When I entered Berlin’s Heimathafen in Neukölln last night, the anticipation of the evening’s dark rituals was palpable. When the lights grew dim and smoke flooded the room, faces turned toward the stage in rapture. The metalheads with myriad band patches, the anarcho-hippies draped in personal fog machines of hash and marijuana smoke, the academics and the weirdos all joined in a glacial dance of bass and noise.
Thus began the second appearance of drone-metal legends Sunn O))) in Berlin since 2013. The first took place the night before, August 8, thanks to explorational sound/art collective CTM, thanks to how quickly the initial show sold out. Icelandic cellist and SHAPE artist Hildur Guðnadóttir filled the Saturday concert with her unique beauty, and on Sunday those duties were passed to Shaddah Tuum, a young Berlin duo I’ve followed for years. They draw from a similar well of inspiration as Sunn, but from the perspective of the grinding blend of industrial techno and digitalized metal aesthetics that have lately captured the interest of many underground electronic producers. Shaddah Tuum’s still finding their live-performance feet, but they elegantly captured Berlin’s current transformational zeitgeist with a combination of esoteric ritual, vocals that lurked and roared and instruments that ranged from traditional— gong, guitar and hand drum—and electronic. The finale featured a guest appearance by Carolin Langner, vocalist of avant-doom trio reliq, from which the other two Shaddah members also sprang. With destructive glee, she manipulated a flute using Auto-Tune, drawing streams of melodic noise and voice from the instrument that spoke of futuristic, majestic evil.
Before the shreds of stagnant fog ceased clinging to the crowd—many of whom refused to abandoned their front-row encampments between bands, even for on-duty photographers—the lights went down again and the machines belched forth another embrace of cold mist. It was a welcoming shroud to herald the promised monolith of sound that is the vision of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson. The heaving wash of sub-sonics cut through the meat of the crowd, penetrating and vibrating bone—right to the soul, if such a thing can be said to exist. I turned to watch those around me, registering a beautiful melange of expressions on faces unaware of being watched. Revelation, ecstasis, awe and bestial lust rippled like veins on human masks lit by sacral glow while the druidic shapes onstage evoked a sound like the world waking up, sinews beneath earth and buried in mountains tensing and flexing. The din rose in fury before being shepherded into coherent melody by the high priest that soon joined them. Garbed in a familiar tattered robe, Hungarian black metal vocalist Csihar Attila transformed the atmosphere with his very presence. He became a fixture of idolization as hands reached to the heavens to snatch a fragment of the swirling magick in clawed grasp.
Attila’s vocals danced through solemn intonation to fragmented yelps, both triumphant and agonistic, as of distant thoughts from some caged entity beyond world and void straining against ancient bonds. This great Beast, born in tattered robes and re-emerging in shattered fragments of stars and light, emanated a power drawn not only from it’s core, nor from the shrouded figures behind it; it was a shared power, given mercurial form by the audience basking in the glory of oblivion. Even if the mind cannot truly conceive of a Presence beyond the flesh, a Divine factor, echoes of these ideas may still be given shape in the halls that man builds for his entertainments, in the practices of those whose minds seek a different way of being, and in the eagerness of like minds who gather to find new purpose in the worship of sound.
Photos by Isabel Kibler & CTM’s Stefanie Kulisch & Michail Stangl.
There’s something powerful, otherworldly, in Theologian’s music that transcends not only genre classifications like ‘dark ambient’ and ‘power electronics’, but time and space as well.
Though the mind behind the sound, one Lee M Bartow (aka Leech), has been releasing music under Navicon Torture Technologies since 1997, this debut full-length under a new moniker is imbued with new energy—possibly siphoned from a collapsing star.
The Further I Get From Your Star, The Less Light I Feel On My Face is relentless from the very beginning. The howling blast of “Zero” entwines itself into your ears and mind and holds you there in its blackened embrace. While elements of NTT are still present (from industrial noise to completely deconstructed black metal), there’s a more ritualized psychedelic feel to this debut, akin to the esoterica of Coil‘s bleakest moments. There’s an obscure sort of melodicism apparent as well, though it’s the melodicism of the Void: the seesawing electronic hums of “Unfamiliar Skies” soon grow to resemble the looped coos of doves against an unfamiliar and shattered sky, while the vocal wails of “In Times Of Need, We All Go Against Our Natures” feel like a desperate cry from the pit, begging for release that will never, ever come.
Many (most?) would consider this to be noise music. I, however, view it as something close to body music: frequencies that touch not only the cochlea but spiral down into the muscle tissue, organs, nerves, and bones—perhaps the very soul itself, in whatever aspect of that idea you care to imagine. It’s meditative in an extreme way, hypnotic and sub-magickal. Close listening to discern new depths in tracks is essential here, for the Prophet Theologian soars as much as he crushes; “Bearing Bitter Fruit”, for example, sounds like Sunn O))) played at 1/100th speed, more raging than despairing. The combination of organic and mechanical sounds also evoke the obscenities of body-horror films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man: self-mutilation and torture that breeds synthesis and rebirth. The nature of the audio here scours the listener raw, but it’s cleansing, rewarding. The Further I Get From Your Star‘s release on Crucial Blast is fitting, for this is, indeed, crucial music. Look for a release on Experimedia in the near future.
Sarah Lipstate is a sound artist from Brooklyn who is known for her expansive drone soundscapes produced under the name Noveller.
Last week I organized a concert for her in Berlin’s Loophole venue, which turned out to be her last show of an 18-date European Tour alongside Nadja‘s Aidan Baker. Fair to say that everyone was reeling from tour fatigue but thankfully there was enough final show adrenalin to have a discussion with Sarah, alongside dancer Elle Erdman and German Journalist Bianca Heuser, on how she got started, double neck guitars and why most music takes up too much space in the room. Photo: Elle Erdman
Michael Aniser: You’ve just finished touring, is it your first time in Europe?
Sarah Lipstate: No, I’ve played in Europe several times, I’ve done some festival shows or just flown over. I toured with Aidan Baker in 2010.
MA: What’s your connection to Aidan and the band Nadja?
SL: When I was in college I had an experimental music radio show. Aidan used to send me the Nadja records to play on my show, so I knew him initially through emails and receiving his records to play them on the radio. In 2009, I was in touch with this Canadian label called Divorce Records who were talking about doing a split LP. The label guy had the idea that Aidan would do the split with me, however, we didn’t actually meet until Aidan and I toured in the US.
Bianca Heuser: How did you get into making music?
SL: When I was 17 I saved up enough money from my summer job to buy my first electric guitar. I grew up playing piano and then I played the Trombone in High School but what I really wanted to play was the electric guitar! However, because my parents weren’t really into it I had to buy my first electric myself—I just wanted to kind of do my own thing. Initially I started out playing more rock stuff, then, when I was 19 I went to college in Austin and started meeting other musicians. I was dating this guy who played synthesizer and we started doing these improvised recordings, just me and my guitar, a delay pedal, and him playing synth. That’s how I got into making abstract music.
MA: How long have you been doing this project, then?
SL: The earliest recordings from Noveller are probably from 2005 when I was still living in Austin. I moved to Brooklyn right after I graduated in January 2007. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I started playing live shows. Making the leap from bedroom recordings to playing live was when a lot of the development happened, and since then I started to play the guitar a lot more. The very first show I played I had this double neck guitar! I didn’t really play it though, I just used it as kind of sound source. Since then I’ve incorporated more melody and more structure, but without making it too focused on the technical ability. I don”t want to create anything too song-like but concentrate on actually using the guitar in multiple ways.
MA: Do you have a special relationship to your guitar?
SL: When I was 18 or 19 I got really obsessed with constantly trading in gear and getting new stuff. I was going to pawn shops every other week. I grew out of that and realized that it’s much more important to spend time with what you have and get to know it inside and out and actually develop a relationship with your instrument. In August I played a show in Manhattan and afterwards someone broke into my car and all my pedals and one of my amps got stolen. I had to totally rebuild my collection—I had a lot of people donate pedals to me and offer to send me money or gift cards to music stores. These pedals I’m using now are brand new to me, and they sound completely different to what I had. It’s devastating and it’s completely changed my sound. It’s hard to play my older songs with this new gear but I feel like it’s a creative inspiration to write new material, in a way.
MA: Working with what you got, that brings us straight to Elle, who is a contemporary dancer. You know each other from where?
Elle Erdman: Our mutual friend Nancy Garcia, who is a Noise-musician and dancer—she was dancing at the Merce Cunningham studios—had a premiere at the “Kitchen” in 2009 and she wanted to do a dance, yet she was directly involved in doing music on the stage and invited four dancers and musicians. One of them was Sarah.
MA: Contemporary dance is so divorced from words, from the world of lyrics and verbal communication, but how does it fit with your abstract sound?
SL: I feel like sound is so incredible, I had some people do really amazing things with my music: I had this photographer play my music through a speaker that had a bowl of water on top of it. He was then able to photograph these amazing patterns, like mathematical patterns, that would emerge from the vibrations of my music. It’s amazing what kind of visualizations can come about either directly influenced from the sound or just interpreted by a dancer or a filmmaker—there are so many different potential collaborative projects that could be done. In fact, I’m told very often that my music is very visual and people can see these cinematic scenes when listening to it. I think that my soundscapes encourage people to add other kinds of media to it.
EE: I think it happens because what you’re playing is so expansive so there’s a lot of space to be filled. You are playing really clear and rhythmic music but the space creates this opportunity or invitation for a dancer or photographer to come in and fill the gaps with their vision.
MA: Is that some kind of generosity on your part? You don’t want to take up all the room, that you leave space?
BH: Typical songs take up all the space and leave very little space for interpretation—is that the reason you are doing this kind of abstract music?
SL: Not directly, but yes I think it’s also something I have grown into. Sometimes, as a musician, your first inclination is to take up all the space. It takes some refinement and time to strip away and allow something to breathe. ~
A brace of new producers today offering up some very agreeable music to wrap around your ears. First up is Hanetration who hails from London. The Tenth Oar EP is free to download (get it below) and contains four tracks of compressed fuzz and dense reverberations that would make for a perfect accompaniment on headphones whilst you wander deserted, post-apocalyptic streets. Then there is Wolfey, a Canadian who sent us his Sleep Country E.P on his own label Blenheim & Celtic. More ingrained with club music’s DNA (he DJ’s too) Sleep Country is a woozy syrup of bittersweet synths and mournful drum machines that could send us to sleep like a baby. Both artists tip their hat to Burial but each has managed to infuse their ethereal creations with their own personality. Hence why we are telling you about them, because no one likes a rip off right?
Download both E.Ps for free below.
Ghostly International‘s first compilation of the year will be a collection of modern classical and experimental compositions. SMM is an acronym introduced by Ghostly back in 2004 to "evaporate the already-unspooling musical boundaries between classical minimalism, electronic and drone composition, film soundtracks, and fragile imaginary landscapes."
SMM: Context features musicians from across the world who’s aesthetic matches that of SMM: "slow-moving, texture-focused compositions, simple in instrumentation, but infinitely complex in execution." Which all sounds rather verbose, but makes total sense when you hear the elegant and emotional music the compilation contains.
01. Goldmund – Motion
02. Leyland Kirby – Polaroid
03. Svarte Greiner – Halves
04. Christina Vantzou – 11 Generations Of My Fathers
05. Jacaszek – Elegia
06. The Fun Years – Cornelia Amygdaloid
07. Manual – Three Parts
08. Aidan Baker – Substantiated
09. Rafael Anton Irisarri – Moments Descend On My Windowpane
10. Kyle Bobby Dunn – Runge’s Last Stand
11. Peter Broderick – Pause
Ghostly International will release SMM: Context on March 1st 2011