Alchemic Heart (w Vampillia)


On this singular work, Vampillia collaborates with Jarboe, the avant-gardist and anima of Swans mark I, with the sonic sculptor Merzbow and with the industrial band Inswarm. The genre and style are indeterminable as the two pieces proceed through ramparts of sound with grinding guitars, multipolar violins, thundering drones and a host of consonant and dissonant attractors. The music moves in waves, from a gentle beginning through stormy crests and troughs to an elegant denouement.

‘Sea’ opens atmospherically with Jarboe reciting the first part of the Tonglen meditation from her ‘Alchemic’ album over mournful strings. This sets a sublime tone which unravels as the violins attempt ever higher crescents. When the guitars join the fray, the mood becomes one of foreboding. Also recognizable is the solemn piano, the tie that binds the varying outpourings, so to speak, to ensure cohesion. The piano chords might also be seen as bridges linking segments of wildly disparate mood, tone and tempo.

Jarboe’s recital and her in- and exhalations quickly expand into a cloud of articulations and deliveries, from rasps and whispers to an array of vocalizing. The strings of the opening and entrée slowly unfold in a stately, classical manner until a piano interlude concludes, when the violins return sans their sanity, the guitars burst forth and the vocals become unmoored, to mutate and multiply. What follows is quite magnificent though not easily converted to words. The sounds gush forth in mighty squalls of crashing chords, dissonance, feedback and frenzied voices, solo and in choirs and including lively operatics. When the tumult subsides, Jarboe completes the second part of the meditation over minimal but moving piano.

On ‘Land’, Merzbow follows a similar trajectory, beginning with the strings playing a melancholic, vaguely familiar melody. Unlike ‘Sea,’ there’s no classical introductory segment since sampled whispers and noises soon transform the sad into the sinister. The violins fall silent so for a while an austere piano line accompanies the eerie voices. Their urgency increases, seemingly in drastic entreaties to the violins to return. They do but they come with a wired, feral expression. The erratic violins in turn summon the guitars to unimaginable feats of turbulence amid crackling static and vocals that soar above, ride on psychedelic undulations or writhe through psychotic convulsions. The land becomes still like the sea, through a tranquil piano coda.

György Ligeti’s Requiem and Steve Reich’s Tehillim come to mind, but a requiem infused with the howls of doom metal and the rattling percussion of Reich’s psalms now grounded to the deepest quaking and thudding base. Alchemic Heart is an extraordinary accomplishment, a majestic synthesis of sounds. It is as if the ingredients were drawn together through innumerable aeons, like a fifth fundamental force destined to manifest.

– Pieter Uys