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The Alter Rebbe's Nigun

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Album Review

A translation of The Alter Rebbe's Nigun into the modern (future) music of a post-punk world, this album is an intriguing sound representation of each of the four worlds, or levels, of creation as outlined in the Jewish religious text, Tanya (the written law of Chabad Hasidic teaching). Niginah are Hasidic melodies traditionally composed by Jewish spiritual leaders for Sabbath and holidays. The music of this album is based around the concept of the magnum opus of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe), his "nigun of four movements," or "the Alter Rebbe's Nigun." Former Orthodox Hasidic students of the Tanya, Oren Ambarchi and Robbie Avenaim — also of the Australian punk group Phlegm — give a sonic recreation that is by no means traditional, but through its irreverence, manages to capture something: a mystical listening journey through realms and different layers. This is effective for ears that've been worked over, musically; for the more irreverent and hardcore ears.

The album begins as guitars play like a music box slowly cranked backward, then break out loose and hard-strummed, with slamming drums alongside. Growing increasingly fast and chaotic, the music reaches frenzy. This is the physical realm of "Action." Moving backward through the order of levels is "Formation," which, according to Ambarchi and Avenaim's sonic vision, is cave mists, echoes, horn calls, and bellows across mountains. It is stretched out, hanging air, with hints of backward-recorded fragments. Moving even further away from our physical realm, the "other" nature of the "Creation" realm comes across through drones, bowed cymbal squeaks, and horn choruses akin to unfrenetic Jajoukan music, all colored by drum rolls with occasional tinted shades of cymbal accents. Into the core, "Emanation" has a terrifying one-mindedness. It is endless space of a backward track of guitar swells, wiped out into all directions' distance, at the core of which is the overlapping layers of unswerving Rabbinical readings, and from the outside, countless chants. Ambarchi and Avenaim have built a compelling and affecting album that draws you in to journey on a mystical sound exploration.


Born: 1969 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australi

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, Oren Ambarchi started as a free jazz drummer, went through a Japanoise phase, and ended up cutting himself a place under the avant-garde sun as a lowercase guitarist in the early 2000s, pushing his instrument into territories similar to the ones explored by contemporaries Rafael Toral and Kevin Drumm. His releases on Tzadik, Touch, and Staubgold attracted international...
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The Alter Rebbe's Nigun, Oren Ambarchi
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