Sometime in 2006 I did a trade with Todestrieb Records, we sent a couple packages of cassettes to each other. One of the tapes in that trade was the very first Burial Hex release, a short tape called Curses of the Earth. One day, about a year later, I received an email from Andrew Hartwell, purveyor of fine music through his Aurora Borealis Records. Andrew tells me he has been enjoying this Curses of the Earth cassette, which he procured from Todestrieb Records, and asked me to do some trades with him. Eventually, when inspiration came for a new album, I asked him if he would be interested and he said "yes, let's do it."
The vision came to me very quickly, to make a double LP release featuring four side-long compositions. This seemed like an ambitious challenge, but the concept obsessed me and soon enough I nervously turned in 74 minutes of music entitled Initiations. Andrew seemed pleased with the results, sent the work off the factory, which resulted in beautiful CD and 2xLP artifacts in silk-screened black card stock.
This release prompted several collaborations between Aurora Borealis and myself, including the Burial Hex split 7" with Sylvester Anfang II, the Burial Hex split 12" with Zola Jesus, the In the Stars LP by Wormsblood, the Journey to Ixtlan CD and the collaboration LP with Pyramids and Wraiths.
This release was also significant in that it prompted Aurora Borealis to book a short tour of Burial Hex and Sylvester Anfang II to play five dates around England. This was my first trip overseas and it was a very inspiring and exciting time. I will never forget that first show, at The Old Blue Last in London, 24th of March 2008. Vice Magazine was co-sponsoring it and they had copies of their latest magazine laying around on every surface, with a short review of Initiations inside, giving it 5 stars. I recall being very wary in front of the audience that night, my first show overseas, so when the beat for the song "Throne" started, I threw myself into the crowd and start pushing and hitting people. Their reaction wasn't quite what I expected, having mostly performed basements and warehouses in Madison, Chicago and Milwaukee, up until this point. The London audience acted as if they were not quite familiar with the type of violent fun that I was used to, but eventually they settled into a trusting groove with me and we managed to have a great time.
Most recently, marking the ten year anniversary of our first release together, Aurora Borealis curated the gorgeous Solstice tape split between Burial Hex and Anji Cheung. Now, as this ten year anniversary draws to a close, I think back to the process of creating the sprawling 2xLP Initiations.
Like everything I was doing back then, this album was recorded in a huge old warehouse space in Madison, called "The Tomb." The primary instrumentation was a modular PAiA synth from the 1970's, circuit bent consumer electronics (mostly alarm clocks), a wide range of effects pedals, a pile of resonant metal objects with contact mics on them, some re-purposed spring reverb tanks, abused violins and other stringed instruments, bells, some drums and percussion, several keyboards and vocals.
Will to the Chapel
The concept for Initiations was very precise, exactly as it is titled. I wanted to depict the processes of an initiatory structure. The first piece is therefore a setting for the rites of passage into this initiation. "Will to the Chapel" refers firstly to the will of the aspirant, that it is his will to undertake the ordeal of this initiation. The chapel is a reference to "chapel perilous", a concept that I first encountered in the writings of Robert Anton Wilson.
Chapel Perilous, like the mysterious entity called "I," cannot be located in the space-time continuum; it is weightless, odorless, tasteless and undetectable by ordinary instruments. Indeed, like the Ego, it is even possible to deny that it is there. And yet, even more like the Ego, once you are inside it, there doesn't seem to be any way to ever get out again, until you suddenly discover that it has been brought into existence by thought and does not exist outside thought. Everything you fear is waiting with slavering jaws in Chapel Perilous, but if you are armed with the wand of intuition, the cup of sympathy, the sword of reason and the pentacle of valor, you will find there (the legends say) the Medicine of Metals, the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher's Stone, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.
- Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger: Volume I: Final Secrets of the Illuminati
The opening synth strings are portraying the wonder, confidence and intention of the aspirant as he enters the first phases of the working. As the resonant metal objects sound the opening of the gates of the chapel, the calm overture is disrupted by heinous electronic noise and the aspirant is quickly sucked into a world of uncertainty and chaos. Tempted to give way to madness and collapse, we start to hear the voice of the aspirant calling out in desperation. Soon all the electronic noise falls away and we are left with only the aspirant raving around the space in this frantic state, where he finds his mantra: Thy Will Be Done! Instead of losing himself to paranoia and fear, he resorts to his faith and hope in the higher architecture of the ordeal, cleaving to the mantle of his guardian spirits and surrendering his will to the will of the master of the chapel. As many seekers learn, the reward for such a bold commitment is often a further test and so, as a response to the aspirants most potent evocation, literally all hell breaks loose. Harrowing electronics and feedback completely take over the mix. Whereas, in the previous wave of insanity you could still hear some human elements, such as sawing violins, tinkling bells and howling voices, this time it is complete alien fallout. However, like a light at the end of a tunnel, slowly those familiar synth strings filter back into the mix, this time somehow more tranquil and comforting than before, but also with a touch of loss and sadness. The coda of synth strings describe an aspirant who was both broken down completely and then reassembled with a new fortitude beyond what he would have ever been able to conjure by his will alone.
The 8 of Pentacles was drawn in a tarot reading intent on gaining the perfect inspiration for what the aspirant should do upon clearing the chapel perilous. The card instantly made perfect sense to me because the 8 of Pentacle signifies work, diligence, focus, strength, dedication, perseverance. With the Saturnian horror lessons learned in the previous stage of the working, the aspirant continues to wade into the mire of his ordeal and we leave behind the familiar aspects of voice and melody completely, and yet the aspirant no longer fears or becomes distracted by having to work in this foreign environment. The setting of this portrayal is created using modular synth, modified electronics and resonant metal objects. What begins as an uneasy assemblage of sounds eventually collects itself into a consistent flow. The sound continues to narrow to a point of focus. After a while, this pulse starts to feel comfortable, predictable even, the slow undulations of the electronics lull the aspirant into a placid pace. The Rider-Waite deck illustrates this with a man carving eight Pentacles, one after another, all the same steady and focused work. Then, when you least expect it, an intense disturbance of resonant metal objects snaps you out of the trance. I remember thinking that I wanted to design this sequence of sounds so that it would startle even myself, despite knowing it was coming. The reason for this disturbance is to offer a pivot of perspective. The rest of the piece grinds away in a Death Industrial dirge, reflecting both on where we have been and where we are going.
River of Los
The name Los is taken from William Blake, who I was exposed to at a very young age, having read The Book of Urizen and The Song of Los and become completely fascinated with these surreal epics. I wanted to draw deep from within my own personal experience and create the most colorful musical passage that had ever occurred in the Burial Hex cycle thus far. Without spending too much time on the details of Los, one of his primary characteristics is being a smith, his hammer and forge pulsing and pounding like the human heart, the cardiovascular system and the various other rhythms of creation.
Therefore using rhythm and percussion was an appropriate starting place for this piece and a counterpoint to the formless voids of the previous two pieces. Drums and synth carry this composition like a Kosmische processional march not unlike something the early phases of Tangerine Dream or Popol Vuh might have conjured.
After clearing the chapel through giving up on the will of the self to come into total conformity with the Work, the aspirant now begins to reconcile this instantiation of selfhood with his newly gained perspectives. This piece represents an introspective plateau in the initiatory process, where previously otherworldly forms are given more recognizable masks once again. I recall this piece being the most difficult portion of the album to realize, everything was recorded without a metronome and it was no easy task to keep the synth sequences and arpeggios in time with the layers of percussion. However it felt like an important turning point in the work, to render some of the abstractions in a form slightly more tangible, if only for a few moments.
Bo -II- Ne
The album's final movement sought to take the newly accomplished aspirant for one final plunge into unfamiliar territory before letting him pass. The temporary relief of familiar vistas quickly fall away. Using layers of modular synth stacked with blind and automatic methods, I attempted to remove even myself from the creation of the textures in this composition. Having spent hours in front of the modular PAiA desk, pulling grey tendrils of synth noise out the machines and committing them to analog tape, I then cut up these recordings and pasted them haphazardly into the mix, editing as little as possible and allowing them to intertwine in ways I could not have intentionally devised. Like a reversal of the redeeming aspects in the "Will to the Chapel", the "Bo - II - Ne" throws the aspirant into unfeeling anti-gravity, suspending him in one last wash of loss, paranoia and uncertainty. It is a trip of existential devastation, to humble the aspirant and remind him of the fact that each initiation is only a mere glimpse from a slightly higher plateau in the unending series of mysteries that lie beyond the chapel. No matter how refined the will of the aspirant my seem to have grown in the completion of this working, there is still forever to go. Just as quickly as it began, the initiation comes to a close, placing the aspirant firmly back down into the circle of salt, until next time.