Interview: Lingua Ignota on Constructing a Persona

“I think of the show as performance art or theatre more than a concert and I try to convey that in how I use the space.”

Kristin Hayter is talking some days prior to her performance at Botanique, Brussels on Thursday, October 13 as Lingua Ignota—the stage and recording persona she constructed around five years ago.

From the moment Hayter enters the stage as Lingua Ignota—methodically and ritualistically positioning the standing lights around her—’til the final breath of this performance, the theatrical spell is unwaveringly constant.

Alone on stage—first with a laptop-controlled backing track and later with Hayter at a grand piano—the Lingua Ignota stage show is certainly a departure from what an audience might expect of a typical concert.

Juxtaposing a video backdrop collage of baptisms and preachers alongside roaming, barren fields and swamps, with Hayter’s powerful stage presence—mesmeric in her green gown, and impressive vocal delivery—the show is both intimate and confrontational.

Centred around material from her recent Sinner Get Ready album, Hayter has a different approach for her latest tour than in the past, “I try to focus the emotional intensity into the tone of the voice and connection with the room instead of creating spectacle,” she says.

Though the more subtle and sombre material of her latest album naturally leads Hayter to move away from “literally beating the shit out of (herself) and screaming (her) brains out,” it nevertheless takes all of five minutes before she is on her knees at the front of the stage howling and sobbing through “Do You Doubt Me Traitor” from her 2019 Caligula record.

In this moment Hayter brings to mind the harrowing, raw intensity of late 80s Henry Rollins, shredding his vocal chords in anguish. With Hayter, though, there is a constant sense of absolute control in each physical movement and vocalization of pain, supporting the theatrical reading of her show—making her more comparable to a modern day JG. Thirlwell (Foetus) in constructing a multi-media sonic art piece.   

Still, the emotional sincerity of the performance is clear. After a recent period of isolation in rural Pennsylvania, Hayter notes her own fear of public performance. “It does not feel good to perform this music even though the shows are largely very positive experiences.”

When Hayter descends from the side of the stage and marches into the audience, light in hand, she resembles a martyr on a painful pilgrimage. Whatever social anxiety she feels is met head on as she continues her emotional expulsion. It’s an act of great vulnerability and determination, though Hayter is confident in her audience, “Our mutual understanding of each other feels for the most part very safe, and we know we are all there to take care of each other,” she says.

There’s a certain discomforting feeling to seeing Hayter prone on the floor, surrounded by audience members eagerly filming her—something she seems to make a subtle reference to later in the video projection when a woman’s baptism cuts to a young man on a hill filming with his smartphone.

With Hayter fully immersed in the Lingua Ignota performance, there’s a sense that people don’t know whether to clap between songs or just soak it all in. Though the intensity of the shows has Hayter note that “people keep losing consciousness,”—necessitating a pre-show security briefing for venues—it’s the emotional rather than sonic intensity that might be overwhelming.

So while Hayter may be drawing some of her gothic imagery from Children of God-era Swans and some visual components from a Neurosis show, this is a vocal-centred performance first and foremost.

In this, Hayter often brings to mind Jarboe—both a previous Swans member and Neurosis collaborator—a similarly compelling and vocally gifted performer. However while Jarboe often draws from esoteric and eastern sources for inspiration, the Lingua Ignota show is constantly biblical—from the video backdrop to the lyrical concerns of Jesus, Satan, redemption, sinners, and suffering.

From this thematic perspective—as well as the intensity—Hayter could be the Diamanda Galas of her generation—an intense and powerful performer, with deep social convictions and a fascination with biblical motifs. In fact, as she explains, inspirations for the show can be drawn from anywhere—whether a landscape, a film or a line by Samuel Beckett.

As well put together as all these elements are, it is perhaps when Hayter approaches the grand piano—one prepared “to replicate the griminess of the instrumentation on the record”—that the show reaches its most compelling sequence.

Threading a wire through the piano’s fixed strings, to create a droning accompaniment, Hayter wonderfully recreates “The Sacred Liniment Of Judgement,” before sitting down at the keys for several stripped-back numbers, including the delicate “Perpetual Flame of Centralia.”

Back in the center of the stage, a calm gaze at the audience and a quiet “thank you” resonates as the first time Hayter has addressed the audience as herself: Kristin Hayter. With that the Lingua Ignota performance has reached its conclusion, the ritual completed.

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