The Second Commandment

from by John Harvey

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The piece features a recording of the maverick Calvinist minister Arthur W. Pink (1886–1952) reading the second commandment (Ex. 20.4). The first section comprises Pink’s voice and a looped and overlaid guitar part. In the second section, Pink’s delivery is split into two channels, set out-of-phase, and reduced to four statements: ‘image’, ‘graven’, ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee’, and ‘any’. The syntax is further dislocated by a process of audio fracture and collaging: an allusion to the first pair of the tables of the law which Moses broke into pieces when he beheld the iniquity of the gold calf (Ex. 32.19). At the end of the composition there is an evocation of a numinous stasis and coherence – anticipating the renewal of the commandments on the second set of tables (Ex. 34.27–28).

The biblical text is made audible not only by Pink’s voice but also by the application of a systemic process devised by the American composer John Cage (1912–92). It operates by assigning every letter of the alphabet to a note in the C Major scale, so as to permit any text to be converted into musical notation. On this occasion, the palette of notes, here played on guitar, is further delimited by the work’s title: ‘graven image’. The range of letters that make up those words cover 6 of the 7 distinct tones in the C Major scale in Cage’s alpha-notational system. The only tone that is not covered by the words is ‘C’ itself. But as ‘C’ is the scale’s tonic, it is present among the other notes as a conditioning principle (since all the other notes are naturals rather than a sharps or flats).

This is an alternative version of the same composition delivered to the ‘Calvinism and Culture’ conference, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, USA, April 15, 2011. (See 'The Bible in Translation' CD.)

lyrics

The second commandment: ‘Though shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath … Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands that love me, and keep my commandments.’ Exodus twenty, four through six. The second commandment. The second commandment. ‘Graven’. ‘Image’. ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee’. ‘Any’.

credits

from The Bible in Translation: Bonus Material, released July 4, 2016
Personnel: A.W. Pink and John Harvey.

Instrumentation: Adobe Audition 3.0, ART HeadAmp 4, Boss FV-500H volume pedal, Digitech HardWire Delay/Looper pedal (x2 in series), Line6 Pocket Pod 1.0, Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster SFX-01, Toshiba Portege R400 laptop, and Traveler EG-1 guitar.

Context: Recorded live at a lecture entitled ‘An Anti-Icon: A Protestant Art Now’ delivered at the Department of Fine Art, University of Calgary, Canada, September 23, 2009.

Source: Sample derived from recordings on an open-access online archive of sermon by A. W. Pink and other ministers, accessed June 2009.

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John Harvey Ceredigion, UK

Harvey is a historian of art, visual culture, and sound art, and also a sound- and visual-art practitioner. His research field is the visual and sonic culture of religion, principally. He explores non-iconic attitudes to visualization and sonic articulations of religion by engaging visual, textual, and audible sources, theological and cultural ideas, and systemic and audiovisualogical processes. ... more

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