In a year when the validity of certain scientific principles is somehow actually publicly in question, a powerful, haunting work intimately connected to the might of science has emerged as Detroit's best album: His Name Is Alive's Patterns of Light (London London), released in November.
The city's favorite ethereal experimentalists found their specific inspiration in the Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle collider in the world, most intricate experimental facility ever constructed, and world's largest individual machine, built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, between 1998 and 2008 in a combined effort between over 10,000 scientists and engineers.
The LHC, as it is quaintly known with an acronym that entirely obscures the terrifying beauty in its full name, is housed in a tunnel over 500 feet below the France-Switzerland border near Geneva. Its purpose is to help physicists answer the most difficult scientific questions involving basic laws governing, among other things, the deep structure of space and time. The LHC is so astonishing in its capabilities that people were honestly worried it might wipe out the cosmos when first turned on. (This thing has and can re-create the conditions of the birth of the universe, so the worries were not exactly hyperbolic.)
A year or so ago, musician Warren Defever, the sole constant member of His Name Is Alive, was contacted by a scientist working at the facility to participate in a truly unique collaboration between science and music. The result, so far, has been this year's most excellent Patterns of Light.
You'd think an album by His Name Is Alive inspired by the Large Hadron Collider and particle physics would sound exceptionally dreamy, but it doesn't, at least not in the way you might first imagine. Instead — Patterns of Light, which was recorded in Detroit at Defever's incredible industrial loft studio and will be performed at the LHC, with any luck, sometime next year — picks up where the equally excellent rock opera of 2014's Tecuciztecatl left off.
The songs range from serenely demonic to Thin Lizzy and Hawkwind-esque; every moment rocks in a different way, as Defever's and Dusty Jones' solos spill over event horizons to meet J. Rowe's galloping drums and Andrea Morici's sweeping synths, her always devastatingly lovely voice feeling at once like a crooning whisper in your ear and a pounding melody in your heart. All of this combined expresses the logically mystical connection to energy in both physics and esotericism, the galaxy and poetry, event displays visualizing particle interactions, and the carnage and venom of B-horror movies.
How could this humbly expansive concoction of heavy psychedelic prog not be the best Detroit album of the year? Or anywhere, any time, ever?
Metro Times spoke with Defever to find out more about the inner workings of this mercurial, menacing, heavenly record that came out of nowhere to loom over a year that has turned out to be weirder and sadder than we wanted to imagine. But let us not dismay. Let us listen to Patterns of Light as we gear up to never stop fighting against those who would seek to not only take away but flat-out destroy so much of the beauty humanity is capable of, a beauty well visible in the glow of this deeply satisfying album.
Metro Times: What can you say about the ways science inspires music?
Warren Defever: Music is a lot of science. When you start studying Indian classical music, the first thing they teach is separating sound into two categories: sound you can hear and the potential sound of an unstruck bell or internal sounds like in a dream or more cosmic universal vibration-type sounds. I get science and mysticism mixed up a lot. All these things are connected when you start looking. The human ear can pick out the first 127 intervals of the harmonic series, and that series is a simple geometric progression. Does geometry count as science? I don't know. Some questions are unanswerable, like how do TVs work or magnets.
MT: Is there anything specifically you tried not to do with Patterns of Light?
Defever: Tecuciztecatl is a rock opera with a 1969 British horror movie vibe depicting an epic struggle between identical twins, reflective in nature, and mirrored in twin science. Patterns of Light is a step forward into the future from there so we moved into the 1970s with more sci-fi synthesis. It was a challenge to not use words like "blood" and "vampire," but it was necessary to stay consistent with the theme.
MT: What did you think when the scientist initially contacted you about doing this?
Defever: Shortly after Tecuciztecatl was released, I received an email from Dr. James Beacham at CERN inviting us to perform at a series of concerts that would combine experimental music with experimental science at the LHC. He didn't contact our booking agent, which would be how we generally receive offers for gigs. Instead he sent an email to me. I assumed the invitation was fake or a prank and replied that we would prefer to wait until they had successfully opened a pathway to interspatial dimensions and we'd play on the other side or that if that was unlikely to happen at a convenient time then perhaps we could set up our equipment right on the edge of a mini-black hole and perform as the Earth is being destroyed so we could release the concert film "Live at the End of the World."
After a few messages back and forth, it was clear that he was legit, and I apologized for being such a jerk.
MT: How would you describe the themes of the album without referring to physics?
Defever: If I had to describe the songs on a personal level without using terms like "heavy ion collisions," "quantum chromodynamics," or "the perfect liquid of quark-gluon plasma," I would say that they are about dedicating your life to something you think is important and leaving behind everything else and then reflecting on the choices you've made, measuring what is missing, and trying to figure out how to fix the relationships you maybe have unfixably broken forever.
MT: Classic creation myths, the visionary theology of Hildegard Von Bingen, medieval manuscripts, and cosmic maps are all cited as influences on the album. What are some more specific ways those influences came through?
Defever: I discovered poetry within the language of physics as well as a certain beauty in the idea that these scientists have devoted their lives to dreaming, searching, and discovering basic principles that connect all things in existence. The song "Calling All Believers" refers to this devotion. "Energy Acceleration" compares scientists to monastic life in medieval times and mystics trying to find and define the line between this world and the next and at the same time invoking the incredible amounts of energy needed to create the collisions' experiments. "Patterns of Light" is about interpreting visions of light, trying to find universal truth with whatever tools are available. It's about the search for how everything works, why it works, and how it got that way but also about being inspired on a basic level by the way a thing looks and how all your senses take in a thing.
A thousand years ago Hildegard Von Bingen was writing about this same thing in letters, songs, medical texts, and had even developed her own language to use in her mystical writings, similar to Magma drummer Christian Vander using his own language for their concept albums.
MT: This is a snippet of something I read you said in an interview: "When [scientists] talk about our 'dark matter' or 'dark energy,' I always immediately inserted the phrase 'black metal.' There was a strong connection for me." Where does black metal come into the picture?
Defever: Black metal represents different things to people so what it means to me is that it's the heaviest metal, the most extreme. Black metal requires the highest level of dedication. It's been so conceptualized and goes so far in one direction that it doesn't even register as music to some listeners. The treble in the distortion is so high that it doesn't even sound heavy anymore.
Taken out of context, it makes a small buzzing sound. It's a cult as much as it is a musical movement. For me coming across dark matter and dark energy for the first time and learning that 69 percent of what exists is dark energy and 26 percent is dark matter and that only 5 percent of what exists is regular boring matter seemed to confirm the beliefs of the black metal philosophy. I don't think the members of Moëvöt or Belkètre had the scientific background to back up their belief systems but maybe they just hadn't connected the dots yet.
MT: How does Detroit fit into it all?
Defever: I'm not an expert on Detroit music history but all the classic records (MC5, Stooges, teenage Aretha Franklin's first recordings at United Sound, the Gories, Doctor Ross, Funkadelic, all the Fortune singles) are perfect examples of capturing energy and having it accurately reproduced on record, which is no small feat. Setting up in a small space and pointing the amps directly at the drums while recording meant that the bleed over in the microphones would limit the ability to fix or edit or redo parts. The tape would reflect what happened, no cleaning up, smoothing over, or studio gloss treatment. If the energy was happening in the room, then the energy would be captured on tape. If the album's main theme is energy acceleration, then we needed a scientific process that would document it properly, and we found that same system has been utilized in Detroit rock 'n' roll history since day one.