Friday, November 19, 2004

L'Alchemiste

A few nights ago, I decided to look at the Archetype cards I bought recently. As you know, my wife and I have a fair collection of tarot cards, and other inspirational or dvinatory decks. The Archetype cards appealed to me because of my interest in Archetypes and mythology.

The card that I pulled out was The Alchemist, an archetype that has many links in my life. Packrat most recently pointed me to this site, which is frightening if only because the blogger and I seem to share many interests in common.

Digging deeper in my past, there's the link with C.G. Jung (previously blogged about here), who incorporated many ideas from alchemy into his own take on psychology (and whom I have to thank for first introducing me to the word syzygy, a word which is remarkable for its complete lack of vowels, as well as being potentially one heck of a scorer for Scrabble, except that a Scrabble set doesn't have enough 'y's to make it).

There's the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, one of those books of which people (at least in reviews) say it changed their lives, but which did not change mine (must've caught me in a particularly cynical phase), but which is a good read nonetheless.

There's Pierre Bensusan, whose piece (you guessed it) L'alchemiste was my 'song of the day' for the trip to work, another one of those serendipitous things when I pulled out the very card from the deck later that day. On an aside, my iPod has 8+ gigabytes of music on it now, dominated by either instrumental guitarists like Bensusan and Michael Hedges, or by guitar-heavy bands - hit the "shuffle" option on my ipod, and there's an even chance that something by either Dave Matthews or Ani DiFranco will turn up.

(I have, in fact, actually tried this out: on a shuffle of 50 songs, I got
- 8 by Ani DiFranco,
- 1 by the Counting Crows,
- 4 by the Dave Matthews Band, and
- 4 by Michael Hedges
I'm guessing Ani turns up marginally more often than DMB, despite the fact that both of them have 12 albums on my iPod, because the DMB has longer and fewer songs, due to the massively self-indulgent solos on their live albums. I love 'em anyway)

Bensusan's music is elaborate, ornate, and partakes of a whole melange of influences - for a French Algerian fellow, his dominant influence, oddly enough, seems to be Celtic music, but he borrows and hints at stuff as diverse as jazz, new age, to what I suspect critics call 'North African' simply because they can't pin it down and decide they have to say something about the Algerian thing. The last thing he sounds like is French. Some days Bensusan sounds like the most profound guitarist, and you hear nuances you never heard before in his pieces: other days he sounds like elevator music. It's odd that way - but L'alchemiste is my favourite piece by far.

Which brings us back to The Alchemist. Linked to The Magician in a traditional tarot deck, the Alchemist represents a quest to transform the base into the precious - whether it be the literal (and simplistic) quest for turning lead into gold, or the search to transform our baser selves into something purer and more innocent. The Alchemist is about the search for unity (uniting opposites, as in the aforementioned syzygy) as well as the search for the "philosophers' stone", the key and catalyst that transforms all things into better things.

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