Every so often an album comes along that just stops you in your tracks… one that is so different… so out there… that you just have to sit with it for a while and think about what you have just heard… and, well, consider its effect on you. ‘Aura’ is one such record… and a significant contributing factor towards my going over two months without writing anything, let along publishing something on here.
This feeling was amplified when I started looking into the background to this album and how it came about. Before going into this I first want to hear from Hatis Noit herself:
“Words cannot describe everything we feel. How can one accurately verbalise the sensation we feel when we’re a newborn and our mother holds us in her arms, and we feel her skin on our cheek. We clearly feel her warmth and humidity, some feeling of love from her, but it’s tough to verbalise it perfectly. Music is a language that can translate that sensation, feeling, the memory of love.” (https://hatisnoit.bandcamp.com/album/aura)
This is significant because, with one exception (discussed later), this album consists entirely of Hatis Noit’s voice… and with no discernible words being uttered during the entire span of this remarkable work.
Before hearing this I had not come across Hatis Noit before, perhaps because she had very much concentrated on performance rather than recorded work, and while she had largely recorded the vocals for this album before the pandemic, it seems that it is that event which ultimately seems to have shaped the way it was eventually recorded.
To think about this we need to go back to the album’s title: ‘Aura’. It is named after the German philosopher Walter Benjamin’s notion that the ‘Aura’ of a work lies in it’s uniqueness as a live performance. The title of the essay from which this idea comes, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”… and the time in which he wrote it, Germany in the 1930s, gives some context to this as ideas and creativity was being increasingly manipulated… and how we experience it changed.
In some ways it seems strange that Hatis Noit should use this concept to mark the first significant reproduction of her art… and yet in other ways it makes perfect sense since the album is a consequence of her coming to terms with lockdown and the prophylactic effect that this had on her performance… something which, like for many of us, led to an inward journey of self-discovery… and, for her, a radical change to her creative process…
However, it seems that it took some time for this to find it’s full fruition, something which only happened when the album’s producer, Robert Raths, had the idea to re-amplify the recordings in a church to bring them closer to a live performance… to, if you like, add that aura that Benjamin discusses. As Hatis Noit comments:
“That was the moment that changed everything for the album as the physical space with its organic ambience brought everything to life”.
This, then, is not only an album of uniquely interesting music… but born of what, hopefully, is a unique collective moment in our history… and one that, for me, really connects with something deeper… something which lies on Hatis Noit’s name:
“The name Hatis Noit itself is taken from Japanese folklore, meaning the stem of the lotus flower. The lotus represents the living world, while its root represents the spirit world, therefore Hatis Noit is what connects the two. For Hatis, music represents the same netherworld with its ability to move and transport us to the other side; the past, a memory, our subconscious.“
This is clear right from the beginning as the title track gets underway with a series of sounds which feel almost random before a siren voice breaks through… you are immediately struck by the atmosphere that these sounds create… the first time I heard it it felt so alien… so disruptive to my common though processes that I almost dismissed it straight away as something far to inaccessible for my ears… yet now every time I hear it I hear something deeper and more fundamental than before… it really does reach deep inside you… and every listen seems to have that unique aura that Benjamin talks about… It is a beautiful… operatic… yet meditative track where you instantly forget that there is nothing here but Hatis Noit’s voice.
As you would expect with a track called ‘Thor’ this has a certain grandeur to it… after ‘Aura’ you have to find another way in to the music here… something that is a mark of this record… but also explains its longevity… it asks a lot of the listener to break into it… but once you are in you really feel the benefits…. although I am still at the stage of feeling that there is something alien here… something that I haven’t quite got. You really get the sense of here vocal range here… but it is the vocal riff that really drags you in.
‘Himbrimi’ is different again… instantly softer and more friendly in it’s approach… it welcomes you in in a way that you would not have thought possible in the initial listens… but is as case in point of how your mind and this music gradually mould themselves around each other… breaching that divide to the subconscious… it really opens up and moves into ‘A Caso’ which has some of the same elements but feels like a forest of sound through which you have to plot your path, reaching a series of momentary clearings in which it is possible to receive moments of clarity before moving on… however, if you can focus more (and this is something I sometime find hard to do) you get to sense the wood from the trees… and really appreciate the profundity of this work.
After that ‘Jomon’ is something that is far more in your face… with layers of sound… building up into a wall of voices. It is at times unsettling and almost unruly… it feels like something that your mind can hardly control if you listen too intently… that the meaning perhaps lies in the wall itself, not what is on the other side of it. In many ways this is refreshing because it demands yet another way to approach this remarkable album.
‘Angelus Novus’ marks yet another radical turn… as the name suggests there is something far more spiritual running through this track. There is space here… time to breathe and room to be… it slows you dow after the previous cacophony and draws on different techniques that are reflected in seeking to attain the sacred… Gregorian, Bulgarian orthodox, traditional choral and Buddhist chants come to the fore in a path that perhaps offers a ritualistic route to the subconscious… and one that is utterly beautiful.
This is a perfect backdrop to the incredible ‘Inori’ which contains the only sounds that are not Hatis Noit’s voice… namely field recordings of the sea near the Fukushima nuclear reactor… with this track being dedicated to the memory of the many who died in that tsunami… and as a reflection of the memories of the area’s inhabitants. It is a beautifully evocative and ultimately memorable track… perhaps because the sounds of the sea perfectly accompany her voice and deepen the atmosphere to an even greater extent… beautiful and moving.
This is maintained and reinforced with the final track, ‘Sir Etok’, which takes a repetitive chant and builds on it as it brings the album to a close, eventually, with the sort of randomness with which it began.
In between we are taken on an absolutely stunning sonic inner journey which takes us to some out of the way place which, for me, recalibrates the parameters of what accessible music can be, and breaking down the limitations of what it can achieve. And, to this extent, I feel that it is a truly psychedelic work which really reaches those numinal pathways that take us away from the everyday mundane into something far more rewarding and memorable.
‘Aura’ is out now on Erased Tapes.
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