We all have some idea of what the words “shamanistic” and “ritual” mean in the context of music, and in general they’re associated to clear-cut rhythms and repetitive structures thanks to certain historical connections with the African diaspora. But Angelina Yershova comes from a context where those words translate into practices different from those ecstatic meditations many of us have come to identify as ritualistic. CosmoTengri is a collage of “cosmos” and “Tengri”, which is the ancient Turkic/Mongolian word for a deity, the “Blue Eternal Heaven”. As if the sky wasn’t enough, the fusion of the words has a universal aim, emphasizing the sheer vastness of a world that the self-mythologization of reason has endeavored to expropriate, to take all it can without ever giving back. Constantly referring to nature via track titles, the album leads the listener towards environmental communion through a different path to those that entail a loss of self via repetition: in the sublime dazzle of the mountaintop we find ourselves full, and yet come to understand that we are but one more raindrop amidst a titanic thunderstorm.
Yershova utilizes contrasts in a classical manner, deploying melody and acoustic instruments as humanistic devices, while electronics and percussion extend – ironically enough – as contact with the natural. This opposition of culture/nature born from traditional Western terms serves the composer mostly as a critical juncture, since the idea is to do away with it entirely. Tracks like “Tumbleweed” merge the ‘singular’ voices of instruments with the ‘collective’ force of electronic beats, creating very percussive melodies that repeat as much as they divert into new forms. Others, like “Kamlanie”, introduce voice samples that haunt the electronics, an alienation of our own making in which once upon a time into the future nothing will remain but the beat of the earth, our rhythms out of sync with hers. The electronics and percussions serve as warm embrace of other sounds, the fundamental layer that keeps the music together; the ritual here is a contemplation of an eternity in which we humans are not exactly the center of, simply because there is no center. Everything in CosmoTengri tends to flow away, its electronics seeping into uncertainty, into a horizon impossible to grasp, affirming the inexplicable immensity of that blue sky that we know just turns black and goes on till the end of time.
It’s an achievement that the album does not simply minimize the human, or that it posits Tengri as source of sublime terror. It does not lose the opportunity to play with these notions, as in the somber drones of the title track, but it does not make either the baseline with which to approach the concept. In this sense, it is a clear-headed dive into an aspect of new music with ritualistic elements that is often left aside: the ritual goes both ways, and it is a process that -at the very least- symbolically modifies both subject and object. The last couple tracks are dense with drones that match the human and the natural, with grave electronics accompanying throat singing, a conventional rhythm outlined by short riffs and melodies from the Kazakh string instrument called kobyz. “Ecstatic Dance”, the last track, is the closest to what we’ve all heard when we read “ritualistic music”, and even then the kobyz works well to interrupt the trance and allow the repetition to do something else; not to take us outside ourselves but to locate ourselves, to see exactly where in the cosmos it is that we belong. (David Murrieta Flores)