Zohra Atash (Azar Swan) Talks Lumisokea’s Mnemosyne

Lumisokea’s nocturne of an album is replete with oceanic disasters and haunted mansions — but it might just quiet the nastiest voices in your head.

My fascination with language and how it defines culture and thought runs deep. My advice to bilingual friends in the midst of a difficult decision is: “Have you mulled it over in Spanish?” Some roll their eyes and others find the idea intriguing. I’ve always taken up critical impasses with both English-speaking Zohra and Farsi-speaking Zohra. The voices are different and informed by different principles. Lumisokea is musicians Koenraad Ecker and Andrea Taeggi, who are from Flemish-speaking Belgium but are based in German-speaking Berlin. So I was eager to spend time with their new album Mnemosyne — named for the Greek goddess of remembrance, the mother of the nine Muses and, perhaps most relevant of all, the creator of language.

Lumisokea is Finnish for “snowblind,” and the band endeavors “to induce trance-like states,” according to their bio. This is a tall order. Among the cacophony of inner voices we all have (the ones that many of us try to meditate into submission), some are more active than others. My voices are not without their charms; they are complex, animal and quizzical. They are multilingual and childish. They are constantly re-etching moments for me — ones that I don’t ever want to discard. They take care of me, and together we mull over questions and create worlds.

On the flipside, they scarcely shut the fuck up and they are super mean and tell me to jump off buildings. And a good deal of those memories that get re-etched are of my most humiliating experiences. I’ve been trying to learn, with a great deal of struggle, to “relax.” Friends who have harnessed stuff such as Transcendental Meditation have been giving me tips. I’ve taken trips to the art installation the Dream House and basked in the purple hues and bathed in sounds, finally reaching a deeper-ish understanding — until I am inevitably interrupted by one of my voices saying, “This is hogwash, you’re stupid,” and I’m back at square one.

However, I have found that through activities like being mindful of hypnagogia (the period between sleep and wakefulness), lucid dreaming and listening to modern classical or ambient electronic concrète noise — such as Coil’s Musick to Play in the Dark Vol. 1, which is one of my favorite records — I can get entirely lost in that universe. And, when done right, these activities seem to appease all the voices. These experiences are something we can all agree on, shut the fuck up during, and enjoy.

Excited to find out whether or not Mnemosyne would have the same effect on my voices and me, I make myself some tea and play the record. It is so incredibly dense and visual — “Flatland” immediately drops me into a dark field with low-hanging fog. There’s fragrant wet earth underfoot as I approach a wrought-iron gate. Creeeeek. But then the vision turns into less of an extended memory belonging to I-don’t-know-who-from-a-maybe-happened-past-that-happened-but-didn’t and into a very real memory. I’m running toward the door of the mansion, through the foyer and down a long, winding staircase. I’m in the basement. I hear a loud cackle! My mind races with puns — some of my favorite puns. Puns that would put Carrie Bradshaw to shame: “That Cynthia’s a real shrieking violet, wouldn’t you say, kiddies? A regular afterlife of the party!” I remember one of the best nights of my life when my good friends, twins Jenni and Lauren, came over and we stayed up reenacting jokes from Tales from the Crypt.

Just like in a lucid dream, the scenery turns liquid and changes in my mind as the song progresses. I leave the mansion and find myself in the ocean, hearing something between a submarine’s sonar sound and “The Bloop,” a mysterious undersea noise once thought to have been made by a sea animal but since attributed to ice cracking. I have an intense fear of the ocean, so the hairs on my body stand on end. There’s a moment when I feel a sense of reprieve, because now I feel like the mission is far less nefarious and I’m doing a whale song recording, but then I’m back in oceanic disaster mode — dealing with the MS Estonia’s confused Mayday transmissions and this exchange between the Italian Coast Guard and the captain of the Concordia.

“Prowl” evokes no schlocky Crypt Keeper-esque associations. What pulls Mnemosyne out of film score territory is that it feels very visceral, as if the action is occurring in that moment. It’s like how Bruce Springsteen recorded a live vocal during the “Streets of Philadelphia” video. That attention to detail, the little breaths in real time — it all puts you in that moment. You’re a participant rather than an audience member.

By the time “Prowl” hits the midway mark, I feel like I’m in a nocturnal version of one of my favorite videos, Death in Vegas and Iggy Pop’s “Aisha” — which is also my grandmother’s name. Before 1999, if you had told my granny that Iggy would sing a song with her name in the title, she’d say to you, “What? Sorry, no English.”

“Sybil” is a sparse, moody affair, and I find myself reciting in my comically exaggerated English accent, “Speeding downwards into some great…pit,” a line from Delia Derbyshire and Barry Bermange’s ’60s sound-collage poem “The Dreams.” I speak of many favorite things here, because there are many, but very few things excite me more than “The Dreams.” It makes all of today’s plunges into the subconscious sound like dumpster dives — it’s equal parts terrifying and beautiful.

This record, through use of stately analogue synths from the ’60s and ’70s and processed acoustic instrumentation, wove a completely insane universe and opened up the passageway to clarity in my mind — less analytical thought and more immersion. The journey, however, was dark. What started off as a potential sounds-for-your-Halloween-party album turned into Wendy-Carlos’-score-for-The-Shining scary, which normally I love — when prepared. I wanted to give my mind a nice soothing soak in a warm bath when I started listening to the record, not scare it senseless. Still, Mnemosyne took me on a journey and suspended time and reality, which is what I look for in a piece of music.

The name Lumisokea makes loads more sense to me now that I’ve listened to their version of a nocturne — that feeling of Vincent-Price-warning-of-tingly-fear is implied.

Zohra Atash is a singer, songwriter and musician. Her projects are Azar Swan and Religious to Damn. She is an irregular columnist at slutist.com. Her family founded and runs the Nooristan Foundation. You can follow Azar Swan on Twitter here.

(photo credit: Julia Comita)