In Reference Points, we ask our favourite artists to reveal what inspires them from outside the world of music. This week, we catch up with The Phantom Band’s Rick Redbeard to find out about the north face of the Eiger, a mountain in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland, “a brooding monolith drawing the eye and confounding the spirit”.
The sublime, as I’m sure many of you will be aware, can be differentiated from ordinary beauty in that it encourages feelings beyond those normally associated with the purely visual. Kant explains it perfectly: “Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt”. I’ve had this sensation in a variety of landscapes and surroundings, both natural and man-made, but one such place that transcended even those feelings and became something of a mild obsession was the north face of the Eiger.
The phrase alone evokes images of a foreboding rock mass, a huge black vertical wall- lonely and unforgiving. In 2011, on a Phantom Band European tour, I was reading The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer – a great book detailing the first successful ascent of the face along with the myriad failures. I finished it just as I was on the train to visit my girlfriend’s family in the Bernese Oberland for a couple of days, and so had the perfect opportunity to go and see the face for myself. It did not disappoint. In an environment full of breathtaking scenery it stood out; strangely separate and apart from the mountains around – a brooding monolith drawing the eye and confounding the spirit. There is an added element to seeing the north face – it is not just that it is (obviously) a spectacular view, but it has also been a stage for some of the most extreme examples of human endeavor – incredible tales of courage, fear and loss. When you look up at the face with any knowledge of these stories, the names hang in the air like whispering ghosts; Heckmair, Hinterstoisser and of course the tragic Toni Kurz, to name but a few.
The face has been climbed many times now and the once impenetrable mystique lessens slightly when you consider the likes of Dani Arnold and Ueli Steck can scale the face and be back down in as long a time as it takes some of us to have a bath. But still, the history persists and death visits the face with enough regularity that it is not going to lose the nickname ‘Mordwand’ (Murder Wall) anytime soon. There is a wealth of literature and great documentaries out there to feed any curiosity this piece may have awakened (The White Spider book is a must, as is the BBC documentary Eiger: Wall of Death) but if you are able to go and visit the face in person that would top it all. There is even a train up it for those of you who don’t fancy taking the traditional route.
Rick Redbeard’s album No Selfish Heart is available now through Chemikal Underground and he is currently on tour, set to play the following UK live dates:
12 – Edinburgh, Electric Circus
15 – Aberdeen, Peacocks
16 – Inverness, Mad Hatters
17 – Glasgow, CCA
18 – Brighton, Komedia
19 – London, Slaughtered Lamb
20 – Winchester, Railway Inn
21 – York, Basement