By Hayley Jane-Blackstone
In the often damp & dark New England underground experimental music landscape, the cult of personality is not just a distant concept. Men can hold varying positions of power, extricable from their intimate & romantic behavior. Considering this, it seems incongruous to describe the first time I heard Lingua Ignota’s 2017 opus ALL BITCHES DIE as a “breath of fresh air” because the record feels more like a coughing fit. Re-released as an LP earlier this month on legacy metal label Profound Lore, the colossal work deals with sexual violence without obscuring any of the profound pain, cruelty, and emptiness. Borrowing practices from power electronics, devotional music, and industrial noise, Lingua Ignota’s oeuvre transcends collage.
After her set on the floor of the Empty Bottle, I spoke with the artist, musician & neoclassical vocalist behind the project, Kristen Hayter, about the concepts that drive her work and what’s next as her month long cross-country tour supporting Providence transplants The Body was reaching the halfway mark in Chicago.
There’s some debate over whether or not Lingua Ignota was intended as a secret language or a universal one. Thinking about music as a language, does the amalgamation of extreme disciplines & craft in your work create a secret or universal one?
I think it’s closer to secret. When we hear people in conversation, we understand language as language. In a similar way, music is music in that we’re cognizant of the aural stimulation, but just like language, music has separate vernaculars understood in different ways by different people.
For instance there might be a microtonal dialect that has sacred meaning that is specific to where the dialect comes from. My sacred is different from your sacred, and what was sacred to Hildegard, which informs her ecstatic language (the Lingua Ignota) should be specific to her understanding of god, which takes a different form than any of our understandings of god. So yes, the amalgam of influences in my work is processed in a very particular way, through my particular lens, to craft something that sounds hopefully unlike other things (secret) but hopefully strikes truth somewhere (universal).
There is an overarching theme in your work of the vengeful and merciless God. Does that perspective come from growing up religious, or is it more informed by trauma? Does liturgy/liturgical music have the potential to be cathartic, healing, or bright?
I was raised to believe that God was fearsome and ubiquitous but then in my life, I came to find that perhaps God, if that entity existed at all, was not merciful. Then I abandoned the idea of god and then returned to god, having no other place to put pain other than god. It returns to the secret vs. universal: my understanding of god has been constantly shifting alongside my experiences. So liturgical music or worship can heal depending on what god might mean at any particular time; if God does not exist, liturgical music might be simply decorative or a demonstration of style, and if God is merciful, music written for him might provide release and lightness, and if God is wrathful, it may be an act of violence to make work in his name. Does vengeance heal? I don’t know.
ALL BITCHES DIE effectively exists outside of a specific feminist body politic while still engaging with feminist themes. Does critical theory obfuscate or distract from the work, or do you think there can be a relationship between theory & ritual? Can they serve the same function?
I think that if my work existed within any feminist school of thought it would not be nearly as arresting. It’s the distinctly un-theoretical approach that gives it strength. Weighed down by dogma it would be just like anything else: stale and dry. That goes for the stylistic/aesthetic/sound approach as well. I really want to re-organize how I think about violence, trauma, pain to stand outside of theory, so the ritualistic aspect is far more important at this point.
How does your gear setup change on the road, if at all? Does the performance change as a result?
I am always self-conscious about the fact that I use a laptop, and that I use some degree of playback. I wish I could play everything and perform and sing at once but alas ergonomics wins, so laptop it is. Wherever I can I try to play or incorporate elements outside the screen. The computer allows me to focus on the performance, the voice, the body moving around. For this tour I wanted to try some different things performatively, so I started playing on the floor noise-set style, disavowing the stage, being there on the ground with everyone else.
I incorporate work lights/clamp lamps to be in control of my own lighting, to light the audience, to be another sound source, and then to be an instrument of self-flagellation, violence, indeterminacy. I get wrapped and tangled in the cabling, I knock everything over, beat the shit out of myself, and I never know what’s going to happen or what will be unplugged or how I’m going to recover; it’s like, the cords determine what’s going to happen, and then at the end it’s just a mess of bruises and trash and broken lightbulbs that I throw in a cardboard box. It’s not very hi-fi but it’s fairly effective.
Yeah, I feel like sticking so strictly to analogue definitely runs the risk of being too ‘”precious” or overly-nostalgic for something you’ve never experienced.
I’m a former gearhead so I understand the obsession with analogue but I agree it can be very precious, and for me it doesn’t make sense, or the lofi, digital, ‘everything I use is trash and gets destroyed’ approach doesn’t lend itself to having beautiful modular equipment that takes hours to set up. I plug in, freak out, and limp away with a cardboard box full of literal garbage.
God Gave Me No Name (Nothing Can Hide From My Flame) is a new track on the record that came out on Profound Lore. Was it recorded during the same sessions?
That was a song that I had been working with for a certain amount of time but had never recorded for BITCHES, and when deciding how to make the reissue work for vinyl we had to work with vinyl’s time constraints. The record as it had originally been released digitally was too long so I decided to make some edits to longer tracks and add this track to the A Side. Stylistically it’s a little different than anything else on the record but everything on the record is different from the thing that came before it so I think it works nicely.
Who are the key-player influencers on your forthcoming full-length?
The new record is about betrayal, tyranny, psychotic madness, gratuitous violence, defeat. I can’t give too much away but there are a lot of historical influences and deep cut references, and the song-writing is better than BITCHES, and the instrumentation is more expansive, and it’s very cinematic so far. People who were confused about what genre of music I make ain’t heard nothing yet.