011 :: IGNOTA

Listen to "011 :: IGNOTA" on Spreaker.


SINNER GET READY by Lingua Ignota, released by Sargent House in 2021. Listen / Buy direct


Music, in its best moments, feels otherworldly. It speaks to us as if from another plane of existence. It's hard to say what exactly it is that gives music this ethereal quality, but you know it when you hear it, because of how it makes you feel: captivated, awestruck, and humbled.

It's natural, I believe, to describe this than as a religious experience, for listening to such music feels like an act of communion with a higher power, a revelation of a world beyond this one. And it's also no surprise that we should find such music being used for explicitly religious ends. For what better way to bring us to God than to bring God to us, in sound?

But there's something that generally doesn't get acknowledged about such music, which is that, as inspiring and moving as it may be, it is also always terrifying. For such music overwhelms us, and towers above us. We find ourselves at its mercy, and powerless in its face. The music will take us wherever it wants us to go, and even if that's for the moment a place of beauty and benediction, it could always in the next moment turn into a place of devastation and despair.

Which brings us to what I love most about this music, which is how it embraces this duality, juxtaposing moments of grace with moments of terror and, in many instances, weaving the two together into one. An angelic vocal melody is surrounded by a chorus of demonic howls. A piano's soft chord progression is laid on top of a harsh pulsating drone off in the infernal depths of the low end. Lyrics meant to inspire faith are placed alongside lyrics meant to induce fear. It's deeply unsettling, and utterly transfixing. It fills us with wonder at the same time it fills us with dread.

This is what the otherworldly truly feels like, simultaneously drawing us in and driving us away. It's the sound of the Lord who giveth and also taketh away. It's the sound of so much organized religion, which traffics in equal parts redemption and condemnation. It's the sound of any greater power, which offers the promise of salvation with one hand and, thereby, threatens annihilation with the other.

It's also the experience of beauty, which is never straightforwardly pleasant, but also always somewhat unnerving, a complicated flood of emotions, pregnant with possibility and brimming with anticipation. We never quite know all that awaits us, and so we find ourselves vulnerable, hoping for deliverance but bracing for the unknown. As Stendhal said, "beauty is only a promise of happiness", which is another way of saying, as Rilke did, that "beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror."

What I love about this music is how it holds us here, in this state of ambivalent captivation. We are but its subjects, here to behold its awesome power. The only thing left for us to do – the only thing we can do – is submit.