Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Hymn | Spotlight: Sigur Rós

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I felt it must be shared, as the song I highlight and the experience I had in the described concert really resonate with the last post I just wrote. I recently wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


Last night, I saw another post-rock legend, Sigur Rós, and like in the experience of my previous post on Mono, I was left feeling touched in a way that’s difficult to describe – nearly moved to tears on multiple occasions. This surprised me, as even though they’re revered by many in the genre, I’ve never been deeply into Sigur Rós. I wanted to share a bit more about this experience.

First, I want to repeat a quote that came from Taka, the songwriter for Mono, regarding the spiritual experience that music can present:

“Music is about experiences,” Goto says. “Witnessing extremely loud sounds live is one type of experience. It’s almost like seeing a spark of thunder in a quiet night sky, then hearing the echoes of loud thunder. It’s beautiful, yet crushing – an unusual experience.”

“At the same time, subliminal music is extremely spiritual. Every sound and melody start to soak into every cell in your body, takes them subconsciously and moves them. Music can speak to everyone more eloquently than words. It’s close to philosophy. It’s a gift from God.”

Taka, from this story

Watching Sigur Rós evoked precisely this sentiment in me a few times throughout the performance, even though I wasn’t that familiar with their oeuvre. The super fans around me were much more amped, clearly experiencing every note deeply and profoundly, much like I did in seeing Mono recently, but even at a more basic connection, the supreme artistry and intensity of this band moved me in similar ways with certain songs.

Personally, as a post-rock super-fan who has grown much more deeply into darker emotional soundscapes with very technical instrumentation over the last few years (for instance, Russian Circles is my most listened to band of the last two years), I found Sigur Rós’ instrumental aspect a bit more lackluster. It truly hinges around Jonsi’s amazing vocals to really create the emotional soundscapes that awe the listener.

Furthermore, this still fits post-rock in the way my first post on this blog outlined, as they have played with language to move beyond any easily understood concepts, even pressing a gibberish, created language into many songs to push beyond the barriers of language into an emotive space that the listeners are meant to resonate with and fill in the meaning themselves. This article really digs into that well.

For me, the songs that moved me were the songs in a major key, where the instrumentation resonated fullest with the falsettos of Jonsi’s voice. These songs gave me goosebumps and teary eyes, feeling like there was some deep cleansing of heart at play. They felt much like Taka’s description above, but the incomprehensible vocals that expressed emotion more than actual words pull the heart along like some sort of transcendent hymn to human experience. As Taka said, those moments are a gift from God.

There is probably no greater example of this for me from the set than Sæglópur from Takk… Takk means “thanks” in Icelandic, and Sæglópur means “lost seafarer”. The song is a mix of Icelandic and the band-created Hopelandic. It is one of their more well-known songs. I have been aware of it for years.

In listening to this song, you’ll likely feel a lot of emotions in the delicate, lonely beauty of the beginning and the crashing intensity when the rock experimentation in sound comes to the fore in mid-song. It pulls at the seeking heart, yearning for solace, facing challenge and pain, and continuing to press onward.

It’s a hymn to the human heart, and that feeling is what shone through for me with Sigur Rós time and again. The songs that felt like existential hymns, every last one of them evoked a sigh from the audience when they were over. That’s a spiritual experience that goes beyond words.

Healing | Impermanence and the Lack of Return

I’ve healed past the worst of depression in the last few months, but I find myself in a difficult place that’s hard to understand. I still wish I were dead. I feel like I’m just waiting for my life to march forward, one day at a time until my consciousness blinks out. I don’t really have any joie de vivre, rather a goal of trying to become wiser and tune into the ebb and flow of the mystery of existence while showing up for the other lives around me.

I’ve talked about this a few times on the blog before – the problem of the metaphor of “healing”. People speak of it as though you’ll return to how you used to be, but that’s a very limited conceptualization of healing. I’ve thought of it more in terms of other, physical healing I’ve been struggling with.

Last summer, I was in the best running shape I’ve been in in probably 15 years. I was getting faster and faster, more and more enduring, and simply poised. My goal was to run a marathon, and I was ahead of schedule and pace.

Then, I pulled a hamstring. A few weeks later, I started again and immediately had intensive calf problems. Every run felt like my calves were going to cramp with every single step. Eventually, I gave up on the marathon and shifted to minimalist shoes – I used to wear them all the time and had greater leg strength and balance because of it.

Not long after that, I started having Achilles tendonitis. First in one leg and then the other. Since December, I’ve been fighting and hobbling along as best as I can for one or two runs a week, getting stronger through care and a strong sense of resolve, but one Achilles simply will not fully heal. I would walk around like an old man with one good leg for most of the week, heal, and then run and repeat the cycle.

About a month ago, I realized I could get a compression sleeve to assist. It’s made a huge difference. I can walk around without much any pain and normal gait. I can run with only a slight pain at the start. It’s almost like my Achilles is normal, and the sense of a nodule near the heel has slowly dissipated. However, I can only go roughly a day without it, and it doesn’t feel completely normal. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to walk normally again without some brace to support my foot.

In healing past everything I’ve gone through, have I returned to some version of myself prior to my experiences? Some chipper, confident guy who believed in love, partnership, and the good intentions of others in relationship with a hope about life and the future? No, I haven’t. Not in the slightest. I’m still pained and tortured on a deeper level, and I don’t know how to change that. I only get through due to a lot of developed self-care, the loving care of those in my life who do value me and see me, and the constant presence of my cat as well as my family. In a sense, it’s like the sleeve – if I don’t connect to these supports constantly, I quickly fall apart, unable to bear all the memories, doubts, and feelings of unworthiness.

The funny thing is that shattering pain has made me feel deeper and kinder than I’ve been in the past, and I can’t really imagine going back to normal in some way that covers over the vulnerability and compassion I’ve felt from it. A couple quotes recently really brought that to the fore, affirming my efforts and dispelling some of the doubts I’ve had about myself, which I’ll share briefly below, but I want to summarize this post with a clear point first.

Healing isn’t some river of Lethe forgetting and return to some previous before. Our lives and experiences are integrated in a complicated growth and decay of impermanence – change. In a very real sense, the body and heart keep the score, and healing back to some enhanced functionality may never be complete like it was before, but like some sort of psychological kintsugi, the art of mending may leave the need for supports that hold the cracks together or an inability to do like previously, but with some fortuitous circumstances, it may sometimes also leave some golden, shining new beauty.

In my own case, all I can do is continue on, doing my best for myself and others, with patience and care for the entire process.

As the Kotzker Rebbe, a nineteenth century Hasidic rabbi, said: “There is no heart more whole than a broken one.”

Sent by a friend, uncertain origin

Sublimation happens when we are no longer attached to our pain. It is not that our pain vanishes, nor that we become immune. Tender sentiments continue to flow and, in fact, appreciation of beauty intensifies. When we are no longer consciously and deliberately fighting it, the pain itself is reconfigured into the very substance of compassion and sensitivity.

Thus, in the work of these three great masters [Saigyō, Hōnen, and Dōgen], we see a pathway out of tragedy that transforms its energy into the signs of enlightenment, signs that do not designate a sterile and frigid person, but one full of feeling and tender. It is this transformation and this process that Dōgen seeks to explicate in Genjō Kōan.

The Dark Side of the Mirror: Forgetting the Self in Dōgen’s Genjō Kōan by David Brazier, p. 37

May this help those who need it.

Gassho!

Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Transformation | Spotlight: Mono

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I recently wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


Earlier this week, I went to see my favorite band live for the 4th time: Mono. Up to the concert, I’d had some mixed feelings due to personal history, but I came out of the concert feeling deeply cleansed. Here’s what I wrote on Instagram:

Words cannot capture how much this concert from my favorite band, @monoofjapan , meant to me tonight. I nearly cried several times through what truly felt like a pilgrimage of the soul. The artistry is so powerful it breaks your heart wide open. At the end, an encounter with a friend led to us staying for autographs, and I got a copy of the first Mono album I fell for as a piece to sign and frame. So thrilled for every moment of this night. #postrocklive #concert #musicasspiritualexperience

To be clear, as this might just feel like fanboyish excitement: Mono’s newest album is called “Pilgrimage of the Soul“, and it’s inspired in part by William Blake’s poem, “Auguries of Innocence“. Lines from the earliest section of the poem are regularly quoted as inspirational and highlight Blake’s spiritual aspirations/virtues. In fact, not only are several song titles based on these lines, an audio clip of a reading of the poem played at one point, closing out a song in the set.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

Auguries of Innocence, opening lines

The set was interspersed with tracks between this album and the previous, “Nowhere, Now Here“. The feelings of nature and pushing to greater heights of a spiritual pilgrimage had the counterpoints of the more minor key of the previous album, and the balance was stunning. Beyond this, there were a couple classics: Halcyon and Ashes in the Snow (arguably Mono’s best song).

In thinking of my experience, the album, and Mono’s greater discography, I realized that this idea of transformation in the strongest, most beautiful sense, although one facing the challenges of suffering and sadness, is something I’ve always taken from Mono’s work, and I’m convinced it’s a dynamic thread throughout. Their first album is titled “Under the Pipal Tree”, a direct reference to the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree (the Pipal Tree). The Buddha’s spiritual journey is one of recognizing the problem of suffering in the life of all sentient beings and seeking peace in response to it.

Subsequent releases riff on problems like this, thinking on fantastic takes of the connection with others, the remembrance of family, dealing with disappointment, and a sojourn through Hell.

A much younger me discovered “Hymn to the Immortal Wind” (the album I refer to in my Instagram post), and the experimentation of rock crossed with classical orchestra with a delay-laden tremolo lead guitar, immediately got through this focus on nature, humanity, connection, and heart/soul. It was a turning point in my life, from which I’ve never been the same, and furthermore, after which, I’ve struggled to share these feelings with others. My trepidation at the concert was grief: a feeling of sharing that having been lost.

However, with the opening riff of the first song, “Riptide“, and the subsequent shift to crushing power and speed, I felt all my clinging of attachment unmoored, and this feeling of having my narrative torn apart by beauty, by majesty, and my sheer, powerful abundance of all that is, came through multiple times, leaving me nearly in tears.

There are few post-rock bands as masterful as Mono, and Taka’s songwriting and presence on stage are nothing short of genius, and this kind of spiritual experience is intentional in their music, especially live. As Taka said when touring for “Requiem for Hell”:

“Music is about experiences,” Goto says. “Witnessing extremely loud sounds live is one type of experience. It’s almost like seeing a spark of thunder in a quiet night sky, then hearing the echoes of loud thunder. It’s beautiful, yet crushing – an unusual experience.”

“At the same time, subliminal music is extremely spiritual. Every sound and melody start to soak into every cell in your body, takes them subconsciously and moves them. Music can speak to everyone more eloquently than words. It’s close to philosophy. It’s a gift from God.”

Taka, from this story

This quote summarizes both my feelings about post-rock’s intensity of expression and the intensity of Mono’s live shows. I highly recommend exploring the spiritual experience of transformation that their music offers.