Artist in Residence 2017, Aaron Beaumont
These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
“In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
March 20, 2017
If Bible stories were categorized by the same hyper-specific algorithms as Netflix content, the genre I’d find myself perusing most would be “Psychedelia Featuring a Strong Animal Lead.” My very first Spark & Echo project last year explored one such story from Acts 10, where Peter’s mad zoologic hallucination spurs him on a crazy but ultimately fruitful quest. Such stories exist in a liminal space, between the possible and impossible, blurring the line between natural and supernatural, historical and mythical, inspired and insane. Daniel 4 ticks all these boxes for me. In fact, it one-ups Acts 10 by featuring not only animals and visions, but also a lengthy bout of bonafide madness. It’s a rich, complicated passage, and as such, I’ve started clarifying my ideas with a lot of free writing. I’ve always been attracted to stories that challenge the binary nature and tidy knowability of reality; the polarities in Daniel 4 that have emerged so far as ripe for exploration include:
- Animal-human. Specifically, exploring the relationship between the divine and humans via animals, and the conception of nature as wise, possessing a subconscious, cellular, instinctive wisdom acquired over the eons.
- God-human. The blessing of not having to be gods. Nebuchadnezzar relieved of his duty to play God, perhaps a relief in the truest sense.
- Reality-fantasy; genius-madness; exalted-debased. The conception of genius as madness plus success, that the tails of the bell curve wrap around and spill into each other like east to west, that the ends are more closely related to each other than they are to the middle. The history of people of questionable sanity exerting their will on reality, and bending it to conform with their conception of it.
- Wilderness-civilization. Bliss and oblivion versus sapience and acuity. The tree of knowledge of good and evil.
- Tyrant-benevolent ruler. Daniel 4 presents challenging notions of hubris, tyranny, and authoritarianism. Dismissing Nebuchadnezzar as wholly a tyrant ignores his role as provider and protector (the tree in his vision) and the high esteem in which Daniel, one of the Bible’s great heroes, holds him.
The next phase of my project is arguably the most important: selection. Over the next few months, I plan to evaluate material from my freewrites, scrap the bad ideas, and distill any worthy ones (and hopefully there are a few!) into a lyric.
I’ve also compiled a playlist (from which a small selection appears below) to serve as a reference for song structure, palette, or tone. Daniel 4 offers a potpourri of moods, including the epic, regal, supernatural, primal, psychedelic, tender, and mad. As such, my playlist features a colorful range of genres and eras - I’m excited by the challenge of discovering a sonic space in the middle of this disparate cloud of references, and hope to capture some of the complex flavor of Daniel 4 in my final work.
(Click to Open in Apple Music)
David Axelrod - The Mental Traveller
Scott Walker - The Seventh Seal
Scott Walker - It’s Raining Today
Sufjan Stevens - Impossible Soul
The Innocence Mission - Beautiful Change
Odesza - Kusanagi
Flying Lotus - Zodiac S**t
Flying Lotus - Do the Astral Plane
M83 - Soon, My Love
The Album Leaf - Window
Lana Del Rey - Ride
Amon Tobin - Kitty Cat
Clams Casino ft. Kelela - A Breath Away
Arcade Fire ft. Mavis Staples - I Give You Power
Nino Roto - The Great Mouna
Nino Roto - L’uccello Magico
Grimes - Laughing and Not Being Normal
I’m eager to share whatever emerges during the next few months as I grapple with this challenging text. While I’m not sure where my exploration will lead, one thing is certain - with such a rich subject in front of me, it will be a long time before I move on to RomComs of the Bible.
Follow the development of Aaron’s project by continuing on to read his second and third posts written as a 2017 Artist in Residence.
All materials are copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.