Saturday, April 19, 2008

Paysage D'Hiver (pt. 2)

Winter, snow and whiteness are among the richest of metaphors. No doubt an immensely interesting post could be written about Paysage d'Hiver using the work of Mallarmé, Blanchot, Célan. But for this post, I've chosen a more ethnographic approach.

Thus, to investigate the meaning of winter landscapes in Black Metal, I turned to amateur reviews of Paysage D'Hiver's music on the internet, gathering the metaphors which connect music to winter landscape from forums and sites such as Metal-Archives. Below, I've analyzed the most central metaphors, to understand what the listener 'does' with the music.

The music of Paysage D'Hiver serves to evoke images of winter landscapes in the listener's minds. One fan writes: "Paysage D'Hiver means landscape of winter apparently and this name aptly describes what you hear." Another fan: "Listening to this makes you portray immense frozen mountains." Yet another fan: "The main concepts of course are winter and darkness, and the music provides a platform to meditate on these concepts. If one can understand this link of what the music means in relation to the concept of PdH, then the music will immediately make more sense. One will come to realize that this particular music is music to think and even dream upon."

Paysage D'Hiver's music can be called a musical equivalent to St. Ignatius De Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. Where the Saint's Exercises makes the believer visualize Hell, Jesus and other symbols of Christianity, Paysage D'Hiver makes the listener visualize winter landscapes. In Paysage D'Hiver as well as in the Exercises, sound (music/prayer) is subservient to sight.

Where Roland Barthes sees the Exercises as an metaphoric and metonymic list of God's attributes, the music of Paysage D'Hiver is a metaphoric ('cold' ambient, metal) and metonymic (environmental sounds) sonic list of the attributes of winter. A fan writes: "Much like Immortal's Blizzard Beasts the music whirls and blasts past you in a scream which sounds a lot like a blizzard. The lack of hooks and breaks as well as the track lengths also mimic a winter storm very well."

Snow reduces the visual variety of a landscape to a minimum, by covering all with a white blanket.

Paysage D'Hiver's music is described by many fan reviewers as "minimalist": " of the coldest and darkest minimalist black metal projects yet. It is so minimal that at times a riff repeats for over 10 minutes."; "The music here is minimalistic"; "...this music is all about repetition...". In fact, the music incorporates both the static (long, ambient tones) and the repetitive (riffing with only minimal variations over long periods of time) varieties of musical minimalism.

One reviewer calls Paysage D'Hiver's poor production "minimalist": "The production value is also minimalistic being extremely thin.". Here, minimalism is interpreted as an ascesis of production, as strict self-denial of the joys of high production value as a measure of spiritual discipline.

Paysage D'Hiver's minimalism has a functional aspect with regards to the visualization of winter landscapes. As one fan writes: "To me there's a dualism that is unfounded when experiencing the minimalistic atmosphere that, with the right headphones and approach, can send the listener to a completely frozen and lonely landscape...". Another fan: "[The music] opens up the imagination and paints landscapes of darkness and snow. That is why the repetition and steady droning of the guitars is essential. It is so that there will be no sudden in jolt to ones thoughts." Yet another fan: "Even if there are very few melodies in each song, it's not due to a lack of inspiration from its composer in this case, but more by his will of creating a Hypnotic/Initiatic atmosphere which leads to the harmony/osmose with the nature and Elements, like by shamanic rites." Here, minimalist repetition has a mantra-like function. Wasn't minimalism as a musical style influenced by Indian music, Terry Riley and La Monte Young studying with Pandit Pran Nath?

"She's pure as the driven snow" is an expression which associates snow with purity, with the absence of any heterological taint, with the absence of anything associated with the body, the desires, passions, etc.

In the context of Black Metal - a necrophiliac and Satanic musical genre - purity may be an unexpected metaphor. On the other hand, any metaphor combining whiteness and purity will evoke disquieting associations with the the racism ('racial purity') so prevalent in NSBM.

But the purity of Paysage D'Hiver is "purity of vision" - or, to put it less kindly, the monomania with which Wintherr pursues his vision of winter. Monocolor white equals monomanic music.

Static noise
"The guitars and vocals white out sounding like fluctuations in malevolent static." Here, static noise is associated with snow. Perhaps the association is brought about by the popular expression for the view on a television screen with no reception: tv snow. Here, nature is not the teacher of art; on the contrary, technology (static) informs nature (snow).
Of course, static noise is also connected to the stasis of minimalism and purity.

Aesthetic danger
In the semiological landscape of Paysage D'Hiver, danger, beauty and nature are closely intertwined. One fan likens the music to "...a completely frozen and lonely landscape where the only conflict [the listeners] face is (...) the fierce beauty known as winter." Another likens the experience of listening to this music to "...being assaulted by the beauty, majesty and ferocity of the winter landscape." The music's harshness is also connected to an aestheticized danger: "The instruments in these heavy passages blend into each other as the droning blast beats and ragged guitar squalls become a massive wall of black noise, conveying the harsh and uncompromising force of a winter storm."

A salient feature of this reception of Paysage D'Hiver's music is that the listener puts himself on the receiving end of nature's violence. In this, I'm reminded of Carol Clover's analysis of horror films, 'Man, women and chain saws'. Like Black Metal, horror films seem to offer sadistic pleasure to their viewers, a pleasure in which violence is directed outside. Clover, however, argues the reverse: that these films are designed to align spectators not with the male tormentor, but with the female tormented--with the suffering, pain, and anguish that the "final girl" endures.

Of course, the intertwining of nature, beauty and danger finds its origin in the philosophical concept of the sublime, which found its eighteenth-century origin in the Swiss Alps, the very area where Paysage D'Hiver's Wintherr lives. Byron:

"Above me are the Alps,
The palaces of Nature, whose vast walls
Have pinnacled in clouds their snowy scalps,
And throned Eternity in icy halls
of cold sublimity, where forms and falls
The avalanche - the thunderbolt of snow!
All that expends the spirit, yet appalls
Gather around these summits."

As Marjorie Hope Nicolson wrote in her 1959 study 'Mountain Gloom, Mountain Glory. The development of the aesthetics of the infinite', to poets of the seventeenth century, and to their predecessors, mountains were not at all beautiful: they were inconvenient, they were seen as repellent warts which disfigured the symmetry of the face of the Earth, they were the symbols of Gods wrath. But in the eighteenth century, under the influence of Romanticism, mountains became to be seen as the cathedrals of nature. Rather than a sensation of formlessness and ugliness, mountains produced "...a delightful Horrour, a terrible Joy (...)" (John Dennis, 1688). Nicolson's thesis is that this change was made possible by the Enlightenment, which gave humankind the illusion of rational control that reduced nature to an object of aesthetic contemplation. No longer were mountains fearful barriers; they now became grand spectacles for secularized religious impulses. The ambiguous sentiment expressed by John Dennis is close to Rudolf Otto's concept of the numenous. For Otto, the Holy is a mysterium tremendum and fascinosum: a mystery that simultaneously fascinates (attracts) and frightens (repels).

The reception of Paysage D'Hiver's music is informed by the concept of the sublime - an alpine Romantic Agony. In a sense, this is a pity. Black Metal is a "wart, went, blister, impostume" upon the otherwise fair face of music. Paysage D'Hiver could have been received as a perverse postmodern reincarnation of the pre-Romantic view of mountains as fearful, grim and ugly.

The music of Paysage D'Hiver is used as a monomanic, minimalist musical mantra. This mantra is supposed to help the listener to visualize Alpine winter landscapes, and to experience this landscape as sublime, an aesthetic emotion of simultaneous attraction and fear, an emotion which finds its origin in Romanticism. Listening to Paysage D'Hiver is a phantasmatic practice.
How this practice is connected to other elements of the listener's lives (social, economic, psychological, political etc.) falls outside of the scope of this post.

I think the fan reviews serve as 'instructions for use' of the music, a ' how to' guide to the phantasmatic practice, detailing for the benefit of the listener what do with this Black Metal. They specify a preferred technique or procedure designed to direct the experience of the music. That there is a preferred technique or procedure implies that there may be other, forgotten or expelled uses of Paysage D'Hiver's music. I myself, however, still enjoy listening to Paysage d'Hiver in the orthodox way.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Interests ranging from Maldoror to Cronenberg to Black Metal... that's awesome in my book. Nice post!