Sound artists Shinkei (David Sani) and Luigi Turra first worked together on 2009’s “Yu”. The inspiration for their new collaborative venture is the Tibetan Himalayan mountain of Kailash, venerated as holy by at least four religions and left unclimbed because of this. Although setting foot on the mountain is considered a grave sin, thousands of pilgrims travel there every year to walk around it: Hindus and Buddhists in a clockwise direction, followers of Jainism and Bön counter-clockwise.
The release consists of an artist’s book, with photography by Turra, text by Sani, and design by Fabio Perletta, and a forty-minute piece of music. The book contains abstract images and designs, some evoking mountain peaks and patterns of snow and ice, others so faint that it’s hardly possible to make out an image at all. In a way, the book could almost act as a score for the music (though I suspect it may have been the other way round): an enduring silence is occasionally broken by very quiet scrapings and cracklings, gentle resonances, thumps and thwacks, dripping or trickling, sliding of doors and chinking of utensils. Sometimes the sounds seem to occur in the echoey environment of a cave or canyon; at others, they hover indeterminately between possible identities, a faint buzzing pivoting from insect’s wings, to wind through leaves, to electronic fuzz.
Through images, words, and music, Kailash is presented less as a purely material phenomenon of rocks and snow, and more as a state of mind or of the soul. In this sense, Sani and Turra perhaps treat the holy mountain with more respect and reverence than a more literal phonographic approach or mimetic composition would have permitted. Sometimes the sheer sparseness and vagueness of the music makes me lose the thread of its form, something related neither to volume nor to density or frequency of sound events, but rather to a certain clarity or directness that is sometimes lacking from “Kailash”. Perhaps, like the circling of the mountain on hands and knees performed by the faithful, listening to this music is a matter of discipline. Or maybe its peaks are intentionally hidden by a gentle blizzard of snow.