of a future post, as well as an analysis of the perverted use Bataille makes of Katherine Mayo's sensationalistic and pro-colonialist (!) book.

Gandhi said about the book: "This book is cleverly and powerfully written. The carefully chosen quotations give it the false appearance of a truthful book. But the impression it leaves on my mind, is that it is the report of a drain inspector sent out with the one purpose of opening and examining the drains of the country to be reported upon, or to give a graphic description of the stench exuded by the opened drains. If Miss Mayo had confessed that she had come to India merely to open out and examine the drains of India, there would perhaps be little to complain about her compilation. But she declared her abominable and patently wrong conclusion with a certain amount of triumph: 'the drains are India'".

Where Mayo wanted to expose "the drains of India" so that they would be cleansed, Bataille wanted to change the course of that river of filth and direct it towards bourgeois Europe, where hygiene is sacrosanct...

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