Saturday, October 27, 2007

Striborg - Ghostwoodlands (pt. 2)


"I wish I was a ghost", Sin Nanna, responsible for one-man Black Metal band Striborg's anomalous sound, states in a rare interview. Sin Nanna describes a nightly encounter with a ghost as a formative experience, and wants his music to have the same effect on the listener as that encounter had on him. In describing his own encounter with a ghost, Sin Nanna describes the haunt as a "glowing white head" which peered him at from an abandoned house. He also describes poltergeist-like disturbances, such as gushes of wind and a guitar string snapping by itself. Sin Nanna relates that he experienced strong emotions of dread, terror, panic and desolation. Furthermore, the experience made Sin Nanna feel sickened: "Whatever it was were trying to make me ill".


"I want to be a ghost": what a fascinating example of mimetic excess, what a mindbending play on mimesis and alterity! A ghost is an after-image of a living person: wanting to be a ghost means wanting to be an after-image of oneself, miming misesis, a ghostly mise-en-abyme, mimesis running amok. Yet at the same time, ghosts are "Other": as the undead, they declassify the categories of living and dead. The self dissolving into the fluidity of ectoplasm, Sin Nanna tries the incorporeal on for size - a costume for the theater of his Black Metal music.


How do ghosts and Striborg's music correspond? How do the experience of meeting a ghost and the musical form of Striborg's music relate?

Perhaps it is worthwhile to explore the thesis that the relation is mimetic in nature. Sin Nanna wants to transform himself into a ghost; is the music a mimetic transformation of the encounter with the ghost?

The production of the music echoes the image of the glowing white head. Interestingly, Sin Nanna does not use the usual trope of 'darkness' to describe his music. On the contrary, in an interview he describes the production as 'bright' - the unusual adjective the polar opposite of dark. "This is how I always produce music, bright, fuzzy, cold and distant. (...) I want my sound to be fuzzy and distant, like an audio version of literally the mist you encounter in everyday life". "Glowing white" and "fuzzy bright" - I feel these adjectives are largely interchangeable.

The emotions of dread, terror and panic - some of the emotions Sin Nanna felt during the ghost encounter - are all three closely related to that of fear. These emotions cause tension of the muscles, an increased heart rate, perspiration, dilation of the pupils and horripilation (gooseflesh and hair standing on end). I strongly feel these physical symptoms of fear are somehow bound up with features of Striborg's music, though I find it hard to put the correlation into words. Is there something gooseflesh-like in the ambient washes of Kosmische synthesizer sound that permeate the songs, the coagulations and swirls in the sound a transformation of the contraction of the muscles which elevates the hair follicles above the rest of the skin, when the skin crawls? Does the cold and thin guitar noise sound like cold sweat, like simultaneous perspiration and chill and cold moist skin? Is there something of the muscular tension and increased heart rate in the nervous, idiosyncratic percussion?

The emotion of desolation points towards feelings of loneliness and isolation, i.e. non-communication with fellow human beings. The same type of questions that I asked about fear, can be asked about these emotions. Cannot Striborg's musical style be called isolationist, in that it is seeking to be so idiosyncratic as to turn every listener away? The music is so primitive and so "totally fucking weirded out" that even many Black Metal aficionados are nauseated, sickened by it.

As for the poltergeist phenomena Sin Nanna describes: the word derives from the German verb 'poltern', meaning 'to rumble' or 'to make noise'. Thus, the phenomenon already points towards a ghost as an auditive experience. One theory with regards to poltergeists posits that these spirits are "recordings" of powerful emotions, which are believed to be engraved into the place they haunt. These recordings play themselves over and over again, like a locked-groove record. So a poltergeist is a recording that rumbles, that makes noise. And thus Striborg's music is a noisy recording that mimics a recording that makes noise - another eerie, animistic mise-en-abyme.

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the phonograph and thus of recorded sound, spread the rumor he was working on a machine that could make contact with the spirits of the dead. Audio recordings have since their infancy been associated with ghosts. And Sin Nanna wants the listener to relate to his music as he himself related to the ghost: a deeply ambivalent relation oscillating mixing attraction and repulsion. The ghost and the recording occupy an identical space in these formations.

Ghosts have 'Wiederholungszwang' and like a ghost, Striborg's recordings repeats themselves. Album after album, the basic concepts of his idiosyncratic brand of Black Metal are repeated: wafer-thin production, demented warbling vocals, blast beats sounding as if they are played on a cardboard shoe box, confusingly arrhythmic drumming and sinister, Tangerine Dream-like synthesis. Each new album mimes the ones that came before. But it is a poorly-made copy, resembling the original as much as a voodoo-doll resembles it's intended victim ... as much as a ghost resembles the human being it once was.


The motto of Surrealist Roger Caillois famous article "Mimicry and legendary psychasthenia" is "Beware: whoever pretend to be a ghost will eventually turn into one". For Sin Nanna, it may already be too late.

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