Mysterious cluster of clouds

Essay by Kim Cascone 

A mysterious cluster of clouds hovers on the horizon. A silver-gray outline frames a distinctive pattern, but on closer inspection, a streak of gray in the vaporous expanse foretells of something ominous about to happen. Shape, texture, volume, size, color, speed of travel – all intersect on the plane of subtle forms, a projection or a shadow cast from another realm.

These clouds serve as oracles by forecasting future events and providing a method of divination. Only a handful of cowled graybeards – the mystics – have the ability to decipher their secrets.

They interpret the clouds, revealing events arriving from beyond the horizon. These “futures” weave themselves into the daily lives of the community and build a communal pool of wisdom distilled from past experience. The mystics work in the community as priests, artists, builders, alchemists and healers. Gifted in the art of divination, they possess a spiritual unity with nature that allows them to read her much the way a scholar reads a book.

The townspeople are mostly unaware of the clouds, casually noticing them as sky scenery – the cause of modulating sunlight or a warning of an approaching storm. The people leave it to the ones with special knowledge to advise them as to the hidden meanings contained in the clouds and to prescribe appropriate courses of action.

Time flows languorously, like a stream flowing from the future into the past under the guidance of the hooded mystics. The village relies upon the mystics’ oracles as a means of survival, but also as a way of living in accordance with nature.

Over a distant range of hills a cabal of dark-path wizards, huddled over a jumble of fuming crucibles and burbling flasks, accidentally discovered a formula for making clouds. The clouds manufactured by these greedy puffers, worth more than gold, were uncanny replicas of the real clouds, but neither the mystics nor the populace could distinguish the wizard-made clouds from the clouds sent by nature. Knowing that the clouds held total sway over the populace, the wizards embedded their own messages into the clouds and waited for the mystics to decipher and deliver them to the people.

The messages were plodding and predictable; mostly recycled artifacts from the past cleverly transformed to appear new, yet somehow feel familiar. Predictability is the handmaiden of control. The faux clouds no longer forecast a future but perpetuated an expired past – keeping things as they were for those in power. And the puffers extracted their gold not from base metals but from the pockets of an unsuspecting populace. The clouds that nature sends, serving as messages from imminent futures, no longer exist. Over time the divining mystics gradually lost their intuitive connection to nature, their ability to channel the future atrophied.

The past has become embedded in the future, reducing what we experience as “the present” or “now” – as simulacra, a plastic bauble bouncing upon an infinitesimal fulcrum where two streams intersect. One beckons from the past, the other seduces from the future.

The plastic bauble of “now” is all that exists today. All of time is trapped inside of it, containing a chimeric environment constructed from a trick of light, a sleight of hand, a conflation of a nostalgic past with a tantalizing future. For a real avant-garde to exist – again – we need to reestablish a “long-view” perspective, recover from our collective amnesia, and locate ourselves in the larger historical landscape.

By moving outside of this manufactured environment and allowing the stream of time full passage through our psyches, we can return to an intuitive process of artistic divination. For it is only by a process of “imagination-intent-creation” that we can reshape our past into artifacts from a possible future.

Kim Cascone is a composer, sound artist, touring  musician, lecturer and writer. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife Kathleen and son Cage

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