Listening to John Coltraine's OM

Listening to John Coltraine's masterpiece OM, with pen & notebook in hand.

The album was recorded on January 6, 1968, and released posthumously. Listen here.

There is, at first, a seeming cacophony of sounds – the saxophone is screaming, careening, Yogini howling and attack! The drums are a war machine, or ammunition going off in a vast rock valley in the distant pasts of India. The pulsing underneath has a warrior consistency, as though shell-shocked and grieving women are winding through blood-soaked fields of Kurukshetra in the epic battle of the Mahabharata, looking desperately for the fallen bodies of their loves.

The horns are the bellowing war cries of the elephants, shielded in heavy armor and carrying ornate armored chariots into the battlefield. Some other percussive effects are skirmishes on the side battles, approaches of foot soldiers holding large spiked spears and engaging in furious battle formations.

The bass is a trickster, underlying all, erratic at times, other times steady, constantly throbbing, moving to whispers as spies spread stories to the Pandavas, trying to find holes in the armor as the sky falls down in waves of bows, swords, arrows, spears, maces, and shields provided by the multiple saxophones, the piano, and drums.

Underlying this mayhem is a calm that runs throughout, almost an afterimage of the sonic mayhem, as though all of the discordant sounds of the battlefield collectively form a new sound of rhythms, like how the many voices of consciousness and the chatter of interior dialogue give rise to the seemingly solid impression that we call "I." Synthesized and fragile, throbbing with undercurrents of a deep well of sorrow and tears.

Now there is howling rising up, wailing, the veil of tears has covered the battlefield. Yet Lo! Weaving in between, the flute plays a fitful tune, making its way amidst the fallen, the decay, the endless cycles of birth and rebirth, the violent machine of existence that groans and shambles endlessly, moaning and chewing and spitting thunder into the night.

There is no moon tonight for she is ashamed of the travesty, and the fallen heroes of the battlefield soon to be fed to the funeral pyres, the scent filling the already dark skies, veiling the distant and cold stars so they will not bear silent witness to the spilt blood of humanity.

Now comes the dogs and hyenas and jackals to the circle of fires, but in the shadows, just outside the circle of flame, who is that dark woman slowly walking through the fields, her long black hair weaving in the cool breeze? She carries a blood-stained sword aloft, and these are not tears on her kohl-darkened eyes, but a small smile of release as she begins to dance amidst the fallen and the flames into the dark black night.

Now sunrise and the blow of the Conch from the mighty armies as the soldiers once again pour out onto the battlefield, both weary and feverishly excited, fear sweat and tears melding with adrenaline and a rush of blood, the arrows fly again through the skies, and again the women prepare to count their children and light incense to ask for their husbands to return unscathed one more day.

The world awakens again to the roar of battle and the moans of sorrow. Wailing… wailing… wailing…

From the East with the Sun, a silhouette; then dripping golden fire and rainbow light coruscating arrows, ribbons of flame, the clashing roar of thunder and cymbals, a vision of horses carrying a golden chariot, a figure holds aloft a spinning discus of Light.


[ December 2021 ]