The Origin of “Hemegohm’s Tendril”

This article is part of an on-going series intended to clarify and expand upon elements of the dystopian novel The Rise and Fall of Shimmerism and its sequel Hemegohm’s Tendril.

The title Hemegohm’s Tendril is an anagram. I’ve debated for years whether or not to tell anyone this—but there it is. From the expression’s first appearance in chapter 67 of the novel The Rise and Fall of Shimmerism, to Horim Fildsbel’s final vision in the sky above Emcast in the story “The Gulf of the Architect” in Hemegohm’s Tendril, little is truly established about what it is, what it wants, or why it may—or may not—exist. That is the point, however. By design, there must be something very large and mysterious hanging above the heads of every character—in both the novel and the short fiction cycle.

The novel and short stories have all emerged from bouts of automatic writing, usually after story elements manifested in a state of half-sleep or within a dream. Though the term “automatic writing” itself is a bit cringe-worthy, I can’t negate the fact that a lot of what has emerged has come from a wholly subconscious source.

The protagonist Simon Shadow employs the use of an artificial intelligence program during the creation of his sacred book (as part of the process of creating and registering his new religion; see chapter 16 of the novel). He later employs an algorithm to extract the two most frequently used words within the body of every single religious work throughout the colonized worlds: golden and shimmering; thus, he generates the title of his work: The Golden Shimmer. The title itself is a nod to the golden mean in philosophy (Simon exists in a dystopian realm, and his writings are aimed squarely at the World Order’s excesses), as well as the golden ratio in mathematics and even the concept of the golden age—or in this case, the lack thereof.

As previously noted, the novel was published in March, 2001, and the expression “hemegohms tendril” (lacking the apostrophe) manifested in October of 2004. I woke up with it stuck in my head, and I immediately knew it described the Tigris spider problem in the novel. When I had the chance to update the novel in November of 2004, I decided to add the expression to Ren Pello’s dialogue in chapter 67, primarily because the idea of the Hemegohm as a hyper-dimensional species parasitic to humans was already in play, though unnamed. The expression had also begun to influence the novel’s sequel, which I subsequently abandoned after a strange event linked to a set of Scrabble tiles, wholly inspired by the film Rosemary’s Baby.

I had collected the expression’s tiles from the bag—hemegohmstendtril—and then I stirred the tiles around on my desk. Almost immediately, I formed the word THE. The G tile was close by, and just adjacent was the O tile. It took only a matter of seconds for me to pull together GOLDEN. The other letters were in disarray, but the two M tiles stood out. I placed them together, and all that remained were the S, H, I, E, and R tiles. You can probably do the rest. Just as I did.

hemegohmstendril = thegoldenshimmer

I now understood this would be the title of whatever followed The Rise and Fall of Shimmerism. Admittedly, there are other anagrams within the novel, all meticulously and quite consciously crafted. Yet this anagram—Hemegohm’s Tendril—came from a very mysterious place—a realm which over the subsequent eight years bestowed a fully-formed trio of stories in much the same way.

The Hemegohm’s Tendril soundtrack for this series of short stories has been released via Bandcamp for $5US. Consisting of a loose assemblage of ambient tracks recorded between 2002 and 2011, all are linked to the creation of the triptych of short stories that comprise the work. Tracks 1 and 7 are previously unreleased. Track 8 is from the “After Math EP” which has never been fully released online.

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The Origin of “Distance to Jupiter”

On October 23rd, 1999, the planet Jupiter was very close to Earth. Jupiter was at opposition (opposite the sun as seen from Earth). This opposition occurs every 12 years or so—it’s happening again this October—but the distance to Jupiter from Earth varies. On this particular day, the distance was about 3.96AU (592,407,567.93 kilometers, or 368,104,996.78 miles). I was at my parent’s home, in their backyard, with a telescope (a 9″ reflector), gazing up at Jupiter and its sparkling moons. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point during this simple run of observations, I had come to the decision to start releasing experimental electronic music. I know that makes little causal sense, but I had always been drawn to music which tied itself thematically to the wonders of the solar system, perhaps the result of growing up to the tune of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I owned the soundtrack to that series and I’d usually fall asleep each night listening to Vangelis’ “Alpha” and “Heaven and Hell, Part 1” on perpetual loop, my mind voyaging out there, watching safely from my spaceship of the imagination as inscrutable empires waged war on the other side of the Milky Way.

So on this cool, October night in 1999, I found the phrase “distance to Jupiter” stuck in my head. The media had relentlessly hyped Jupiter’s proximity to Earth, and perhaps that’s why these words were lodged there. But my mind was oscillating between two powerful forms of awe: 368 million miles was an immense distance, but it was also minuscule, especially when compared to more distant planets, objects, or other stars. I remember thinking that someday, a journey of 368 million miles would seem trivial to the human species; that at some moment in the future, a sight-seeing day-trip to Europa would be common for the citizens of Earth.

The distance to Jupiter is important in other, less-fanciful ways, too. The planet is close to the inner solar system, and it possesses a vast gravity well. Many astronomers believe this casts Jupiter in the role of protector, partially shielding the planets closer to the Sun from comets and asteroids; some astronomers believe that Jupiter has the opposite effect—drawing comets from the Kuiper belt dangerously toward Earth. Either way, the distance to Jupiter from Earth might affect our survival or destruction. Beyond the planet Mars, Jupiter and its moons could harbor extraterrestrial life. There is evidence that the moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto possess underground oceans of liquid water, possibly capable of supporting simple plants or micro-organisms. All these ideas are tied, in some way, to distance.

Yet after returning home that evening, those three words—”distance to Jupiter”—did not immediately coalesce into a designation for my music project. Even though I’d been recording tracks since 1996, it had simply never occurred to me to “name” the project, since my rig was so crude and simple. It consisted of a solitary Roland MC-303 Groovebox (both a sequencer and a synthesizer) and a consumer-grade Sony Minidisc deck. I had tied these two devices together to record live performances. As awful as that might seem, the performances themselves were constructed with loops—sequences of notes and rhythms—not just single tones or random keyboard wanderings. The loop-based approach led to surprising complexity, and the maximum approach to minimalism on the hardware side led to focused creativity. Thus, inspired by visions of Jupiter, I cracked open a fresh MiniDisc and inserted it into my deck to try to capture some of what I had been feeling a few hours before. The unit asked me to name the disc, and I pulled my keyboard close. Those three words emerged—perhaps solely as an honorific—and I’ve never once reconsidered the project’s name.

Later, I extracted the music from the MiniDisc and brought it to my friend Chris Bailey, who put a final mix together. I called the album “To Sleep To Music” (a nod, perhaps, to that habit of childhood) but the title’s palindromic quality then caught my eye, and “Music To Sleep To” was released via MP3.com on October 31st, 1999.