THE ALCHEMIST SUITE is an exploration of the arcane intersection between the practice of science and mystical spirituality within the legacy of Tibetan Bon, Judaism, and European occultism. The suite is a performance collaboration in music, film, and text between artist Quintan Ana Wikswo and composer Veronika Krausas. Wikswo’s suite of libretto poems is joined to music by composer Veronika Krausas and performed by bass baritone Nicholas Isherwood, accompanied by a suite of three original films by Wikswo.
The songs feature the King Blood Drinker, a Tibetan soothsayer whose turtle bones foretell the future; the apocryphal 15th-century mystic chemist Basil Valentine, and the legendary alchemist Marium Prophetissima, who invented Caput Mortuum, or death’s head, chemicals mixed from powdered mummies – as well as the basic instruments of modern chemistry.
Nicholas Isherwood, bass baritone, plays the rin, frog guiro, turtle maracas and tanpura.
I have long been captivated by the awkward and contested intersections between science and mysticism. This crossroads is perhaps best illustrated by the pre-Enlightement chemists, called alchemists, whose attempts to create gold were intertwined with their pursuit of an elixir of immortality. While history has likened them to black magicians and farcical charlatans, they also advanced the fundamentals of modern chemisty.
More than a desire for transformation, these were humans who sought superhuman abilities. The frontiers of knowledge are the frontiers where mortals separate themselves from animals and gods. The alchemists challenged these frontiers: command and control over the elements, power over death and loss.
I looked to the original writings of Basil Valentine, Mirium Prophetissima, and Milarepa and gleaned a way of seeing existence that imagined the ultimate power of human over cosmos. At moments in the text, this is a quaint and laughable ambition. Yet there is a beauty and a longing that makes it an existential love song from beings locked in challenge towards a universe that contains – but does not explain – its mysteries.
I, Madman. King Blood Drinker
Splendor blazing: prophesy
Doctor. Diviner Demon.
The future now foretold
Golden turtle! Oh, luck omen
Cosmos’ cauldron, shell of flame
Soothsayer. Magic Caster
Eat my teeth and gnaw my bones
Primordial orb. Fortune’s cradle
Summon sun and conjure moon
My resplendent incantation
Augered smoke. Ensorcelled skies
Tell the future, Demon Monster
Golden Shield and Queen of Worlds
Vast as space and captivated
I bow down prostrate and comply
Vision bringer, golden turtle
Cast your bones and yield my prize
Original poems, libretto and film: Quintan Ana Wikswo
Composer: Veronika Krausas
Voice: Nicholas Isherwood
THE ALCHEMIST’S SUITE is supported by Woodstock Byrdcliffe Colony and Catalysis Projects.
Performances, exhibitions and presentations include Museum of Modern Art Ceret (France), Monkspace (Los Angeles), and Atelier de le Main d’Or (Paris).