Hildegard

Canada

A first voice starts: “Everything between us, so fine.” The lyric loops, starting again, as second voice comes in over top: “If I could just surprise myself from behind / Me and I would get along just fine.” The lines repeat. They sound like two halves of a chant, or a prayer. Within them lies a fundamental contradiction: the tension between fear and hope, a constant and perhaps necessary conflict of the self.

How to surprise yourself from behind? Maybe with the help of someone else. Montreal musicians Ouri and Helena Deland typically work as solo artists, but in Hildegard, they become something more than the sum of their parts. Over two weeks in a studio in 2018, the musicians discovered an innate creative connection, building and bouncing ideas off of one another, developing an intuitive approach to composition and sound. The resulting record, Hildegard, is wholly its own.

Eight tracks fuse together into a sonic sphere, named for the eight days spent together. Deland’s folk background balances against Ouri’s nocturnal world of electronic and dance music. Two figures find space to meet, somewhere between light and dark, liquid and solid, heaven and earth. They weave in and out of each other. The studio is a playground; a site of emergence, magic. Weightless vocals and aphoristic lyrics hover over kinetic beats and throbbing bass. The meeting place sounds something like dusk, or dawn.

From this alchemy arises the figure of Hildegard, a woman of science, music, and spirituality. A symbol of nurturing strength, a saint with healing powers. In her 12th century presence, Hildegard wrote prophecies, poems, and treatises; she experienced otherworldly visions and recorded them, passing them down through generations. Her mystic compositions, rediscovered in the late 20th century, are today revered as among the greatest works of the Medieval Era.

Deland and Ouri invoke Hildegard as a carrier of the magic they felt working with each other, the separate entity that was born as they blended together. Making the album was a restorative experience for both, their own version of Hildegard’s Canticles of Ecstasy. A modern encounter with the sacred and the ancient. Artist Melissa Matos developed a visual language for the project that reflects this melding and switching of identities. She imagines Hildegard as both contemporary and historic presence; the tangling of two identities beyond possibility of retreat.

Hildegard is a testament to the intensity of coming together, losing yourself in one another, emerging as something new. The album follows the order in which the songs were written, a chronology of emotion. On “Jour 1,” aggression dominates; on “Jour 2,” sadness seeps through. “Jour 3” initially seems like a meditation on loneliness, but becomes a flirtatious hymn to pleasure. Each song, though, contains that tension between fear and hope, joy and anger—a joy made possible by the presence of another, someone to get angry with instead of at. Whispers are interrupted by screams and sirens; healing happens through play. Hildegard delight in upending expectations, toying with feminine moods and roles, rejecting pre-ordained structures. Channeling the energy in the space between.

Hildegard, then, is also a record of juxtapositions: past and present, ephemerality and permanence, the beautiful and the grotesque. The tracks often pair sounds and tones that seem like opposites, but don’t have to be. Indeed, there is beauty through the grotesque. Hildegard is multiple women at once; she holds tensions together, resists resolutions. The duo express disenchantment with traditional romance, a fraught desire to care for the self. They find freedom instead in sensuality and hysteria, duality and multiplicity, and, of course, each other.

On Hildegard, the boundaries between self and other are thin as light. Call and response grow into a third element: the sound of a fantasy, a nightmare. Or maybe a vision.

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