A piece of music should stir emotions and evoke inquisitive thought. Lingua Ignota is, perhaps, the most thought provoking, powerful project in experimental music. Intertwining industrial, electronic, doom metal, classical and more, Kristin Hayter, the force behind the sound, creates behemoths that defy precise labeling. As a survivor of domestic violence with 100% of her artist proceeds going to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the songs of Lingua Ignota go against the typical tropes of extreme music. Unlike most male-driven heavy acts, Hayter’s art is true; she writes directly from her life and speaks to those who understand the darkness associated with male-dominated society. From exorcism to opera, she tells her stories in a way that is unsettling, impactful and awe-inspiring. Hayter talked to us about sampling Aileen Wuornos, redefining “heavy” and the humans who inspire her art.
“Lingua Ignota” has, fittingly, both religious and feminist connotations. How did you arrive at that name?
Lingua Ignota means ‘unconstructed’ or ‘unknown’ language. It was an alphabet arrived at by medieval mystic and composer Hildegaard of Bingen, who is a major influence. I work a lot with extended vocals, and as an extension of that have always had a vested interest in glossolalia and ecstatic speech, I think that will develop and get weirder as the project progresses. Lingua Ignota I think of as God speaking and moving directly through a body, a possession.
In what ways do those two facets of life (religion and feminism) affect the sound of your music?
In a fun twist, my work does not at all engage with any schools of feminist thought or critical theory. This is intentional, as I am trying to approach the topic of survival in a way that is arresting and unconventional. Almost everything I do is informed by misogynist, male-dominated, and patriarchal models. I’m just reframing and re-contextualizing. So I work a lot with sound and imagery palettes inspired by the ideologies surrounding extreme music.
For instance, the voice and image of Aileen Wuornos appear often in my work. But my arrival at Aileen wasn’t an organic feminist choice, it was based on a lot of noise, metal, etc. using samples of serial killers or an album with a serial killer theme, and so on. In my humble opinion, whatever may have been, at some point, controversial or interesting about using dark imagery is dead; we’re so accustomed to it that it just becomes a sort of ambient signifier loop for genre placement – like: “ok we’ve got a Jeffrey Dahmer sample in here just a heads up we’re an evil band we’re into evil stuff.”
Also, where else can music go to get heavy and dark? I feel like we tap out at true Harsh Noise Wall. That’s the end. It’s the heaviest sound world there is. You listen to 35 minutes of The Rita putting a mic’ed pointe shoe through four pedals, the sound source totally obliterated into nothingness with every frequency maxed out the entire time — that’s the end of heavy music. Goregrind/hategrind, NSBM, racist power electronics – none of it holds a candle to that absolute decimation and entropy, it’s staring into a void.
So I don’t find most of the graphic depictions of (forgive my language here) ‘sending this dumb slut back to hell hearing her final screams as my throbbing erection pounds her maggot-filled cunt’ upsetting to my feminine sensibilities, most of it isn’t even well-executed enough to be taken seriously, I just find that it occupies this weird space of being simultaneously very loaded and totally obsolete, especially when we consider that none of these guys are actually sodomizing female corpses in their free time. So my thoughts were to flip this whole paradigm and to try to make it meaningful, to reframe extreme imagery for survivors of violence, upon whom very dark shit has actually been visited, and who may have been confronted with the possibility of committing homicide in self-defense to survive an attack. Aileen’s story is brutal and complex, it’s a lesson in how deeply flawed the system is for sex workers, sexual assault survivors, people with mental illness, everyone who slips through the cracks. When Aileen is in my work, I try never to edit her or manipulate the sample to make her sound ‘scary and cool’ and try to never outdo her with my own voice – that’s why, in the song “Disease Of Men”, her voice runs throughout, loudly. I want to take backseat. I like to think that our voices are working in tandem. I want people to actually listen to what she has to say.
My relationship to religion is very complex, and the sound world of my work is very much influenced by liturgical music, whether that’s saccharine Christian Contemporary, or the sacred works of Haendel or William Byrd or even further back, Hildegard of Bingen. I’ve always had this really strong affinity for music, structures, and artworks built for God. I don’t know what I believe in at this point as I’ve been a hardline atheist since high school, but the concept of religion serves many purposes in my work: the vengeful God, the merciful God, God as the only place you can turn.
All Bitches Die is simultaneously terrifying and ethereal. As an artist, do you have any underlying hopes for what people take away emotionally from your music?
I hope that they hear something new, an amalgam of stuff that in its structure and arrangement is both disorienting and familiar, and I hope they hear an unorthodox perspective on difficult content, something difficult to listen to but they can’t quite figure out why. I want people to feel ill at ease, to be not quite sure what will happen next, which is why I fill my work with a lot of sharp contrasts and juxtapositions.
“I think a constant in my music is shifting perspectives, that even in the same song or the same phrase there are multiple voices speaking, a totally different perspective can be achieved by relaying the same content in a different style.”
What do the juxtapositions in your music represent?
I think a constant in my music is shifting perspectives, that even in the same song or the same phrase there are multiple voices speaking, a totally different perspective can be achieved by relaying the same content in a different style.
Also considering what is heavy again. There’s a lot of movement in my work but probably the most ‘conventionally heavy’ music people have heard from me so far is the first five minutes of “Woe To All (On The Day Of My Wrath)” with this kind of deconstructed sludge metal riff, a distorted crashing pulse, and very intense black metal-y vocals. There’s not a lot of meaningful material in there though. I say a couple of lines that I say later in the song but some of it I legitimately don’t know what’s being said so any meaning has to be construed from the conviction of the delivery, which is another element of extreme music i find conceptually interesting. I think the harshest track I’ve done, and a weird sleeper favorite among people, is “The Chosen One (Master)” which is sonically my softest, most sparse song. It has the same repeating arpeggiated piano line for almost seven minutes and an organum-style vocal line that moves a little but doesn’t do anything extraordinary, and I sing very quietly, and that’s it. But the material is brutal, and progresses from allegorical to autobiographical to evangelical as the song goes on, and doesn’t let up. It’s like having someone whisper something dreadful directly into your ear, I close a lot of my sets with this song and it always makes people very uneasy. It’s my favorite song I’ve done so far, and in my opinion — it’s my heaviest. I do a similar thing in “Holy Is The Name (Of My Ruthless Axe)”, which is very quiet, but also very dark, but also victorious, but also victorious in a way that is terrifying. So these juxtapositions are, for me, a way of building tension, a way to take what’s holy and make it profane, a way to take what’s profane and make it holy, a way to reconcile beauty and ugliness.
Your music seems wholly autobiographical. You can hear your classical training, Catholic upbringing and, most of all, your story of surviving domestic abuse. Is performing a sort of cathartic purge for you?
Yes, definitely. it feels like an exorcism. I keep telling myself to take it easy on my voice when I perform but I seem to have no control over my body whatsoever. I always end up with bruises everywhere, and later I’ll watch video and see that I’d been hitting myself with the mic or falling on the monitors or something. I basically black out. I initially have awareness of the audience and generally stare them down for a minute or so at some point but that awareness gets totally wrecked.
Providence has rich repertoire of noise and experimental musicians, namely The Body, who you’ve played and worked with. What introduced you to the genre and how did you start creating your own sounds?
The Body are the best guys, literally the best people in the world. I love them. They make intelligent, heavy, enveloping work that really pushes the boundaries of metal in terms of collaboration and influences. I hope they keep making music forever. I sing a few songs on their new record so watch for me!
The Body had already moved to Portland by the time I came to Providence, but they’re obviously legends here. In Providence we’re really spoiled. The creative landscape here is shifting right now and I probably won’t be here for too much longer but I can’t think of another city that has had such bounty in performance art, noise, noise rock, metal, queer artists…it’s been a really special place. It also has a very interesting bridge between academic experimental music and DIY experimental music, which is how I found myself in the scene. I’d been doing DIY noisy stuff when I was younger but switched to more austere, scholarly work in undergrad and grad school. Due to a general disillusionment with academia and my own life circumstances, I started gravitating towards work that was more emotionally raw than academia was willing to tolerate. I also started making this music as soon as my abuser was gone for the last time, because during the time we were together he wouldn’t allow me to perform in really any capacity, or at least strongly discouraged it, and when I was finally free the music became a very raw and real way to process the damage.
“I want people to feel ill at ease, to be not quite sure what will happen next, which is why I fill my work with a lot of sharp contrasts and juxtapositions.”
Do the 4 tracks of All Bitches Die correspond to a larger project such as Burn Everything?
Nope! The construction of All Bitches Die was much more organic and is meant to be more of a cycle of murder ballads, somewhat inspired by a book given to me by Humanbeast’s Eli, When Battered Women Kill. There are still about 10 more unreleased parts that go with the first EP of Burn Everything material that will probably be released as a full-length at some point, but for All Bitches Die I specifically wanted to cleanse my palette with work that would develop naturally, it was sort of a test for myself to see if I could make non-procedural work.
It’s the most cliche question, but who are some musicians/artists/people in general who inspire you?
I actually love this question. The people in my life who inspire me are the ones who’ve been through hard shit and keep going. The people who are still strong even if they’re struggling to have their voices heard.
I have an obsession with vocalists, particularly those who use their voices to extreme and unexpected ends: Blixa Bargeld, Diamanda Galas, Klaus Nomi, Kathy Berberian, Joan la Barbara, Yma Sumac, Philippe Jaroussky, Andreas Scholl, Attila Csihar are just a few off the top of my head that have been really important to my development. One of my favorite artists is Rainer Maria Fassbinder, and his theatrical, ghastly, content-saturated films are hugely inspirational to my aesthetic in general, I think Fassbinder is largely responsible for my constant use of dramatic shifts. His work was very cerebral but also very beautiful, there’s a lot of texture to it.
A major reason I keep making music when I feel like I should stop is my closest friend Scøtt Reber, Work/Death, who has been an amazing support system for me for the past two years. Scøtt is almost a mythical figure in Providence and is rarely seen aside from at shows. He makes the most beautiful, perfect music. Technically he ‘does noise’ but it’s so much more, he’s totally a savant, he painstakingly crafts these really dense soundscapes that are a culmination of musical intuition, emotional sincerity, and theoretical knowledge which are somehow perfectly balanced and so well executed — but everything still sounds broken. He has this massive brainspace occupied solely by 20th century avant-garde schools of thought about tonality and human cognitive understanding of sound, he knows more about music than pretty much every music scholar I’ve ever met. The screensaver on his laptop is a black void with a white text box that bounces around, it says: “Yr fucked and everything is fucked. keep trying to fix things. it’s still fucked. keep trying.” I think of this every day.