Wednesday, March 07, 2018


"Almighty Voice"

KITCHI-MANITO-WAYA (Kakee-manitou-waya, Kamantowiwew, Almighty Voice, also known as Jean Baptiste), Indian hunter and fugitive, son of Plains Saulteaux Indian Sinnookeesick (Sounding Sky) and Natchookoneck (Spotted Calf, Calf of Many Colours), daughter of Willow Cree chief One Arrow [Kāpeyakwāskonam*]; he had four wives and one child; d. 30 May 1897 in the Minichinas Hills near Batoche (Sask.).  
(from The Dictionary of Canadian Biography

'"Calf of Many Colors" and "Sounding Sky"
Parents of "Almighty Voice"

A man named “Sounding Skywith a son called “Almighty Voice” deserves to have a story told about them.  But I won’t tell it, at least not now.  It is “intellectual property” that has been recorded by whites that needs to be retold by his own people.  Right?  Or is that too narrow?  Is it shutting something out?  Is it self-indulgent on the part of contemporary descendants, maybe with diluted genetics and certainly with a changed culture and environment?  Or is the value of it universal, deeply human?

“Almighty Voice” was an exceptional autochthonous man, unknown by most people now, who had a short vivid life (1875-1897).  He was accused under ambiguous circumstances and trapped in what the Canadians call a “bluff,” which is a grove of trees, where he was killed along with two companions by a squad of 24 men carrying a nine-pound field gun.  His mother, watching from a distance, sang his death song for him.  If you google, there is much more to learn.

It was a time like this one, when emotion and something much like psychosis seized everyone, cinching their minds down into dark little tunnels of greed, determination, and what they thought was survival.  The soldiers believed they were imposing order according to the rule of law.  “Almighty Voice” was trying to survive.  He ranged far enough that it was rumoured that he’d been captured in Kalispell, but that was false.

Sometimes I joke about what will save us now and I look hopefully towards young people, because this reminds me of the worldwide cultural sea change of the Sixties and Seventies.  All those hippies and punk-rockers are old now.  But the young pay attention to them.  Why else would Adam Rippon show up at the Oscars wearing a Leatherman harness under his tux?  And there was Wes Studi, presenting.  Could he power a film that somehow interweaves the fates of “Almighty Voice” with a modern tribal Rock and Roller singer?  Maybe killed by fentanyl in lieu of a nine pound field gun/assault rifle.  Or shot to death on a sidewalk.  The problem is too much story material.  What can bring order to it?  

This is the origin of my swerve, which is about how LSD can help brains teeter on the edge of order and chaos.  I’ve never taken LSD but have always been interested. (I am NOT advocating taking it.)  But as it happens, while thinking about Almighty Voice I ran across a remarkable article about chaos and order from a subdivision of VICE, online magazine, called "Tonic," meant to give ”real wellness advice for imperfect humans”.  It’s not a discussion of whether you should take LSD, but rather a study about how it works, how it makes people suddenly have insight — along with visions.
The anchor of this story is not “Almighty Voice,” but rather Oliver Sacks, who wondered in a biological/medical way why LSD was so potent.  He was asking about serotonin — not the Gates of Heaven.  But he took the stuff.  Why does it relieve depression?  Why does it power head trips that can be seen on a fMRI?  Looking for answers, a new study at Oxford University doubled back to studies in the late 18th century when Ernst Chladni, researching the vibrations that create music, played a stringed instrument bow against a metal plate with sand sprinkled on it.  

The sand, jumping and sliding, formed regular patterns called “standing waves.”  They are synchronous, predictable and organic, so that if you cut a plate in the shape of the hide of an animal, the particles will form the same pattern as on a leopard or giraffe skin, depending on the frequency and complexity of the “standing waves,” which are also called “harmonics.”  The idea is that LSD somehow makes the brain sing.  They call it “connectome harmonics.”  These ARE what the fMRI is picking up as data.  

Selen Atasoy says, “It’s as if the brain is playing a musical piece . . . the fMRI data gives us the sounds, then what we’re doing is decomposing it into the musical notes; trying to find out which notes combined in that particular time."

“What they found was that under the influence of LSD, more of these harmonics were contributing to brain activity and their strength of activation was also increased.  The brain was essentially activating more of its harmonics simultaneously, and in new combinations.”

Here’s another concept:  criticality.  It is a kind of threshold between states, like between ice and water.  “When the temperature starts changing, nothing happens until you reach a critical temperature, and then the ice starts to melt.  Ice is a more organized molecular structure, compared to water; criticality is the in-between of ice and water, when both exist together.”  Atasoy’s example is contemporary teens dancing, everyone doing their thing to the same rhythm, drawing uniqueness out of the group.  Nothing like North Korean synchronized dancing.

I feel sure this is related to the Victor Turner concept of “liminality,” a state of an individual or a group when there is the conventional order on one side and a unique openness to change and creation on the other.  Turner was studying ceremonies like rites of passage that brought human identity from one state to another, like coming of age or getting married or entering religious orders or banishing some kind of demonic haunting.  Often there is reversal, ordeal, physical alteration, and a change of status recognized by one’s group.  These are the forces that get confused — sometimes fatally — when one culture runs in over the other.  The harmonics are changed to only be noise.

M. Mitchell Waldrop wrote a book called “Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos.”  He said, “The edge of chaos is where life has enough stability to sustain itself and enough creativity to deserve the name of life.”  

It seems clear to me that our governments are stuck on the doorstep of renewal.  U.S. legislators sleep on their office couches, eating from dispensing machines, and getting their assistants to run out for the laundry.  Evidently they feel they must be there with the mice and the bugs or risk some kind of coup.  They are hiding in “bluffs,” with a double meaning.  Where’s the glamour?  (You know that glamour is an old word for magic.)  Where's the reality?  They are afraid of the risk of finding out.

In the meantime the kids and the people who are still autochthonous on the land are beginning to find their rhythm well-enough to march together.  They are becoming an irresistible tide.  The skies sound above them.  Their voices are mighty.

(More about Seesequasis' photo project is at:  He is descended from "Almighty Voice.")

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