In Liminal Space

Sleepwalking got a really nice write up courtesy of Matt Poacher over at the always awesome The Liminal last week, even when they aren’t writing nice things about me, the quality of writing and the things they cover make it a daily read for me, go suck up their rss feed:

“Traditionally, a sigil was a unique symbol created for a specific magical purpose. It tended to be made up of several discrete elements, each charged with meaning and intent, each working toward the larger effect of the whole. It might be used as a hexing medium, or a way of summoning or conjuring a spirit or demon. I wasn‚Äôt aware of the notion of a hypersigil before listening to Erstlaub‚Äôs latest record, Sleepwalking Into The Underworld but it was an idea popularised by Grant Morrison with his epic comic series, The Invisibles, the idea being that the work was an ongoing rite of sigilization, formed with the express intent of actually augmenting or even altering reality.

Hokum aside, this idea of a sustained meditative process, built or performed with the express purpose of causing a shift in behaviour or consciousness, is peculiarly suited to music, and is to some extent already implicit in the creative process – and even more so with something created from disparate systems and ‘let go’ such as the method Erstlaub has used over various releases. As the artist has put it himself, this method involves “ taking an idea, feeling or element of will or intent and translating into sound by means of taking individual modular elements and focusing, refining and condensing them into self contained, autonomous systems, usually with an inbuilt “fail” system removing the technical purity and adding a more organic edge.” These autonomous systems are gradually worked into a whole – the sigil or hypersigil – with the entropic ‘fail’ device ensuring an element of uncertainty. In the case of Sleepwalking into the Underworld the result is a 45-minute single take experiment (alongside a feature length video accompaniment – see below) that results in a glorious unspooling and interlocking series of humming drones, the disparate elements working with and against one another to form a single shimmering thread.

Sonically, a comparison I keep returning to is Keith Fullerton Whitman, especially the Whitman of Lisbon and Playthroughs. There is both a similar technical aesthetic at work here, and a similar sense of elemental warmth about the extended drones – the sense of a magmatic liquid hum beneath the surface of things. Yet Erstlaub’s method has a stronger environmental feel to it, as befits the subject matter, with each ‘section’ of the hypersigil based around the ancient idea that bodies of water are portals to the underworld. The accompanying video piece makes this link explicit, with sections of the whole playing out across black and white images of different, distant watery landscapes. At times it’s easy to forget that these are all synthetic sounds, as often the inner ear scans the dense clamour and picks out what could be field recordings – rainfall, storm surges, solar wind. There are periods where the effect is so total, so immersive it’s as if you’re inside the fabric of the recording.

You could argue that the added theoretical bulk Erstlaub has brought to Sleepwalking into the Underworld gives it something of a literary weight, something that both adds and detracts from the experience of actually absorbing it as a whole; it also puts the whole piece under fairly intense pressure in terms of scrutiny, and widens the field of scope to include mystics such as Austin Osman Spare and David Tibet, and the darker magick of bands such as Coil. All of which asks the question of whether or not Sleepwalking into the Underworld can cope with this weight of expectation. And the truth is, it can. As a stand-alone piece of music it’s huge, dense and affecting; and as an installation, complete with the film and the wider occult speculations, it has real resonance and enough ambition that it should hopefully reach a wide audience.

As an aside, Sleepwalking into the Underworld is also something of a requiem for the Highpoint Lowlife label, which after 10 years of trading is to ease into retirement. You can still purchase the SITU DVD at the label‚Äôs website.”

You can still pick up copies from the usual channels but I’d recommend getting it straight from the label here if you so desire.

In other areas, this week has been spent in sanity entropic repetition continuously bouncing 45 minutes of audio between 2 cassettes 45 times for a project I’m about to wind up titled “The Decline of Physical Memory” and making a scrying mirror for ‘The Magnificent Psychomanteum” busy busy busy (but at least I guess it keeps the scary thoughts from creeping in). More on both these projects soon. In the meantime I have an asston of reading to do seeing as I foolishly decided to write my dissertation on the evolution of Psychogeography. WTF!

The Magnificent Psychomanteum

I ought really to also just mention a few cultural ley lines that have recently occurred. First of all, after years of vaguely being aware of the name, I finally got around to checking out the films of Bela Tarr. The Werckmeister Harmonies and Damnation immediately had me clearing shelf space next to Tarkovsky for them due to the utterly awe inspiring combination of pure cinematic beauty, non specific narrative and shear metaphysical weight. I really can’t recommend them both highly enough.

Last week I also saw Patrick Keiller’s Robinson In Ruins. With London and Robinson In Space already being massively significant pieces of work in terms of my general psyche, I’ve been excited about its existence since reading about it being shown at the BFI Festival in London back in October and our gemlike DCA made my year (well January anyway) by screening one showing of it. All Keiller’s trademarks are there, it’s a slow, mystifying, beautiful piece of cinema. I was really aware of the lack of Schofield, ‘The Narrator’ and travelling companion of Robinson in the previous two and just didn’t feel the same connection to his replacement Vanessa Redgrave as had existed before but the whole piece still endures, a week later, there are still scenes I’m picking apart and narrative strains that keep echoing around.

Finally, a short comics series by the behemoth that is Warren Ellis titled Supergods. It’s just amazing and reminds you why he is one of the best writers in the world today, regardless of medium. Rustle up a copy, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Take care.


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