Visions by Steven Severin (Review)

The music on this CD seems very fitting for a film about Divine messages.
Visions - Steven Severin

Visions was originally composed as the soundtrack to a short film entitled Visions of Ecstacy which dealt with the visions of St. Theresa of Avila. The soundtrack was originally recorded in 1989, but the film was never released. Instead, it was banned as being blasphemous because it treated St. Theresa’s visions as erotic experiences. But in 1996, Severin went back into the studio to reshape and expand upon the original recordings.

Although the film may have been banned as blasphemy, you’d never be able to tell from the music on this CD. Consisting of ambient instrumental pieces, Visions ranges from being solemn and moody (“Sphere”) to exultant (“The Absolute”) to foreboding (“Come Deliver Us”). Overall, the album is very similar to a less somber, more melodic Caul, or something akin to Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson’s amazing score for Children of Nature.

Also interesting about the album are some of the techniques used in recording the music. Not content to use just the film as inspiration, Severin researched into the life of St. Theresa, as well as cases of other mystical visions. As Severin says in the liner notes:

[W]hilst the imagery of erotic rapture as an interpretation of the Christian mystical experience is and has been an intriguing extrapolation, I felt in danger of becoming too overwrought should I follow the thread of this arcane legacy too closely.

Severin researched the visions of a group of children from Medjugorje who had undergone various medical tests. One of these tests involved diagramming the children’s brainwaves and Severin even went so far as to use these diagrams to create some of the sounds used throughout the album.

“The Absolute” is one of the most beautiful songs on the album, beginning with bright atmospherics that sound like some heavenly chorus. The whole piece continues to build up until it is joined by a chorus of bells, propelling the piece to even greater beauty. If this isn’t the kind of music one might hear during a religious vision, I don’t know what is. The song is given a slightly darker reworking on “The Radiance.”

“Enter Into These Bonds” could be a track from Michael Brook and Pieter Nooten’s Sleeps With The Fishes (the best thing 4AD ever released). On the final track, Severin is joined by cellist Martin McCarrick; the result continues the somber mood of the whole album. Ghostly voices circle around in the distance like the last echoes of a Divine message while Blade Runner-esque soundscapes slowly build somewhere far below.

Speaking from my own beliefs, I have some problems with Divine messages and visions being treated as erotic imagery. I fear there’d be a very fine line to cross before the material would lose its spiritual significance and become mere titillation. But I have no such complaints or qualms with Visions. The music on this CD seems very fitting for a film about Divine messages; it’s dark, mysterious, compelling, and beautiful. This is one of those rare soundtracks that can stand on its own apart from the movie that inspired it, that is inspired enough in its own way to be a completely independent, beautiful, and moving work of art.

Read more reviews of Steven Severin.