"The hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state."
Zazen Sounds #8, Dec 2019
SHRINE is the experimental music project of Hristo Gospodinov acting in the fields of ambient, dark ambient and post industrial music since year 2003.
Over the years he released several sublime works based on different thematic concepts.
Hristo, I am glad to have you on our pages. How are you doing these days?
I am doing fine, thank you. Just got back home from a trip to Southern Thailand. I regret that I didn't have any sound recording equipment with me; there was a lot to capture there. All those rainforest sounds, I’ve never heard anything quite like it before, especially the cicadas. It was mind blowing.
New album is released on Cryo Chamber. Again, a beautiful release. Tell us more about the concept and the recording process you follow, and what inspired you this time.
The album is called "Quintessence" and it's dedicated to the Elements, the four classical building components of the Universe according to the philosophical traditions of antiquity. Plus the so called Fifth Element which has different names in different cultures, but is known as "Quintessence" in the Western tradition. In my case, the quintessence is the abiogenesis, and the organic life itself, represented as the end goal of chaos. And just like most of my other releases, this one too was started without any concept at the beginning. I already had one fully completed track and a few drafts when I set up the theme, which as usual was inspired by the music itself. Most often the only inspiration I need when working on music is the desire to experiment with sound. The thematic ideas are coming at much later stage.
As for the recording process, it was more painful than usual. Since 2012 my studio is split between my hometown and the city I currently live in, and the mixing and mastering process requires me to constantly travel between the cities on the weekends in order to complete anything. But on top of that, this time I used new mastering equipment I was unfamiliar with, so there was a lot of trial and error until I got the things right. In fact, I had to mix and master the whole material twice. It was super annoying, but well worth it; I like the end result a lot.
"Somnia" was my first Shrine experience... a really hypnotic release. Ideal for Lucid Dreaming as you described it. Is dreamwork a metaphysical subject that you are interested in?
To me dreams are one of the strangest aspects of the human existence. It's all a matter of neurophysiology of course, but still I think it is pretty impressive how common logic and general rationality just melt down (and sometimes totally crumble) when you are in the dream realm.
"Somnia" is actually a rework of an earlier pack of tracks that was never released, and it was in the making for a very long time. But as I said, most often I create music first and then "attach" a theme to it, so the long production process was not a problem. I'm not sure how to explain, but at some point the whole thing really started to feel like a gateway to a dream. Listening to it was a bit like when you are not sure if you are awake or still dreaming. There are several different types of lucid experiences, but one in particular that I find very interesting. It's called "low level lucid dreaming" and it's when the dreamer is not aware that he or she is dreaming, but still has the ability to control the dream. It was a perfect match for the music and so the theme for the album was set.
"The hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state." Deep words... what do they refer to?
Yes, deep indeed. I put this as a headline on the SHRINE website. It's referring to Freud's "Death Drive" theory. Sigmund Freud is known exclusively for his research on human sexuality, but his late works are very different and deal not only with religion and culture, but also with death. According to that theory, the end of life is not a passive event but a purpose for all living things. So, death is not just natural, it is life determining. Or in other words - without death, life is meaningless.
Death drive, or death instinct, was also the main topic of my "Nihil" album, so I'm using this sentence as a headline for my project ever since.
"Ordeal 26.04.86" and "Celestial fire". How do you see these albums nowadays and can you share more about their concepts? "Ordeal" is dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the great Chernobyl disaster. Any specific reason for this choice?
Actually, these albums are not old. But what makes them different is that they are the only ones that had their theme set before the work on the music has started. So, from my point of view these two are the only conceptual SHRINE albums so far.
"Ordeal 26.04.86" was released 3 years ago but the idea of this album is more than 13 years old now. It was dormant until 2015 when I underwent abdominal surgery and I spent a very long time at home, often thinking about the effects of mankind's industrial progress on the human body. It was the perfect time to revive my old "Chernobyl" idea and start working on it. When I was a kid, I was unfortunate enough to be under the very last radioactive rain in Europe back in 1986, on the 1st of May. Of course the absorbed doses over here were much lower compared to the hell unleashed upon the ex-USSR, but still it was pretty bad. I have a lot of health problems today and I can't help but think that it is all because of that distant rainy day.
"Celestial Fire" is a newer work created in the exact same way as "Ordeal 26.04.86", technically speaking. I used the same software and hardware, and the same techniques for both; there was no difference at all. However, since its theme is far less popular, it caught much less attention upon its release. It is based on a fictional story created by the British computer game studio Core Design for one of their games back in the 90s ("Tomb Raider 3"). It's about a meteorite from outer space that crashed into the Earth's surface and was later discovered to have supernatural powers. I'm not going to get into details here, so if you are curious you can read about it on my website or my Bandcamp page, but I have to say that to me this is one of the greatest fiction stories of the 20th century, along with works like "Lord of the Rings" and "Earthsea". Of course, you can't compare them directly, as what I'm talking about is just a game script so it doesn't have the same value as real literature, but nevertheless it's a mind blowing story.
Thematically, "Celestial Fire" is my favorite SHRINE release. It's just that the theme of this album is, to me, way more interesting compared to the others. So, I was a little disappointed when I realized that the album didn't get much attention, but I totally understand why. Most people are not familiar with the original Tomb Raider franchise, and if your only knowledge about Tomb Raider are those disgusting Hollywood movies, then you wouldn't be very interested, for sure. The album has nothing to do with that though. It is a tribute to the amazing lore created by Core Design and has a very special place in my heart.
Cryo Chamber and Cyclic Law are some of the strongest labels in the genre among a few others. Are you going to continue these collaborations?
Of course, as long as I am active with my project. I like both labels so I'm pretty sure there will be more SHRINE releases on both of them. The only thing I don't like about them is that they don't organize live performances for their artists. But who knows, at some point this may happen too. Fingers crossed.
In this age of digital download, are you still collecting vinyl and cds, or you prefer the easy modern way? In my opinion both are useful, we must support the labels and the music industry.
I don't collect vinyl, but I do collect cds. Also, I never listen to the cds I own, I listen to digital rips instead. To me everything in my collection is a relic of some sort and I rarely touch it. It feels like collecting artifacts, more or less. I'd buy a digital release only if there is no cd edition or if the artwork is too bad (according to me).
I wouldn't call the dark ambient field a "music industry" though. But no matter how underground it is, and how small fan base it has, support is always needed. Active labels and artists means more music, and that's vital. Classics are great, but they are not enough to keep a genre alive.
Ten years ago a special split union with Lingua Fungi took place. How did that happen?
Originally that material was about to be released on a 7" vinyl on Drone Records in Germany. However, it was too long for that - 2 x 12 minutes. Back then I was clueless about vinyl recordings, so I didn't know that a standard 7" takes only about 7 minutes on each side. Stefan told me that I either have to shorten the tracks, or record something new. Of course I didn't want to shorten anything so I just archived it and recorded brand new material exclusively for Drone Records (which was later released as "Distorted Legends, pt.1").
As for the original tracks, I was wondering what to do with them when a friend of mine (the guy who runs the Santa Sangre webzine today) gave me the idea to do a split release. I invited a few artists and Jaakko of Lingua Fungi agreed. Soon after, the split was scheduled on Corvus Records.
Do you have plans for live performances?
So far, I have played live a dozen of times, the last one being at Phobos IX in Germany with Visions, New Risen Throne, Phelios, Troum and Raison d'Etre. In general, I play live very rarely because I'm rarely invited. I'm always happy to play though, except in pubs, where everybody are talking during the music sets. Or in a venue with bad sound. Good live sound is extremely important for ambient gigs, way more important than for any other music genre.
Religion and spirituality. How do you approach religion, spirit, and metaphysics in your life?
I am not religious. But I can't identify myself as an atheist either, atheism is another form of belief after all. The idea of God/Creation can't be proven or disproven, neither empirically nor logically. So, I guess it's best to observe this topic from a distance, and to leave those with affinities to have their personal beliefs. Of course, organized religion should be confronted in every possible way as it is conductor of ignorance. It tries to represent beliefs as fundamental truth, which is of course nothing but a lie. Every religious doctrine, every cult, and every supernatural belief out there are manmade, and thus are fake outside the fictional world of the believer.
Ancient history is one of your interests. How do you view the modern world, the madness of masses, and the political correctness?
The so-called political correctness seems to be a Western phenomenon. It is far less present in Eastern Europe, and it's nonexistent in some other parts of the world. Of course, by "western" I mean the cultural west, not geographical. I live in South-Eastern Europe so I don't see much of it. Maybe on the media, but very little in daily life.
What I find interesting about political correctness is its similarity with most totalitarian ideologies of the near past. I grew up in a communist country, and honestly, I find the similarities to be striking. Both have humanist ideas in their core, but the implementation is uncompromising and the end result is totalitarian. And again, the weirdest thing is that the people who support that actually believe they are doing something good. While in reality they only bring a great tragedy closer. It already happened several times before, but mankind doesn't seem to learn well form previous mistakes.
Which books and films inspired you as a teenager and later influenced you to compose music? What else motivates you to create as an artist and evolve as an individual?
In the times before the computers, I was reading a lot of literature. Since computers and the internet I am still reading a lot, but not literature anymore. Most of the time I'm reading various scientific articles, mainly about astronomy and stellar physics, archeology, paleontology, (ancient) history, etc. All this constantly affects you as an individual of course, every impression, and every bit of information. But none of it motivates me directly to create as an artist.
Art, science, and philosophy are awesome, but as I said, the only primal inspiration I have is the desire to experiment with sound. Beyond that, everything is irrelevant.
Before Shrine took form, have you been active in other projects? What kinds of music do you enjoy the last years?
No, Shrine is my first and as of now my only project. At least my only serious project I mean. High-school noisecore bands with kitchen pots instead of drums don't count, haha, sorry :)
Back in the early 90s I was all into extreme metal, but since then my musical perception expanded a lot, really. Everything changed when I discovered Dead Can Dance in 1994.
Today I listen to pretty much all kind of independent music. Most of all electronic though.
What are your plans for the near future?
I really need to consolidate my studio at a single location. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be more productive once it happens. Unfortunately, it's not clear when this will happen.
As always, I have a multitude of drafts in the works, and a new conceptual album among them. "Antiquity", "Civilization", "Culture", and "Mythology" describe this new work well, in case you are curious about the theme. Also, I'm starting to feel some urge to finally finish the "Distorted Legends" material. The two drafts for the second part are waiting to be completed since 2006. That's a very long time. Hopefully I'll manage to get back on it the next year, the label and the format for it are already selected.
Of course, nothing is close to completion so it's unclear what will be released next. It may be something entirely different.
The last words are yours... Best wishes for your future plans.
Thank you very much for interviewing me, and many thanks to anyone who spent some time reading this.
Stay away from trends.