Phurpa - Mantras of Bon [Zoharum - 2014]Zoharum imprint presents Mantras of Bon, the latest offering from the Russian music collective and performance art group known as Phurpa. This full-length CD presents 70 minutes of live and studio tracks from this musical oddity. The brainchild of Alexey Tagin, Phurpa pushes the human voice into unknown territories, while also using traditional and nontraditional instruments (in particular, making sounds using human bones found in Tibetan wastelands). Their live performances purportedly resemble shamanistic rituals, which doesn’t surprise me as their music is the sonic equivalent of a religious experience.
Mantras of Bon is presented in 2 parts. The first 2 tracks are live performances from Moscow and St. Petersburg featuring Alissa Nicolai doing all the vocal work. While Phurpha might be grounded in meditative sounds, I found these first two tracks to be more terrifying than entrancing. The 2 tracks than make up the first part of this disc are almost all vocal work as far as I can discern. Yes there is a thick blanket of eerie ambience that engulfs both pieces, but it could very well be just the sounds of Nicolai’s vocals resonating throughout the venue and space’s own acoustics. Nicolai’s vocals are front and center and run the gamut from haunting wails, to piercing shrieks, to sounding like a demonically possessed child. Listening to this late at night while driving, Nicolai’s vocals made my skin crawl in horror. It’s hard not to be impressed by her vocal range, even if it did creep me the fuck out on several occasions. I can imagine these tracks performed in the dark of night, in the ruins of a castle with candles and incense burning as a shrouded figure produces these sinister sounds.
The second part of the disc, the “Bön Ceremonies” take quite a different approach. The first track, a live recording from the CTM Festival in Berlin, is a dense meditative work. The bulk of this track is, more or less, deep guttural chanting that is reminiscent of buddhist and gregorian chants. While the piece is indeed meditative, it also has a rather dark aura that surrounds it. Listening to this piece I couldn’t help, but recall that scene in Eyes Wide Shut where Tom Cruise’s character sneaks into a mansion to witness masked figures engaging in ritual sex acts.
The tracks “Kuntunzangpo” and “Mi Dud,” take a similar tack. Though I found the former to sounds more conversational in delivery. If I listen intently and let my imagination run wild, I can see a group of lumbering ogres with loud, booming voices conversing is some foreign dialect. “Mi Dud,” sticks out as the one track that has a lot of discernable, albeit minimal, use of instrumentation. Through the maelstrom of deep guttural chants we hear minimal use of percussion, mostly the use of a well-placed cymbal.
Mantras of Bon is beautifully presented in a gatefold cover featuring some pictures of the live performances (one especially sinister photo of Alissa Nicolai brandishing a spiked glove) and a ritualistic sculpture/structure adorning the cover.
Mantras of Bon is a challenging piece of work that is simultaneously meditative, yet horrifying. To capture the movements of a religious ritual on an audio document and truly convey that live experience is no small feat, but Phurpa somehow manages to do so. A curious offering, by an even more curious outfit. Recommended for you next zen moment or blood sacrifice.