For her Fact mix, Sarahsson obscures beauty with grotesquerie, scraping ethereal sequences of harmony and light raw with squalls of dissonance and chaos.
The Horgenaith, the astounding debut album of hardcore classical vivisections from polymathic composer, producer, performance artist, DJ and instrument maker Sarahsson, takes its name from something the artist misheard. “My dad is a big Tom Waits fan,” she told The Quietus, “and in ‘Cemetery Polka’ there’s the line “independent as a hog on ice”. As a child, I misheard this as ‘Horgenaith.’ Because it sounds similar to the word ‘Argonaut’ and I’d seen bits of the film Jason And The Argonauts with the Hydra, I made this association in my head, and have had this idea ever since of a creature called The Horgenaith.” Describing the creature in an interview with Kaltblut as “a colossal thurse, a many-necked beast thrashing and lamenting and wrought of iron and clay, leather and moss, organ pipes and bellows,” the conjuring of this mythopoetic beast serves to mirror the artist’s own transformative acts of queer cacophony. Drawing as much inspiration from folklore and the natural world as she does harsh noise and gore, Sarahsson alloys classical composition with hardcore, metal and electronic experimentation, finding a shape-shifting sound between recordings of a homemade daxophone, an experimental, electronic instrument crafted from hard wood, self-made samples and a patchwork of field recordings. Through and with all of this noise, the sound of the Horgenaith, she explores queerness through the lens of “transmutation, embodying contradicting parts of oneself,” as she describes: “finding familiarity in difference is a lot of what queerness is about for me.”
Pursuing that which you have misheard, or can’t quite hear, is something Sarahsson continues to explore with her all-embracing Fact mix. “One of the themes I’ve been interested in musically recently is this idea of ‘vague music,’ these kind of suggestions of sounds and things that are almost there but maybe obfuscated or ambiguous in some way,” she explains. The Horgenaith opens with ‘Ancient Dildo Intro,’ a bracing blast of choral peals, sensual squelches and distorted exhalations, the cry of the Horgenaith, every sound save for piano and birdsong made by the artist’s mouth. It’s an urgent introduction, as well as powerful statement of intent, a vocal warm up exercise for an entity in constant flux. Sarahsson pulls off a similar trick for the introduction to her mix, a smog clearing medley of Adele, Giant Claw’s masterful inversion of ‘Set Fire To The Rain’, and Lexxi & Elysia Crampton’s canonical ‘Esposas 2013 (No Drums)’, the combined effect of which sounds like a MIDI orchestra tuning up, air horns blown in contrapuntal rhythm with pizzicato strings and flourishes of laser-focused oscillation. “A lot of the mix feels very autumnal, sort of turning inwards and flourishing through decomposition,” she continues. “The tracklist is mostly things I’ve been listening to whilst touring and it feels like the different types of events I’ve been playing really show in the variety here, some very ambient moments, some very intense.” It’s a mix of dramatic contrasts, in which beauty is obscured by grotesquerie, ethereal sequences of harmony and light scraped raw by squalls of dissonance and chaos.
Gabor Lazar’s synthetic dissection of Jesse Osborne-Lanthier & Grischa Lichtenberger’s ‘Good Morning America’ is stretched into the connective tissue between the hopeful procession of Yves Tumor’s ‘Role In Creation’ and the MIDI harpsichord jam ‘Sunbeams Streaming Through Leaves on the Hill,’ a cult favourite cut from the Evergrace OST, performed by the in-house band from the infamously uncompromising video game studio From Software. FKA twigs, Future and performance artist Betty Apple are submerged deep into the Mariana trench by new American metaphysicists 01168 and S280F, twigs’ stark vocals and Future’s playground sing-along set adrift on Joe Hisaishi keys, drifting further through field recordings made in Cork’s upper Blackwater Valley by agri-ambient artist Michael Lightborne and the avant-garde organ clusters of Ligeti’s ‘Volumina.’ “I really recommend listening to the whole thing,” says Sarahsson of the composition, “it’s a really confusing sensation, especially knowing that it’s just an organ.” In perhaps the most climactic, and inspired, sequence, the devastating organ drones of Anna Von Hausswolff’s ‘Persefone’ are melted into a ‘slowed + reverb’ version of System Of A Down’s ‘Chop Suey,’ every drop of the iconic track’s melodrama wrung out in a transcendent, elegiac crawl. Elsewhere we discover music plucked from obscure YouTube channels, the radioactive ache of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s halldorophone (an electro-acoustic cello) emanating from Sam Slater’s ‘I Do Not Wish To Be Known As A Vandal’, doom prophet spoken word from Chino Amobi, music for motorised grand pianos and the opening theme from obscure anime series Oban Star Racers.
“I like to imagine my mixes have a narrative element to them,” concludes Sarahsson. “Melodies become plot points and transitions become characters, whilst lyrics provide an architectural structure or setting.” In her Fact mix, amidst the noise, the striking power of voice pierces its way to the surface. From the somnambulant sensuality of Tara’s ‘Duppy Ride’ and the haunting grace of composer, vocalist and actor Keeley Forsyth to the tense theatricality of Kate Bush’s ‘Under Ice,’ the gut-wrenching pow wow incantations of Joe Rainy and Delaram Kamareh’s jaw-dropping rendition of Stravinsky’s ‘Chanson Du Rossignol,’ the splendour and the extremity of voice reverberates as a grounding presence sent skyward, around which the rest of the mix gravitates. Like The Horgenaith, Sarahsson’s mix unfolds as emotionally charged testimony, both transformative and transforming, probing at the limits of queerness and trans identity. “I’m trying to reach a very specific feeling,” she says. “One tiny point in the middle of a nuclear explosion where everything happens all at once, bittersweet and fierce, a moment when opposites collide into one.” We are held in this space for the duration of the mix, embodying all the contradicting parts of ourselves, left changed in the wake of the Horgenaith.
You can find Sarahsson on Spotify, Instagram and SoundCloud. The Horgenaith is out now, on Illegal Data.
Adele – ‘Set Fire To The Rain’
Giant Claw – ‘Soft Channel 001’
Lexxi & Elysia Crampton – ‘Esposas 2013 (No Drums)’
Kronos Quartet – ‘Steve Reich: Different Trains – After The War (Third Movement)’
Femmexy – ‘Clitoris’
Tara – ‘Duppy Ride’
Yves Tumor – ‘Role In Creation’
Jesse Osborne-Lanthier & Grischa Lichtenberger – ‘Good Morning America (Gabor Lazar Remix)’
Frequency (Kota Hoshino) – ‘Sunbeams Streaming Through Leaves on the Hill’
Sanguinarius – ‘Goth Jam’
Keeley Forsyth – ‘Limbs’
Sam Slater – ‘Darn! III’
011668 / S280F – ‘FKA Twigs – holy terrain (00168 edit ft. Betty Apple – “The Rubber Mermaid”) / 011668 – untitled fish (ft. Kuthi Jin)’
Michael Lightborne – ‘Lugh’
Piet van der Steen – ‘Ligeti: Volumina’
Anna Von Hausswolff – ‘Persefone’
System Of A Down – ‘Chop Suey (slowed + reverb)’
Anthony Laguerre – ‘V’
City of Quartz – ‘E’
Chino Amobi – ‘Emmanuel’
Tom James Scott – ‘See The Glass’
Bad Bunny & Daddy Yankee – ‘La Santa (Balas De Aqua Edit)’
Kate Bush – ‘Under Ice’
Kurama – ‘Seraph’
Quayola / Seta – ‘Transient #D_002-01
Yennu Ariendra & J. Mo’ong Santosa Pribadi – ‘Raja Kirik (Dog King)’
Indus Bonze – ‘山怪 (The Ghost Stories of The Gorge)’
Teya Logos – ‘Mother Devours’
Joe Rainey – ‘no chants’
Shoeg – ‘Unstable’
Delaram Kamareh – ‘Stravinsky: Chanson Du Rossignol’
Issei Herr – ‘Aveu (The Beginning Is a Farewell) ft. Maria BC’
Rachika Nayar – ‘The Price of Serenity’
AKINO from bless4 – Chance To Shine
Listen next: Fact Mix 882 – Sansibar