Retribution Body ~ The Enemy of the Good


Recorded in the reverberation chamber at Acentech (Cambridge, MA) in March of 2012. Mastered with extended dynamic range, please increase playback gain by 6 to 10 dB for an optimal listening experience.

Some might initially be perplexed by the idea of a Buddhist drone album, but there is much about drone that resonates with Buddhist philosophy.

Aesthetic judgments are always based upon a system of values, and since those values are not universal but particular to the needs to each culture, on some level aesthetic judgment is relative.  However, we can make objectively relative judgments if we understand the values the work is based upon.

To abuse an overly reductive dichotomy between “Western” and “Eastern” aesthetics,  Western aesthetics has, since at least Roman times, placed value upon grandiosity and permanence.  By the Christian period, neo-platonic thought had transferred these values into a Christian worldview, stressing interiority while obsessed with that which is most unknowable, the primacy of Ideas, of abstract forms over the imperfection of actually existing things.  I am of the persuasion that this is misguided, leading us not towards an Affirmation of life but rather constant Negation and dissatisfaction.

Buddhist aesthetics, on the other hand, are rooted in a different set of beliefs, in which the mind-body duality of the Christian world doesn’t fit very comfortably.  As opposed to large stone statues or frescoes, a Buddhist art work might be made out of pine wood or painted on rice paper. That is, utilizing objects that will degrade more rapidly, with no pretense of permanence.  All things must pass, and the truth of impermanence is inherently embodied in the ephemerality of the work of art. Unlike the Western view which finds reality to be lacking, the non-discriminating mind allows one to confront the world as it is, to allow each sound to emerge and pass away, a state balance that must appeal to an improvising musician.

As someone who has found solace in both experimental music and Buddhist meditation, how could Retribution Body not have piqued my interest?  Of course, many great composers have looked toward the East to escape the confines of the Christian aesthetic order.  John Cage famously embraced Zen Buddhism, and the aesthetic values underlying his work embodied this fact.  La Monte Young, along with his partner  Marian Zazeela, John Hassel, Terry Riley, Yoshi Wada, Henry Flynt and Catherine Christer Hennix and many others, embraced the teachings of Hindustani classical musician Pandit Pran Nath.  Éliane Radigue found her inspiration in Tibetan Buddhism, dedicating several excellent works to Milarepa.  These projects do not merely reflect these concerns on the level of content (in that they are “about” something) but there very form communicates these philosophical principles.

David Tibet of Current 93 has written about how the sense of space in Gregorian Chant and the continuity and perpetual motion of Tibetan chants embody their deeper meaning.  Both forms of chants  “move me because they mean what they say – there is a belief structure, so it’s not style, it’s not image.“

Certainly drone exists in Western music as well, particularly in liturgical and folk musics, but it has fallen out of favor over the centuries as equal temperament tuning has become standard.  Just intonation brings out increased overtones, and as such lends itself to drone in a different way, as you might observe in the work of La Monte Young.  The distorted electric guitar generates intense overtones of its own, and lends itself therefore to the repetition of drone. (Rhys Chatham or Glenn Branca, for instance). Repetition, but different nonetheless, each repetition new and unique.  Time is like this too.  You are same but different.  Music is a way of organizing time, or for listeners to experience time.  Not mechanically imposed time- perhaps we may lose track of that, but of internal time.

Drones are ill-suited to recordings, in many ways, as they can’t capture the complexity of the in situ situation from which they are produced.   This is true in the context of meditation, as it is with art, but even when techno-mediated, the drone has a special relationship to space and time.  Listen to a minimalist drone masterpiece such as C.C. Hennix’s The Electric Harpsichord, or Éliane Radigue’s Trilogie de la Mort or Geelriandre / Arthesis.  Play it loudly, adjusting your speakers periodically while listening closely to the resulting shifts as they produce different effects and varying listening situations.  In letting the tones unfold, you allow your perception time to pick up the subtle changes.  After 10 minutes in La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s Dream House merely turning your head will alter you perception of the tone.

Retribution Body didn’t prepare this work as an installation however, and has mastered this album which was recorded in an anechoic chamber, in order to allow for extended dynamic range. I recommend that you listen to this at high volume in order to experience the embodied sound as much as is possible.  Like Radigue, Retribution Body’s Matt Azevedo’s musical practice was reinvigorated through his use of an ARP synthesizer.  The slowly evolving compositions lend themselves to careful drone and reflection, as well as high volume and a careful consideration of space on the part of the listener.  Comprised of just two tracks, “The Perfect” and “The Enemy of the Good,” each clocking in at around 20 minutes, The Enemy of the Good is a record that is easy to get lost within.  Regardless of your feelings regarding Buddhism, Retribution Body should appeal to drone and synth fans of all denominations. (Joseph Sannicandro)

About Joseph Sannicandro

writer | traveler | sound organizer | contrarian | concerned citizen

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