This blog is a three-part book in the process of being written, in the form of initial drafts of the sections, posted in the intended order, a project for which the overall name is Explorations. The book is a continuation from Hidden Valleys, Haunted by the Future (Zero Books - 2015), and also from On Vanishing Land, an audio-essay made by myself and Mark Fisher (to be released by Hyperdub/Flatlines on 26th July, 2019 - https://hyperdub.net).
Part One: Metamorphics (1 - 18)
Part Two: The Second Sphere of Action (19 - 30)
Part Three: Through the Forest, the River (31 - )
I had just boarded the plane for Abakan, at Moscow's Domodedovo airport. It was mid July in 2011, and I was travelling to Tuva. Abakan, the capital of the republic to the north - Khakassia - was as close as it was possible to get to Tuva by plane. After the plane journey there was a bus service that would take me the remaining 240 miles to Kyzyl, across a pass in the Sayan mountains. (It would turn out that the buses were very infrequent mini-buses, and that many people instead would queue up to be part of a 'taxi' group in one of the large, 6-seater four wheel drive vehicles that are one of the main forms of long-distance transport in this area (this meant that the transport options for the journey were much the same as they would have been likely to be for travelling from Ulaanbataar to a small town in Mongolia, despite Kyzyl being the capital city of the republic)).
However, part of the fascination of Tannu Tuva was that it was not easy to reach. I felt concern for the people of Tuva that there was an airport in Kyzyl which had not been upgraded so as to be available for flights (this now seems to have changed), and concern about the border with Mongolia apparently not being straightforwardly open, but from my own point of view the necessity of travelling by road across the Sayan mountains was an attractive aspect of the journey.
However, a separate way in which Tuva was difficult to reach had already indirectly been involved in me being three days behind schedule, because a thunderstorm had meant the plane from Heathrow had had to land at a different airport, so I had missed my connection - and the next flight was three days later. But I had allowed 3 weeks for the trip, and so I felt I had enough time. And it had been good to get an unplanned opportunity to see Moscow (the airline had paid for free accommodation at a hotel near the airport).
I had done a short Russian course, aware that this was very inadequate preparation. Before going to Mongolia I had had about 8 weeks of one-to-one Mongolian lessons with a Mongolian woman called Nyaama, who was living in London and who answered an advertisement I put up at S.O.A.S. (at that time Mongolian was apparently not being taught anywhere in London). With the trip to Tuva I would have liked to have learned some Tuvan, but because Russian is spoken by most Tuvans (and because it had been very hard to find tuition in Mongolian) I had not made any attempt to go in this direction, though I was looking forward to seeing if any of the Mongolian words I remembered were also words in Tuvan.
I had three main aims in travelling to Tuva. Firstly, I wanted to meet, and receive some tuition from, a Tuvan overtone singer. Secondly (and inseparably), I wanted to encounter Tuva as a whole social world (as a Russian republic), but also, and most specifically, I wanted to encounter the social world of ethnic Tuva. Thirdly, I wanted to travel into a forested area of the Sayan mountains (I wanted to encounter a Tuvan forest wilderness), and to use this journey to heighten my ability to become sustained perception.
It would be right to say that my feelings about the trip were neither those of a tourist nor those of an ethnographer or ethnomusicologist. And nor was it the case that I saw the trip in terms of it being the journey of an artist. It was more that I saw it as a way of travelling into the unknown in the direction of "love and lucidity and wider realities," to use the phrase from the conclusion of On Vanishing Land. A few days earlier (at the start of the trip) I had re-read Donner's The Witch's Dream, a book that gives an account of a journey she made to Venezuela (her country of origin) to study curing practices, in the course of which her ethnographer's attitude is slowly shifted toward that of someone moving, with others, toward the transcendental-empirical, as opposed to the empirical. I feel that to a large extent it was this other attitude - a deliberate focus on the transcendental-empirical - that was involved in my feelings and thoughts in connection with the journey.
However, at that specific moment - of having sat down in my seat on the plane for Abakan - the trip had developed an aspect which seemed far from what ideally was needed. In the course of the previous twelve hours I had developed a cold. I still felt the exhilaration of what was happening, but I would have preferred to not be coping with a cold on arrival in Abakan, and I felt distressed for my fellow passengers. Fortunately the symptoms were mild - the faintly lowered physical tone of a cold, together with a slightly but persistently runny nose. I sat with my head resting back, but a little away from the passenger who was alongside me on my right: there was nothing else I could do.
It was going to be a journey through the night (it was around 9 in the evening), and we would arrive at Abakan airport at dawn. What seemed to be in front of me was a night of uncomfortable semi-sleep.
But what happened was something completely different from this. Looking back now I feel that the combination of circumstances made what took place into an inevitability. But I had no way of foreseeing it at the time.
The plane took off, and it was not long before most of the passengers had settled down to attempt to sleep their way through the flight. With my eyes closed I attempted to clear my head of thoughts, attuning myself to the sound of the plane's engines.
I have indicated earlier (Section 44) that I have always been likely to hear music when listening to the sound from plane or coach engines. But I feel that on this occasion the way in which my ears had been affected by the cold meant that the sonic/vibratory field which is the substrate of this 'hyper-pareidolia' was amped up, and no doubt subject to subtle distortion/intetensification, in a way which made the 'halucinating up' - or dreaming up - of freestanding, fully sonically envisaged melodies far more likely than it would have been otherwise.
The first music that arrived was an existing melody, though in a new arrangement, and with a story that came with it. The whole world of story and tune was suffused with both joy and sadness. The story was from the point of view of a man and a woman who had raised a child - a girl - who was still relatively young, but who had in some way crossed a threshold of existence, and who was departing to another dimension of the world, intending emphatically to return, but in a way where the parents felt no absolute certainty that this would happen. It was like a tale: it was as if the child they had raised is more like Ariel in The Tempest, than a human being. After she has left they hear her voice singing a farewell - there is a delighted playfulness in her voice (in some obscure way the whole thing feels like a story for children) but at the same time there is note of sadness:
(two notes, the second higher than the first)
Wherever the wind blows
(two notes, lower than the first pair, the second higher than the first)
Where we go no-one knows
(again two notes, the second note higher than the first, but lower than the second note of the second pair)
'Cause we're born free.
I had never given any thought to John Barry's melody. I had liked it as a child (I had seen the film at the cinema, probably when I was around six), but since then it had not come into my mind, other than on rare occasions when I happened to hear it, as with John Barry retrospectives on TV etc. But now something very beautiful about the melody was impacting on me, and the tune, in its different arrangement was playing itself - as a fully 'heard' sonic world - in new variations in my mind.
I thought this was all that was going to happen. But then there was a point where I had an experience of hearing the voice of my Turkish friend Yildiz, speaking very brightly and with emphasis. When saying the words for colours Yildiz was always likely to add the word 'colour' as a suffix, as part of the name for the colour. What I heard her say was:
"Blue colour, Justin, blue colour"
And then not long after this I had an experience of hearing a song in Turkish (a language I do not speak, apart from a very small number of words). The song was like a high-tempo folk song or dance-song, and the verses were always about immense journeys across plains, and rivers and mountains (I understood that this was what they were about, even though I was not hearing English words), where these groups of verses always culminated in a chorus, which is the only part of the song that I remember. The words were:
Zigid, zigid, zigid
Zigid, zigid, zigid
In the experience I did not think that this had anything to do with Turkish, but the key thing about it was the meaning of the word 'zigid.' Zigid was the name for an intense lightning-like energy that runs through everything: within the world of the song it was the name for an energy with which human beings needed to make contact, in order to wake themselves.
Both of the other phrases seemed to mean 'in the world' in some way (I knew at the time that dunya was the Arabic word for world, and it seems in fact that it is also the word for world in Turkish). I heard three verse phases of this song, followed by the chorus, and eventually I was only hearing the chorus (I have remembered the melody of the chorus, as well as the words). The joyful staccato energy of 'zigid, zigid, zigid' was breathtaking, and it came with a 'seeing' of the lightning-like energy which it invoked.
Other melodies appeared after this, but the music shifted toward a role where it seemed to be holding in place a process of visual envisaging where I was seeing a house which was constructed amongst house-sized, sunlit rocks, and had a partly overgrown garden around it, where the house and the garden were in the middle of a flattish, grass-and-rocks terrain a few miles across, and where this terrain in turn was at the top of a sheer-sided plateau that was many thousands of feet up in the sky. There was a sublime, joyful affect about this place; it was a serene, sunlit world of horses grazing, bumble bees, and redcurrant bushes in the garden with fruit on them. On the walls inside the house there were abstract paintings with exceptionally beautiful combinations of colours.
Eventually this phase of the experience ended, and everything was again entirely focused on sound. I found I was hearing a melody that had come to me - without any words - earlier in the summer. It was now more developed as a melodic sequence, and it was in the form of guitar-sound. Having heard it like this two or three times I started, without thinking about it, to sing against the sound of the guitar, astonished by what I was doing (insofar as it was me who was doing it), and worried after the first phrase had been completed that I would not get to to the end. I succeeded in letting go, and not thinking about it, and I got to the end. These were the words of the song:
Be as ghostly as the silence that is blowing through the mountain
Be as eerie as the forest that is dreaming through the river
Be as empty as the lovers who you'll find all through the cosmos
Be as silent as the dreamers in the wind.
This song then continued to play itself in my mind. Around ten minutes after it had 'arrived' the announcement was made that we were about to land in Abakan.
It took me around two days to 're-set' myself so that I was more-or-less recovered from the cold, and had caught up on my sleep. In the first half of this phase I did the public-transport journey which - for reasons that are simultaneously geographical and cultural - is the most extraordinary of any I have done. And this journey was then succeeded by a process of finding somewhere to stay, and of getting to know my new surroundings. There was recurrently a real joy involved in this journey, and in the still-exhausted stage which followed it (and I managed to avoid things getting worse, through not leaving possessions behind etc), but I was often bleary as a result of lack-of-sleep and the effects of the cold.
It was a sunny, warm morning at Abakan airport. I liked the airport: it had a lot of fittings that were made of wood, and had a very pleasant atmosphere. I picked up my backpack from the baggage reclaim, and found out that the centre of town was about 6 miles away. I took a taxi to the bus station: the taxi driver was very friendly, and I was grateful that he spoke some English, while being aware at the same time that we did not have much in terms of shared language, despite the driver's English being a long way better than my Russian).
The bus station was a wide expanse of ground outside the train station. Other parts of Abakan had seemed completely European (and later, on my return journey, the boulevards and wrought iron railings of the town centre would heighten this impression) but the minimalism of the bus station reminded me of Mongolia, in that it was little more than a place of departure for vehicles, most of which were unscheduled. This is not a criticism - the system recurrently works well, and unscheduled vehicles don't leave until they are full, which is a good use of resources.
However, very few people seemed to be taking the unscheduled taxi vehicles that morning, and in any case I wanted to take the bus, because it would cost less. There would be a bus leaving for Tuva in around three hours. I went for a walk along the street that led toward the centre, with the song from the end of the plane journey still playing in my head. I loved the song, despite - or because of - its quality of being too impersonal and anomalous to have any success in the world of commerciaI music. I felt elated, but extremely tired all at once. I bought some bread, and some nuts and dried fruit from a small shop, and returned to the bus station. By the time the bus was due there were a few people waiting who seemed to be locals, in that they did not have luggage, and a Russian couple in their twenties on a camping holiday, who, as I would find out later, came from Krasnoyarsk, a city further up the Yenisei river to the north. The impression was that the overall lack of tourist infrastructure (no flights to Kyzyl etc.) was decisive in blocking the flow of tourists: with me at the bus stop there were no people from outside Russia waiting to get to Tuva - whether lovers of recondite, singular traditions within music, or Richard Feynman enthusiasts wanting to achieve the journey Feynman had dreamed of, but had never been able to make, or people wanting to see the forests of the Sayan mountains.
The mini-bus was extremely packed, with more people on it than there were seats, in the way that was familiar from other journeys in the same approximate region (the degree to which it was packed was less, in fact, than the most extraordinary cases I had experienced in Mongolia). The atmosphere on the bus was friendly - and it felt good that I was not being moved along a slick conveyor belt of a tourist industry. The terrain around the bus consisted of open country with quite large areas of trees that in many cases were deciduous rather than coniferous - in one way or another it was farmland rather than expansive grazing terrains: it was not taiga, or anything similar, but nor was it steppe. Some of the faces of the people in the bus gave me the impression that I was in an area of Siberian Asia that was not far from Mongolia, but as with Abakan, the places through which we were travelling seemed more reminiscent of 'Europe' (many of the trees had probably been introduced from the opposite, western side of Eurasia to which we give this name, with its bizarre association of being the name for a continent).
The journey took around twelve hours. During the first phase I tried to get a little sleep with my head against the bus window, but the jolting of the bus on the often heavily rutted road got in the way of this plan. After two or three hours we stopped in a village, and the mini-bus would not re-start. The village had a stall selling fruit and vegetables, and it was a pleasant sunny afternoon. I spoke a little with the couple from Krasnoyarsk: this gave me a first close-up impression of what it is like to live in a country with hinterland worlds as vast and beautiful as those of Siberia. It was clear that they didn't want to be seen as 'romantics' in relation to what they were doing (in that part of what was involved for them was learning survival skills), but it was also clear - inseparably in fact - that they had discovered the joy of travelling in wildernesses.
The situation with the bus-breakdown was, again, a very familiar one from Mongolia, but there the drivers always seemed to be skilled mechanics (and if they needed help vehicles would always stop to assist, and the driver of the vehicle was of course also a skilled mechanic: all of which seemed to mean that a breakdown on a road without facilities, or a road-surface - a road was a set of earth tracks a hundred and fifty feet wide - would in fact take, on average, about forty five minutes). We waited for about three hours until a coach arrived as a replacement: the coach was old, and was more of a bus, in fact, than a coach, but it felt exceptionally luxurious.
Soon we were in the foothills of the Sayan mountains, an area of what is called 'southern taiga' (different from the primary, northern form because of the lower latitude, and higher altitude). The road near the top of the pass was a long traverse with a striking view of a jagged rock pinnacle rising out of a wall of trees that reached almost to the top of the ridge on either side of the peak.
The transition to Tuva was taking place, and about two hours later (having crossed to Tuva at the top of the pass) I saw the big, largely grass-covered hill-mountains of the other terrain that came with the transition - steppe.
I was extremely exhausted (I had not slept very much) but the earlier absence of major infrastructure for tourists was now wonderfully counterbalanced by micro-infrastructure being in place instead. We arrived at the bus station in Kyzyl at around midnight, and I was told, to my immense relief, that if I wanted I could sleep in a room that was on one side of the ticket hall (the public toilets were nextdoor). The room had a bed in it, and nothing else, but it felt like paradise. I was able to refill my water bottle, the cost of the room was around £4, and I was at last in a situation where it would be possible to get a good amount of sleep. There was nothing grand about the bus station building, but it had given me what I needed in a way that completely outshone its equivalents in my own area of Eurasia.
In the morning (it was probably around 9am) I came out of my room into a crowded ticket hall. It would of course have been good to be able to have a shower, but at least I had slept (and I washed my face in the public toilet wash-basin). I managed to find someone to whom I could return my key, and then I set off into the streets of Kyzyl.
I feel that everything I did over the next sixteen hours was a process of maintaining an element of a vital background attitude, in the form of the inchoate perception that the world is a serene tumult of the unknown - and I feel that this process was occurring in a way that was inseparable from a series of adjustments that were taking me to a place from which the fundamental journey could begin.
I needed to find a guest house or hotel with an available room, and I needed to get well from the cold, and I needed to avoid cancelling out my gains in terms of not knowing where I was (so long as the dogmatic image of the world is predominantly in control of our awareness we must always avoid the conviction that we know where we are). The events on the plane had helped (they had made me feel that the interiority of the customary idea of the unconscious might well be a control-delusion), and Tuva has its own power to shake the feeling of knowing where we are, one which is only superficially connected to the indeterminacy of Tuva in relation to the ideas of Asia, Russia, relatedness to Mongolia, Siberia etc. (at depth this perturbatory power is connected to a pragmatic, deliberate openness to the unknown that can be found within aspects and sub-domains of what is called "shamanism").
Kyzyl was a sunlit, inconspicuously beautiful expanse of light-coloured buildings and of trees in the streets. It had the clear air and dust and sun-bleached, straggly grass of a city in a low-precipitation area. It made me think of Ulaanbaatar (it did not look at all like Europe), although it had gone in a different direction, so that one of its main features looked, in fact more Asian than its equivalent in Mongolia, and so that (as I would see later) at the level of the architecture of the 'suburbs' there were for the most part only small wooden houses, as opposed to gers within a wood-fence enclosure. The feature that looked more Asian was the strikingly attractive, stand-alone theatre, standing up very tall in a square in front of the parliament building, whose crowning motifs - constructed against and on top of a white background - were emphatically Tuvan: a tour de force that both worked well in itself, and was clearly in part a statement that had nothing to do with fashion (like the statement indirectly being made by men who had long hair at the time of the mid-60s phase of the Vietnam war). (the comparison is between the complexes of buildings in the main parliament-square areas of the two cities).
As with Ulaanbaatar there were occasional views of the big, largely grass-covered hills of the steppe terrains, and Kyzyl was also built to a great extent on a grid-pattern. However there were two major topographical differences between the cities. The first was that Kyzyl was far smaller: alongside Ulaan Bataar it felt in many ways like a town - as well as being around a tenth of the size of the other city, Kyzyl had smaller buildings and very few high-rises. The second was that the main river in Kyzyl - the Yenisei - was several times larger than the river Tuul in Ulaan Bataar, and it was very close to the centre (only about four blocks away, as opposed to the two miles to the Tuul in Mongolia's capital).
The street I was on was initially a non-commercial avenue, with trees growing alongside it, and largish houses. Using a map, but continuing in roughly the same direction, I went into the centre of the city, and after about an hour-and-a-half of searching (including a visit to house which had ceased to be a guest house, though it was still listed in my guidebook) I found my way to a hotel which had a room.
The hotel was a very pleasant place: both quietly beautiful and un-luxurious by the standards of the high-wealth zones of the planet (which was fortunate for me - because I could never have afforded to stay there otherwise). Its position in Kyzyl was exceptionally good, in that it was by the river, and in the best part of the 'line' of places by the Yenisei, in that it was near to what in Tuva (and indeed, beyond Tuva) is a very famous riverside monument.
Of the three people who were working in the reception area there was only one who spoke English, a woman who seemed to be the manager. She was friendly in an undemonstrative way which I liked very much. Initially it was uncertain that a room was available, and I waited for about an hour and a half while a cancellation was being confirmed, and while the room was being made ready. But during this time the woman (who, as a manager, was having to do the work of a receptionist for me, because of the language barrier) made me feel welcome, and kept me informed about the situation.
While I was waiting in a lobby area I spoke with a man who was a businessman (a salesman I think), and who was waiting for someone to arrive. He came from Novosibirsk. We had a half hour conversation which included a point where he asked me about my journey. When I mentioned my three days in Moscow he told me he felt distant from the world of Moscow. He said he very much loved his area of Russia (which I think primarily meant the 95% of Russia that is beyond the Urals) but did not feel the same affinity with the world of Moscow. There seemed to a critique of the Russian establishment involved in this statement (though such a critique could have been coming from any perspective, very much including a socialist one), but overall what he was saying reminded me most of the distance from the 'capital'/the big cities that is found in countries all across the world (once when I was in Stockholm I spoke with a man who came from the far north of Sweden, and he told me he felt like a foreigner in Stockholm).
The man to whom I was speaking and the staff at reception seemed to be ethnic Russians. But to say this is to describe a micro-element within the milieu of Kyzyl, and is not to start a critique in terms of 'westernisation' in relation to the dissolution/potential dissolution of indigenous worlds. Despite the very specific situation in Tuva (with its relatively substantial and pervasive cultural separateness making it in many ways a close relative of Mongolia), to start to be critical, at this micro-level, of the presence of slavic people in Siberia would be as senseless as to be critical of the presence of anglo-saxon people in North America.
The person for whom the man had been waiting arrived. It had been a friendly conversation, and I liked that the man had expressed something about his feelings toward his whole social world. It needs to be pointed out that I felt comfortable in Russia: in a certain way I felt very much at home. At depth this was to do with the fact that Russia is a zone of the planet (from a planetary perspective territories are very superficial constructs), but it was also the result of my having spent a vast amount of time in Russia, at the level of the virtual-real, firstly, through reading Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Bulgakov, Turgenev (etc.); secondly, through having read quite widely in relation to 19th and 20th century Russian history, in particular the history of the revolution; and thirdly, through Tarkovsky's films. I liked Russia - I felt an affinity with it. However, in relation to territories, the specificity of my situation was that I was in Russia, but I was also - and in a depth-level sense primarily - in Tuva.
It was a sunny late-afternoon when I went back into the centre of town, looking for an internet place. I found one, two hundred yards from the start of the market area, and wrote an email to Maysa. (later in the summer we would go to Croatia for two weeks, this double holiday having been made possible by me having a small amount of extra money that year, on top of my City Lit pay, and by my auxilliary-worker contract at the college still being term-time only, so that each year I had at least six weeks of leave in summer).
After writing the email, I looked in detail at the news. At the level of the global economic situation something was happening, although it was a 'something' which not long afterwards would seem like nothing at all. The U.S.A. had had its credit rating cut, and there had been a large-scale fall in the value of stocks around the world, partly in connection with Standard and Poor's cut in the U.S.A.s rating. Stock market falls were still taking place, and the news was full of speculation about the crash, especially in connection with the credit rating change.
In relation to news of wars the world at this time was very disturbingly in turmoil, though I did not spend long reading about these conflicts. This was not the time, but it was also the case that with many of the wars it was quite hard to become clear about the nature and likely ramifications of the situation. Since Vietnam there had been a major transition in relation to increased western acceptance of wars, beginning with the first Iraq war, and crossing a delusory validation threshold with the second Iraq war: the overall feeling was that this acceptance combined itself with selective releases of information to produce views of wars which left you ignorant about the depth-level aspects of the conflicts. The main news at the time was the war in Libya, which would seem like a textbook case of justified intervention from the point of view of the new, example-assisted pro-war attitude, prevalent in the western media systems. But there was also the Afghanistan war, which in fact was raging at very high intensity (after having initially been constructed as victory to be followed by a short-term process of consolidation in the non-urban terrains of the country...), and on top of this there was the onset of civil war in Syria, which would very rapidly send sparks into the ultra-explosive materials that were the enraged, defeated forces of Iraq, meaning that the west would have to defeat these forces a second time. In fact, it should be pointed out that, at time of writing, three out of the four wars in question are in effect still ongoing, and that the third - the war in Iraq - has led to a very complex installation of U.S.A. forces just over the border from Iraq, in two zones of Syria, so that the war in Iraq has a kind of continuing epilogue that is emphatically related in terms of the consequences of the conflict.
My feeling and impression at the time was that these were monstrous events (I had no predictive grasp on the situation, and a lack of knowledge of what was happening meant that in fact I wasn't favouring any anticipation about what would happen next). This feeling-and-impression can be described in relation to the events in Libya in February: what I had felt was that an exceptionally dark noose of destruction was closing on Benghazi, and that then an even more powerful, and equally disturbing noose had appeared around the first one, where the affect of this impression was that these dominatory-destructive encirclings had, at depth, a very dark, extremely disturbing libido.
As I have said, I did not spend long reading the new stories that day, But the two 'areas' in question should be thought about for a moment. At the level of the overall, large-scale organisation of capitalism and the state societies these two areas are the fundamental aspects of the ongoing disaster. The economic issues are in fact the tectonic tensions between 'developed' and 'less developed' groups of countries (which end up with developed countries getting into extreme debt, and with industrial heartlands being turned into 'rustbelt' zones), and, whatever else is involved, the wars and massacres are to a great extent the results of territorial, religious/ethno-metaphysical and economic forces. This, it should be added, is not a prediction about capitalism digging its own grave: everything continually morphs and shifts, so that new areas of production are opened up, and labour forces are grimly disassembled and then shaken back down toward lower pay, and worse conditions (while this is taking place there is the accompanying process of people in power embodying the view that in some way the overall process 'makes sense,' doing this with a high degree of success, despite the extreme violence of the wars, and the radically deteriorated post-industrial areas).
This is the wide-level aspect of the transendental-empirical in relation to the ongoing disaster in the human world (Sections 19, 29, 30). That is, the transcendental-empirical in relation to the disaster within the widest level of the human world's plane of organisation. A kind of grey roiling on the part of capitalism/the state societies/the corporations, where this roiling is recurrently transected by lightning flashes, or magma flashes in the form of battles, massacres, and economic collapses.
I looked in this direction that day (because of the stock market crash, and to some extent because of the wars) but I didn't look with any intensity of focus, and I only looked for a short while. However the details of the view I have just described were virtual in the experience, even if they were only in effect at a very low level of intensity. Having looked, I turned my attention away, putting it largely out of my mind. I was in Kyzyl, a sunlit, extraordinary place by the banks of the fifth largest river in the world, and the direction in which I primarily needed to be looking - as ever - was transcendental south.
When I arrived at the hotel I went though it, and into its garden, instead of going to my room. From the garden, I found my way onto the path running alongside the river, and I turned right alongside this path, in the upstream direction, walking toward a small monument about a quarter of a mile away.
There is a sense in which the national-story of Tuva has a clear account of where Tuva is. It is in the centre of Asia - or, more specifically, it has the centre of Asia within it. For about a hundred years there has been a view in existence that Tuva in some way contains the middle-point of Asia, or that the country/republic is the best candidate for containing such a point. Evidently this view is mytho-geographic as much as it is geographical, and it is no doubt as an element of the Tuvan mythos that it has had an impact, rather than as a simple, more-or-less uncontested measurement, like the height of a mountain.
And of course, from the point of view of ethnic Tuvans, the intensity of the idea to a great extent comes from what might initially appear to be secondary - the idea of being deep within Asia that goes with the idea of the the republic containing Asia's central point. And this can be taken up as meaning that Tuva at a fundamental level is culturally Asian, in a sense that would be exemplified by a countries such as Mongolia and China, as opposed to it being European - or Russian. However, the main idea (ie. 'the central point of Asia is in Tuva') can simultaneously be taken up as an idea involving a neutral - non-cultural - geographical location, and can be seen as positive through it being, in effect, the idea of Tuva as a place at the heart of its region, facing simultaneously toward Siberia, India, Mongolia, China, Japan etc.
The monument was very low-key: a plinth with a globe-sphere on it (maybe seven feet in diameter), showing the land-masses in pale rust-orange (flat in relation to their surfaces, but in slight base-relief in connection with what was around them) against a steel blue indicating the oceans. Behind this was a three-sided obelisk about thirty feet high, which felt as if it had the symbolism of a 'pointer' of some kind. At the front of the sphere there was the representation of Asia (or, the Asian zone of Eurasia), and in the middle of Asia (which was also the middle of Tuva) there was a dot indicating the central point. Underneath, in the centre of the front part of the plinth, there was an engraved plaque with the phrase "The Centre of Asia," written in three languages.
There was no-one much around. Beyond the monument was the Yenisei, a big river flowing quite fast. On its far bank there was nothing but small trees and undergrowth. Beyond this there were low, arid mountains, their main slopes probably starting ten miles in the distance. Looking to the right was a relatively close hill-spur with a few trees on it, the point where a range of the Sayan mountains came down to the confluence between the Big Yenisei and the Small Yenisei, which was about five miles from the centre of the city. To the northwest was a bank of cloud with the sun, close to the horizon, coming through beneath the cloud.
The monument I was looking at has now been replaced by a transformed 'centre of Asia' monument - in some ways similar in shape - with a small, running reindeer at the top of the pointer, a reindeer with the stylised large antlers of designs from the shamanic cultural worlds of Tuva (designs which are very ancient and are found inscribed on megaliths - called deer-stones - in both Tuva and Mongolia). It would be going too far to say that the reindeer was virtual for me that evening in Kyzyl, but the monument I saw impacted so little at a 'descriptive' level in relation to its terrain (it didn't say the name Tuva, and didn't give the boundaries of the country within the continent) that I feel it functioned to point mutely to the enigma: it just pointed toward the river, the mountains, the city, the sky - toward its spheroambient world. And I had an awareness of the non-western aspects of Tuva - so in some sense the equivalent of the deer was there in that experience.
I was still slightly unwell as a result of the cold, and I set off to return to the hotel, knowing I needed to sleep. The sun had set, and the bank of clouds was lit up orange-and-pink. The sunset cloud-bank and the broad, twilight river produced a feeling of the sublime, but this experience of the sublime-within-the-world was also faintly suffused with a background sadness. Standing on the footpath I spent a few minutes looking at this very intense view, and then I went into the hotel.
That night I slept deeply for many hours. Toward the end of the night I woke and heard a thunderstorm taking place, with very heavy rain falling. I rapidly went back to sleep.
I dreamed I was walking south toward a bridge over the Derwent river, in Malton, in North Yorkshire. It was early in the morning, and it was sunny: it felt as if it was midsummer. I wasn't looking around me, I was simply moving forward, but all the detail was there in some sense: the agricultural suppliers, Yates's, was on my left, and up ahead, beyond the river, there was the bus station, and, further away, there was the train station. I crossed the bridge - a plain, modern bridge across a quite narrow river, and then the view opened up, and two hundred yards away, not far from the railway line, but to the left of the train station building, there was a woman standing, looking approximately in my direction.
She was wearing a darkish green dress, a deep green that seemed to have a little dark grey in it, and within the dream I knew, in a direct sense of knowing, that the woman was a 'rain goddess' (not an attribution I remember making, awake or asleep, in the rest of my experience). Seeing the woman was a jolt. It wasn't that I saw her as having a terrifying nature, or as aggressive. The woman was a very bright presence (and I should add that there was no sense that she was definitely looking at me, even though she was facing in my direction), but she was in some sense exceptionally intense as a being, and in terms of looking at her she was just too much - too anomalous. It was like scenes in stories where someone sees a ghost, only the affect was neither that she was dead, nor that was malevolent (though her intent was too impersonal for it to be possible to say that she could not be dangerous in some way, despite the bright, very positive quality of her affect). The seeing-a-ghost feeling was of course too much for the experience to be more than momentary. I woke up from the dream.
Outside torrential rain was falling, and there was still occasional thunder and lightning. As I say in Hidden Valleys, I have never once given any thought to the idea of 'rain goddess' as a good way of understanding this dream. Instead, I have had the feeling that this is the kind of experience which can occur when looking toward transcendental south, a direction which has a great deal to do with the planet - and of that part of the planet which is called the atmosphere.
When I woke again, later, it was sunny. In the street at the front of the hotel there was floodwater from the rain.
At breakfast I spoke to a Russian couple who were travelling through Siberia by motorbike. They came from one of the big cities at the "European" end of the country (I can't remember if it was Moscow or St Petersburg), and I felt the exhilaration of what they were doing. It was a big-sky journey through very varied terrains (the Sayan mountains, the steppe, Lake Baikal, the taiga forests of the far east), and across a genuinely immense distance. It is worth remembering that if Siberia was a separate country it would be the largest country in the world. This couple were probably in their late 30s. As with the younger couple from Krasnoyarsk, who I had met on the bus, they gave me a feeling of the joy of travelling, only with this epic motorbike journey I felt I was in contact with a love of a hinterland immensity that made me think of across-continent journeys of people in the U.S.A. - only the distance was greater, and the variation in terms of sub-cultures being encountered was more extraordinary. Talking to this couple for half an hour was like breathing good air - there was an aspect of freedom about what they were doing which made it a heartening encounter.
After breakfast I left the hotel to walk to the centre. I was very aware, as I walked in the sunlight, that I had now recovered from the cold. Not far from the hotel there was a series of big puddles that were alongside some trees. To look into the puddles was to look at fragments of tree-fringed sky in a way that was very striking: in the bright Tuvan sunlight, and with the clear-water of the rain-washed street, the mirror effect seemed more impressive than any effect of this kind that I had seen before - as if the street was scattered with gaps that showed a downward view toward the sky. I paused for a moment, enjoying the mirror-spaces of the water, but aware as well that the day before I might have not have enjoyed it in the same way: I was experiencing the surge of elation that comes with a return to health.
I set off again, to walk the four blocks to the big square by the theatre and the parliament building. I had been told that, to get the information I needed, I should go to the 'tourist yurt' that I would find there.
The yurt stood out on its own, but not in the centre: it was on the north side of what was quite a large square. It was good to see a 'ger' again, to use the Mongolian term, even if it was part of a tourist industry. And it wasn't easy to see the tourism systems of Kyzyl as a rampaging threat to the Tuvan eco-systems, given that this piece of infrastructure was a temporary construction twenty feet across.
The woman who was working there was perhaps in her mid twenties. Her face seemed more Tuvan than Russian: she was wearing western clothes, and had dark curly hair that came down to her shoulders. When I arrived she was helping an American family - a man and a woman and two children - who were going to be travelling around Tuva by car. It was clear that she was very intelligent, and very good at her job. There was a reserved but impressive sparkle about her way of being, and she spoke very fluent English.
When it was my turn to talk to her I asked her if she knew of a khoomii singer who would be prepared to give me some lessons.
The response I received was interesting: there was a definite quality of this being a good question from her point of view. She gave me the address of the workshop of man called Aldar Tamdin, who she said was a very good khoomii singer and khoomii teacher, and who was a maker of Tuvan musical instruments. The address was a place that was about a mile away to to the east. She said I could just go there in person, without getting in contact in advance, and that Aldar was likely to be there, because he would be making instruments in the workshop.
It wasn't that I picked up any impression of a personal connection with the person she was recommending to me as a teacher, or any feeling of wanting to provide a customer. It was more that she seemed pleased that I wanted to do something - learn something - rather than witness a spectacle. In talking to her over the next twenty minutes I arrived at the feeling that she was an intellectual, and that in the background she had intense views about Tuva.
Around forty five minutes later I found my way to a courtyard off a sidestreet. On my right there was a house, and extending from it, in the direction away from the street, there was a single story outhouse with an open door leading into it. The outhouse turned out to be the workshop, and inside it I found Aldar Tamdin who was making a Tuvan horse-head fiddle. (with him was an apprentice, who I would find out afterwards was from Belarus)
Aldar was very welcoming. He told me he would be happy to give me some lessons. I said it would only be a small number of lessons, because I was not in Tuva for very long, and he said this was not a problem. Aldar was a friendly, confident man who was perhaps in his late thirties: however he was unassuming at the same time as being confident. Despite clearly being a talented and successful musician and craftsman he never attempted to set out his credentials. The next day, when he told me briefly about performing with his band in the U.S.A., everything was about the pleasure he had taken in the enjoyment on the part of the audiences of Tuvan music, and about him having liked the U.S.A. What went along with his evident skill as musician and instrument-maker was a friendliness and generosity, and an occasional slight note of sadness.
We arranged a price for the lessons, which was very reasonable. And Aldar said that I should come back at about 5pm, for a first lesson. He said there could then be another one the next day. Because I didn't have much time in Tuva, this pace was exactly what I had been hoping for.
I went back out into the streets of Kyzyl feeling somewhat surprised by how quickly I had found a khoomii teacher. and by a sense of a genuineness in relation to the encounters which had been involved, as opposed to a feeling of having been a customer.
Everything now felt like a fast movement forward. The current I was in was very calm, like the river flowing alongside the hotel, but at the same time it moved quickly.
The khoomii lessons were valuable in a direct sense, in relation to the skill, but they were also valuable in relation to learning about Tuvan culture, and simultaneously were thought-provoking in terms of the dormant potentials of the human voice (like Tserendavaa in Mongolia, Aldar was both a brilliant khoomii singer, and a very good teacher). The scale of the deterritorialisation of the human voice that is involved in khoomii was now clearer than it had ever been - and staying simply at the level of the action, deterritorialising the voice to the point where it produces overtones is a joy in itself, whatever might be the aesthetic value of any music that is created in the process.
I got to know the market area of Tuva, and I found a market cafe where they served food with which I was familiar from Mongolia. But I was also getting ready for going walking in the mountains, and two days after meeting Aldar I found my way to a hardware shop to the south of the town centre. I needed a camping stove and gas bottles, and having found these, and purchased them, I left the shop and walked a bit further from the centre to where the road went up a slight incline, raising the vantage by about twenty feet. From here there was a view of the mountains to the northeast. They were mostly flat-topped, but it was clear they were very high. And, as far as I could see, the upper half of the slopes was entirely covered in forest. The longing to go toward these mountains was intense - I knew that I would set out the next day.
I had already told Aldar about my overall plan for the trip. But that day I told him I was leaving the next morning. He expressed concern about my safety in the mountains, but when I said that I was definitely going and would be gone for between a week and ten days, he said that after a lesson the next morning he would drive me into the mountains. I did not want to impose upon him, and said no, expressing my gratitude. But Aldar was insistent, and said his children would enjoy the journey in the car. Once I'd got him to agree to an amount of money that would cover his petrol and his time, I accepted the offer. I only agreed because he seemed genuinely happy about the idea of making the journey. It seemed as if it was a good plan for both of us - but I had an impression that a reason why he wanted to go ahead with it was because he felt he had acquired a degree of responsibility for me (this would have been a real concern if I had thought that I had become a burden, but we got on well, so the offer felt more like an act of friendship).
The five experiences which have been described, in this section and the previous one, took place over the course of around three years. Each one is very different from each of the others, and this is one of the reasons why it is perhaps worth thinking about what runs as a line of consistency across all or most of the experiences. If around the year 1995 a new abstract-and-oneiric current began to go into effect in my life, then what were the elements of the world (whether actual or virtual-real) on which I was intensely focused fifteen years later? What aspects of the world, in this sense, are 'insistently' brought into view if you use the five experiences as a lens?
An aspect that runs across four of the five - and to a certain extent also across the remaining one (4) - is the 'terrain' of the sky, taking this to mean not only the atmosphere as a whole, and the wind as a local formation, but also the air that surrounds us, which we breathe, and which carries sound waves. (It is worth noticing at this point that the atmosphere has the attribute of being the planetary wilderness that is always visible if you are outdoors: even in a city the sky as planet-terrain is in some sense there to be seen, no matter how smoggy or threaded with aeroplanes).
A second aspect is emphatically in effect within all five of the experiences. This is the female figure who is also in some sense a figure of radical alterity, whether through being, in some highly developed way, an individual who is deliberately travelling into the unknown, or through being profoundly anomalous in the sense of not being human.
A third is forests. Forests are central to three out of the five experiences. (and if our scale-prejudice is put to one side in relation to the gorse, broom and bracken (etc) of heathland, then there is an extended sense in which forest is involved in a fourth of the five).
A fourth aspect is the abstract, in a specific and fundamental sense that relates to intent, dreams, perception and energy, and for which the most crucial form of the abstract is intent to explore into wider realities (for instance, something that is central to The Corridor is that while, at one level, the characters are trying to return to ordinary reality, at a deeper level their intent is to explore the transcendentally unknown). An aspect of this modality of focus on the abstract is a domain of abstractions is associated with it, where these are very different from the abstractions of mathematics, in that they relate to the world as fundamentally active - here the abstractions concern faculties, lucidity, love, perception, realities etc.
There is a fifth - a specific place. This place only runs through three of the five experiences, but it is present within these three in a way which is both highly emphasised and consistently enigmatic. This is the place from which the house in The Corridor has been re-located; it is the place from the memory that arrived in the middle of the semi-trance experience in 2010, and it is the location of the dream that took place when I was at the hotel in Kyzyl.