‘Can you talk of black metal mannerism?’ the Baron von Charlus asks, because ‘it’s certainly mannered and very baroque,’ he informs me, when giving thanks for the fact that I introduced him to Liturgy; says they remind him of the dark psychedelic white noise of the late 60s. While Liturgy’s latest album, The Ark Work (Thrill Jockey, 2015), constitutes something of a break from their previous sound, and consequently, has left critics – far less adept than the Baron von Charlus, mind you – crippled with incoherency, opinion-pieces oscillating between ‘shockingly avant-garde’ and ‘not even good enough to be hip,’ Liturgy front-man Hunter Hunt-hendrix couldn’t really give a fuck, because ‘if you can’t live, you dying, you give or buy in/ keep it real or keep it movin/… ‘ (Kanye West feat. Kid Cudi & Raekwon, ‘Gorgeous,’ My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [Roc-A-Fella/ Def Jam, 2010]). …
0:00 … GOOD friday
1.) What is the wound that animates you?
I named my ASCAP publishing company “My Wound Existed Before Me” so that I would remember this key phrase. The point is so important, a fundamental feature of human life: that which afflicts me, that which appears as the intruding element, as a problem, the thing that appears to be getting in the way of everything working out the way I wish it would – it is actually the meaning of my life, the opposite of what it appears to be. The problem is what generates my very existence, and there is an ethics to recognizing this and reaching a new frame of reference – an act that alters both the past and the future. A primordial, fundamental change of perspective is always possible. It transforms the disturbing element into a gift: it is literally ‘magic’. There is no dialectical synthesis: the only negation of the negation is the realization that the problem itself is its own solution. Badiou calls this move “raising impotence to impossibility”. My name for it is “Renihilation”: the passage from the Hyperborean to the Transcendental.
For me, the wound manifests as the belief that I will never be understood, which means that I will never be loved. My parents never understood me when I was a kid, no one did, and I was always shamed for being different. I’ve always wanted to synthesize really disparate things: metal, rap, various eras of classical music, Christian mysticism, psychoanalysis, performance art. The difficulty is finding an audience. I have a new record coming out called “The Ark Work”, and critics don’t seem to understand it. My aim is to pick up a torch, to continue the project of German Romanticism, using music and art to create a new religion, but to be totally embedded in the fabric of internet-mediated culture that I’ve grown up with – “popular culture”, for lack of a better term, though that term sounds totally stuffy and dated – and to transmit it across that same fabric, instead of putting it somewhere where only an privileged ‘fine art’ audience can appreciate it. But I keep running up against the Nietzschean “last man” phenomenon – spitting vipers who want nothing more than to tear down someone who is sincere about a heroic effort to transmit love. I really admire Kanye West for his ability to do something like what I have in mind in his own way – to live in faith and pursue a project that doesn’t fit into any existing frame of reference. I could despair about the lack of understanding, but I try to have the attitude towards it that I’ve described above..
2.) Does this conflict with your penchant for getting fucked-up/ for liking some pretty fucked-up stuff?
On the topic of getting fucked up, I can say this: the equivalent in the present day to what traditions in the past have variously called ignorance, craving or sin is addiction. I don’t read fiction much but I was a huge fan of Infinite Jest and its delineation of the connections and tensions between addiction, achievement, 12-step programs and so on in the raw post-community environment we live in. I was really curious about self-help literature for a while: The Artist’s Way, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, works by Vernon Howard, contemporary manifestations in plain language of the kind of ethics you find in Spinoza: how to overcome the ‘passive’ self-centered forces of bondage and channel active forces of virtue, so that you essence can shine forth fully into existence. No one talks about sin these days; instead we have addiction. The difficulty for the Ark Work – the work of creating a Hermetic symbolic architecture using music, art and thought to create a space to foster freedom via asceticism – is that it has to be mediated by the entertainment industry, which is predicated on the kind of me-focused attitude that the Ark Work is designed precisely to disrupt. So there’s a sense of a pair of Escher hands drawing each other or a Moebius strip – channelling creativity through a medium that you are ultimately seeking to destroy, or at least transform.
On the topic of liking fucked-up stuff: I like music that is incredibly jagged and syncopated, and often noisy and dissonant, from Xenakis to Havohej, but for my own compositions it is always important to feature a sense of cosmic yearning using the kinds of sweeping ‘cinematic’ tonality that you find in Brahms. The difficulty with making new music is that there is so much of it playing everywhere, so cliches rigidify incredibly quickly, and once a cliche is in place it’s very difficult to access the inner spirit of music. The situation is really insane for rap right now – the current generation of trap rap and drill in Atlanta and Chicago is so wacky, sloppy and chirpy because regular rapping has been done so much it is almost meaningless. When I compose, I’m aiming to develop two aspects – a huge, violent information overload a la Artaud’s theater of cruelty so as to throw down a gauntlet and make an impact in this age of distraction, and then, once the foot is in the door, to sneak in rich, moving harmony and counterpoint according to something more like the aesthetics endorsed by Roger Scruton: using music to train souls to live in a spiritual, harmonious and civilized way. I’m sure Scruton has never heard Liturgy but I bet he would love it.
Why not just stick with the first half of the equation and astonish, disorient and shock, so as to make contact with the pure body without organs beyond habit, and leave it at that? Because it isn’t worth very much if there isn’t also a trellis in place for the soul to climb. That’s always been my attraction to black metal generally: my favorite bands achieve a union of opposites – the noisy, punk ‘fuck you’ to the whole world combined with a purifying epic sweep, the reactivation of a 19th century musical language, so as to participate unitively in the joy/sorrow of being.
3.) What is the Caul?
The Genesis Caul is an oracle. It has suffered something horrifying, unspeakable, but particular – either the fallout of a botched cosmogony or my own painful alienation during the process of socialization. I’m not sure whether the event was cosmic or personal; I’ve read things about the shevirat and about symbolic castration, and these ideas both help me in gaining a sense of what the Caul is, but my access to it is direct, almost haptic – not conceptual. I know that a sacrifice was involved; something very important was forced into the shadows, and this element is pushing to make its way into a situation that has no place for it, so there’s a certain struggle or violence to its process. It contains secrets, instructions about healing, maybe, a quest; I haven’t been able to verify whether I’m on the right track, nor what the object of the quest is, exactly, nor what the criteria are for measuring my progress. It seemed to be pushing me to write a manifesto about Transcendental Black Metal. I thought that would help me conquer my social anxiety, but maybe I was hearing the instructions wrong – because instead of being rewarded by the world for it I was stigmatized even more. But then again, maybe the scorn that’s been heaped at me as a result was exactly what I needed: ego-destruction, humiliation, ultimately leading to humility. In any case, I do my best to listen.
4.) Why mythopoeia at all?
Originally I wasn’t planning on going in the mythopoeic direction. The manifesto was going to be followed up by an opaque-ish philosophical system, a cross between Lacanian psychoanalysis and more esoteric and ritual-oriented symbolism, a manual for living life, like Dianetics, which I was going to call Aesthethics. I was imagining, I think, that it would be a foundational text for a cult like The Process Church of the Final Judgment or The Temple ov Psychick Youth, except it would be armed with ideas from post-structuralist psychoanalysis and speculative realism. But three roadblocks came up: I found that I don’t quite have a sharp enough mind to create systematic philosophy, and I probably don’t understand my influences well enough to synthesize them coherently. And also I discovered that, given that I am quite a shy person, it was not realistic to think that I could be any kind of leader. But beyond that, I wasn’t able to truly believe in a 1960s-type musical utopian community, since the shortcomings of that type of project have been proven over and over.
At the time, I was obsessed with Blake, and I read something Northrop Frye wrote about how Blake, with his allegorical system, found a way to stand on the threshold between art and mysticism, to create genuinely sacred texts that, because they were transmitted through the artistic canon, avoided both the pitfalls of turning into religion and the pitfalls of turning into a cult – they were sacred, but they were preserved by society as art. I also liked Blake’s free adaptation of the four kabbalistic worlds of creation (he calls them Eden, Beulah, Generation and Ulro), and in my writing practice I began developing a system that was influenced by his, but a non-identical repetition, revised as I saw fit, just the way he’d treated his own influences – I see Blake as an interlocutor, passing a spirit of liberation through his writings that I am now trying to pass on through music, writing, interviews and so on: an update. In my mythopoeia, Urizen died and simultaneously gave birth to Vorizen, who was in any case stillborn, but who now rules (from the grave) the world with chains of Hyperborean Law. Soon enough there were new characters – Reign Array, Kel Valhaal, The Genesis Caul; able to have slightly shifting meanings; allegorical, but in a fractured way – representing elements of the human spirit and world history, but also failing to cohere totally – subject to revision. The short answer is that I connect Liturgy to a mythopoeia-in-progress because there’s no better option.
5.) How are you haunting my dreams – is this some sort of practical magic, or cosmic tinnitus?
The question I have been asking is why I have been unable to remember my dreams at all in the past year. Maybe your question and mine are related somehow.