What can musicians actually do in the times when all the melodies seem to be written and all the genres are exhausted? Well,
In the 20th century new psychological theories have given us a better insight into two forces driving the human behaviour – Eros and Thanatos, life and death instincts. Naturally, the original Freudian concept has been heavily modified by forthcoming studies, but genuine interest in self-destruction and mortality is clearly one of the key issues in many social areas today – from medical to magical. Inevitability of death has proven itself to be a totally convincing factor bringing people to manage their time and resources efficiently, and all the attempts to lift the veil on postmortem existence prospects continue to heighten our paradoxical curiosity.
Different cultures in all of human history have developed the most diverse rituals and traditions to reflect on their own finiteness. Some of them permeated the art of course and, what concerns us most, music. Tibetan Buddhists, ad exemplum, use special musical instruments made from human bones up to this day – like kangling, a femur transformed into ritual horn. In 1980-s, Tibetan tradition intrigued Austrian post-industrial musician Michael DeWitt (known as Zoe DeWitt nowadays) who cooperated with Coil, Throbbing Gristle and TOPY members. Under the name Zero Kama he released the 11-track cassette “The Secret Eye Of L.A.Y.L.A.H.” on his own label Nekrophile Rekords in 1984. The album, recorded entirely with the use of human bones and skulls Dewitt collected from a nearby cemetery, has made quite a name in early post-industrial and ritual music. An extreme unusualness of the concept didn’t seem to encourage a lot of successors over the next 30 years – though bone flutes and skulls were sometimes used by ritual bands, like Phurpa or Halo Manash, the full “bone instrumentation” remained a true rarity. However, finally the idea came to the Miami-based project 156, whose bone-playing sessions resulted in 9-track EP “Memento Mori”.
The nerve center of 156 is Adel Souto, musician, multimedia artist and writer, creator of 90’ underground zine Feast of Hate and Fear and a current Church of Satan member. Souto, whose interests have driven him into the sphere of occult, discovers ritualistic potential of minimal music, drawing on early industrial bands’ “junk music” concept. “Memento Mori”, however, proceeds with the next step on that way and takes even more minimalistic approach. Instruments used during the recording sessions include only “human skulls, femurs, vertebrae, plus bone whistles, and Tibetan thighbone trumpets”. These conscious limitations shift focus of perception from music itself to rhythm and timbre with their intended effect on listener’s mind. Common track structure includes several rhythmic blocks, each of them exploiting simple repetitive idea, but altogether drawing attention into thick hypnotic canvas, with mournful bone trumpet sound creating the overall funeral atmosphere. Despite instrumental restrictions, 156 achieves a sufficient variety of sound, playing with articulation and tempo, so meditative contemplation Souto expects from his audience combines with challenging mindfulness and willingness to spot every single element.
Released on bone-colored vinyl that can be played both on 45 and 33 rpm (digital release includes both versions, providing more than an hour of modern shamanic experience), “Memento Mori” serves a number of purposes, including practical ones – “the skull’s replacement in the ritual room, for those who cannot obtain one”, and can be certainly used as a reminder of the only thing that really matters in the end. For on these days, when death becomes such a common thing that some prefer to ignore it as if it doesn’t exist, we all need to reconsider our actions, thoughts and marks we’re going to leave in human history. Otherwise all that’s left behind are only bones and skulls – mostly silent.
Fashion can come and go, but the idea remains. The wave of gothic music popularity that overran Ukrainian informal community in the second