Beak> Inspired fiction, fiddling while the city burns, Miyazaki and Le Guin

A friend (R. Sutherland) mentioned this band he was due to see recently Beak〉and upon quick encounter it was immediately apparent to me that this is a high, high quality sonic outfit.

The first track from them I came across was the sleekly brilliant ‘Oh Know’ (below), which also happens to have a fantastically discombobulating video by Echo Panda.


And onto ‘(Merry Xmas) Face The Future’ which is below and immediately enjoyed the oblique tonal movement, energising with a tinge of the foreboding. And yet the song and particularly its video seem to have so much going against it. Xmas songs rarely if anything carry something of the cutting edge and to boot, this video (conceived by Beak〉) features the autocratic face melds of a number of despots/national leaders, dancing around in Xmas elf suits.

Of course the meaning of Face the Future, with its intercut ‘room/xmas trees on fire’ theme is clear enough and these menacing, twinkly faces dance away upon their Xmas elf bodies all the while.

What is liberating about this is partly that it manages to avoid a number of traps that can afflict a piece of work like this in dancing to the satirical beat, partly because it retains a bleak but powerful playfulness in the parade of celebratory, festive dancers (intercut with the elves also having Beak〉’s faces). Springing to mind that these leaders are buffoons who dance and weave and spill and create an ongoing distraction from the reality of what we need to solve as humans. Where and how our focus must be on evolving our personal understanding of responsibility as beings on Earth and simultaneously extending that action and intent to encompass the togetherness of human beings, passed the show of ‘leadership’ which is actually the stewardship of an ongoing and catastrophic binge-massacre of the planet’s life and systemics of energy.

Its also strangely resonant that as well as being the dancing fools (dools) of the disaster, keeping the ‘show’ going while serving interests esconced beyond that of human beings as a whole, there is the element of them also being in some way attached to and therefore partly fable-ised. They are Xmas elves and while a newer and more recent (partly capitalistically inflected) mythos-branch (allowable for ‘illusion’-living children), it is still the case that this is a bona fide modern appearance of non-human recurrence on the planet (be this something we more traditionally encounter in the form of elves, gnomes, pixies, spirits etc.) But which has the effect of bearing the appearance of the inhuman agency in the theatre of anti-human outcomes.


What I also found strangely productive from this sudden encounter with Beak〉and their sonically articulate and complex realisations (and particularly now this Xmas song I was so set up to dislike) was that before I knew it I had written a short story that was clearly following a line of direct elaboration from it.


Fiddler In The Fire

Although he had made mistakes, had been consumed by the rule, polluted by it and turned, he had always still retained that sense of the thread, of governing with the gentle firmness of wisdom – its just he had become unable to keep it.

It was the most human of scenarios, once in power – and with power, became the tyrant of the mind that he could not escape.  In those rare moments, of the twilight angle of the mind, between sleep and wakefulness or in the brief waking dream of absence, he would see how these incursions had come and had made him reactive to their intercessions, strangely fearful of what he might become and yet masking that he was already and had already become it.

So when that fateful and horror-laden day turned and the smell of smoke filled the chamber and while he picked up his violin, something else was happening.

In that compressed and crushed cascade of the moment, suddenly understanding as the red tinge of doom began to dance and flicker in so many directions.  He played, his beloved music as he had never before played.

Even while shouts of alarm and clapping of feet upon the corridors of escape, he was possessed of an unearthly calm.  The arrival of an assurance and stillness, that vibrated in twin orbit to the intense bowing of the instrument, through drones and ascensions and decays of the notes.  The echoes dance around the halls and pass out into the sky, carrying their cadences of relation.

And for those who are listening, who cannot help but hear while they are now the quarry of flames, cornered or discerned against the obstacle to their flight, something else is emerging.  That they are being spoken to past the corner of words.  In the moment of sound they each who listen suddenly, caught on the wind of poised interjection, see through their plight, in footsteps of momentary realisation, passed the spasming rhythm of the fire, or from the balcony to the olive tree, only whose leaves flutter in the heat waves.

Even one, a servant girl from the mountains to the north, who is encircled in a room and feels the heat reflecting savagely from the stone walls, does not notice in what she hears of his playing, until the tapestry on the wall, an old depiction of the forest spirit Uncah, long since superseded by the gods and goddesses.  He stands in the woods, the hart shaped being, the blue face and serene orange eyes, his antlers shining in outline.  The music now gaining in intensity as the very sound of the fire is roaring alongside, a harmonic of strange iridescent counterpoint and Uncah appears to her to be moving.  She must ignore the sound of her overseer as he stops momentarily at the door, screaming at her to move, before continuing himself along the corridor, pursued by roiling smoky tendrils that begin to leech in under the doorframe.

But she is transfixed in the emergence between the sound and the image and remembers, the ash leaves under her feet in grey and light green as autumn came, the cypresses and firs that ringed the light of the woods.  Then in close, she sees Uncah’s fur, tight and short at the back like a horse, becoming longer and lighter at the shaggy main, but now glistening in the near quiet whistle of the wind and the answering rust of the leaves.

Now her hand is upon Uncah’s back and she understands she must fully turn her direction to the forest of this place and this touch, of this light and this gentle swaying breeze, that licks up momentarily the flora of the undergrowth.

It is a turn both of the body and yet beyond the mind, she understands at the last that it is something of the will and of the experience of dreaming.

Battling back through the smoke, carrying a thick side of tapestry he has ripped from along the corridor the overseer returns to the room.  She is fixed in his mind, Delvia the serving girl, so quiet and assured, so mysterious yet clear as a running winter stream.  He reaches the dining room where he had seen her, frozen in fear.  That memory of her face and its expression is with him as he ducks below the smoke, holding the wettened cloth to his mouth to breathe.  She is gone.

He is shocked that she could have left, how?  He had been only some seconds to fetch the tapestry with which to cover her.  A loud crack of one of the roof beams breaks his thoughts and checking the room once more he is sure that she is not here.  As he turns to dart once more from the room and finally to move out from the building, he is momentarily sure he hears again that strange and haunted violin playing, could it be..?

Then he sees movement as the flames are taking over the far end of the room completely, he will need to cover himself now and wishes he had more water as with the jug he had used earlier, the thought occurs, what if the entire city is on fire? 

Then the movement catches him once more, it is a reflection in the burnished mirror.  Its uneven surface is reflecting the tinge of the air and he sees her, Delvia – she is exiting the room from a door reflected as in a nearby wall.

He makes his own way out now, from where he had come.  The violin still plays, it is louder and he realises that whomever is playing it is walking around, he cannot tell where they are exactly, as the sound has taken on a cadence as if reflecting from all the walls to create a sonorous and shifting kaleidoscope of refrains and scurrying, chirping meters. 

He is nearer the outskirts of the citadel now, the music has faded from his hearing to the point that it is indistinguishable from the chaotic melee.  He is covered by the tapestry and has taken two children beneath it.  His steps are formed of some empty knowing he cannot explain, as he is remembering the sound of the violin – he moves them left and right through the streets, past the burning doorways and collapsing dwellings, their feet are scorched and yet they remain alive and move with speed as others succumb to smoke and flame.

He is somehow moving with between winds which dampen and restrain the fire’s ferocity, through the unalloyed tang and smell of all that has succumbed, they move, ragged with breathing and coughing and yet further and further they move towards the less densely populated south of the city to where the stars appear once more from the clouds and smoke, to where a calmness once more can await their rest.

And he is called back to the moment in the room, where seeing Delvia disappear in the reflection, through a doorway he knows cannot have been there.  Would have been visible in the very wall by which he stood.  He cannot shake its oddness, wonders again and again as to whether he might have been hallucinating, had the heat caused some other oddity to reside in his vision?  And yet, as he relays over and over in his mind, two things cause him to wonder yet more.  That the tapestry of the old forest spirit had appeared different, devoid of the figure of the deer itself and that, as Delvia had disappered around the corner, there had been something else there just momentarily in the reflection, the briefest of appearances, a hoof seen for just an instant – clearing the doorway before her.


Writing short stories is not something I am generally engaged in at present and yet the kernel of this idea came, as odd as it was upon beginning and I simply followed it outward, from its incepting character, through to a second character, then onto a third character who we follow to the end and whose encounter with the second character has a chance to resonate as part of the ending.

What occurred to me shortly after was that in the Beak〉video, the national leaders’ faces are interchanged with the band, they all in turn occupy the bodies of the dancing elves, which reinforces the idea that they are in some form of the show, interchangably so with musicians and yet the music of Beak〉in so much as all of this was happening to and for me just from encountering them for the first time, is also a flag and a signpost, in this instance that illuminates the concurrence of humans with schismatic greed machines, represented and apparently helmed by dancing idiots. In this sense, a reminder that music (and video) and the productions of artists can reform and re-teach the inclusions and limits of understanding.

Which produced a story that in some way also re-trajects a moment of even the most vilified of tyrants in their concatenated occurrence of doom. That the fiddler finally plays while the city burns, a sound which has an effect that becomes apparent on two levels in the story. It is initially something that assists in guiding people through the present danger of the fire – the immanent escape, but then with Delvia the serving girl, it is a form of escape which reaches through to a space alongside; the reference provided by Beak〉’s video, to the mythos-plane, and a forest spirit (she is from a forested region of the land). We receive again that the overseer is guided (even from memory) by the music in ultimately retrieving himself and two children from the fire, having failed to rescue Delvia. Yet he is also witness to the fact that she may apparently have escaped in some different way, through a door reflected via a mirror and with accompaniment.

It might also serve as a reminder that music (in this instance) can speak to us across levels of our experience, can take us past a nearness with experiences outside the norm. That this can be one of its modes of encouraging transforming in us and even helping wake us to the necessary footing of that escape in terms of the fire before us Now.

I couldn’t help but also feel the presence of two works specifically with regard to Delvia and the forest spirit Uncah. Uncah it seems to me came from the rendition of the Forest Spirit of Miyazaki and Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. Delvia’s quiet communion and capacity to grasp the moment of in some way joining Uncah to escape, on the other hand – felt like it comes through from Ursula Le Guin’s astonishing story of The White Donkey, in which a young girl in India who takes care of the village goats alone in the woods each day meets an extrairdinary donkey and befriends it. And yet before she can explore or travel further in relation to this meeting, she is to be married off to the local degenerate, leaving the goat keeping and the woods to her brother. It is a most haunting and ringing warning, that as this young girl from the village makes contact with the white donkey (in the devoid space of the forest) whose provenance is unknown but clearly outside the sphere of distracted, human concern – she is sidelined off into an arranged marriage from which we assume she will soon be toiling for her husband, impregnated and saddled with children, with little or no chance to return to the forest or to continue in meeting with the white donkey.

As such if by any chance and in any small way, through fiction or dreaming, or stories of different kinds, one catches the wind of the moment from something like the White Donkey, and be aware it is a gesture in response, or that takes up its latent threads, then it is necessary at the same time, to acknowlegde the ‘chance’ chain of events from Le Guin, and from Miyazaki in Japan (along with Studio Ghibli) and the Japanese people’s own mythos, through Rome and dreamed India, via Beak〉a dreamer’s archipelago that can weave us in return through the inbound tectonics and the outknown constituents of our presence.

The Spirit’s clearing in Princess Mononoke (source)