When it all boils down, music is meant to be a spiritual experience. Music is meant to be transcendent. We make music to express ideas that are beyond us as human beings. We use it to express feelings, concepts, and emotions that we cannot otherwise interpret. Music tells stories, first and foremost. Every note, chord, and harmony is intended to create. We are mean to be able to understand music better than normal speech because there are limits to what we can describe, feel, and understand. Music does not have any of those limits. Music can be made to express anything. Music is powerful. In the wrong hands (ie pop music), music can become a banal tool to fend off boredom. In my opinion that is the ultimate sin, to misuse the arts. In the hands of masters, however, music is an omnilingual. Phurpa, a musical group I was recently introduced to, are such masters. They play, or rather ritualize, a form of ambient that puts all genres to shame. Gyer Ro, their latest album, is a two hour tour de force of throat singing, ritualistic prayers, and Tibetan instruments.
Gyer Ro, and Phurpa in general, is probably the most inaccessible music I’ve come to enjoy. That’s saying a lot because I can enjoy death industrial, NSBM, and noise with the best of them. Phurpa is different. Before I even started listening to their album I tried find out who and what they were (I do love a research project). I came across the interview they did with Bardo Methodology (I highly recommend it, it’s a fascinating look into their history and their purpose). A word they used a lot in reference to their music was power. Power over emotions. Normally I like to talk about the emotional resonance I feel in the music I listen to as a basis for asking questions about what the music is meant to do. But for this album, I’m forgo that. This album is all about power, strength, and ferocity. Gyer Ro, sadly, might not appeal to people for multiple reasons. One, the album is over two hours long, I’ve listened to a handful of albums that last over an hour and a half and only Gyer Ro and Nyarlathotep have the strength to carry on that long. Two, even though the album is two hours long, every second of it is important and needs to be carefully considered. Three, this album will fuck up your worldview, no matter what it is. Four, it’s a stream of conscious album that has little to no structure. That being said though, those that can make it through the album will be better for it.
I almost don’t even want to call Phurpa music, or ritual ambient. It’s just ritual. And it’s one hell of a ritual. There is a type of power in the sounds, the vibrations of this album that I have never felt before. The album itself is devoid of any of the usual dark ambient tricks of echo, reverb, and drone. The sound is utterly authentic, and it’s utterly inhuman as a result.
The music is created by one of the most powerful instruments of all: the human voice, more specifically throat singing. Throat singing has been something that fascinates and terrifies me. I think it’s extremely appropriate that this album is filled with it. It’s something very few people can master, its sound is powerful, bestial, and majestic. Throat singing has a way of transporting its listener and its practitioner out of the physical world and into a place of pure thought. What the listener and the practitioner will find there is are completely different, no one can find the same thing. I’ve said many times that ambient music is something that depends heavily on the listener for interpretation, Phurpa, from their interview in Bardo Methodology, seem to agree with me. Each person experiences something different, something powerful, something unique.
I have a tendency to shut myself off from the world when I’m listening to music I intend to review. I either push the volume as high as it will go and flood my house with the sounds of black metal or dark ambient, or I put on headphones, put on a thick beanie to block out all the light and allow myself to be taken by the music. Each method has its values and for this album, I needed to use both.
Listening to the music on the speakers, I could feel the music. I could feel the achromatic, atonal pounding of the percussion, I could feel the horn blasts. If I closed my eyes I could almost see the music moving in wave after wave. It was heavy enough to crush me yet at the same time it was light enough to make me feel as though I was floating. It’s that sort of paradox that makes music like this ritual music so powerful. It encompasses everything and nothing. It’s the ultimate expression of power and strength. Listening to the music through my headphones was and even harsher experience. I covered my eyes with my beanie and allowed myself to fall into the trance again. The sensory deprivation really aided the experience. Even though the lights were still on as I listened, I could feel myself drifting in darkness. I lost sense of time as the album went on. After what I felt had been at least thirty minutes of throat singing and horns, I looked to find that only eight minutes had actually passed. Normally I find myself losing time (family history of Alzheimer’s and all that) but it’s rare that I “gain” time. It might not seem like anything to you, but to me it was a bit surreal.
This album blurs the lines of reality, hyper reality, and surreality. Everything sort of blends together into a miasmic, cacophonous maelstrom of sound and audacity. I didn’t start this album thinking that I might have a religious experience, but I think that’s what I could categorize this as. I didn’t seem my gods or speak to them, but I felt as though I was, for an instant at least, on the same plane as them. I felt the surge of power, I felt the urge to move. Phurpa is not a group many will get into, but for those that do find them and love them, Gyer Ro will be an experience like no other. Cyclic Law, the label releasing this messy gem, have outdone themselves. After doing my research into the group, I expected something strange and ominous on a grand scale, and that’s exactly what I got.
Highlights: Laughter of To-Nag-Ma, The Hundred Syllable Mantra
If you enjoyed this try: Shibalba, Black Earth, SunnO)))
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