Temenos, a film by Nina Danino, is a metaphysical thriller.
The title means sacred site; and refers to the places around Europe where the Virgin is said to have appeared, or said to be still appearing.
Don't be misled. This music is not about pretty songs or moodish ambient electronica.
Prepare yourself for the most amazing sounds from three most amazing voices, with Sainkho delivering her famous over and undertones, and cries of both ecstasy and terror.
The total time is 63'20
Sainkho Namchylak was born in a small gold-mining town in the former Soviet
republic of Tuva, an eastern region of Siberia on the northern border with
Mongolia. After attending a local college, she moved to Moscow, receiving
vocal training in numerous world folk musics and the Western classical
tradition at Moscow Conservatoire. In 1986, she began her performing career
as a folk singer, touring Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.
Then in 1988, she discovered improvised music. Throughout the 90s Sainkho
performed both as a solo artist and with many international improvisors,
making memorable recordings with the likes of Evan Parker, Ned Rothenberg,
Peter Kowald, Moscow Composers Orchestra and many others. Her CDs can be
found in the catalogues of many labels: FMP, Victo, Leo Records, etc. Now
based in Vienna, Sainkho is widely recognised as one of improvised music's
most distinctive, inventive and challenging vocal performers.
Catherine Bott is acknowledged as one of the foremost interpreters of early
vocal music, and among her numerous recordings in this field are Purcell's
Fairy Queen with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and the title role in Dido
and Aeneas with the Academy of Ancient Music. Her recital recordings for
Decca include virtuoso Italian arias, Mad Songs from the English Restoration
Theatre and the recent Sweet is the Song. In additon, she has made several
recordings ranging from the romantic to the contemporary period, including
Faure's Requiem with Sir John Elliot Gardiner and Michael Nyman's Noises,
Sounds and Sweet Airs. International concert, recital and recording
engagements have taken her all over the world. Recent engagements include
numerous recitals in Europe and several live BBC broadcasts, Bach's Mass in
B Minor and St. John Passion in London, Cambridge and Ireland.
Singer/composer Shelley Hirsch was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1952. She
has been singing ever since. Not just in school musicals, cathedrals, rock
and roll bands, jazz orchestras and new music concerts, but also in
apartment courtyards, staircases, construction sites, skyscraper lobbies,
castles and a cafe in Morocco. Her work incorporates international musical
styles, extended technique, improvisation, characterization, movement and
objects. She has appeared at festivals throughout Europe and performed at
the Kitchen, Roulette, BAM and other venues in New York. She appeares on the
recordings of John Zorn, Elliot Sharp, Jim Staley and many others. Her
regular partners are Christian Marclay, Ikue Mori, David Weinstein. In 1988
she released the LP "Singing" and a year later another LP "Haiku Lingo" with
David Weinstein. Her most recent work "O Little Town of East New York" can
be found on John Zorn's label Tzadik in the series "Radical Jewish Culture".
Temenos - the place where the flowers were
Silently at first the viewer is lead into a stark open landscape, devoid of
features and limitless in expanse. As well as space, time itself takes on
an eternal aspect in the first intertitle - The Virgin's Time. Endlessly,
the wind whistles through the trees, ice and snow crystallise on the ground
and branch, petrifying the living nature underneath. Towards the Virgin's
Clearing a bird calls but are its cries human or animal, tortured or
ecstatic? In the landscape ordinary and apparently insignificant events and
details of nature are picked out, a bee buzzes, the wind blows across, a dog
barks, a sheep calls, children play. It is still and quiet. Like the
visionary, we begin to perceive a heightened sensory world emerging from the
background of this familiar one. In states of transport, thresholds are in
flux, the borders between the internal and external world, self and the
other, are dissolved.
The landscape, with its intricate detail of twig and grass blade, links the
specific thing to its universal form. The landscape is both local and
unlocatable since we are never told where we are specifically. The film is a
journey, where the raw exposure of emotion and haunting voices penetrate the
soundtrack; pastoral voices calling in the landscape, bitter weeping, gentle
humming, unearthly sounds, sounds of Nature, the decent into dementia and an
angelic aria which lifts us to paradise.
At The Virgin's Weeping colour footage of a city waking and a cacophony of
media noises contrast strongly to the luminous photography of the sacred
places, reminding us that a vision is a temporary experience, but
simultaneously permanent state within. It is this fleeting emotional state
that the film grasps at and strives to represent. Like the land itself, the
film embodies the ineffable and the transcendental but remains material and
The camera pans in circular movements giving a feeling of unworldly
weightlessness. Ghostlike figures hover in the air. The words of the famous
and anonymous, the saintly and the charlatan are spoken over the now empty
landscapes. Their words are particularly poignant in the case of Bosnia,
the meeting point of Islam, Orthodox and Catholic Christianity and the
scenes of war crimes and atrocities.
The Virgin is a troubling, internal state which demands release. A symptom
of suffering, a trauma, a personal drama, site of the repressed and of
resistance against authority. It can be an empowering force in those who are
disempowered. An event most often experienced by children and women.
Towards the end, in colour video we arrive at a documentary site, a pile of
stones where an architypal woman in black and a soldier are in
contemplation. This is Medjugorje in Croat occupied Bosnia where the Virgin
is said to be still appearing. The Houwa or lament at this site is a
meaningless word for the inexpressible.
Prior to the Epilogue we see the final scene from Pasolini's Gospel
According to St. Matthew. After his Resurrection, Christ walks on the Sea of
Galilee towards his disciples who are in a small fishing boat. The
disciples are, at first, incredulous but then realise that it is not
contradictory that in a world where they need to earn their living fishing,
they can see the divine as they go about their world. Marxist film-maker,
Pasolini imbues the Christian narrative with a social message of dignity for
working people that can be transcendental within a secular society. Is the
transcendental illusion invented to keep social order? We cannot tell. But
in the film we can, for an illusionary period, visit the Temenos and know
its frightening and beautiful secrets.
Temenos is a searingly beautiful invocation of the persistence of place that
has the power to inscribe contemporary political and social circumstances
with the memory of the past. Like Tarkovsky's Stalker, Rossellini's
Stromboli, and Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, Temenos is a haunted
territory of unmapped histories and emotions. A fierce place that can be as
gentle and devastating as a whisper.
Helen de Witt
spirit of place, place of spirits
Several years ago, while on holiday in South Wales, I spent an afternoon
at Carreg Cennen. What's left of this atmospheric medieval fortress sits
atop a steep hill, offering the robust hiker breathtaking views of the Black
Mountain and surrounding farmland. But it's not only the views that I
remember most about that afternoon. As we pulled up in the small gravelly
car park we were greeted by a majestic though remarkably inquisitive male
peacock. Later, even as I peered through arrowslits high up in the ruined
walls, this iridescent creature continued to make its presence felt, seizing
then transforming my perception of the landscape with its piercing, forlorn
What brought back this scene with its stored-up sensations, in a
Proustian flash of involuntary memory, were the bird-like cries of Sainkho
Namchylak interacting with the landscapes of Nina Danino's film Temenos
(1998). Improvised music as film music is still a rarity; its emotional
ambivalence, non-melodic gestures, textural austerity and oblique sense of
direction are sufficiently difficult' to deter all but a few intrepid,
enlightened film-makers like Nina Danino. Mind you, her Temenos is not your
average movie. The title means "sacred site", here referring to the places
around Europe where the Virgin is said to have appeared, or said to be
still appearing. But don't confuse Temenos with the kind of gushing
sentimentality pedalled by Hollywood in religious epocs like The Song Of
Bernadette (1943). Danino's film is perhaps best described as an
impressionistic documentary, consisting of excerpts from the eyewitness
accounts of those present at these alleged Marian visitations. However,
unlike conventional documentaries, this one has no didactic voice-over, no
one weighing the pros and cons of the evidence'; just a series of voices,
speaking or singing, while the director presents the various, mostly rural,
landscapes where these mysterious events are said to have happened.
Danino's concern with landscape recalls the great East European
film-makers Alexander Dovzhenko, Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergo Paradjanov, for
whom landscape is always much more than merely a backdrop against which
human stories are enacted. Like those directors, Danino cultivates a
palpable spirit of place' with her textural, painterly approach to
cinemato- graphy and editing, including soft-focus smudginess, the
translucent silver and white images, and jerky hand-held sequences; at St
Martin's School of Art in the 1970s she was producing large-scale Abstract
Expressionist and Colour Field paintings influenced by Mark Rothko and
Barnett Newman. Her frequent use of long takes and slow pans draws the
viewer in, encouraging the mind to concentrate and reflect, to focus on the
subtlety of patterns and movement within the frame: the geometry of
tree-shadows, the craggy textures of bark, the gentlest sway of grass blades
in a barren, rocky landscape, or the cautious passage of a bird across the
floor of an ominous avenue of trees.
Sainkho's role in the creation of this evocative spirit of place, or
place of spirits, is vital, and is most effectively appreciated with
reference to Tarkovsky's comments on the use of music in film. In his
collection of essays, Sculpting In Time, he suggests that when used
imaginatively "music does more than intensify the impression of the visual
image by providing a parallel illustration of the same idea; it opens up the
possibility of a new, transfigured impression of the same material:
something different in kind."
It is easy to imagine Temenos with a soundtrack of modish Ambient
electronica which would certainly tip its nebulous tendencies over into
dreamy New Age territory; or perhaps accompanied by the exquisite Marian
madrigals of Cipriano de Rore (1516-1565) which would simply fix the film
within an expected Christian ambit. But Sainkho's challenging vocal
performance shatters the security offered by those kinds of safe soundtrack.
Her immersion in Tuvan shamanic music and Tuvan Buddhistic culture and
folksong, particularly evident in her unique brand of throat-singing which
is a modification of the two traditional Tuvan overtone styles, brings a
strange and unsettling soundworld to Western ears. Add to that the traumatic
child-like sobs and cries, the bird-like warbling and screeches, and all the
richly textured nuances of her remarkable improvising vocabulary, and you
find that the tranquil forest glades and tussocky wildernesses of Temenos
have been suddenly seized and transformed, now possessed by a host of
unknown spirits. And the air vibrates with their joyous whoops and yells,
their cries of ecstasy and terror.
July 2000TEMENOS: Unquiet ghosts.
"The Temenos is an unlocatable geography, an internal psychic landscape, an
acoustic precinct, a territory of distance and time."
One could assert a fat paganism and float in the demanding pleasures of
the here and now. Condemned to death by biology we should do our best to at
least keep this life entertained. But here we are, full of paganism and
still malnourished. Rampaging egos and ruptured souls, all filled with
loneliness. Ever thought of reconstituting yourself in another landscape, no
longer wholly identified with your previous self?
Temenos, the soundtrack to the film directed by Nina Danino, reminds us
that as another increasingly godless century wears on, there have been
places where the prevalent paganism of our times must appear to be a
nuisance in the pattern of things. Witness the visionary experiences of
people at places such as Fátima in Portugal, Lourdes in France and most
recently in Medjugorje, Bosnia. Is it the thought of mortality that
oppresses us? Or the lack of consideration by natural evolutionary processes
for the continuity of such impressive constructs as our ego, which we cannot
imagine being extinguished by our mere lack of breath?
Clearly the times haven't extinguished our capacity for belief. Death
makes us sad but maybe this sadness is merely a bad habit arising out of a
refusal to live in the world as it is. There is something that still
prevents some of us accepting an ephemeral existence, suffering and all, as
a total and final source of joy. For sixty three minutes, let's give the
world back to those who see it differently. Temenos places us in the company
of visionaries who believe that whatever life we have here, extends
elsewhere. What we have here, what we actually see, is a form of corruption.
For these mystic fugitives from a discontinued campaign, there can be no
yawning, only devotion and prayers. Prayers on fire, prayers they want to
What do we see? Places of apparition, places where the Virgin is said to
have appeared or still be appearing. But what do they hear? Do they see
first then hear?
What we hear is a human voice. But only just. It might even be music.
What we hear is a voice that pries open a space that prayers and visions
may never do.
It belongs to Sainkho Namchylak. Hearing her create such visual music with
her voice is as much a revelation as experiencing Jackson Pollock's brush
as an instrument of improvised free jazz. Artists such as these prefer
mysteries over answers because as artists they search for a wider resonance.
They give shape and significance to our immense panorama of futility. Does
anything exist inside nothingness, they may ask? Probably not, unless one
choses to believe otherwise.
Renoir said that "the artist who paints only what is in his mind must
very soon repeat himself." The artist must look outside to recreate a new
order inside. Every artist knows that the truth is disclosed only at the
extremes. Norms are the aberrations we happen to endorse; the best is
hidden. But you don't have to be an artist to realise that.
Sainkho Namchylak reminds us of other knowledge systems. Beyond our world
where commodities circulate without meaning, she leans towards something
that has not yet emerged. Her voice reminds us of better lives and perhaps
better times but both are harder. Her sound is that of language beginning to
slip. Her sentences' never loose their self-confidence but they suggest
other areas of being. Her answers are not much clearer, but the questions
are. They suggest other forms of belief. You have been warned.
Is the way we experience our surroundings, the way we see and hear,
culturally determined? As human beings functioning within different
cultures, can our perceptions transcend nationality and become universal? Is
there something within us that establishes a uniform reality' that all
humans are capable of seeing uniformly?
What about those who see and hear things differently or maybe even see
and hear something else entirely? For those whom perception is more acute,
is it delusion? Or is there another reality closer to what truly exists in
nature? Do people who see the same things hear them differently? There are
not so many ideas in the world that we can afford to shed the more
Temenos is a journey. On the road to angels, Sainkho's vocal swoops and
dives, invigorates the landscape. There are other voices and other sounds
that accompany us: Catherine Bott's vocal purity, Pavlo Beznosiuk's violin
playing, both reassuring us of a familiar kind of beauty. This journey, as
with all great journeys, only needs an open mind and the desire to see and
listen. Namchylak, Hirsch, Bott, Beznosiuk, Danino, all the voices introduce
us to that wondrous place where both the human mind and the human soul exist
in a precarious state of jeopardy. Because whatever else we want to
believe, this elemental landscape is sublimely indifferent not only to us
but also to our misadventures. One way ahead is to deny alternative
realities. With collaboration out of the question, dysfunction or conformity
beckons. Neither is very appealing.
The conformity of our times creates the false impression that not much
else exists beyond the visionless mainstream. But the mainstream is like an
oxygen-deprived lagoon choked with algae. Full of water but not much life.
Temenos and its spontaneous outpouring represent the clear running creekbed
of our imagination, that which is vital and truly representative. With the
standardization of taste, who can blame anyone for gravitating towards that
which is comfortably familiar?
Yet within the limitless parameters of the spontaneous, a beautiful
vision resides. In these conformist, dysfunctional times, our expectations
are very much defined by a strongly determined social boundary. This
boundary is not truly rigid in any obvious way but acts as a barrier to
further discovery. It defeats curiosity as radio play lists and television
schedules feed us the malnourished crumbs of a programmer's stale lunch,
purposely denying us journeys into the new.
Increasingly as film and music become the beacons of our civilisations,
we look to those artists whose light informs the most inspiring and precious
aspects of our universal cultures. They will continue to maintain a larger
than life presence. Their impact will endure as long as civilization
continues to treasure that level of its development that can only be
described as precious.
Whatever we do with our lives, however colourful or mundane, we all need
to take the journey that leads us beyond what we think we know and where we
imagine ourselves to be. In the complex overload that has become our daily
life, we need signposts that lead us to the calm focused centre which sits
silent and patient at the core of our being.
The unquiet ghosts lurking in the soundscape that is Temenos provide one
of the more obvious ones. Do you feel like a corpse on a gibbet, twisting in
the wind? Then perhaps Temenos, that unique vocabulary unknown to words,
will point the way to a new vigour, to a spontaneous outburst, to a musical
quaver reflecting your soul as a pond reflects your self image: to
invigorate, sustain, elevate and inspire. You better believe it.