When Music Takes You to the Beyond

Iceland seems to be calling us back. My husband Matt and I traveled there for our honeymoon last October, and only six months later an opportunity has arisen for us to return. From April 26-29 we will be participating in the third annual Spirit of Humanity Forum, taking place in Reykjavik. We are going to learn about spiritual leadership in governance, and how to bring about lasting transformation in the world that enshrines love, respect, and compassion at the core of decision-making. I hope also to connect with the Professor of Folklorists at the University of Iceland, who I synchronistically met in Berkeley right after watching him speak in several documentaries on the Huldufólk, Iceland’s hidden people, who I was researching for a presentation at Esalen.

But before departing once more for Iceland’s volcanic shores, we first had the opportunity to experience an outpost of Iceland’s popular art when we saw Sigur Rós play at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. I’ve always enjoyed the music of Sigur Rós, the ethereal voice of Jónsi Birgisson contrasted with the deep drum beats and guttural distortions for which the group is so well known. Yet I had a feeling that seeing them perform live would be a radically different, powerful experience—and I was right.

First I will mention that this concert took place while the Sun was aligned with the powerful Jupiter-Uranus-Pluto T-square that is shaking the world into chaos at our current moment. The Sun was in a conjunction with Uranus, bringing this highly charged and deeply revolutionary alignment into even greater focus and clarity. One would expect individual creativity to be at its peak, pushing the edges of what has previously been achieved to greater heights and extremes.

From its first notes, the full sensory experience of the concert was remarkable, sound moving through light that shifts and plays across the space like Faërian lanterns from a future world. Yet it was when Sigur Rós reached the third song of their set that I felt I could really take in what they were capable of, the new edges where art can be explored. The third song of the set is entitled “Glósóli,” from the 2005 album Takk. Paired with the release of this album, Sigur Rós crafted an enchanting yet haunting music video to illustrate “Glósóli.” The short film depicts a group of children, all dressed as though from the pages of a fairy-tale, walking together across the open Icelandic landscape.

 

When Sigur Rós played “Glósóli” live, the images displayed behind the musicians showed footage of Iceland’s topography, shown from the perspective of someone traversing the landscape. It was almost as though as the audience member you had become one of the children walking over the stones and hillsides of Iceland’s starkly barren regions. At the end of the original music video the children jump off a sheer cliff side, and as the viewer your understanding of what has occurred hovers for a moment in uncertainty. You may not yet comprehend what these children are really doing, until you recognize that they are able to fly, to soar above the ocean waves. In the live performance, as the musicians reach this same point in the song, the view of the footage on stage lifts off the cliff so that you as an audience member feel the sudden drop in your stomach like you too have taken flight. In this moment I could feel the intertextual dialogue being woven between the live performance and the music video, the footage shown on stage overlaid by the memory of the events unfolding in the music video. You have become one of the flying children, crossing that threshold from this realm into the next, entering into the mystery of the imaginal realm.

Yet in the music video of “Glósóli” the narrative ends there, with the final child jumping into the air. Does he keep flying? The music video leaves you uncertain. But in the live stage show Sigur Rós takes you to the beyond. The music continues, escalating into a powerful, rhythmic climax. As you soar far beyond the cliff’s edge you enter a realm of clouds, of bursting lightning, and the rolling drums of thunder. For all of us with the memory of the “Glósóli” music video echoing through our imagination, the live performance has swept us into the next stage of the story.

The themes that brought the live performance of “Glósóli” to a soaring conclusion fully carried the archetypal patterns of our current moment: the dazzling experience of breaking into a new realm that is so characteristic of the Jupiter-Uranus alignment, along with the powerful, almost overwhelming rhythms of Jupiter-Pluto, and the electronic display of lightning and thunder symbolized by Uranus-Pluto. In the dialogue between sound and light, visceral, somatic rhythm, and the blended imagery of memory and film, I felt art being pushed past a new limit.

The rest of the concert carried forward these themes, cresting again in the final song of the set. In this concluding song I felt the performers begin to channel powerful, even demonic, Plutonic energies, grasping members of the audience into its frenzied motion. The intensity of the music and the light displays continued to escalate, finally reaching a peak in which the musicians themselves faded away off the stage, and nothing but sound and light dazzled the audience, pounding the extremity of the artistic experiment into every pore of one’s senses. The thought began to creep in as the crescendo kept rising that they had pushed the entire display so far beyond the human that as the audience we might lose connection to the narrative arc of the concert if they didn’t conclude the song in some tangibly human way. Yet the song reached its final peak and cracked, coming to a sudden end—silencing the fragmenting display of technology and chaos into darkness.

I almost felt my heart fall in disappointment. They hadn’t resolved it into the human. They had chosen to go the way of spectacle and technological achievement.

And yet, following this blazing conclusion, in the subtle darkness of the stage, a single light came on and illuminated the three musicians walking forward, dressed simply in all black, linking arms affectionately as they bowed, applauding the audience as the crowd roared back in approval. I realized that they had resolved the crescendo in the human realm—by stepping forward as mere human musicians, no spectacle anymore, but purely incarnated talent. The word “takk” appeared projected at the back of the stage, the word for “thank you” in Icelandic.

Following the show I decided to explore the birth chart of Jónsi, the lead singer, and found one of the most remarkable configurations of planets I have ever seen. Each alignment in his complex chart can be seen expressed through the unique blend of styles and sounds that is Sigur Rós’s music. Jónsi was born on April 23, 1975, interestingly on the same day as Shakespeare’s birthday, although 409 years later.

Jónsi Natal Chart

The first alignment that stands out is his exact Venus-Neptune opposition, expressed so clearly in the angelic and otherworldly tones of Jónsi’s singing voice. This Venus-Neptune opposition is in a T-square with Mars, which brings in the assertive fire that also runs through their music. Furthermore, the Venus-Mars square clearly fits the chart of a musician, a performer bringing the art of music (Venus) to life and action (Mars) upon the stage.

Jónsi has a second T-square in his chart, this one comprised of Jupiter opposite Pluto, each squaring Saturn at the midpoint. Without knowing his birth time it is uncertain whether his Moon is also in this alignment. One can see the expression of this Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto T-square in both the guttural heaviness and the intense grandeur of the music.

The two oppositions that make up these two T-squares in Jónsi’s birth chart, of Venus opposite Neptune and Jupiter opposite Pluto, are also part of another major aspect pattern: the Mystic Rectangle. The two oppositions cross each other, two trines forming two of the sides of the rectangle, and two sextiles forming the other two sides. This remarkable aspect pattern brings together both the dynamic tensions of the two oppositions, with the flowing, harmonious aspects of the trines and sextiles. Thus Jónsi was born with Venus trine Pluto and Venus sextile Jupiter, each lending a greater depth and breadth to the artistic creativity of his music; and he was also born with Jupiter trine Neptune and Neptune sextile Pluto, bringing in the expansive transcendence and mystical power of his music.

A trine of Mars and Saturn also tie the midpoints of the two T-squares together, which can be recognized in the marching, almost militaristic drumbeats that so often punctuate Sigur Rós’s songwriting.

Finally, Jónsi was born with a Sun-Mercury conjunction in a tight opposition to Uranus, reflecting the individual brilliance, creativity, and even genius that he is able to bring forward through his musical performances.

Of course, the complexity of Sigur Rós’s music is also shaped by the natal charts of the other two current band members Georg Hólm and Orri Páll Dyrason, and the past members Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson and Kjartan Sveinsson, but exploring the dynamic interplay of all of their charts is beyond the scope of this essay. However, the band formed in 1994 under the exact Uranus-Neptune conjunction of the last decade of the 20th century, and I could still perceive the archetypal qualities of this alignment in Sigur Rós’s musical style—the blend of flowing, ethereal melody with electronic, technological experimentation, the use of light and flowing imagery, sparkling sunlight dazzling across ocean waves, and the overall feeling of wonder and enchantment running through every aspect of their artistic creation. These Uranus-Neptune qualities of exploratory imagination and mystical play, blending the contemporary with the eternal, have now been brought into dialogue with the titanically revolutionary energies of the current Jupiter-Uranus-Pluto alignment, giving birth to an art form that pushes imagination to its peak, bursting beyond the merely human sphere into a realm of both mystical transcendence and underworldly depth—finally to return to the humble human performers bowing low on a darkened stage, illuminated by the glow of a single, focused spotlight.

SIgur Rós 2016 World Tour rehearsals with Bruno Poet and Matt Daw

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