Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
At times, Asunder's funeral doom drifts toward something tenderly elegiac. Funerals obviously evoke (and enact) elegies, but Asunder's graceful, surprisingly uplifting last rites occur above ground and amid various fall colors. Slow, dark, heavy, vaporous, and anthemic, Works Will Come Undone, the Oakland/Bay Area quintet's second full length since 1998 is out via Canadian label Profound Lore. It's comprised of two bohemoths-- "A Famine" and "The Rite of Finality"-- that for more than an hour glide between rich collisions of gruff vocals/double guitars/bass/drums to nearly silent passages of throat-clearing drone. Jackie Perez-Gratz's cello dusts everything with a fragile melancholia. Many of Dino Sommese's drum movements swivel infectiously (as the dual guitars soar).
Works Will Come Undone follows the sonic map of 2004's full-length debut, A Clarion Call, but exhibits additional staying power and restraint, inching even more incrementally toward its valleys and peaks. Asked about influences, guitarist and co-vocalist John Gossard listed Thergothon, Burzum, Wino, Black Sabbath, Mighty Sphincter, Black Flag, Ved Buens Ende, Voivod, Unholy, Merciful Fate, Moevot, Dark Throne, Nuclear Death, and the Cure, among others. Dig around and you'll find these traces hiding out with Disembowelment, OM, and Neurosis.
Asunder's a veritable self-contained West Coast metal family tree, showcasing a history as lengthy as their songs: Gossard played in the Gault and founded/fronted Weakling; guitarist Geoff Evans was a member of Skaven and Lachrymose; and vocalist/drummer, Sommese, one of the founding members along with Evans and ex-guitarist Seth Baker (also of Lachrymose), is 1/3 of Dystopia, plays in Ghoul, and was a part of Lachrymose, Insidious (with Baker), and Carcinogen.
Since receiving Works Will Come Undone a couple of weeks ago, it hasn't left my stereo. That's a critical cliché, but I'm not talking shit-- the fucker's addictive. Wanting to meet the folks behind one of my recent favorites, I contacted the band and spoke with the two guitarists, Evans and Gossard. We first corresponded in depth via e-mail on All Saints' Day, following their Halloween show at the Elbo Room. We continued the conversation a few days later, also via e-mail.
Pitchfork: How was the Halloween show?
Geoff Evans: Excellent. A great lineup: Aldebaran were excellent-- very, very heavy. Keen of the Crow were great as well. Of course, Ludicra are always impressive. We had a very good turnout for a Tuesday evening.
John Gossard: It was sort of our unofficial record release show: It was the day the album was issued, but we didn't advertise as a "record release" so people were just surprised to find a new LP. Only complaint was the PA didn't allow for everything to be as loud as I like. But there were lots of drunk freaks dressed up as ghouls, nuns, and whores.
Geoff Evans: One of the most classic, there was a dude dressed as Jesus passed out in the corner. Priceless.
Pitchfork: I really love the new album. I've always been into longer compositions, whether it's Sleep, La Monte Young, or Spacemen 3. These things have always been out there-- and you guys have been around for nine years-- but these days, it seems like more folks are enjoying epics, which conflicts with notions/theories of what television and the internet are doing to attention spans. Specifically, why the increased interest in drone, doom, and funeral doom?
JG: I've always been into long tracks myself. I think a lot of the reason funeral doom is becoming more popular is because people are alienated and depressed, so darker music in general is more consumed. The internet-- with its message-boards, e-mails, mp3 sharing-- has allowed a lot more people to discover funeral doom. Funeral doom is fairly easy to play compared to something like, say, death/grind, so we see many more bands forming.
As for the internet and short-attention spans, people are getting tired of being forced to absorb so much information, but they lack the ability to break away entirely and meditate on their own. Music takes a listener on a journey, and slow music takes a listener to a place that is becoming less and less common in the "real" world; a place where there is calm, where grief and sadness create great power, where death and the decaying world are not shocking but accepted as a natural part of the universe. That's a guess anyway. Also, I think the combining of the sort of ancient meditative style of chant/drone with more modern instrumentation of distorted guitars/bass and drums create a feeling that connects today's seemingly unnatural world with the older traditions that seem to hold some mystical truth.
GE: I'm really into cultivating patience-- probably as a kind of antidote to contemporary culture. It's a weird phenomenon that so many people are interested in drone, funeral doom, and generally epic, slow-moving music at the moment. I am sure that it is reflective of a kind of deep dissatisfaction with a throwaway culture...maybe indicative of some kind of search for meaning, something that requires some kind of attention or discipline to understand or really experience fully. As for funeral doom as an example of a very extreme, bleak expression-- it surely also reflects a hopelessness, a deep void in people at this time and place...a monument to the failures of our modern philosophies and institutions to provide any meaning or connection to life at all...the result of secular humanism and the paradigms of science...of understanding everything around you as separate, distinct objects, machines that can be manipulated to your own ends without consequence.
Pitchfork: How do you go about writing your songs? I'm interested in duration-- for example, when do you know something's done?
GE: Generally we have huge amounts of music that we've written or jammed-- we never use all of it. We have a core part/direction of a song, but spend the vast majority of the time developing themes, transitions, mood.
JG: Usually we spend a long time writing only riffs.
GE: We'll often play the same riff in various ways for months-- different tempos, feelings...
JG: We then take the riffs to rehearsal and play them as a band while improvising over them, changing time signatures, slowing them down, experimenting. We listen to tapes of this material and try out transitions from one idea to another and see what kind of feeling they create. Once we have a few ideas that conjure a very solid atmosphere we begin crafting a song. We use a lot of the material we came up in earlier jams, but also write new specific riffs/harmonies/transitions to fit the path we want to follow. There is usually a vague theme/concept to the song, but most of the vocal parts are written toward the end of the process. We usually end our songs based on an intuitive feeling that we are at the end. On occasion we have heated arguments over this issue.
GE: The song seems "done" when we no longer have separate individual conceptions of the song; when it seems clear which permutations are the most appropriate. It takes a great deal of time to hear what the song sounds like, outside of our individual desires/intentions.
Pitchfork: Asunder's had quite a few lineup changes. Do certain players lack the stamina?
JG: The band's ever evolving and shifting its focus based on a collective will. As the music has become more and more demanding not everyone has been dedicated or interested enough in the general direction.
GE: Original second guitarist Seth Baker left for personal reasons, yet we still see him around a bit and is still a part of our extended family. The original bass player, Britt Hallett, left due to personal and philosophical differences of perspective. Alex Bale-Glickman, played cello on A Clarion Call and performed live with us a few times, but was never a permanent member.
JG: As for the most recent new additions, Salvador was the first person we asked as he had already played together in the band Insidious (along with Seth) so they already had a solid musical connection. Jackie Perez-Gratz is an old friend and had always said she would be interested in playing with us but she is very busy, so rather than have her join the band full time, we asked if she could write some cello parts to embellish the songs based on demo versions. We hope to play with her live as well soon, but at the moment she is just a session member.
Pitchfork: Live, do you ever improvise?
JG: All our material is written very much on improvisation, but by the time we get to recording the stuff, it is all pretty much set in stone. The one exception for me is that my solos are never completely written. I usually try and stay within a template for that, but I like to leave a tiny bit of room to be able to express how I'm feeling in the moment and playing a completely written solo makes me feel awkward. I would love it if we could find a way to pull off more improvisation live (I used to do tons more of it in the Gault) but with our sound it is harder to pull off well, at least thus far.
GE: Aside from the guitar solos, which are never exactly the same, there are certain parts of the songs that are less strict than others, and there can be slight alterations according the tempo or mood that seems right for that particular show. Sometimes we play the songs extra-slow if the atmosphere/mood allows it. Occasionally will play them a bit faster, although this is never intentional.
Pitchfork: You've done a couple splits. What do you like about that format?
JG: For one, it forces me away from thinking about writing an entire album's length of cohesive material. When writing on a split I know I have less time to work with, and there can't be one complete sound picture because the album's sharing the stage with someone else. Since we normally take a very long time to write songs, only having to complete one song before going in to record is sort of refreshing. I hope in the future we do more splits-- possibly using the format to explore weirder experimentation.
Pitchfork: On Works Will Come Undone, there are moments of intense minimalism-- barely audible electronics, etc. That restraint's admirable. I feel like I ask folks this all the time, but are you interested in the work of the early minimalists, say Tony Conrad and La Monte Young? I'm interested in those links. Who are some of your musical, or otherwise, inspirations?
GE: The development of a song, dynamically is difficult and requires alot of patience; but at least for myself, the most important aspect of my experience of playing with Asunder is learning and relearning and relearning patience, to allow enough time to develop these songs, both in writing and the song itself to express a mood/idea as deeply as possible. I am not too familiar with Tony Conrad or La Monte Young's stuff, although I do understand that they were pioneers of minimalist drone, from jazz/classical backgrounds.
JG: I think our minimalism comes from a much more utilitarian source. Simply put: We like our songs to build and collapse. If we want to get complex harmonically it only makes sense to start from something very minimal, and vice versa when simplifying. We're aware of lots of music outside of doom and allow it to influence our playing when it seems appropriate. I myself am influenced by just about all obscure metal-- be it black, doom, thrash, death, dark ambient drone. Also, Top 10 pop music, various ethnic folk musics, a small amount of crappy classical music, 1980s rap, 80s punk, 80s death rock, 60s/70s psych and prog. I studied a bit about music theory long ago, but now I try and forget all that intellectualism and simply channel my natural instincs into doom or other musical creations.
GE: Most of the world's spiritual/religious musical traditions have a strong emphasis on drone, whether that be Gregorian/Byzantine chant, Tibetan/Chinese/Korean/Japanese Buddhist chant, Indian raga, etc. There's some core human response to these sounds, an emotional/psychological state that is very helpful to cultivate certain states of mind/being. I'm very interested in this dimension. I like some of the minimalist classical stuff-- Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, Gavin Bryars. As for drone, besides the metal side of it-- Sunn0)), early Boris-- I like Stars of the Lid, Surface of the Earth, Growing.
I'm into/influenced by all kinds of music, although lately I have been listening to a lot of 70s proto-heavy metal/rock and progressive rock, as it seems that before there were clear standards of how to play "heavy" music, people were doing much more interesting things without as much concern for it being defined as some particular style/genre of music. I've also been into a lot of instrumental epic post-rock, stuff that is much closer to being some kind of film score or something than rock. But, for whatever reason, I have always been inclined towards liking melancholic minor scale music. I don't know if this is something that is primarily in context of this time and place, or whether this is something independent of circumstances. Ultimately though, the best riffs/musical ideas that I contribute to Asunder seem to just come to me, not something I think about much at all. When I do, it seems to be more forced and requires much more tweaking over time to arrive at something that seems right...but of course, everything that I have ever heard has somehow contributed to my understanding/experience of music.
Pitchfork: In the future, do you think you can extend things or play even slower, heavier? Aesthetically, do you imagine future Asunder recordings being denser or do you want to remove elements?
JG: I don't know where we will go from here. Of course we can play slower, heavier, denser but I am not certain if that is what we will do. I love the density of a live Sunn show, or the simplicity of despair you find in something like Tyranny or Worship. I would enjoy playing music like these, but I don't know that is where Asunder is traveling. We all pull and push in different directions and when we don't all like where one or two of us are taking an idea, the result is shit. I personally am always on a quest to make the music darker, more discordant, and slower, but that said, I also enjoy a sad melody or harmony, or moving uptempo so we can slow it down again. I can only hope we just go where it seems natural. Wherever we go next I can only expect it will be a slight shift from where we are now, a few things added, and few things subtracted. The next album will most likely feature more vocals like Tom Petty and a few non-traditional instruments like bongos and steel drums.
GE: Asunder work within certain parameters, of which our equipment obviously has a huge part in. Tonally, it is a very delicate balance, between our respective amplifiers/cabinets, instruments, drums, vocal idea/abilities. I can't see us ever doing anything fast though, I would probably refuse-- ha ha. I would hope that we could continue to elaborate on the dynamics that we have already worked with...probably try and experiment with more complex vocal harmony/tones at some point. I think the more varied the tonal quality of long songs, the more interesting they become, and this can be very minimal and still have a big effect on how you hear it.
Pitchfork: There's heightened language and a romantic naturalism in your lyrics but the sentiments are very much of this time and place. Is this a political record?
JG: The lyrics on the new album were written collaboratively and were based on some loose and some concrete concepts that developed and morphed as the music [did]. There are points and themes we are speaking about, but there is also an intentional vagueness to allow a listener to create his own image and world around the ideas we're offering. In a very simple way the songs are about birth, death, and spirit-- an endless cycle, the central concepts to which mankind seeks answers.
GE: The lyrics are primarily concerned with the self. One thing that I would like to point out is that this album is conceptual, and the two songs are linked conceptually. They work in linear order on the album from beginning to end and express a certain cosmology of self, but also work cyclically, meaning the order could be reversed. I think the best way to think about it is to put the album on repeat...and this expresses a different concept of self.
Of the stuff that I wrote, I wanted to express some non-Western ideas of the self, life, and death. I was very much inspired by certain Buddhist meditations/prayers on impermanence and doctrines of no(t)-self, yet understanding that this genre/tradition of doom metal has it's own cosmology rooted in western conceptions of death. So, a lot of this comes across as being annihilationist at first, which I don't necessarily think is sufficient, but is appropriate in response to both the secular and the Judeo-Islamic-Christian worldview.
We are deeply uncomfortable with death, and either reduce it to the inevitable failure of a machine that needs to be replaced, or promise ourselves eternal, unchanging life after death. Neither of these seem to reflect reality to me. All things seem to be interdependent, have no distinct boundaries, and most certainly never remain unchanged. So the first song is really about how a self, or rather one's concept of one's self, comes to be, and the resulting conflicts and suffering that this particular self experiences as it tries to maintain this self or identity in an ever changing reality. The title "A Famine" was intended to cryptically express this hunger or desire to achieve or maintain something that can never be satisfied.
JG: "A Famine" is based around a sort of fantasy creation myth. It begins being about something eternal, enveloping the physical and spiritual energies from the beginning of time. Only one thing does not exist, the finite. The despair of eternity leads to the creation of something finite, an "other"..a life with a start and an end. This other begins life knowing nothing and spends its time trying to comprehend and make sense of the universe, the concrete, and the divine. But trapped in the finite it is incapable of seeing far enough forward or backward to comprehend the whole. The "living" join together to make "temples to exalt the divine" but the foundations of their beliefs and traditions are always misunderstood because they are built on an unsteady foundation "the shifting sands of time." Desire drives them to seek understanding, but in the end their finite existence they cannot fill their desire for knowledge and die alone and hungry. The song isn't intended to make any kind of statement about creation myth really, which is something I myself don't believe in, but rather a fantasy for me and a vehicle to conjure ideas about the cyclic nature of the universe and the sadness i feel thinking about the inability to answer the great questions of life within a lifetime, and finding nothing satisfying about the concept of becoming eternal either. There is just learning to take patience in things.
GE: "Rite of Finality" was intended to evoke some kind of funeral rite, some meditation on transience and impermanence. That in observance of this reality, there is beauty, there is liberation. Freedom from the terror of your own ultimate death. Both of these songs have aspects to them that could be taken as having some political context, as this terror of the loss of our selves, our ways of life, cultures, are obviously at the core of the current conflicts in the middle east. But primarily, the lyrics/conceptual aspect of the album were intended to be broader in scope, maybe philosophical and spiritual rather than political or religious.
JG: It's a different kind of song, but connected to the first. It is a sort of ode and prayer to the end of things. Death of course being the end we all think of as the finality of our lives, but beyond that there is the end of the works we achieved in life, which eventually degrade and become undone. One's end is not the end to all, and without one thing ending other things would not begin. Life and death are a cyclical part of the world, but it seems the western world primarily fears death and doesn't connect to its positive elements of renewal and rebirth. This is sort of a recurring theme in our music, where musically even when we write music that's very sad and apocalyptic, there is a sense of beauty beneath it.
Pitchfork: A more mundane question: Any tours planned?
JG: No tour plans at the moment. Some talk about heading to the pacific northwest for a few days in winter. Something short and easy. We just did our first ever tour outside of the west coast in Japan with Corrupted, which I would love to do again, but in this situation we didn't have to do any work at all booking shows or making travel arrangements as Corrupted set it all up. We are pretty bad at making long term plans like this, so unless someone makes it real easy for us we may never make it to the east coast or Europe or elsewhere. Hopefully we will get out somewhere some day, but I make no promises.
Pitchfork: How was Japan?
GE: It was an amazing experience. I cannot give enough respect and thanks to Corrupted, as a band and as people-- they are truly dedicated to what they do, to the music and the culture. Japan is an amazing country, simultaneously ancient and ultra-modern, with a very strong, rich culture and traditions. I have a strong in interest in Japanese culture, religion, and history, so it was an unheard of opportunity to tour the country, see so many different cities, meet so many interesting, great people, enjoy excellent food/parties, see all kinds of great bands, beautiful scenery, temples.
JG: It was interesting playing alongside lots of fast bands like Disgust, Disclose, Effigy, ABC Butcher and find that their audience still stuck around for us. Also playing after Corrupted every night was difficult, as they are so massively heavy, loud, slow and mesmerizing in a much more minimal way. Still, their crowd stuck around for us and were really supportive. I was also amazed by how healthy and clean everything is there. I arrived with bronchitis and still was 'forced' to party just about every night until 5 a.m., but by drinking these little energy drinks, tons of sushi and udon, pocari sweat, and "deepresso"coffee I managed to get well. Then I came home and got horribly sick again. Fuck, the USA is a dirty shit-hole! I have to say though, the cats in Japan are assholes...totally unfriendly.
Monday, March 15, 2010
the ghost of the sky
to the white light
and parched steel
as punctured time
as stabbing space
into the fields
the apparitions of land
we pursue the blindness
oh, the children!
leave the fires
cherish the dreams
leave the blind
St. Elias School of Orthodox Theology
Iamblichus' notion of the soul's salvation is not, at first glance, all that different from the conceptions of later Christian thought, particularly Maximus the Confessor. Iamblichus conceived of the eskhaton as the perfect unification of soul and cosmos, in which the soul finds rest, and the authority of the divinity is maintained in and for eternity. Maximus, similarly, understood the eskhaton as the replacement of the human ego - the existential center of the soul, the self - with the absolute and absolutizing presence of God. So why should Iamblichus' conception be given primacy from an Existentialist-Personalistic philosophical perspective?
The answer resides in the relationship of the soul to history, i.e., to the manner in which the human being responds to the inevitable and inescapable historical circumstances in which it finds itself. History is at once the locus of my self-realization as a person, and the limiting factor in my creative expression of my personhood. As the Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev has explained:
History treats me very roughly, and it shows not the slightest concern for my well-being. That is one aspect of it. But history is also my history. I have indeed had a share in its happening. If man holds the cosmos within him, there is all the more reason for saying that he includes history within him. In the spiritual depth of me - in transcendental man - the contradiction is removed. The history of Israel, Egypt, Persia, Babylon, Greece, and Rome, of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance occurred with my participation, it is my history and for that reason only can it be intelligible to me. It is my path, my quest and my lure. Its falls and its uplifting are mine. If for me this were mere objectification in which everything is received from without only, then I should be able to understand nothing of it.
The understanding of history is paramount, for it is also the understanding of our universal personhood. In the philosophical theology of Origen of Alexandria, the historical becoming of the soul is said to continue even after salvation, as the intellect gradually becomes more accustomed to the perception of divine things. In Origen we find a dynamism in the eskhaton. Deification occurs, but it is not perfect assimilation of the soul to the Godhead; rather, it is a continual motion toward divinity. We find a similar idea in Gregory of Nyssa's concept of diastêma, in which the soul is said to strive eternally for God, who remains forever aloof.
However, when considered in this way, how can history ever be, as Berdyaev declares, my history? My striving for God, for deification, becomes merely a function of a cosmos that must always exceed me - or, in the case of Maximus, of a deity of which my existence is a mere function. What distinguishes Iamblichus' view from that of these three Church Fathers is the presence of an atemporal ontology, which tempers his brand of historical determinism (determination in history as opposed to determination by history).
Historical determinism for Origen and Gregory means that history is an inescapable, ongoing process of motion toward god. Both Origen and Gregory adhered to a peculiarly Christian brand of apokatastasis doctrine (first developed by Origen), which implied innumerable incarnations of the soul in the cosmos, until that soul at last was purged of its sinfulness and re-united with God. Maximus, while adhering to such a doctrine early in his career, abandoned it in favor of a belief in ascetic purging of the soul leading to an emptying of the self, in preparation for the complete replacement of the ego by the divine presence. For Origen and Gregory, the soul's salvation was assured; it may take countless ages to perfect, but it will occur ... eventually. Maximus was not so optimistic, but he nevertheless believed that the goal of history was the perfection - deification - of the entire cosmos, including all of nature (not just human souls). Both of these Christian positions are attractive enough, to be sure; but what they are lacking is the sense of intimate, human-divine participation that one finds in the theory of Iamblichus. According to Origen and Gregory, endless striving - never satiated - for the divine presence is the definition of salvation; for Maximus, the ego relinquishes its unique position in history in favor of a dissolution into the Godhead. Iamblichus, however, understands salvation rather differently.
Iamblichus sees the theurgical act as universal, as 'holding sway' for all eternity, within the divine order of the cosmos. The autonomous act of the soul participating in theurgical ritual is in no way determined or guided by historical circumstance - it is a supreme act of self-expression. However, it is an act that results, paradoxically, in the loss of the ability to express oneself; - for ultimately, it is the divinity that maintains the cosmos, not the human soul, for all that the soul may do to participate in the cosmic maintenance. However, once the soul achieves such participation, the disconnect between self-expression and divine existence is overcome, and the soul realizes itself as a divine being (theios anêr) - a product equally of history and personal striving. Here we arrive at the most important aspect of Iamblichean theurgy: the soul, although determined by the already appointed course of cosmic history, becomes what it is through a ritual activity that unites the soul with the gods; and, in so doing, the soul changes its ontological status from that of mere mortal to immortal, to divinity. History is not overcome, but fulfilled ... eternally.
In order to understand the main difference between Iamblichus and the above-mentioned Church Fathers, the following distinction will likely be helpful. For Iamblichus, the final goal of theurgy is the overcoming of the particular mode of existence of a soul immersed in the lowest sphere of divine emanation: the material cosmos. Once the soul ascends upward through the planetary spheres, and sheds the various accretions acquired through physical birth and immersion in the sub-lunar realm, the lure of its old life is abolished, and a new cosmic life is made possible - the soul becomes a divine being (theios anêr). History - i.e., the unique temporal life of the person - is overcome in favor of a unification of the particular (the human soul) with the universal (God). For Origen and Gregory, on the other hand, history involves the gradual revelation of God to His creation - it does not involve any sort of instantaneous union through theurgical ritual. In this case, the activity of the human soul is relegated to that of student, with God as pedagogue. According to Origen, God teaches the soul about its proper mode of existence over the course of numerous ages, a concept necessarily involving a doctrine of transmigration of souls. According to Gregory, God is revealed through the manifestation of his activities (energeiai) in the cosmos. The eschatological visions of Origen and his most gifted pupil, Gregory, are quite similar.
For Origen, the eskhaton involves an eternal education of the finite soul in divine things. For Gregory, the eskhaton involves an eternal striving of the finite soul for the infinite divine essence. History, in both cases, is not fulfilled (at the personal level), as it is in Iamblichus, but rather infinitely extended beyond the purview of the finite human being. But when history is extended in this manner, it ceases to belong to the human beings who both respond to it and craft it in unique ways, creating the life of the world that fosters all intellectual and religious pursuits. The eskhaton must be located outside of history, and for this, an atemporal ontology is necessary. It is just such an onotlogy, I believe, that we may find in Iamblichus, if we look closely enough. As Berdyaev writes:
History is in truth the path to another world. It is in this sense that its content is religious. But the perfect state is impossible within history itself; it can only be realized outside its framework.
Iamblichus shows us a way of moving beyond the framework of history, understood as the locus of limitation of the encosmic human soul. Yet he ends up establishing the locus of the atemporal human soul precisely within the very context from which it supposedly eradicated itself through the theurgic ritual of divine ascent. There is no realization of the perfected human soul outside of history, only the enshrinement of human striving in the unchangeable, eternal, and divine cosmos - but this itself is an overcoming of history, and therefore of the determinism that is always connected in some form or other with history.
This mild criticism of Iamblichus does not, however, detract from the supreme importance he places on the soul's participation in the Godhead - a participation more direct, more mutual, and more individually creative than what is found in Christian liturgical and mystical writings.
All of theurgy has a two-fold character. One is that it is a rite conducted by men which preserves our natural order in the universe; the other is that it is empowered by divine symbols [theia sunthêmata], is raised up through them to be joined on high with the Gods, and is led harmoniously round to their order. This latter aspect can rightly be called 'taking the shape of the Gods' [theôn katamathômen].
Unlike Christian eschatology, the telos of Iamblichean theurgy is not the establishment of a new mode of existence outside this cosmos, but a perfection of human-divine existence within the cosmos. While this eliminates the historical dimension of human existence - i.e., striving for an indeterminate future - it does preserve the creative aspect of our intellectual union with a higher, divine principle.
We must ask whether the preservation of human creativity in Iamblichus' conception of an encosmic partnership with the Demiurge, resulting in a complete conformation of human beings with divinity, is preferable to the Origenist-inspired Christian conception of an eternal striving (beyond the cosmos) for an intellectual grasp of the divine mysteries - one in which the unique character of the human soul remains intact, while never truly becoming united with divinity. The implication of Iamblichean henôsis and Christian theôsis were brought together in the thought of Maximus the Confessor, who simply enshrined human striving in a 'deified' state in which the human nature ceased to function, giving way wholly to the divine. It is the task of an Existential-Personalist eschatology to unite these two differing theoretical approaches to the soul and its final destiny in relation to God.
For Iamblichus, the final result of the soul's quest for deification was quite clear, as he explains in a fragment of his Letter to Macedonius (On Fate), where he writes:
It is the life that is lived in accordance with intellect and that cleaves to the gods that we must train ourselves to live; for this is the only life which admits of the untrammeled authority of the soul, frees us from the bonds of necessity, and allows us to live a life no longer mortal, but one that is divine and filled by the will of the gods with divine benefits.
It is difficult to conceive of an eschatological state more favorable to the life of the intellect than what is described here by Iamblichus. The final question, however, is whether the lack of striving and the loss of an existential, situationist freedom (such as that described by Sartre, for example) is a fair price to pay for such a state of noetic bliss. Is "likeness to God as far as possible" a pre-determined outcome of a life properly lived? Or is it the effervescent self-expression of a creative being demanding not the assurance of divine staticity, but rather the glorious affirmation of a will that is neither human nor divine - but supremely transcendent?
St. Elias School of Orthodox Theology
Deification of the soul is a concept shared by the Hellenic pagan philosophical tradition and Orthodox Christianity. In the ancient Greek language, the concept is denoted by two separate terms. For the pagan Neoplatonists, such as Iamblichus, the deification of the human being was described as henôsis, or unity with God. For Christian theologians of the Greek tradition, the term was theôsis, meaning a divine mode of existence. The difference resides in the ontological and metaphysical presuppositions informing these two philosophical and theological approaches.
Iamblichus considered deification (henôsis) as involving a creative partnership with God, realized through theurgic rituals that raise the soul up to the level of divine demiurgic power. In other words, the deified soul, for Iamblichus, is the soul that has come to experience the glorious satisfaction of maintaining the cosmic order - in other words, in sharing in the activity of the One. For the Orthodox Christian tradition, on the other hand, deification (theôsis) implies a state of being that was described, by the most gifted Church Fathers, as an endless, mystical yearning for divine fulfillment. Both Origen of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa argued that God is beyond the experience of humanity, who are destined to eternally strive - albeit unsuccessfully - for a complete experience of divinity. The most one can hope to attain is a fleeting sense of His infinite vastness. Later in the Christian tradition, however, Maximus the Confessor described theôsis as the replacement of the human ego by the divine presence. In both cases, the attribution of theôsis to these states is paradoxical. If I am eternally incapable of attaining Godhood, how can I ever claim to be deified? Conversely, if God overwhelms my existential center of being with His absolute presence, then do I not effectively cease to exist as a person?
In this paper, I will examine the manner in which the Christian tradition fluctuated between the two extremes of eternal separation from God, and the absolute, person-negating presence of God in the soul. It is in the pagan Neoplatonic tradition, as exemplified by Iamblichus, I will argue, that a personalistic, existentially viable theory of the eskhaton is to be found. By this I mean a theory in which the person, the soul, is intimately bound up with the inner working - or eternally realized history - of the cosmos, in so far as the soul co-operates with God in the maintenance of the cosmic order. This is precisely the goal of Iamblichean theurgy: to raise the soul to the level of perfect demiurgic co-operation with the highest divinity. Yet even Iamblichus' theory requires qualification - if it is to remain existentially viable - as I hope to make clear in the conclusion of this paper.
In the Neoplatonic tradition - both pagan and Christian - the concept of deification was generally traced back to, and lent support by, the following passage from Plato's Theaetetus: "a man should make all haste to escape from earth to heaven; and escape means becoming as like God as possible [homoiôsis theô kata to dunaton]" (176b.1-2). Until the time of Eudorus of Alexandria (fl. ca. 50-25 B.C.) the qualification "as far as possible" was understood as referring to the corruptibility of the body, which was thought to prevent a complete assimilation to the divine. Eudorus, however, interpreted this statement as referring to the perfection of a human being's intellectual capacity. Indeed, as Plato himself states, in the very next line, the man who desires assimilation to the divine must possess "understanding [phronêsis]" (176b.2-3, tr. Levett, Burnyeat).
This led to an increasingly sharp distinction between soul and body, which again found support in the writings of Plato, who had posited a tripartite soul. The body came to be understood as a prison for the rational part of the soul, the intellect (nous), and salvation, consequently, was conceived in terms of the intellect's breaking away from its somatic fetters. This notion was given sophisticated mytho-poetical expression in Gnosticism. "Salvation belongs only to the soul," writes Basilides, "the body is by nature corruptible." However, this idea found its strongest philosophical proponent in Plotinus, who argued that the descent of the soul into the body is required for the maintenance of the cosmic order, but the highest part of the soul - the rational part - remains always above the realm of matter and change, at home with universal Mind.
In both Christianity and the post-Plotinian Neoplatonism of Iamblichus and his successors, the idea that the highest part of the tripartite soul remains ever above the material realm was largely discarded in favor of the view that the soul is, in toto, completely a part of the cosmos, and that salvation must involve a 'holistic' approach to transcendence. The methods employed by Christians and Iamblichean theurgists were quite similar. Both involved the use of material substances - for the Christians it was wine, bread, water, ointments, incense; for the theurgists it was stones, gems, herbs, etc. And both involved the belief that God's power somehow imbues these material substances with salvific power, when utilized in the proper ritual context.
Yet here is where the similarities end. For Iamblichus believed in an all-pervasive deity whose power extended to the nether reaches of the cosmos, eternally and unalterably. Christians, on the other hand, believe that God descended to the depths of Hades only once, at a specific point in history, i.e., the Christ Event (the Incarnation, death, and Resurrection of the Lord). This difference is due to a profound dissimilarity between their respective views regarding cosmology and, most of all, temporality.
As a pagan, Iamblichus believed in the eternity of the cosmos. However, he did not, like the Stoics, believe that the cosmos repeats itself identically over the course of vast aeonic cycles. Rather, he believed that the cosmos is the eternal revelation of the divinity in a graded system of emanations, in which the various entities occupying the different levels of reality come to grasp divinity in a manner suitable to their nature. Indeed, as he explains, even the lowest forms of inanimate life, like stones, are 'pierced' by the divine power. Recognizing a hierarchy of causal principles in the cosmos, Iamblichus remarks that, regardless of the point at which a principle takes effect, "it does not cease its operation before extending to the lowest level; for even if is stronger, nevertheless the fact of its greater separation can create a balancing factor, rendering it weaker ... the influence of the higher principles is more piercing [drimuteran], more keenly felt."
What Iamblichus is saying here is that God must expend more energy in order to maintain the lower part of His creation than is necessary to maintain the higher part. This is in stark contrast to Plotinus, who maintained that the emanation of reality from the One gradually dissipates in ever cruder forms of 'contemplation' (theôria), not all of which have a destiny of integration with a higher principle. The notion that the power of God is more concentrated at lower levels of reality gave support to Iamblichus' doctrine, which called for the use of stones and herbs in theurgical ritual, the purpose of which was to raise the human power closer to the divine. As Iamblichus is careful to explain: "[theurgy] does not draw down the impassive and pure Gods to that which is passive and impure; but, on the contrary, it renders us, who have become passive through generation, pure and immutable."
This is precisely the opposite of Christian doctrine, which maintains that God became human in response to human sinfulness. In the Orthodox Christian Liturgy, the priest asks the congregation to forgive him his sins. This acknowledges the fact that even the Liturgy (leitourgia) is presided over by one who is immersed in sin. Such an admission is not part of Iamblichus' ritual program, for he was very conscious of the intellectually curative power of not only the stones and herbs, but of the ritual itself, which did involve prayer and an authentically intellectual communion with the deity. He writes as follows:
Extended practice of prayer nurtures our intellect, enlarges very greatly our soul's receptivity to the gods, reveals to men the life of the gods and accustoms their eyes to the brightness of divine light, and gradually brings to perfection the capacity of our faculties for contact with the gods, until it leads us up to the highest level of consciousness of which we are capable; also, it elevates gently the dispositions of our minds [ta tês dianoias êthê] and communicates to us those of the gods, stimulates persuasion and communion and indissoluble friendship [peithô de kai koinônian kai philian adialuton egeirei], augments divine love, kindles the divine element in the soul and scours away all contrary tendencies within it, casts out from the etherial and luminous vehicle surrounding the soul everything that tends to generation, brings to perfection good hope and faith concerning the light; and, in a word, it renders those who employ prayers, if we may so express it, the familiar consorts of the gods.
The purpose of Iamblichean theurgy, then, is not to supplicate the gods and ask them to pardon one's sinfulness, but rather to purify the soul so that it may consort with the gods, on an equal footing. The theurgist, unlike the Christian priest, does not debase himself before his God; instead, he raises himself up to communion with the divinity. As G. Shaw explains:
By means of appropriate rites the theurgist directed the powers of his particular soul (mikros kosmos) into alignment with the powers of the World Soul ... which gave him direct participation in the 'whole.' He became a theios aner, universal and divine yet particular and mortal...
The deification of the human soul is realized by the mortal human being, according to Iamblichus. In the absence of an eschatological schema, we find a theory of deification that does not involve history, but only the independent, willful activity of the free human intellect.
For Iamblichus does not, like the Christian Fathers, posit universal history as the soteriological locus of human self-fulfillment; rather, he sees the timelessness of theurgic ritual as the locus of human self-expression leading to a union (henôsis) with the gods.
... the theurgic soul becomes perfectly established in the energies and demiurgic intellections of [divine] powers. Then, also, it inserts the soul in the whole demiurgic God.
The final result is "a union with the Gods, who are the givers of every good [tôn agathôn dotêras theous henôsin]." This is accomplished both temporally and atemporally, and introduces no distinction between present and future, but simply offers the soul a way of participating in the creative (demiurgic) activity of the godhead while still inhabiting the fleshly body. Existentially speaking, this overcoming of temporality by the temporal soul should be regarded as a great boon to the authentic life. However, Iamblichus' thought is not free from the determinism so characteristic of late pagan thinking, for he sees the cosmos as bound by itself to itself, with no possibility of transcendence. This includes the eternal inclusion of souls in the ever-repeating cosmic process. The final soteric reward of souls is described by Iamblichus as follows: "this reward includes a return to this realm and an authority over things in it. ... According to the ancients (palaioi), souls 'are freed from generation and together with the gods administer (sundioikousi) the universe.'"
This 'administration,' for Iamblichus, is understood as the re-entrance of the soul into the cosmic cycle. This means that the soul somehow remembers its previous incarnations, and seeks to overcome the negative influences of those now-defunct self-expressions. Since the soul is "freed from generation," it now becomes as eternal and unchangeable as the cosmos itself. The attractiveness of Iamblichus' theory resides in its sense of intimate partnership of God and the soul, as both participate in the demiurgic maintenance of the cosmos. However, from an Existential-Personalist viewpoint, the maintenance of an unchanging order offers no room for personal creativity and growth, only an endless 'perfect' state of harmony of self with cosmos. Yet what commends Iamblichus' thought to us from an Existentialist-Personalist perspective, is the fact that even though the theurgical soul becomes locked into a permanent state of participation with the demiurge, with a view to the eternal maintenance of the cosmos, this soul experiences a very direct transference of natures within an already realized history - i.e., within the closed perfection of the cosmos, as conceived by Iamblichus and his pagan Neoplatonist colleagues. For Iamblichus, the soul of the theurgist becomes a true "partner" (koinônos) with God, not merely passive partakers of the divine nature.
Whereas Origen and Gregory were only able to conceive of an eskhaton in which human striving must remain forever unfulfilled, and Maximus was only able to conceive of an eskhaton in which the human person loses its existential center, Iamblichus found a place for human creative striving in history - albeit a history already ordered by the divine mind, of which the soteriological soul now participates on equal terms, through theurgic ritual. This is why, I believe, the system of Iamblichus should be given careful consideration in relation to later developments in Christian eschatology, notably in the works of Berdyaev. While Iamblichus' idea of salvation is rather more dynamic than that of later Christian theologians like Maximus the Confessor, it nevertheless ends in the same general state - that of the replacement of human initiative by an eternally positive, divine, order. "The most perfect ... has as its mark ineffable unification, which establishes all authority in the gods and provides that our souls rest completely in them" (De Mysteriis 5.26).
However, when one looks more closely at the respective soul-centered eschatologies of Iamblichus and the three Christian Fathers discussed here, I believe one will find that, in spite of a shared historical determinism, a very subtle but profound difference appears - between determinism in history (Iamblichus) and determinism by history (the Christian Fathers). We will now proceed to a discussion of this distinction.
Monday, March 8, 2010
The smell of love
The hope of youth
I grasp at constants
And breathe the black
Clothing in copper
This air is breath
This air is black
This air is copper
This copper is black
This copper is breath
This breath is black
This breath is youth
This love is breath
This blood is copper
The blood of spring
The blood of love
The blood of youth
The blood of hope
The breath of spring
The death of breath
The love of blood
The spring is forever…
Arvo Pärt (born 11 September 1935; Estonian pronunciation: [ˈɑrvo ˈpært]) is an Estonian classical composer. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style that employs a self-made compositional technique called tintinnabuli. His music also finds its inspiration and influence from Gregorian chant.
He was born in Paide, Järva County, Estonia. Continuing struggles with Soviet officials led him to emigrate in 1980 with his wife and their two sons. Pärt lived first in Vienna, Austria, where he took Austrian citizenship, and then re-located to Berlin, Germany. He returned to Estonia around the turn of the century and now lives in Tallinn.
Familiar works by Pärt are Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten for string orchestra and bell (1977) and the string quintet "Fratres I" (1977, revised 1983), which he orchestrated for string orchestra and percussion, the solo violin "Fratres II" and the cello ensemble "Fratres III" (both 1980).
Pärt is often identified with the school of minimalism and, more specifically, that of mystic minimalism or holy minimalism. He is considered a pioneer of this style, along with contemporaries Henryk Górecki and John Tavener. Although his fame initially rested on instrumental works such as Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel, his choral works have also come to be widely appreciated.
Pärt's musical education began at age seven. He began attending music school in Rakvere, where his family lived. By the time he reached his early teen years, Pärt was writing his own compositions. While studying composition with Heino Eller at the Tallinn Conservatory in 1957, it was said of him that "he just seemed to shake his sleeves and notes would fall out."
In this period of Estonian history, Pärt was unable to encounter many musical influences from outside the Soviet Union except for a few illegal tapes and scores. Although Estonia had been an independent Baltic state at the time of Pärt's birth, the Soviet Union occupied it in 1940 as a result of the Soviet-Nazi Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; and the country would then remain under Soviet domination—except for the three-year period of German wartime occupation—for the next 51 years.
Pärt's oeuvre is generally divided into two periods.
His early works ranged from rather severe neo-classical styles influenced by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartók. He then began to compose using Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique and serialism. This, however, not only earned the ire of the Soviet establishment, but also proved to be a creative dead-end. When early works were banned by Soviet censors, Pärt entered the first of several periods of contemplative silence, during which he studied choral music from the 14th to 16th centuries. In this context, Pärt's biographer, Paul Hillier, observed that "He had reached a position of complete despair in which the composition of music appeared to be the most futile of gestures, and he lacked the musical faith and will-power to write even a single note."
The spirit of early European polyphony informed the composition of Pärt's transitional Third Symphony (1971); and thereafter, he immersed himself in early music, re-investigating the roots of Western music. He studied plainsong, Gregorian chant, and the emergence of polyphony in the European Renaissance.
The music that began to emerge after this period was radically different. This period of new compositions included Fratres, Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten, and Tabula Rasa. Pärt describes the music of this period as tintinnabuli — like the ringing of bells. Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) is a well-known example which has been used in many films. The music is characterized by simple harmonies, often single unadorned notes, or triads, which form the basis of Western harmony. These are reminiscent of ringing bells. Tintinnabuli works are rhythmically simple and do not change tempo. The influence of early European music is clear. Another characteristic of Pärt's later works is that they are frequently settings for sacred texts, although he mostly chooses Latin or the Church Slavonic language used in Orthodox liturgy instead of his native Estonian language. Large-scale works inspired by religious texts include St. John Passion, Te Deum, andLitany. Choral works from this period include Magnificat and The Beatitudes.
Of his popularity, Steve Reich has written:"Even in Estonia, Arvo was getting the same feeling that we were all getting. [...] I love his music, and I love the fact that he is such a brave, talented man. [...] He's completely out of step with the zeitgeist and yet he's enormously popular, which is so inspiring. His music fulfills a deep human need that has nothing to do with fashion." Pärt's music came to public attention in the West, largely thanks to Manfred Eicher who recorded several of Pärt's compositions for ECM Records starting in 1984.
Pärt has said that his music is similar to light going through a prism: the music may have a slightly different meaning for each listener, thus creating a spectrum of musical experience, similar to the rainbow of light.
He and his music were portrayed at the Rheingau Musik Festival 2005 in four concerts. Chamber music included Für Alina for piano, played by himself, Spiegel im Spiegel and Psalom for string quartet. The chamber orchestra of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra played hisTrisagion, Fratres and Cantus along with works of Bach. The Windsbach Boys Choir and soloists Sibylla Rubens, Ingeborg Danz, Markus Schäfer and Klaus Mertens performed Magnificat and Collage über B-A-C-H together with two cantatas of Bach and one of Mendelssohn. TheHilliard Ensemble, organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, the Rostocker Motettenchor and the Hilliard instrumental ensemble, conducted byMarkus Johannes Langer, performed a program of Pärt's organ music and works for voices (some a cappella), including Pari Intervallo, De profundis and Miserere.
A new composition, Für Lennart, written for the memory of the Estonian President Lennart Meri, was played at his funeral service on 2 April 2006.
In response to the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on 7 October 2006, Pärt declared that all his works performed in 2006–2007 would be in commemoration of her death:
- "Anna Politkovskaya staked her entire talent, energy and—in the end—even her life on saving people who had become victims of the abuses prevailing in Russia."— Arvo Pärt
Pärt was honored as the featured composer of the 2008 RTÉ Living Music Festival in Dublin, Ireland. He was also commissioned by Louth Contemporary Music Society to compose a new choral work based on St. Patricks Breastplate, which premiered in 2008 in Louth, Ireland. The new work is called The Deers Cry. This is the composer's first Irish commission, having its debut in Drogheda and Dundalk in February 2008.
Also a new composition in 2008 is Symphony No. 4, named “Los Angeles” and dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It is his first symphony written for over 37 years, since 1971's Symphony No. 3. It premiered in Los Angeles, California, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on January 10, 2009.
Works for voices and orchestra
- Our Garden, Cantata for children's chorus and orchestra (1959/2003)
- Credo for chorus, orchestra, and piano solo (1968)
- Wallfahrtslied for tenor or baritone and string orchestra (1984/2000)
- Te Deum for chorus, string orchestra and tape (1984–5, rev 1992)
- Berlin Mass for chorus and organ or string orchestra (1992)
- Litany for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1994)
- I am the true vine for choir a cappella (1996)
- Como cierva sedienta for soprano, chorus and orchestra (1998)
- Cantiques des degrés for chorus and orchestra (1999/2002)
- Cecilia, vergine romana for chorus and orchestra (1999/2002)
- In Principio for chorus and orchestra (2003)
Works for voices and ensemble (or piano)
- An den Wassern zu Babel saßen wir und weinten for voices or choir and organ or ensemble (1976/1984)
- Sarah Was Ninety Years Old for three voices, percussion and organ (1977/1990)
- De profundis for chorus, percussion and organ (1980)
- Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem for soloists, vocal ensemble, choir and instrumental ensemble (1982)
- Es sang vor langen Jahren for alto, violin and viola (1984)
- Wallfahrtslied for tenor or baritone and string quartet (1984)
- Stabat Mater for 3 voices and string trio (1985)
- Miserere for solosts, choir, ensemble and organ (1989/1992)
- My Heart is in the Highlands for countertenor and organ (2000)
- Zwei Wiegenlieder for two women’s voices and piano (2002)
- L'Abbé Agathon for soprano, four violas and four celli (2004/2005)
Works for chorus (and organ)
- An den Wassern Babylons saßen wir und weinten for voices and organ (1976/1984)
- Missa syllabica for chorus and organ (1977)
- Summa for chorus (1977)
- De profundis for mens voices, percussion (ad lib.) and organ (1980)
- Magnificat for chorus (1989)
- Bogoroditse Djevo for chorus (1990)
- Hildegard Curth gewidmet – The Beatitudes (1990)
- And One of the Pharisees for three voices (1992)
- Dopo la Vittoria for chorus (1996)
- I Am the True Vine (1996)
- Kanon Pokajanen for chorus (1997)
- Triodion for chorus (1998)
- Which Was the Son of... (2000)
- Littlemore Tractus for chorus and organ (2001)
- Nunc Dimittis for chorus (2001)
- Salve Regina for chorus and organ (2001)
- Peace upon you, Jerusalem for female chorus (2002)
- Most Holy Mother of God for four voices (2003)
- Da Pacem Domine for four voices (2004)
- Anthem written for St John's College, Oxford (2005)
- The Deer's Cry written for chorus for Louth Contemporary Music Society, Ireland (2008)
- Nekrolog for orchestra op.5 (1960)
- Symphony No. 1 Polyphonic op.9 (1963)
- Perpetuum mobile for orchestra op.10 (1963)
- Symphony No. 2 for orchestra (1966)
- Symphony No. 3 for orchestra (1971)
- Wenn Bach Bienen gezüchtet hätte ... for piano, wind quintet, string orchestra and percussion (1976)
- Fratres for chamber ensemble (1976 and on, many versions)
- Arbos for brass and percussion (1977/1986)
- Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten for string orchestra and bell (1977)
- Psalom for string orchestra (1985/1995/1997)
- Festina Lente for string orchestra and harp (1988)
- Summa for string orchestra (1991)
- Silouans Song for string orchestra (1991)
- Trisagion for string orchestra (1992)
- Mein Weg for 14 string players and percussion (1999)
- Orient & Occident for string orchestra (2000)
- Lennartile / Für Lennart for string orchestra (2006)
- La Sindone for orchestra and percussion (2006)
- Symphony No. 4 Los Angeles (2008)
Works for solo instruments and orchestra
- Collage sur B-A-C-H, for oboe, string orchestra, harpsichord, and piano (1964)
- Pro et Contra, concerto for cello and orchestra (1966, for Mstislav Rostropovich)
- Credo for chorus, orchestra, and piano solo (1968)
- Tabula Rasa, double concerto for two violins, string orchestra, and prepared piano (1977)
- Fratres for violin, string orchestra and percussion (1992)
- Concerto piccolo über B-A-C-H for trumpet, string orchestra, harpsichord and piano (1994)
- Darf ich ... for violin, bells and string orchestra (1995/1999)
- Lamentate for piano and orchestra (2002)
- Passacaglia for violin, string orchestra and vibraphone (2003/2007, for Gidon Kremer's 60th birthday)
- Music for a Children's Theatre, Four Dances: Puss in Boots, Red-Riding-Hood and Wolf, Butterfly, Dance of the Ducklings, for piano (1956/1957)
- 2 Sonatinen op.1, for piano (1958/1959)
- Quintettino op.13, for wind quintet (1964)
- Collage über B-A-C-H for oboe and strings (1964)
- Für Alina for piano (1976)
- Pari Intervallo for organ (1976/1981)
- Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka for piano (1977)
- Spiegel im Spiegel for violin or cello and piano (1978)
- Fratres for violin and piano (1980)
- Annum per annum for organ (1980)
- Pari intervallo for organ (1981)
- Hymn to a Great City for two pianos (1984/2000)
- Trivium for organ (1988)
- Summa for string quartet (1990)
- Berliner Messe for SATB soloists and organ (1990)
- Psalom for string quartet (1991/1993)
- Mozart-Adagio for violin, cello and piano (1992/1997, from Mozart's Piano Sonata in F major (K 280))
- Passacaglia for violin and piano (2003)
- 1996 — American Academy of Arts and Letters Department of Music
- 1996 — Honorary Doctor of Music, University of Sydney
- 2003 — Honorary Doctor of Music, University of Durham
- 2008 — Léonie Sonning Music Prize
- 2009 — Honorary Doctor of Music, University of St Andrews
Pärt's music has been featured in over 50 films, from Väike motoroller (1962) to Promised Land (2004).
- Elements from the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten was used in Léos Carax's film Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991); and a part of the composition was heard in Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 while the audience confronts the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City.
- Segments from Spiegel im Spiegel were incorporated in Mike Nichols's film version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit (2001); in the mountain-climbing documentary Touching the Void (2003); in Tom Tykwer's film Heaven (2002); in Shona Auerbach's Glasgow based filmDear Frankie (2004); in Gus Van Sant's film Gerry (2003) which also included a small segment from Für Alina ; and in the film Elegy (2008).
- Tabula Rasa was used in the opening scenes of the award-winning 2001 documentary War Photographer, about photojournalist James Nachtwey.
- His soundtrack for Reha Erdem's Times and Winds (in Turkish Beş Vakit), 2006, underscored Erdem's subject, the endlessly repeating seasonal and human rhythms of Turkish village life.
- Annum per Annum was used in the 1998 film The Thin Red Line.
- Fratres for Cello and Piano was used in the soundtrack for the 2007 film There Will Be Blood.
- Silouans Song was used in the 2006 movie The Good Shepherd.
- Dorian Supin, an Estonian filmmaker, made a full-length documentary on Pärt titled 24 Preludes for a Fugue, which was released in 2002.
- Litany was used in the 1999 movie The Insider.