Reptilian Ecstacy: Memnon Sa on the Complex Mythology of World Serpent

Four albums in, the sound and aesthetics of Memnon Sa, London-based producer Misha Hering’s outlet for sonic experimentation, are now clearly defined, if only by their eccentricities. The project’s unique amalgamation of drone, doom and electronic music is impossible to do justice in writing. Now largely devoid of the heavy guitars that comprised the project’s earlier releases, Memnon Sa’s music is filtered through a krautrock lens, and makes use of psychedelic synths and a jazzy approach to rhythm. Taking inspiration more from his own imagination than any existing artists, Hering’s soundscapes are enveloping and enthralling, capable of transporting the listener into whatever distinct image he has in his mind when writing. This time around, the image is that of Ancient Greece, and the release is suitably therefore teeming with influences from old mythology. After being enraptured by its sound, we were keen to understand the record and its themes, so we had Hering offer up this insightful piece on the complex realm of World Serpent.

 

Hering: World Serpent is an album of celebratory music in honour of something that really shouldn’t be celebrated. The myth of Apophis is what inspired the record. Apophis, or Apep in ancient Egypt, is a snake deity made out of stone. It is the god/goddess (its gender is fluid, and changes depending on the myth) of chaos and destruction but also rebirth. From what I have read (and the information is quite scarce and sometimes contradictory, so this account is by no means accurate) it lives in a parallel dimension to earth, in an endless ocean of black water, the sole inhabitant. If we had the ability to peel back the veil between our dimensions, wherever we are on earth, we would peer into a world of perpetual darkness and solitude. A truly terrifying myth, and yet, Apophis was venerated. This made me think of the juxtaposition between ecstasy and horror. I thought it was very fascinating, the idea of making music that on the surface sounded triumphant and uplifting, but had a very sinister subtext, almost like cheering for the bad guy. I enjoyed this tension so much that I tried to write an album around the concept. That is how World Serpent was born. 

In terms of influences, like my older albums, I’m never trying directly to emulate an emotion, or another artist. What drives the songs is an image or an atmosphere. In this case, it was a glade in Ancient Greece, with an austere and imposing statue of a serpent intertwining a sphere. People are dancing and drinking, the setting is festive and beautiful, but slowly, a portal of light starts to open behind the statue. Nobody seems scared and the dancers become more frenzied. Pan pipes are played and skin drums are beat. The portal keeps widening until the dancers can see through it, into a black sea where an entity the size of a continent coils and bulges, just beneath the surface. This sequence of events came to me pretty fast after reading about Apophis and I couldn’t let go of it. The next time I sat down to try and make some music, it was all I had in mind and tried to soundtrack the event! 

The challenge was to try and make music that sounded, at the same time ancient and almost believably ritualistic, and yet not adhere to only organic instruments. In fact, the bulk of the music was played on analogue synthesisers (most featured are a Moog Model D, and Oberheim 4 Voice, a Sequential Circuits Prophet T8 and 6 and a Korg Ms20). What I love about synths though, especially older ones, is the imperfections in their designs. The handmade quality of the components can create sounds that feel otherworldly and yet not totally artificial. Almost organic. Run a synthesiser through a tape delay or a spring reverb, and you are adding further organic, tangible elements to the sound. The difference between plugging a modern synth directly into instrument input on a sound card, and having an older synth, played through a number of physical, analog effect boxes, then maybe patched into a DI so it can be set into the input of a preamp (which maybe has a transformer at the input or even output stage) is HUGE. One isn’t better than another, and the latter approach is much more time consuming and perhaps less geared towards spontaneous creation as it requires more prep. However, I feel like it can add a human, organic, real quality to otherwise unreal and synthetic sounds. Throughout the process of creating the album, I continuously tried to lend this quality to the synthesisers that I was recording. If something sounded too cold or clinical, I rethought the chain that it was being played through. This is one of the reasons why it took me three years to finish six songs, ha!

Of course, outside of the imaginary, a lot of music influences me and has influenced me. The big boys will always be anything Florian Fricke has touched (Popol Vuh, Gila etc), bands like Novalis, Henri Texier, Besombes/Rizet, Magma, Gong, late ‘70s early ‘80s Rush, Klaus Wiese and then of course countless film soundtracks by Wendy Carlos, Basil Poledouris, Edward Artemiev, Bruno Nicolai… the list goes on! 

The album was entirely recorded by me at Holy Mountain in London. All synthesisers are analogue and it was recorded and mixed without any plugins (very pretentious I know, but it was a challenge I set myself and I hope it paid off). Some wonderful people helped me make the album, notably Merida Richards (she plays the role of a grecian choir, adding mystery and verbal form to the mythology surrounding the record), Chris Duffin playing some wonderful Pharaoh Sanders-esque saxophone, Seb J. Tull of Wren playing drums and Olly from Ghold doing some more throat singing and chanting.

World Serpent is out 3rd April in partnership with specialist metal record shop and label Crypt Of The Wizard. Order here.

Words: Misha Hering (Memnon Sa)

Intro: George Parr