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The Second Commandment​*​*

from The Bible in Translation (disc 2) [album] by John Harvey



The piece features a recording of the maverick Calvinist minister Arthur W. Pink (1886–1952) reading the second commandment (Exodus 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 (Exodus 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 (Exodus 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).

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 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 of them that love me, and keep my commandments.’ Exodus twenty, four through six. The second commandment. The second commandment. ‘Image’. ‘Graven’. ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee’. ‘Any’.

Biblical Source
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

Biblical Reference
Exodus 20.4

Personnel: A.W. Pink and John Harvey.

Instrumentation: Adobe Audition CS6, Apple MacBook Pro OS X 10.8, Apogee Gio guitar interface Apple Mac Book Pro OS X 10.8, Apple Logic Studio Pro 9, Apple MainStage 2, Boomerang III phrase sample pedal (two connected in parallel), Roland FV-50H and FV-50L volume pedals, and Traveler EG-1 guitar.

Context: Recorded live at a lecture entitled ‘An Art of Predestination: Textual–Visual–Aural Approaches to Imaging the Bible’ delivered to the ‘Calvinism and Culture’ conference, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, USA, April 15, 2011.

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


from The Bible in Translation (disc 2) [album], released September 1, 2016


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John Harvey Ceredigion, UK

I’m a practitioner and historian of sound art and visual art, and Emeritus Professor of Art at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, UK. My research field is the sonic and visual culture of religion. I explore the sonic articulations of the Christian religion by engaging visual, textual, and audible sources, theological and cultural ideas, and systemic and audiovisualogical processes. ... more

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