The Visionary Commonwealth: Review of RGMS' 'Morning Bells'

From the Visionary Commonwealth, RGMS presents a deep symbolic reflection on the experience of the album ‘morning bells’. Ewan Jenkins explores the significance of the bell as it relates to awakening, offering a profoundly personal, yet transcendent perspective on his engagement with the music. 

Bells are a symbol of awakening, and thus tied to the morning. Morning bells ring out across the fresh day and purifies the sediment of time with the harmonic shimmer of renewal. The strike of ball against metal forces a state of alertness; the clarity of the bells wafts away the grogginess of sleep and unreality, of unconsciousness. The noise and discord are a sonic symbol of announcement: 'it is time'; (return to the present). It is no surprise that this alchemy of elements makes of the church-bells the instrument capable of renewing the Christian religious sensibility. The sound interrupts and thereby reminds one to re-cognise what is of transcendent value, which the sound of the bells, associated with the church, signify. The bells consecrate time and summon you to participate. Ideally, the parishioners move toward the source of the bells to attend their Sunday service. The whole scene is of the shepherd summoning his (wayward) flock who dutifully attend.

In the East, the closest object resembling the Christian bell is the gong. Owing to a love of harmony above all else, the metal of the gong is struck by a muffled hammer rather than bare metal. The gong again is a mode of summons, but one that doesn't startle the consciousness into a rapt attention, but simply announces a time, a happening, which enjoins the flow of happenings which make up the unbroken experience of the lover of Tao. To such a sensibility, the abrasive bell interposes itself too harshly; its message is overly severe and potentially unbeautiful - the harshest assessment. For some Tibetan monks, a form of training would be to meditate next to a ringing bell, whose abrasive reverberations are a symbol of mind and thought. Thoughts and images arrive in consciousness sometimes so fast and unexpectedly that we are struck by them; they are a soundless given that interrupts. They are like ripples on a still-lake, or the reverberations of a struck bell: both produce echoes, traces, which from their initial cause move off into imperceptible realms of affect. Sometimes these reverberations strike against other existents in the mind, boundaries of consciousness, or the 'Image-Repertoire' - the hall of mirrors. These cascading events can consist of anguish (housing an unbearable image which is too loud, yet silent, noiseless and tyrannical), or it can be trivial (reverberations which simply disturb placidity).

With 'morning bells,' rgms gift a work which place the bells in a new mode of engagement which is a mixture of its two symbolic functions above. Initially we are lulled into a liminal state, or indeed led there by its primary loop; a domain is created in time which circles, remains stable, in slow movement, which can be occupied. Looped sound is the closest equivalent to a sonic mandala: circular in structure, spiralling toward a centrifugal source where an essence is located, where the sound sustains the conditions where such an essence can presence into the world. The looped sound is a kind of birthing pool for this transcendent energy, which grows in familiarity, and in correlation with this growing familiarity, becomes habitable.

Sean, who composed morning bells, describes his composition process as a continual re-listening to the morning bells on his daily commute to school, growing ever more intimate with the sound, the process of its short and significant lifespan, looped continually until the transcendent energy of the sound is exhausted (this is relative to the capacity, and adequacy, of the listener). He intuited different needs that the transcendent energy invoked by the sound required to be fulfilled. These were given as new layered compositional elements, until the piece resembles several interwoven lines which move from a liminal, unspoken terrain into brief expression and back again, whilst the primary loop remains constant. These layered elements serve to renew and reveal the transcendent energy nested in the primary loop, such that its power may gradually manifest and become evident. This aids the familiarising process, whilst revealing nuance and new aspects to the sound and its source relative to everything else that is known. One can imagine the sounds rubbing against each-other in threading motions, a process of intertwinement which creates a micro-drama of compelling friction, pressure and close sensory movement.

Arranging the conditions of familiarity in such a way that one is led deeper toward sound, or can inhabit and become immersed in the textures and predictable movements of sound, is a distinct mode of listening separate from most musical events which are linear rather than circular or spiral. One can become familiar with a linear piece of music, able to predict and anticipate all of its nuances and events, but it is hard to move nearer to the sound and its source; one cannot stop and loop the music at any point, halt its unfoldment to come nearer and inspect it. To halt or loop linear music would be to kill it; its lifespan is interrupted and it is merely a fragment that has no meaning torn from its gestalt whole. morning bells, conversely, renders a landscape within which one can spend hours, days, a lifetime. Additionally, growing familiarity does not diminish or sterilise experience, as clearly demonstrated in genuine human relationships of love. The stability of experience enables deeper excavations of Being to become possible, a growing intimacy which allows deeper penetration of the sound into one's fabric and cognition. The sound can become immediately transportive, in the same way that the face of a close friend, in a time of need, can arrive as deliverance. The landscape can become a place where memory is stored, where a temple of meditation and redemption can be built.

In this composition, Sean demonstrates that primarily the process of composition is that of facilitation. He attends to the sound dutifully, having at first intuited the transcendent energy latent within it, and is initiated into its potential through becoming intimate and familiar with the sound and its perceived requirements. The artist as one who can give oneself intimately to the energies, forces and personalities of the transcendent is true to the alchemic histories which discuss the hieros gamos, the human spirit holding the mystical capacity to unite and knit together the transcendent energies and express them in new material forms, in craft, in the Word, in art; even one's own form is capable of being remade by being suffused with the transcendent.

This facilitation is a return to the Greek episteme, where transcendent energies, wonder, and meaning were nested within objects and entered into a process of revelation to the inquiring human subject who, by approaching the object in a certain way, could elicit or reveal the truths, experiences, or forms intrinsic to what was immanent. Whilst 'Art' is often seen as a form of 'craft' (in the Greek (according to Heidegger), techne refers to a process of 'making or doing,' which encompasses both art and the creation of tools and technology), there is a sense in which understanding the creation of Art as a form of 'making' becomes incoherent. Particularly in this instance where the eponymous bells, which emerge from the liminal terrain and ring out as if from the depths of a mist, were recorded by Sean (not 'produced') and served as the instrument to associate and come closer to the primary loop which itself 'makes' or 'creates' the domain where the transcendent energy of the sound presences itself.

This conjunction of the bells and their symbolic significance, married to the loop which effects the ground and domain of presencing and experiencing, leads toward a poeisis, or what Sean calls a kairosis, where the transformative potential latent in the loop and its tension with the interlacing, submerging and foregrounding sounds which move through it becomes manifest in the last twenty minutes. Here the familiar undergoes an alteration before the listener as the force and power of the sound swells and gives forth. We are witness to a process of poeisis (physis: emergence), a threshold-event where 'something moves away from its standing as one thing to become another,' a moment of ecstasis, 'bringing-forth,' like the blossoming of a blossom, the 'puhpowee' of a mushroom-top springing from the ground, the moment the river rushes over the cliff-edge to become a waterfall. morning bells is the facilitation of such an event depicted sonically: the unfolding of a thing out of itself, a being disclosing itself and gathering elements unto itself in order to be born and revealed.

This movement into poeisis salvages the work from providing a mere environment and shows Sean's fidelity to the transcendent energy in the sound itself. It is tempting to simply provide a meditative sonic landscape which offers a place of familiarity and therefore solace and comfort to the listener, whilst the transformative potentials latent in the sound remain suppressed and unexplored, or were never there to begin with, as the music was never a facilitation of poeisis but was more techne in that sense of 'making.' These meditative environments ring less of the organic and feel artificial, after a while. They refer to nothing beyond themselves. Because of this, they are less nourishing than the energies of a sound which houses a possible transcendence.

My personal encounter with morning bells was an experience of welcome. Living in the present, our minds easily become taut, stressed, and rigid without our knowing it. Our interactions with other humans do not soften us, but often harden our hearts further, as a psychic shell wards off all eyes and influences which are not tempered by the heart or spirit. In our world, that means almost all eyes. To be penetrated by the violent, the selfish, or to be treated as a mere abstraction wounds us if we are tethered to nothing more essential than the social world and its dynamic, precarious flows between people and things. One quality of the sacred is its familiarity to us, whilst remaining utterly mysterious, even uncanny. The sense of welcome I experienced first listening to morning bells was an invitation back to the essential, which is one of the symbolic functions of the bell. This is achieved not abrasively, not administered as a shock; the sound is independent, behind thin veils, and proceeds whether or not you willingly enter. The reassurance I felt with the sound of morning bells is matched by few other drone-ambient records I revisit frequently, which together create a cartography which always serve to orient me back toward the sacred. morning bells is among the most sensual and ungraspable of these sounds. Its origin, unfurling from both positive and negative energies, is birthed into the world and demonstrates itself. Those who allow the sound to dwell in and fill them are nourished by such contact; and the bells shall leave their phantom mark, their invitational reverberations...


Ah, shelter. My temple long neglected.

I move to the pile of uncut rocks, I sit and smooth the stones, lovingly, I cradle the warm rose-heat of the stones Nursed by dawn sunlight.

With both hands I lay each stone Atop the foundation, A structure built in a before-time In these woods I have come to know.

In this, my work, my crucible of certainty I shall house you who nourishes me, Whose face appears to me Through the canopy of leaves,

In the soft palm of the breeze who caresses me And kneads my shoulders each day.

Today the weight of the stones feels light; My sinews are strong, the sky is bright; Objects have shed their heaviness And offer themselves with delight.

Soon your home shall be complete, I finger each groove Like the lips of a dreaming face Careful as an excavation;

Then, whilst I am engaged, As the silence grows warmer each passing day,

I shall hear footsteps come from the belly of the wood; I shall turn in the twilight and be embraced.


Learn more and listen to 'Morning Bells' here