Marina Herlop – Pripyat
In Carnatic music, a raga is performed by a vocalist singing improvisations in the corresponding register, in turn leading a small band of tabla, sitar, and violin to follow their patterns and rhythmic gymnastics. It’s like jazz being led by scat, but somehow more regimented despite its largely improvisational nature. The resulting gayaki is a feat of the human voice; a complex and dynamic score that loops through the talas (rhythmic cycles) and maintains the melodic formulae of the raga. It’s unsurprising that Barcelona’s Marina Herlop should be attracted to the classic South Indian art form. The experimental musician and vocalist usually sings in a non-existent language, a sort of imagined lingua franca that she creates so that her songs are shaped by harmony and phrasing rather than words. A trained classicist, usually her strange incantations are sung across scattered piano concertos as with her first two albums, Nanook and Babasha. But on Pripyat, her third album, Herlop trades her piano for a computer by leaning entirely into electronic production. It’s a beguiling change up, one that opens the sonic possibilities of her work like never before. While Herlop’s piano provided a score for her ideas, through electronica these burst into life and provide a far more spacious yet textured playground for her voice to dance across. It’s apt that the piano is the first sound heard on Pripyat, quickly becoming fractured and staccato, chopped together with Herlop’s voice on abans abans. But despite this sharp pivot in production, the voice (Herlop’s and otherwise) is still very much at the centre of Pripyat.
Like in Carnatic music, the voice leads and shapes the rest of the elements on Pripyat. On miu, she interpolates the melodic formulae and rhythmic cycle of a raga, singing with herself as if taking on the role of the various Carnatic instruments. A looped backdrop of her utterances become a rhythmic backbone, harmonies arise to emphasise her gibberish phrasing like a violin responding to the voice of a raga vocalist at play. Later, drones begin to swell and distorted drums glitch out around her, but always in service of her voice. shaolin mantis also interpolates Carnatic phrasing, playing out like a fragmented and reshaped Bollywood song, the album’s poppiest moment and one of its most dynamic. On lysoff, one of the few songs sung with actual words, Herlop opens dry in a capella, before the space around her explodes in electronic glitches and clutters guided by the spectral presence of Herlop’s piano. Slowly, the pieces streamline themselves into a fractured bolero by the song’s finale. can be felt beneath the layers of sound. On the haunting kaddisch, Herlop spins a strange, operatic dirge to electronic harp chords and shuddering bass. Her wails are vaguely ancient, and in Herlop’s made up language, much of Pripyat feels excavated from a distant time and place. This juxtaposition with the album’s ultramodern production makes for something with striking gravitas, reminiscent of Björk’s electronic alchemy.
The perfect storm of her unbridled imagination with the classic and ancient theory of Carnatic music has resulted in something magical. There are questions that arise from Herlop’s adoption and subsequent reimagining of the Carnatic form, but it’s not so much appropriation as it is inspiration in that Herlop isn’t claiming to be performing ragas. Quite the contrary, in fact. There’s a posthuman quality to Herlop’s rejection of language, a sort of reversal back to a primordial state where utterance is at its most basic, but capable of impossible nuance. When Carnatic vocalists sing, it’s as if they connect to a divine stream of consciousness, and Herlop channels that on her improvisations here. Pripyat, imbued with the mythological and sacred, but programmed for the modern ear, is beautifully realised, an album that seemingly opens a portal into an alternate dimension by way of Herlop’s voice alone.
Watch the music video for miu from Pripyat below.
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