The Course of Empire

 A suite of songs from the album ‘Consent Under Coercion’ by Brian Johnstone:  loosely based on the paintings by Thomas Cole.

There are 5 parts to the Course of empire; thus 5 songs, loosely connected to the concept of each painting. Coles’ paintings reflect a typical series of events when empires rise and fall in 5 steps.

The Music

On this album the empire is broadly the human race inhabiting planet earth. Without being too ‘sc-fi’ (indeed without any reference to sci-fi: it’s not science and it’s not fiction) it really takes Coles’ metaphor for the rise and fall of empires in the context of humans and the ultimate empire (our planet).

The music takes the idea of a ‘power’ and it’s empire in the context of human beings as a species on this planet and the recurring themes of violence, greed, fear and negativity against the possible backdrop of hope, tolerance and understanding.

More on The Course of Empire Paintings by Thomas Cole at Wikipedia.

Buy the full Album

The Course of Empire paintings are really just a loose backdrop for the music and the music is not intended to portray the images in any literal sense.  The intention was to take the basic concept of empires in 5 states and align that with a piece of music in its own right. Whilst each song can stand on its own you can get a better sense of continuity and perspective when they are heard in context. The whole being being greater that the sum of the parts. A common idiom in the world of music

Children of the Stars

A wee reminder that we are infinitesimally small parts of a gigantic universe and in the ‘’big time scale’ we have been around for the blink of an eye. Humans inhabiting earth is such a tiny part of the big picture of the universe. Yet we have such disproportionately negative impact on our planet (and soon further afield).

Course of Empire Pastoral

The First Renaissance (Pastoral)

Just like the ‘Medici Renaissance’ the second state is the first Renaissance when humans being to unlock the latent potential and move towards a more educated and fulfilled life with science, arts philosophy and existentialism becoming more important than just day to day survival.

Course of Empire Consummation

The Greater Good (Consummation)

A celebration of all that is good about humans and our impact on our environment and existence. Humans have an inherent power to do such good with the resources, skills and abilities they have been given:  a characteristic which sets them apart from animals. We are capable of such awesome power, creativity, empathy, compassion, love and exchange of ideas in our consummation of the planet.

Course of Empire Destruction

Scourge of Humanity (Destruction)

Condemnation of all that is negative about the human species and our ‘conquering’ of our planet. Whatever creativity we capture and all our potential for greatness we seem to be unable to use it positively and for our own betterment and survival – the Greater Good. We seem incapable of learning from our past mistakes, seem intent on destroying ourselves and the planet we inhabit: all in the name of our own greed, selfishness, arrogance and intolerance.

Course of Empire Desolation

The Greatest Tragedy (Destruction)

We seem to be so focused on individual greed, selfishness and personal gain that we repeat the same mistakes over and over. As our knowledge and power grows so too does our capacity to destroy our planet and each other and be destructive and negative. Indeed it is mans greatest tragedy

‘the ability perceive of a condition which he is unable to achieve’

More information on Thomas Coles’ Course of Empire Paintings

The Velvet Rocket (blog): An insightful article interpreting /describing the paintings in this Art blog/magazine by Justin Ames

String Quartet Composition by Neill Shaw Cohen: This American composer, producer, filmmaker, and web designer composed a string quartet inspired by the paintings.