by: James Harris
…Attila Csihar, vocalist of Sunn O))), Mayhem, and Void ov Voices
Tell me about your initiation into Sunn O))), what was the invocation of this persona, of this mask?
“It has been always some kind of mask since I’ve been in the band….from the first show I remember, when we first played in 2002 maybe, a small town in Austria. I think there were like 7 people at a house show, it was really amazing and I made this kind of like shamanic, cultic mask like in makeup. They are an esoteric or magical artifact, that with the music, really promotes this just the creative and like the ceremonial atmosphere…bang your heads and costumes and certain props….if we were in jeans and a poncho, it would hard to see that happen! (laughs) it’s not that uncomfortable and it’s not that demanding, I feel personally much more comfortable.
Initiation is, for me – I’m not part of any organization – so for me, is a pack of lies, and I think I’ve gotten initiated by certain magical events that happened that is actually….has a lot obviously to do with esoterics and magics, but it’s also very personal. So I think my initiation is this kind of thing that happens for itself and it comes from some other level or source or outer space or whatever we could call it. But certainly these masks or costumes kinda fill up with energy, so that the more that i use them they become more personal. More…more alive, somehow.”
Do the different costumes correspond to different personas? Personalities or styles?
“Definitely, it’s more like yes of course everything is about the music, so all these things are supporting the music. So yea, we view it as esoteric as far as the music takes us I think. At the same time since this kinda music requires or feels like it’s better with you know like, we are thinking of ‘what is the demand, of the music itself’, ‘what fits the best to support the message of the music itself’ and so on. So I think all this theatricality, which obviously looked theatrical, all these theatrical props for tours, eventually felt a little bit like magical and esoteric, because of the intent, the focus on ‘mind’ as the vantage point. So I think music is half the creating of the art and half the magical ceremony, like a serious magical ceremony. But at the same time, to me, to feel about music, to feel about love, love of sound and love of the experience, love of your whole….opposite….in the audience, it’s kinda like there are a lot of possible participants, and still the music is the most important thing between all these things.”
You’ve called performance “an action to manifest the spirit”, and said that you “fall into a trance.”
“Yes definitely….to me, the first time I was ever on stage, a band when I was 15, called Tormentor, I was like, a literal kid…hanging out in this club with these guys that were, maybe only 18 or a little above but they seemed so much older than I….and being backstage, getting ready to go on stage the first time, I got this, like stage fever. I’m freaking out, trying to remember all the lyrics….but when I entered on stage, the moment I got on stage, it was immediately gone…and it turned into an ecstasy, kind of overwhelming, this feeling, this ecstasy, like a high level presence, some kind of energy…that kind of takes you and possesses you. I’ve always said, it is more like channelling a bit, like I go into a trance, and open my “channels”, and of course, I’m still like in control, I’m still at the wheel so to speak, but at the same time I let this force, or energy or entities just come through, manifest and use my words….the other side of this type of the trance, with mayhem, there is this very exotic, very shamanistic dancing cultic movement, a type of archaic emotion, a tension but also contemporary…very chaotic and dynamic, while with Sunn O))), it’s more like a static, steady, something you’d call trance and meditation I mean, almost like you’re sitting in one position, and if you learn to relax all the parts of your body, then you fall into this kind of trance that you can feel with Sunn O))), and I think it is hard NOT to feel it with Sunn O))) in fact. Just the music itself and the vibe, kind of moves ALL your body. I mean any form of music is magic, it is multidimensional, we don’t just hear it, we feel it. Because the sound, already magical, goes through walls, your body, your cells, your brain cells. It resonates. It’s all about rhythmics, like the nature, our nature, the dualistic nature, light and day everything circulates and changes, everything circulates in a rhythm, everything comes back in circles, everything is dancing. We are playing together, so we synchronize our inner clocks, and we synchronize our brains, and we focus down on the same stuff, which is of course a music-wide thing. I think, if you think of it a bit deeper, it already has a lot of magical elements, especially if you play music about certain things. You can make music about politics or anything, but if you play music and focus your mind down on these magical themes and these spiritual themes, the music, it really manifests, and it is a channel to communicate spiritual emotions. I remember when i was a kid, I didn’t understand all the lyrics of the music I loved, but I could still sing it, I still loved it. I mean there is this trance, this aspect of something that is affecting our brain, that draws you into falling into this ecstasy from this rhythmic thing. In terms of sound some people compare us to this Indian raga music that puts you into this kind of meditation, which i understand, it is about the same kind of ride and harmony…these harmonics that can appear in the music, these harmonics that can really put you into a chill mood…i think this what we do, in a really technological way…as we are very serious about our gear, everything we use, all the amps, all the shit, all made before 1975, still it’s like, we use this amplification, we amplify these ragas. I think in today’s world, we maybe need these amplified ragas, because people’s mind, so disturbed today, there is no peace, no silence, maybe it’s good to have this “power meditation” music. So it kind of blows away your brain,whatever you think about, you’re going to forget it at 120 decibels. It’s kinda like washing out. So I can see the audience who I really really adore, and they come and they give so much energy and power and emotion back, we have a very solid audience now, they know what they will have and what they want. It used to be before that a lot of people were really shocked at our shows, really confused even, but these days you have this more solid following, that adore the sound as we do, and I see people with closed eyes, raising their hands and their arms, almost like levitating in the sound almost in this certain kind of trance, and it’s so beautiful. I talk to them afterwards and they describe it as like they had a long meditation, and it kind of like emptied them, inside, the sound, the vibe…this is why sometimes we say that Sunn O))) is about, is almost like, adoring, in an almost religious way, the amplifiers and the sound. And I think that comes through, and I keep hearing that most people have the same experience really, and that is very magical actually. And there is no ideology in it really, so it’s very Zen. It’s like minimalism in a maximal way. sometimes i think that I am lucky to see some Zen temples in Japan, that somehow….maybe it is strange to say, but Sunn O))) has something, like a simplicity, but at a very high level, a very sophisticated level. Like zen, it approaches this high harmonic, this transcendental level of simplicity, so not very simple at all in a way. It is sometimes like contemporary art, sometimes a song sounds like it is hundreds of years old…maybe it is a bit egoistic to say so I would not say we are close to anything that is called Zen, but somehow there are some singularities, some corollaries to that form of minimalism and I think that is why it maybe has this effect on people. When talking to people after the shows, they are very very happy, and say things like they’ve been purified or something. Everyone has this different, but very similar, spiritual experience. I love to hear that, but I feel too that it is nothing more, and nothing less than that. I don’t think it is dark, maybe it has dark aspects, this is kind of my trademark, but it is not even about death, but more about finding a balance…finding some kind of harmony in your spirit…hard to put in words.”
There is a sort of urgent immobility…maybe exemplified by the time you were inside the coffin.
“Such an amazing experience, this is what I love about this band, we are not just a regular rock band…I might call it like, power psychedelics, like psychedelic drone…..psychedelic, magical, spiritual elements brought together visually and audibly…
When i was in the coffin, that was a very amazing, very interesting experience, something that has become typical of this band. That is what I love about this band, because of the people that play in the band and because of the extraordinary sonic technology and intelligence level actually, amazes me, Stephen and Greg, their artistic abilities, somehow this all shows up in our music and in the band so we end up playing in these incredibly artistic spaces sometimes. This one was Banks Violette’s art exhibition, we played music in one of his, around his sculptures, he made all the amplifiers into salt sculptures, and he made a black coffin, and i was singing from inside there. These interesting art exhibitions, in such new zones, and very interesting festivals so …of course we have a metal fanbase really, people that are listening to more experimental metal music that really love our music but at the same time, we sometimes end up in more contemporary artistic spaces. I really enjoy that, it really brings me so much new and interesting and inspiring elements into my life. This goes side by side with Mayhem because without Mayhem, I’d still love it of course, but the two bands together for me is really nice, because they are very different, but still about the same thing at some point. With Sunn O))), we’ve been through so much shit together but now we have entered this new harmonic place that shows in the live shows and in the music…we are more…in the last year two years maybe, we’ve managed to get more comfortable with the music and we are at a higher level of communication and artistic connection between the members…somehow it’s more relaxed, we are more subdued, more assured, more comfortable with each other than ever, and this is a sign of harmony, a really good sign for Sunn O))), one that comes through at our shows, people feel that as well.”
Sunn O))) is performing at the Della Masone Labyrinth in Parma this year…
Best imaginable venue?
“To me, for Sunn O)))….Egypt, or some great South American ruins, for sure…but this labyrinth is really really amazing, a really nice step toward that honestly, because it has a pyramid, actually, in the centre…which, pyramids mean something very spiritual I think for everybody, whatever you define it, it’s so ancient, we all have that shape in our minds, and in our genes so to say. So this is like the biggest labyrinth in the world, I saw some pictures from the sky, it’s very big actually, and I saw pictures of the paths of the labyrinth, it’s this really high bamboo bush, which makes like the fences, you know, so we cannot see through….it seems you can really get fucking lost in there man. I mean, people wandering around in there…I hope I find my way to the stage! (laughs) But it has an inside like a yard or a space, like a square space in there, so people can stand there and watch the show.
And i really like the labyrinth, the symbolic imagery of getting lost…..in a way our mind is a labyrinth, so many tunnels, tunnels of thoughts we can end up in, end up in dead ends of thought, like that line of thoughts didn’t work…so symbolically there is an intertwining between the labyrinth and our mind or spirit, it has this spiritual aspect, with this pyramid inside. Like a minor Egyptian pyramid, like one of the satellite pyramids which are like…following the big ones. It’s cool, I’m looking forward to it, it’s one of the things I love about this band that we end up in these spaces. We played in another beautiful spot, in Toronto. In Canada. It was a big industrial, I think it was like the generator…kind of a factory or something that supported energy, electricity for Toronto back in the day. It’s famous because they shot the last scene of the first Terminator movie when the terminator got all fucked up under that pressure, that crushing press machine….they shot something from Robocop there…anyway it’s a giant space, and they made it really cool for this festival. One time we played in Italy in a prison, like an old prison that wasn’t working anymore….man…in this concrete room in the center of the prison, there were all these echoes….it was also a ghost prison, it was really killer. Iremember after the show, we were joking with the locks, and we managed to lock ourselves in one of the cells, had to get the guy with the big ring of keys and shit. It was pretty fucking funny but anyway it was a really interesting space, that’s one of our trademarks, and i would like to do more weird spaces. I would love to play in some mines, or not mines but under, in some caves, a big cave hole. it would be cool to play in front of a volcano…everything like this, monoliths, is a fit for Sunn O))).
I mean this music is about the elements, the forces of nature, it’s very a bombastic sphere. The last record was more like about the feminine aspect of energies but it’s still the elements, which I was very very happy because I had …it has been so long in my head, that I wanted to sing about her, sing about Kuan Yin or Kannon, sing about this aspect of nature, this not just human woman but in a sense…an, this like, at every other level complete personality.”
These mountains, monoliths, huge stones you’ve spoken of, seem to be especially appropriate for expressing the heaviness, the deceleration, the gravity…
“Yeah…like the pyramids, man…in front of the pyramids…I would do anything to play there, with Sunn O))), in front, right in Giza….it’s probably never gonna happen, even though I’ve read that it’s actually possible to land that spot….Baalbek in Lebanon, I would do anything to play there with Sunn O)))…actually there I recorded my first non-Sunn solo stuff, the other stuff, Void ov Voices. We need to release that, gonna release an album (. Lebanon, actually a border zone like very close to Syria …wouldn’t go there today…they are the biggest monoliths in the world in Baalbek, called the trilithon, the biggest in the world, and I went and I recorded right on top of it, a lot of stuff, just to feel the vibe, feel the space…because it’s very experimental music so i wanted to record an experiment basically.”
How did this fascination with monoliths happen? Are there stones, ruins, mountains where you live in Hungary?
“No, not really, we don’t have much of that…. it just became my interest maybe when I was 21, suddenly hit me….actually I was going to this technical college, electrical engineering and shit, at some point I remember looking at these structures, and thinking now this…THIS is high tech. Like, wait a minute..before, I just you know had the same knowledge as the average people think, like oh yea pyramids, they had slaves…they destroyed these rocks and each other, they pharoah buried himself and so on…but the more you study the more you realise nothing is true…no one has found a pharaoh in any pyramid, and all this shit…you learn how the pharaohs actually were buried in this place called the Valley of the Kings, very far from the pyramids actually, like 1000km away, 600 miles at least….nevertheless, these structures are amazing. Whether slaves did them or not, one of the most beautiful things mankind has done. And also as I study more through the years – we are talking about like twenty five years since I’ve become interested – and I was lucky to visit some of these places, and it has always touched me magically, because I can feel…I can always feel like I’m getting more and more sure about it. We talk about these evolutions all the time, but on the other hand there are also strange downfalls, for instance like the Greeks could already calculate like the size of the earth, the length of the equator and things like that. Imagine, that’s before Christ, hundreds of years before Christ….and hundreds of years after Christ, in the Middle Ages, you were still killed for such ideology in Europe, in the western world, absolutely persecuted for this ideology. So that to me shows that history knows all it is showing us, in every aspect this kind of evolution, just one example. Go back in history, it’s getting more and more, in a way, subjective…because if you just think about a few hundred years ago these were hard things to figure out….and we are talking about thousands of years before people had any books, barely had written carvings….but done in these mystical languages that I still don’t really believe that they can read or understand, but I don’t know, and really I don’t care because these ruins, they can talk for themselves, and I think on some level they become personal. And most of these places, around Egypt, South America, central America, these so-called pyramid cultures….all these hieroglyphs and carvings, at least 70% of them is only magical beings…like you see people with wings, ghosts, doing something ritualistic, holding something ritualistic, always something about the ritual, chimeras all the time, they turn back and forth between half-animal and half-man, difficult to understand beautiful symbols in these perfect carvings, and you can see such signs…even the sphinx, which is supposed to be the oldest and largest sculpture ever man-made, below, beneath that sculpture I saw this kind of…these chambers, there is this granite structure and it was like, not only that they were all perfect polygons so you have to really have to have a system to match them and cut them together, i mean to make these polygon mosaics, and you look at the corner, it’s not like you just fit two bricks at a corner…they cut this giant granite that kind of turns with the corner, they kind of bend it almost…I mean, for something, for someone to make that is fascinating, I mean technologically…I want to know WHY and WHO?? and if you look at Baalbek….who had the power, the power to move and lay these blocks of stones that weigh 900 tons each, like 900 cars in one piece, can you imagine that shit?! Even today it is difficult to do, and it’s a big project that they’d have to plan…its so compressed, it’s so massive, so compact….and prehistoric, before the Romans, because you can see clearly that the Roman settlement sat on top of these plateaus made of these huge blocks….it took them dozens of years apparently to move these blocks around, where there was not a river, not a road…who knows how those people could carry that shit man, just think of it, imagine it, for me that totally triggers my mind, that’s when I realise, it doesn’t matter what you read in a book. You can certainly learn from that it and it could be interesting, but it if you sit there, in my case, it just blows my mind, it just fills my battery up, I can feel my batteries recharging. You know like for some people…they might go to the beach, I like the beach too, but for me my batteries just fill up in these places…and I feel the presence of magic and the beauty of it is that it’s not a book, it’s not a story, it’s not like you have to believe it, it’s there and you can touch it. Because it is magic itself there or something that is remaining of these magical experiments, so definitely the energy and these energies, I feel this presence, that maybe people can’t measure yet…to some they don’t exist, maybe some can’t sense them, but you can’t sense radio waves either and they are still there. But there is a certain…maybe to feel these magical energies or resonances one should also be on some kind of resonant level in the brain to be able connect these harmonies and frequencies, so to say. Because if we look at the world, or existence and life, it’s kind of like a resonance, a dance of circulation. It’s something…the whole thing is that I can actually feel this energy and it’s just really really nice…which may be why they’re popular places for people to visit….if you just sit there and empty out your mind a little bit, relax and just feel it…I love it, I love these things…something that is very close to me.”