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.

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.

Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Majesty | A Hymn to Impermanence and Emptiness

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 to check that out if you find the music in this post interesting. A recent night drive with a sudden return to a favorite song from years back inspired me to write this post.


Summer 2014
I live in Seattle, making my way through the drudgery of a job in customer service after years in academia. In time to myself, I work on reading and running – taking care of body and mind. Many a run is empowered by 65daysofstatic’s album “Wild Light”. The first song in particular feels like some electric thrum into the core of my being: “Heat Death Infinity Splitter”. It feels like a defiant stand against the difficulties of life with strength and aplomb. As the opening sampling says: “No one knows what is happening. No one knows what is happening. There is a lot of danger out there. OK?” The overwhelming electronic reverb after these lines tears apart fear, hesitation, and any sense of separation from this very moment, and pushes me forward into it with an open heart.

February 2022
I’m driving home from a friend’s and my cigarette lighter charger adapter for my phone is broken. I can’t use my phone to play music. I recall having seen a few old cds under the driver seat. I reach behind me as I start the drive, and the 3rd CD I grab is 65daysofstatic’s soundtrack to No Man’s Sky. When I open it, though, I find “Wild Light” instead. I excitedly pop it in, having not listened to it in some time. I am immediately entranced and destroyed by the static.

My heart has been awash in heartbreak for months. My spiritual journey has been one of trying to refind my way on a solitary path, while questioning and reevaluating, possibly even annihilating my concepts of love, partnership, and romance. In my worst days, meaninglessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts abound.

Listening to it now, versus my younger experience, this feels like a hymn to impermanence and by extension, emptiness. Perhaps this pops in my mind because earlier in the day, I had been reading a book by the Dalai Lama on Buddhism and the path to nirvana. In the first chapter, he goes over the four seals of Buddhism, the first of which is impermanence; the second is suffering; the third is anatta – no-self; the fourth is the potential peace beyond suffering. The thing is: if I were to summarize all of these, I’d say that the entirety of the four seals are the conundrum of living within emptiness but not seeing it. Impermanence is due to things being empty of inherent substance. Suffering is due to clinging to things as not-empty. Anatta follows as a corollary of impermanence as emptiness – there is no permanent soul/essence/substance behind phenomena. Peace is achieved through rectifying clinging by seeing things as empty. A longer description: there is no permanent essence behind any phenomenon – all is empty, i.e. a fluctuating process of appearing and disappearing without some ongoing entity/soul/form behind it, and yet, we suffer by clinging to things as more solid than this empty fluctuation, and therefore, peace can be achieved by the cessation of such clinging through the wisdom and accordant action in relation to seeing things as they really “are” (even such verbs as “is”/”are” can get us into philosophical trouble of unnoticed reification).

This song points to the whole flowing decay of the entire universe. It’s all a heat death infinity splitter – i.e. even atoms will eventually come apart into a splitting of the unfolding infinity we’re currently a part of.

With that in mind, the thrum of noise feels like a musical display of the wondrous unfolding and the seeming danger of everything falling apart, but much like the younger me felt emboldened by this song’s “lot of danger”, the realization of this impermanence invites us to let go of fear – there’s no self/soul/”I”/being that continues in this flux; it’s all merely flux.

For myself, I listen to it now and feel something I’ve been pondering for some time: even concepts, feelings, and attachments are impermanent. My desires for love, for the person who broke me, and for some sort of meaning attached to all the struggle start to decay in the static flux of the emergent abiding sway’s decay into the emergence of the next (riff on Heidegger). To return to Tibetan Buddhism: “Regard all dharmas as dreams.”

All is impermanent – even my “self” and any experiences it may have. Those are just as empty as anything else. All conditioned things are impermanent – even the very atoms that make up “me” and every single thought and feeling that arises as experience upon these component parts.

Cross-post: The Post-rock Way – Energy | Hope | Overflowing

This is a post that I just posted on my other blog about philosophy/spirituality and post-rock. I wanted to share it here as well.


One of the most intoxicating aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the ambience of hyperabundant overflowing of energy. This is the dynamism of the Dionysian, and it’s the strength of a healthy life. This sentiment comes forth perhaps nowhere as strongly as in the first section of the prologue to “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, in which Zarathustra greets the sun (a symbol of the Apollonian here transformed to the hyperabundance of the Dionysian) and speaks to the task that he must undertake of “going under” from the heights of the mountains (we could possibly see this as the heavenly realm of the Forms) to the human realm. This choice resonates later – one must go under to go over, to become the overhuman, the Übermensch. The feeling of overflowing is here in the sunshine and the happiness and abundance associated with it and the final lines:

“Bless the cup that wants to overflow, that the water may flow from it golden and carry everywhere the reflection of your delight!”
“Behold! This cup wants to become empty again, and Zarathustra wants to become human again.”
– Thus began Zarathustra’s going-under.

Nietzsche, trans. Parkes, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 9.

The overflowing energy is the strength of one who can climb the heights with the fullness of health, joy, and the ability to help others climb up the same paths. It’s the intensity that allows one to live dangerously with light feet dancing over the obstacles that one faces. It is the power of affirmation, of yay-saying — perhaps the greatest possibility in Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Recently, I’ve felt this sentiment greatly from a song from the new album released by Maybeshewill. The band has been broken up for years but has come back with a compelling album about facing climate change with hope and resolve to overcome and shape our futures. They describe this at length in the album’s description on Bandcamp.

The song is called “Invincible Summer”. When I listen to it, I find myself running, dancing, fist pumping, and screaming: “YES!!!”. I’m serious about all of those. I have done all of those in flowing with the feeling that arises in the later movements of the song when the strings swell and pull you along with the overflowing energy that would allow you to climb to the heights with light feet.

On Communication: Affirmation and Clarity

Two very different conversations recently have made me ponder the importance of being clear with your expression about your intentions, beliefs, feelings, or values. There are many reasons for this, so let’s build up some clarity around this issue.

First of all, from the aspect of discussing complicated political issues, I’ve seen some convoluted rhetorical stances that ultimately can only be called disingenuous. If you rely on questioning other people’s positions as being too partisan while hiding the fact that you have no problem with a highly controversial position, do not be surprised that your subterfuge will only result in complete disavowal. Any good points you may have had were used merely as a rhetorical ploy, so the discussion is moot. If you’re going to be provocative, be forthright about it — affirm it. Then, you can create real dialogue. That dialogue must be based on the truth of admission of what your beliefs are and what your intentions are: i.e. it must be based on a hermeneutics of trust to be productive, otherwise it always risks doubt and dispersal. In fact, that’s the problem with a large swath of our news narratives today regarding politics; they’re based on a hermeneutics of suspicion, looking for hidden agendas, secret agents, and conspiracies. There may be truth to such critical analyses, but the problem happens when this style of meaning-finding reaches successively meta-levels of suspicion: the people behind the people behind the people are the real instigators of some ultimate evil plot! Unfortunately, this is necessary to a certain extent (political scientists and myself do find plenty of evidence for seeing oligarchy at play behind many machinations in current events), but it can get to conspiracy theory levels sometimes — thinking of some of the crazy stories of the “deep state” I’ve heard in the last year or so.

TLDR: if you want to have a meaningful discussion with others about a political issue, make clear your values, beliefs, and intentions. If you try to hide them while you merely attack and mock, you will be ridiculed all the more when your ulterior motives shine through, and even if you had some critically amazing points, they will mean nothing. Affirmation and clarity are needed in a conversation among equals.


Secondly, I heard a podcast recently that told the story of an odd relationship between a distant, disciplinarian mother and a stranger to the family in a traditional culture (seen as odd by her sons). The story ended with sadness amongst surviving family members of two generations regarding the reticence of expression — the mother never told her son she loved him, and the son only told his daughter once or twice. Having recently undergone the loss of my father, it made me stop and ponder the things I wish I asked him or told him. There are simply things I will never know but meant to ask for a long time, now mysteries washed away by the tides of time.

This has made me realize that mindful, clear expression needs to affirm the fact that we all die and could at any time. This authenticity, resoluteness in the face of death, if you want to be Heideggerean, should animate our language and interaction with those for whom we care. You never know if you will have another chance to say, “I love you!”, to tell someone to take care of themselves, to ask questions you may have held for years, or to resolve any nagging doubts from childhood. The chance to express, to question, to profess, to pacify, to let out, to let go in all the verbal ways possible, could disappear in a breath now, in the next moment. You never know. So please, make sure to reach out with your thoughts and feelings. Timing may be important, but life shouldn’t be lived as “Some day,” or “Maybe next time,” if you can say it now. Affirmation of ourselves, our values, and our purpose as well as expressive clarity are key to fulfilling intimacy in our connections with others.

With that, I’m adding three songs which have been pulling at many of the various feelings I have about my dad in the gamut of emotions that play through. Post-rock will always be the most expressive music to me for feelings, especially with no words to conceptually narrow the rawness. May it touch others’ hearts out there as some sort of clear expression of the depth of human experience.


Fate???

What if fate isn’t a gloomy set of chains pulling us along through history or the ecstasy of positive fruition–destiny?
What if, rather, our choices are always our own yet also are not–nestled as they are in the environment of an entire world: a life, a society, a history, others, and a universe unfolding alongside these choices? (Aside: Can a painting exist without the boundaries and texture of the canvas, the materials (oil vs. acrylic, for instance) and colors of the paint, and the cultural history informing the creative process? Likewise, our choices hold infinite potential, but they spring forth from certain sets of certainties.)  What if these dynamically intertwined choices have their own consequences entangled, sometimes in years to come?

Our lives are not written. We write them. However, as we write, our story takes shape, and certain words, plot twists, and styles of expression become more and more likely to follow. We create words, a story, a voice in the universe which shines and reverberates forth as an unfolding path of neverending light–ever-changing, dynamic, but with direction. Rather than the gloomy story already decided, the tangled yarn of fate as usually understood, fate is both defined and indefinite, deciding and decided, bound and boundless, free choices made within discreet limits and an open future limited by the karmic consequences of choice. It is the paradox of luminous emptiness and karmic interdependence.

May this post get you to see your own luminous possibility and the interdependent limitations and impacts of your own choices.
Gassho!


I was inspired in part by these songs. The title of the first really brought up this different idea of fate:

Also:    Wake Up by Anesthesia

Neverending tracks of light…