listen to Scriabin's Mysterium

Meet Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, whose week-long synthesised symphony was all set to bring about the end of the world.

The Mysterium: Preparation for the Final Mystery was to be Alexander Scriabin’s master work, intended to bring together all he had learnt about philosophy, synesthesia, theosophy and poetry. He thought of his music as fragments of this mystical vision – as bridges to the beyond in the tradition of composers such as Wagner and Stockhausen who wanted their music to bring about “aesthetic, social, or cosmic apocalypse”.

Scriabin delved heavily into Russian symbolism and theosophy and his notebooks are filled with fascinating passages charting his personal voyage. He believed he could attain the symbolist ideal of art having a material effect upon reality by channelling divine energy through the careful coordination of elements designed to stimulate multiple sensations.

He started working on The Mysterium in 1903, but it remained incomplete when he died in 1915. His vision comprised a seven-day-long mega work with dirigibles and bells suspended from clouds that would summon spectators from all over the world. A reflecting pool of water would complete the divinity of the half-circle stage, with spectators sat in tiers across the water and the least spiritually advanced in the balconies. Seating would radiate from the stage, where Scriabin would sit at the piano surrounded by a host of instruments, singers and dancers. The cast would include an orchestra, dancers, a choir and costumed speakers articulating rhythmic texts in processions.

The work required special people, special artists and a completely new culture. The entire group would be permeated continually with movement. Together with fellow theosophist Emile Sigogne, Scriabin worked on a new language for The Mysterium, which had Sanskritic roots but also included cries, interjections, exclamations and sounds of breath. The temple in which the event would take place would not be made of one type of stone but would continually change with the atmosphere and motion of The Mysterium.

This would be done with the aid of mists and lights, which would modify the architectural contours; sunrises would be preludes and sunsets codas; flames would erupt in shafts of light and sheets of fire and constantly changing lighting effects would pervade the cast and audience, each to number in the thousands. The choreography would include glances, eye motions, touching of hands, odours of both pleasant perfumes and acrid smokes, frankincense and myrrh from pillars of incense. Furthermore, the whole world would be invited: “Animals, insects, birds, all must be there.”

Scriabin intended that the first and only performance would be held in the Himalayan foothills in India, in a half-temple that would crumble due to the vibrations of the performance and open the ritual to the heavens. The event would annihilate space and melt reality, bringing about the end of the world and replacing humankind with nobler beings. All participants would dematerialise, allowing them to achieve spiritual unity with divine cosmos.

Fortunately for the human race, in 1915 Scriabin nicked a boil on his upper lip when shaving and died from septicaemia at the age of 43. His funeral was attended by such numbers that tickets had to be issued. Rachmaninoff went on tour, playing only Scriabin’s music. Scriabin was acknowledged as one of the essential voices of the early 20th century.

At the time of his death, he had sketched 72 pages of the prelude to The Mysterium, entitled Prefatory Action. Composer Alexander Nemtin spent 28 years reforming this sketch into a three-hour-long work, which was eventually recorded. You can hear it below:

You can read the full feature about Alexander Scriabin and The Mysterium (written by Tony Gill) in issue four of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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Wild cocktail foraging with reyka vodka

Guy Lochhead ventures into the Lothians with Fergus the Forager and Reyka Vodka to gather meadowsweet, pine needles and seaweed for a wild twist on vodka cocktails.

Foraged seaweed pickled in cider vinegar, lemon juice and spices

Foraged seaweed pickled in cider vinegar, lemon juice and spices

“Edinburgh has it all,” explains our guide, Fergus the Forager. "From sea-sprayed hardy coastal plants to the lowland grassland of Holyrood Park via the shady nooks of the dark Georgian terraces of Newtown, you can make a cocktail just from ingredients sourced on Arthur’s Seat," he says, "but we were going to sample from further afield, too."

As we drive down Queen Street, he hands round bunches of urban weeds we can pick in the alleys we pass through, such as feverfew, a daisy-like flower with the power to knock out coffee withdrawal symptoms; yarrow, full of tannins to stem bleeding; pineapple weed, with aromatic buds of chamomile and apple; versatile burdock, used as coffee in Japan. We take bites out of the bouquets handed to us and I can feel a thrill of excited connectedness among my fellow urbanites – most of them bartenders, usually asleep this early in the morning. I look out of the window and the weeds shine like green jewels.

Our first stop is Longniddry Bents, a long grey beach peppered with tank traps. The tide is out. As we walk to the sea, Fergus points out all the resources available to us here. Sprawling seabuckthorn covers the roadside. The berries are dense with nutrients, the leaves full of protein. This was Pegasus’ favourite food, and is still used as feed for animals. We collect a few leaves and berries in our baskets and move on to admire some hogweed. The mature seeds make a great spice, commonly used in Iran. Fergus digs around in his rucksack and pulls out some syrups he's made from the stem and seeds - a burnt caramel and orange flavour, but somehow not either. Foraging offers flavours we don’t have names for.

An easy way to identify hogweed is by its unpleasant smell, which Fergus likened to a urinal

An easy way to identify hogweed is by its unpleasant smell, which Fergus likened to a urinal

Our passage to the sea takes us past willowherb (...subtle…), sea sandwort (cucumber-like succulents), mayweed (sea-scented and delicate), until we arrive at the seaweed. This is what we've come for. Fergus explains how overlooked our marine bounty is – although Britain’s coastline is the same length as Japan’s, we don’t have nearly as much of a culture around our seaweed. It can be deep-fried, pickled and dehydrated, and is full of nutrients, which it draws from the seawater. Unfortunately, this same mechanism means it’s very good at concentrating pollutants, so you should check the cleanliness of the beach you are taking from.

Beginning at the tidemark, we sample different species as we move towards the water. First, spiral wrack, like ghosts of grapes draped over the rocks at high tide. It breaks down in the sun, so use the moister under-layers. Knotted wrack looks like discarded green lawyers’ wigs. It has a 12 year lifespan and is the favourite food of limpets. Channelled wrack, folded into little grooves, with smart highlights at the ends of its fronds. These are all green seaweeds. Bladderwrack is a brown macro-algae with an amazing reproductive cycle involving “bladders” full of gametes.

Fergus gleefully produces a tupperware full of deep-fried sex organs for us to try. Some decline. He also has sugar kelp, which he’s prepared as sweet shards of natural stained glass, a beautiful deep green when held up to the light. Our final species to gather is rhisocloamine – a dense, felty sponge of lighter green. Powdered and melted into butter, it’s delicious with seafood. We wash our harvest in seawater and return to the coach.

Light snack, anyone? Sugar kelp can grow up to five meters long

Light snack, anyone? Sugar kelp can grow up to five meters long

As we head to our next site, Fergus tells me how he’d found preparing for this trip more challenging than normal. Away from his home of Canterbury, he didn’t know what plants to expect to find or what state they would be in. He describes how he' only recently learned to switch off from seeing nature as a pool of resources and just enjoy walking for walking’s sake, but it requires real effort. He talks about sustainability and how short-sighted it is to consider foraging middle-class. He says he got bored of foraging for restaurants because chefs only wanted wood sorrel and tended to just use wild foods as exotic garnishes. He's recently got into lacto-fermentation and historical recipes.

We arrive at Roslin Glen, a gnarled wooded gorge spilling down from a ruined castle and its historic chapel. Fergus leads us down the slope, skidding through the pines. We pause for a moment to admire these versatile trees. We can use their needles as a tea, in syrup, or to smoke things with; pollen from their catkins is apparently androgenic; and we can use their resin to produce retsina from bad white wine. There are Douglas Firs around us too, which have smaller, more aromatic needles. The blisters on their bark contains delicious sap. We eat supermarket sandwiches and pass around a pine pollen tincture before continuing down.

In the gorge, we're treated to herb bennett roots, beech leaf noyaux, medicinal meadowsweet, candelabras of sweet cicily, golden wild raspberries, birch sap, daisy petals, japanese rosehips, and white clover heads. The bartenders scatter among the undergrowth, harvesting cocktail ingredients for later. We gather again to smoke some mugwort – “sailor’s tobacco” - before climbing back up to the coach.

Who's for a puff of mugwort?

Who's for a puff of mugwort?

Our final stop is a yurt containing a full cocktail bar and a staggering range of syrups that Fergus has made - japanese knotweed, willow leaf, hawthorn blossom and green fig. The bartenders make elaborate drinks with these and their own found ingredients while Fergus prepares a meal for us all. He asks me to cut radishes to look like fly agarics for the salad and tells me about eating badger (90% tasty, 10% soil and worms). We drink some of the wild cocktails and heat a pan for the seaweed. He tells everyone to stand back before casting them into the oil, which erupts into a column of flames. Fished out and dried on kitchen paper, they taste like perfectly seasoned crispy cabbage, but with more depth of flavour. We try each species in turn, acknowledging their subtle differences.

While Fergus prepares sea bass and bhajis, I ask him if he has a garden at home. He’s started growing squashes, including some from 800 year-old seeds - gete-okosomin, which translates as “really cool old squash”. He has a greenhouse and the plants grow monstrously around a bench in one corner. Everyone agrees that the fish is delicious. Fergus seems pleased. He warms himself by the fire and tells me what swan tastes like.

Back in the centre of Edinburgh, I notice pineapple weed growing on some scrubland by the pavement. I pick a couple of buds and chew them on my way home, looking at my feet and the fertile cracks between the paving slabs. I'm in the city but now I can leave at any time.

Northern Hemisphere.jpg

Northern Hemisphere

Get your foraging basket out and give this zingy vodka cocktail a whirl this Christmas...

40 ml Reyka
20 ml willow leaf tea syrup
15 ml green fig syrup
20 ml lemon juice
7 ml Benedictine
Orange zest garnish

Reyka is a vodka hand-crafted in Iceland, using Arctic spring water filtered through a 4,000 year old lava field. 40%ABV.


Words by contributing editor Guy Lochhead

the Punch & Judy Man

In issue 4 of Ernest Journal, Duncan Haskell unravels the history of the ultimate anti-hero Mr Punch – con-artist, wife-batterer and murderer. To illustrate the feature, we enlisted the help of Punch and Judy performer David Wilde, who brought along his collection of props and puppets, including the long-lost originals from Tony Hancock's The Punch and Judy Man.

So you’re a Punch and Judy professor – how did you first get into working with puppets?

I first came across Punch and Judy when I was six years old. I was on holiday, walking along the promenade when I saw a huge crowd of children and adults looking at this small, lovely looking tent on the sand. I asked my mum what it was and she told me she thought it was a Punch and Judy show – she’d never seen one before. Well I made sure I was in the audience for the next show and I think every day for the rest of my holiday I was sitting on that beach shouting along with every one else. My grandfather bought me a small set of Pelham Puppets for Christmas from Hamleys and I’ve never looked back.

What makes a good Punch and Judy show?

When you watch a good Punch and Judy show, you should get a feeling of wonder and a sense of excitement as to what will happen next. A well performed show can grab an audience and fill them with laughter. This is what I encourage people to do if they think they have what it takes to perform the show properly – for it not to be run of the mill. Last year a few of my colleagues and I set up the Punch and Judy Club. Our aim is to try to keep standards up and encourage others to aim for excellence in their shows.

Why do you think the characters still have such an appeal today? 

Puppets will always have an appeal. They move, they’re bright and colourful and, if well manipulated, they're completely absorbing. Just look at the success of the Muppets and other puppet characters that have entertained us all throughout childhood and into adulthood.

How has Punch's story evolved over the years?

The story of Punch has always evolved. Characters have changed to reflect the times. Any tradition has to evolve over time to keep people interested, but the core story is still the thing that everyone wants to see. A few years ago, during the Jubilee year, I started to sense a resurgence of interest in traditional entertainment. People wanted the proper old show, and no gimmicks.

As part of the shoot for issue 4, we had the pleasure of photographing the puppets in Tony Hancock’s The Punch and Judy Man. How did you come to own these?

The Hancock puppets have always been a favourite of mine. My grandfather spent 10 years searching for them so they hold a special place for me on two counts – as well as being a huge Hancock fan, I'm also hugely intrigued by my grandfather's search for them.

As a small boy, I remember my grandfather searching for information on the puppets used in Hancock’s film. Once I became a Punch professor, I took up the case and, after many dead ends, came across the family who owned the clown and the crocodile and they gave us the puppets. Years later, Punch, Judy and the policeman appeared on the Antiques Roadshow. You can imagine my reaction. After frantic phone calls, I managed to get hold of the guy who owned them in the Netherlands. He had already been contacted by another buyer but he agreed to sell them to us after he saw the immense body of information my grandfather had accumulated while searching for them!

Recently I met a gentleman who went down to Bognor when he was 13 to see Tony Hancock on the set of The Punch and Judy Man. He took his own Mr Punch with him and had a picture taken for the local paper. Luckily, he let me buy his Mr Punch so it adds to the Hancock story.

Do you have any other favourite items in your collection?

The Booth puppets, which were also photographed for shoot, are my other pride and joy. There aren’t many survivors from the Victorian period but I have managed to piece them back together over the course of time. From my experience of collecting, I’ve found that if you wish for something hard enough, one day it passes right in front of your eyes and can be yours to enjoy and look after – until, of course, it’s passed on to the next person.

Find out more about David Wilde and his performances and puppet collection at Read more about the social history of Punch and Judy, illustrated with images of David Wilde's collection, in issue 4 of Ernest Journal – on sale in our online store or one of your local stockists.

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Tissue Series

Tissue Series is a new collection by American artist Lisa Nilsson. Using a technique involving rolled mulberry paper, known as ‘quilling’ or ‘paper filigree’, she has created staggering cross-sections of the human body. They will appeal to lovers of intricate patterns as much as fans of Gunther Von Hagen’s Body Worlds exhibition. We talk to her about her extraordinary work…

Midsagittal Female, head detail

Midsagittal Female, head detail

Lisa, what is it that fascinates you about human anatomy?

In general I'm drawn to the shapes, textures and colours I see in anatomical imagery. More specifically, in the case of cross-sections, I'm attracted to the shapes the different anatomical features make when they are all squished together to fill up the available space. 

Why use the medium of quilling?

While I experimenting with quilling for another project, I saw a connection with the shapes and textures I saw in an image of an anatomical cross-section that a friend had sent me. 

How long did it take you, on average, to complete each piece?

The smaller pieces in the series took three or four weeks, the larger up to three or four months. The larger pieces were definitely the most challenging. 

What projects are you working on in 2016?

I am continuing to explore the possibilities of the medium of quilling. I have moved away from anatomical subject matter, now using and expanding on what I learned from making the Tissue Series to make pieces that are inspired by, among other things:  Persian rugs, early book bindings and medieval jewel-encrusted gospel covers. This new, more geometric work has opened up my colour palette and the possibility of make new shapes and textures from coiled paper strips.  

Praying Hands (detail)360dpi_.jpg

The Ernest Smoothie

We noticed our friends at Offgrid Clothing blog a lot about smoothies. We asked them to create a smoothie fit for Ernest and the curious and adventurous – a concoction to keep the brain focused and body primed for spontaneous revelry...

Photos: Offgrid Clothing

Photos: Offgrid Clothing

Why do we at Offgrid love smoothies so much? The health benefits have to be at the top of the list of reasons. They can improve the body’s immune system, increase energy, improve digestion and boost brain capability to get through tough and demanding days. Plus, they are quick and easy to prepare – so there is no excuse for not getting your recommended daily intake of fruit and veg. Plus it's fun to create new concoctions - just see yourself as a sort of modern day alchemist!

Slow adventurers and curious minds were the inspiration behind our Ernest Smoothie – something full of energy with a bit of a creative twist on the usual ingredients you find in many recipes. It is delicious. Get blending and perhaps try out some variations of your own.

Ingredients (quantities can vary to your own personal taste)

Raspberries (approx 100g)
Baby spinach (large handful)
Banana (1 ripe banana - frozen works best)
Nut milk (approx 300ml)
Cacao nibs (1 tbsp)
Chia seeds (1 tbsp)
Cashew nuts (1tbsp)
Maca powder (1 tsp)
Cinnamon (1/2 tsp)
Honey (2 tsp)

Blend all the ingredients together until smooth. 

The health benefits of an Ernest Smoothie

We wanted to make a smoothie packed with enough energy to keep people going through their adventures. Each of the ingredients have quite a list of health benefits in their own right, but they were chosen mostly for their energy punch and keeping the blood sugar levels constant.  

Raspberries are a source of vitamin C (good to ward off colds at this time of the year) and are one of the fruits that don’t send the body into a post-sugar crash due to the fact they don’t spike the blood sugar. 

Baby spinach leaves have a remarkable ability to help restore energy levels. Popeye can vouch for that! This green leafy marvel of a food is packed with so many healthy attributes, it’s hard to list them all.

Bananas pack an energy punch and help sustain blood sugar levels.  Your adventure partner will certainly appreciate the fact that they improve mood and reduce stress as they are also a good source of one of the amino acids tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin – the happy hormone. 

Cacao nibs - chocolate without any of the guilt, who wouldn’t say yes to that!  Cacao nibs also contain theobromine which is a stimulant similar to caffeine.  

Chia seeds are an unprocessed whole-grain food that are a huge source of slow-burning fuel for our bodies.  They're rich in plant based Omega-3 fatty acids - reported to have 8 times more Omega-3 than salmon!

Maca powder, as with most superfoods, it boasts plenty of health benefits.  Maca powder is known for its energising properties and the ability to balance hormone levels. It also heightens the body’s 'feel-good' factor endorphins.   

Cinnamon, not only deemed to regulate the bodies blood sugar levels, it has been reported that even just smelling cinnamon actually enhances cognitive processing (good news for all out there that may not be fans of the taste), and consuming it significantly increases brain function.  

Honey, or “liquid gold” as some call it, due to its nutritional and medicinal properties that have been used for centuries. That aside, it is a notable source of all-natural energy with the unprocessed sugars delivering a quick energy boost.

This is a sponsored blog post, created in collaboration with Offgrid Clothing. Read more about Offgrid in the Ernest Journal directory.