Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Medium is the Message

When Simon ‘says,’ everyone toes his line. Between the lines of what is said, the one who plays Simon maintains a center that decides what the rest do. Invariably, there are the occasional funny ones lagging behind who do not follow what Simon says and as a result get shoved out of the game, away from the center. It is interesting how children’s games such as ‘Simon says’ capture what the not-so-childish often indulge in when it comes to, “Scripture says”. A mode of thought, action or way of being takes on an inflection of authority when introduced by “Scripture says.” More often than not, our embedded-ness in a scriptured world makes us react accordingly.

Scriptures invariably evoke images of written texts along with notions of sanctity and reverence. However, on noting that Jews and Christians shared a common written text but had different scriptures, a keen observant concluded that scriptures are not texts. Rather, scriptures are relational in that they express a subjective perception of one’s relation with an ‘other’ realm—often, this ‘other’ is qualified as transcendent, God, or even the self. If one were to move beyond the written texts, scriptures may include other modes of expressing that relationality. Oral traditions, traditions, performative arts, songs and even iconography could replace the written text as ‘scripture.’ One often hears prescriptions dished out with, “This is the way it has been done” which suggests a paraphrased ‘Simon says.’

Additionally, our inv
estments in the construction and maintenance of order at the center activate these various media to function as scripture. Without this investment, Simon could go on issuing empty commands but his relevance lies in the order that the commands construct around the figure of Simon—the center. Ordered and structured, the center determines the uniformity and conformity of its constituent members, which explains why the few who lag behind get shoved away from the center; them ‘funny’ people. In complying with what Simon says, those who do conform invariably consolidate the center. On the other hand, the ‘funny’ people often languish at the margins or occasionally attempt to destabilize the center or even prop up alternate centers. Remember the occasional ‘spoilsport’ who, when eliminated from the game, would try all means to slyly inch her way back or gather a few friends and try to start another game on her terms.

As dissonant as an oil rig is when one thinks about scriptures, a wholly new window opens up when one sees scripture not so much in its contents but in its form. It is one among many other windows into what makes us tick as individuals and as a collective. That we often collapse it into concretized ‘books’ and then re-designate these ‘books’ by the shorthand ‘scriptures’ only sophisticates our fixation with a very human phenomenon. On a stretch, when oil producing bodies sneeze, that the entire world coughs is more intriguing because of the highly scriptured textures of these bodies whether they be located in Texas or the Arabian peninsula. Such sweeping observations definitely need qualification but the point should not be lost. Broadening our understanding of scripture might help us understand ourselves a little more.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Conspicuous Consumption

An evening of enjoyable music is, for me, good enough to make my weekend. We had signed up to watch a current favorite, Ohm, in session and weren’t too dazzled by the slated opening act—a one-man show by someone who for us was till then an unknown. On stage, he looked the reinventing one-time-rocker with hair tied up and goatee still intact but once he got playing, I found myself enrapt in his fret-board gymnastics. Little did I know that a variety of alternate tunings in dexterous hands could produce such intricate syncopations which he deftly interlaced with rhythm patterns tapped out on various sections of his guitar. Tone-wise and in addition to the main piezzo pickup, he had a magnetic pickup and a mic on the bridge position for added texture. The overall effect was that by the end of the act, I still didn’t know nor did it matter who this person was. I did eventually get to speak with him over the break. He was Thomas Leeb.

The main act for the evening was Ohm with Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth) on guitars, Rob Pagliari on bass and Frank Briggs on drums. As Rob had introduced the act, the trio planned to make some noise for a little over an hour. Decibel levels were high but so also were the technical and virtuosity levels. I still haven’t got descriptions down pat but the adjectives I can think of are Jazz, fusion, and rock.

Usually scrupulous about what I buy, I came back to realize that I had got myself two of Thomas Leeb’s albums.