The New Sounds Of The Solstice
On December 20th of every year, something magical takes place in the heavens. The northern hemisphere is at its furthest point from the sun and the longest night ensues. It’s the Winter Solstice, a time of sleeping and dreaming, a night before the light returns in incremental fractions and degrees. It goes by many other names throughout the various cultures and traditions of the world including, “Yalda,” “Saturnalia (named after Saturn, the ruling planet of Capricorn, which begins between, 12/20 and 12/21), and Yule. Way back in the early days of eMusic 2.0, I looked at some of the origins and roots of The Solstice in Christmas, B.C. and how major temples and pyramids like the catacombs of Newgrange in Great Britain. Of course, the mega-event of the next decade, the soon-too-be-overhyped 2012, will take place on 12/21/12, auguring either a leap into the fourth dimension, the end of time, the rapture and the biblical end of days, the staged invasion of the planet, the arrival of Niburu, the revelation of the anti-christ, or all or none of the above.
It’s fairly well-known and documented that Christianity and Judaism are Johnnys-come-latelys when organizing groups of people together in order to define behavior by moral codes (though Judaism found another way around such stifling parental controls by inserting The Kol Nidre into their belief system, which absolves them from any wrongdoing on a yearly basis). Both faiths knew this date in 2012 held a primacy in the hearts, minds and traditions of pagan worshippers across the planet. The cycles of the seasons, the instinctual awareness of the dimming of the light and the sleep of nature were all part of the psyche for natural man. Overlaying religious traditions and holidays, such as Christmas and Hannukah, were brilliant strokes of mass-marketing by their respective spiritual leadership.
But what meaning does it have for us? Is there a way that we can create new rituals out of the old and fuse a polytheistic model that embraces the cycle of the seasons, to which our bodies are naturally attuned, along with the religious traditions that most of us were raised with? Can the baby Jesus rest peacefully alongside a blazing fire dance in the heart of the longest night? Can the dim light of the solstice Sun illuminate the candles of The Menorah? Is this the metaphor for the mystery of the burning lamp with no oil?
Perhaps we can even create our own soundtrack for new rituals of light in the darkest of nights.
Back when eMusic was just starting up, I had a brief connection with Wally Brill through my friend, didgeridoo player Stephen Kent, who plays on Brill’s brilliant album Covenant. While Covenant is not ostensibly a Hanukkah recording, it does capture the sacred spirit of Judaica, with beats and grooves that contemporize the holy qualities of life on tracks like “Rtzeh (We Pray) ” and “A Loop In Time.” If one were to incorporate elements of modern Judaica into a soundtrack for a new ritual of light, Brill’s Covenant would certainly fit the bill.
We all know about Dead Can Dance and the delicious, pagan-inspired rhythms and grooves that propel the haunting vocals of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. But what if you were looking for something just a little bit less obvious? How about The Medieaval Baebes, and their gift-wrapped and ready-to-go Mistletoe and Wine on Nettwerk Records? Led by ex-Miranda Sex Garden leader, Katherine Blake, The Baebes romp through 15 pagan, old Christian and Latinate songs that feature their heavenly voices in exquisite fashion, especially on the haunting “Salva Nos” (new salvation) and hypnotically enchanting, “I Am Eve.” Inspiration abounds on this delicious sampler of slightly modernized, sacred polyphony.
Let’s say, however, you are really in the deep space of the night and want something without any type of cultural moorings — just good, deep, reflective music that could serve as an opening to wider expanses of meditative awareness and oneness? You might want to listen in on Liz Story‘s Night Sky Essays, moving piano meditations of the zodiac. Of course, of particular interest would be Sagittarius and Capricorn, both of which are on the cusp of The Winter Solstice. Story is a very engaging piano player who plays with enormous subtlety and feeling. Her work transcends the usual Satie inspired noodlings of most new age styled piano.
For a more classical approach, look no further than Solstice/Canticle, #3 by the father of micro-tonality and “Just Intonation,” Lou Harrison. Conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, it’s the musical score for The Ballet, “Solstice.” Key phases of the traditions, from “Saturnalia” to the “Vernal dance,” are scored by Harrison. Consider this a more minimalist counterpoint to Stravinsky’s Rite of spring which was created for the Spring Equinox.
Last, but certainly not least, is the cosmic chant of David Hykes and his elegaic “Solstice Kyrie,” from his breathtaking (literally and figuratively) release from 1992, Current Circulation. It’s one of those transcendental pieces that moves from a vaguely traditional space to a deeply cosmic journey into the Nada Brahma, or first breath. It is the sound of sacred space made manifest through the simplicity of the voice.
When Ahkenanton decided that Ra was going to be the main man in the Egyptian pantheon and everyone was going to be a monotheist, it paved the way toward the embrace of the one. Yet at its, heart the Solstice is a about the polytheistic expression of elements — cycles, lunation, the procession of the Sun and the natural resonance of the human towards his most subtle relationship to his environment. If we are invested in a creative exploration of these holy days that is reinvested with meaning, the world of sound provides the foundation for new rituals at the cusp of our collective awakening.