Saturday, December 30, 2006

Drkrm. Performance

Donald Cammell's and Nicholas Roeg's 1970 film "Performance" is one of my favorite films, a masterpiece of 'psychedelic expressionism'.

In the film, Chas, an over-eager, too-violent London gangster has to go into hiding after getting into a conflict with his boss. He finds a place to stay in a crumbling London mansion, where a eccentric, decadent, bi-sexual rockstar called mr. Turner (Mick Jagger) and two beautiful girls (Anita Pallenberg and Michèle Breton) form a drug-addled ménage á trois.

The threesome initially resists Chas's entry into their secluded world, but the determined Chas manages to enter into their languid, claustrophobic, almost airless household anyway.

Taken aback by Chas's domineering personality, the three bohemiens endeavor to playfully and mockingly destabilize Chas's identity as a 'normal' heterosexual person through bisexual eroticism, fly agaric mushrooms and rock and roll ... and finally, to obliterate it. This project of destabilization is symbolically violent: when Chas has been tricked into consuming some fly agaric mushroom, Turner says, 'I just wanted to go in there... This blood of this vegetable is boring a hole… penetrating the hole of your face, the skull of your bone…' - foreshadowing the hole Chas will create in mr. Turner's skull when he finally shoots him. It this sense, the symbolic violence visited upon Chas is a brutal violence, a violence that is directed outwards, a hippie 'normalcy' attacking a white heterosexual cockney criminal 'normalcy'.

This normalizing project points towards the reason why mr. Turner has become indifferent, dispirited, uninspired and frustrated by his own lethargy (“Don’t you get it?” shouts the Michèle Breton character: “He’s stuck! Stuck!”): from being a destabilizing, transgressive force, his decadent hippiedom had already become (so soon!) a stabilized force.

And thus the film goes beyond a mere politically correct, moralistic destabilization of 'normal' white heterosexual identities: the bohemian rockstar himself cannot escape the mise-en-jeu of selves either - isolated and listless, mr. Turner is drawn towards Chas's world of violent action, as a moth is drawn towards a flame. What started as a symbolic putting to death (execution) of Chas as a 'square', as a normal person, gradually slips towards a sacrifice of both self and other.

In the end, the symbolic violence visited upon Chas's normalcy is reciprocated by that normal world with literal violence - but by then, Chas and mr. Turner as seperate persons have been dissolved and both moths burn their wings and fall - together. In the final analysis, the violence in the film is not cruel or brutal, but tragic.

The editing of the film is truly disorienting, as the storyline is cut up - fragmented - and projected as if by a kaleidoscope, presenting the viewer with an infinitely-shifting succession of sound, colors and narrative patterns. The film has a wonderful Moog soundtrack by Jack Nitzsche, and stirring musical performances by a bvery young and truly beautiful Jagger - not that I am a Rolling Stones-fan, mind you. Not surprisingly, the film was sampled by Coil on their magnum opus 'Love's Secret Domain'.

Currently, there's an exhibition about Performance at the Drkrm. gallery in Los Angeles, CA. The gallery will display prints of photographs by Cecil Beaton of Mick Jagger, made when Performance was filmed. The gallery's website has an interesting interview with Donald Cammell by David Del Valle.



Also - continuing on the theme of the last post - here is a link to an interesting essay which sees Performance through the lens of Jorge Luis Borges's work.

And here is another link to an article on the film.

Lists

On many blogs, on many internet magazines, the last days of the year are marked by a profileration of lists, generally of the 'best of ...' kind. As the previous post shows, not even this blog is free from this impulse to classify, to order, to fit "(...) what exists into a frockcoat, a mathematical frock-coat". Countermeasures appear to be necessary "to affirm that the universe resembles nothing at all and is only formless (...)" (from the Encyclopedia Acephalica).

Thus, now is the right time to bring into play Jorge Luis Borges' famous list of animals from "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" (reproduced here). In this list, purportedly taken from "a certain Chinese encyclopedia, the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge", it is written that animals are divided into:
  1. those that belong to the Emperor,
  2. embalmed ones,
  3. those that are trained,
  4. suckling pigs,
  5. mermaids,
  6. fabulous ones,
  7. stray dogs,
  8. those included in the present classification,
  9. those that tremble as if they were mad,
  10. innumerable ones,
  11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
  12. others,
  13. those that have just broken a flower vase,
  14. those that from a long way off look like flies.
Thus, I'd like to use this post as a platform to call for end-of-the-year-lists full of "...ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies...", for end-of-the-year-lists that declassify, for formless end-of-the-year-lists....



PS

Here is a link to Foucault's introduction to "Les mots et les choses" which is amongst others a beautiful essay on Borges's list.

Here is a link to a documentary on Borges, from Ubuweb.

Here is a link to an interesting thread about lists.

Absent records

Such a sad list: a top 10 of records I should have bought in 2006 ... but failed to.

Skullflower - Tribulation
Om - Conference Of The Birds
Nachtmystium - Instinct/Decay
Boris - Pink
Current 93 - Black Ships Ate The Sky
Deaf Center - Neon City
Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
Scott Walker - The Drift
Matmos - The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast
Stockhausen - Gruppen, Punkte

Friday, December 29, 2006

Velvet Cacoon - resurrection?

Velvet Cacoon's website is up and running again, following a long hiatus after the 'plagiarism scandal' (see my earlier posts on this phenomenon here, here and here). Especially intesting is the cryptic poetry (or is it some kind of mission statement?) published on the website under the heading 'Etc.':

"Plush evening in Katharine, we'll bring you something gentler this winter.

Velvet veined and vesselvined
Vanilla varnish on the violin
Strung up over f-holes
Very very v, very

Legs part like v
We curve like violins
Resonant through our f-holes
The virginal tone

Klonopin daiquiri heather honey, fur coast escargot crush

PS: We only treat the world like a puppet because we know how to.

PPS: The puppet enjoys feeling alive.

12.24.2006"


The text conflates musicality and eroticism, violins and human bodies by bringing these together in the orifices (f-holes, some kind of four-letter-word) of the violin's body and in human bodies that curve together as one (an ecstatic 'we') like these musical instruments. With the erotic nature of this text the earlier tricksters' tales of asexuality seem to have been abandoned - only the words "The virginal tone' refer to the earlier asexual position.

Klonopin is a drug that can induce euphoria - the new drug of choice for VC after dextromethorphan? With daiquiris (laced with Klonopin and heather honey) replacing grenache wine? With "Fur coast escargot crush" as a rather unusual tapa?

I hope they'll bring out new material soon. The "... we'll bring you something gentler this winter" seems like some kind of promise!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Barbara - "Nantes"

Of all French chanson artists, Death has made the strongest mark on the oeuvre of Barbara. Below the lyrics and a YouTube video for her song "Nantes", one of the most mournful of her sombre repertoire. The subject of the song is the death of her father, whom she had not seen for ten years. In her autobiography, Mémoires interrompus, it is implied that she was raped by her father when she was 10 years old.

Il pleut sur Nantes
Donne-moi la main
Le ciel de Nante
Rend mon cœur chagrin

Un matin comme celui-là
Il y a juste un an déjà
La ville avait ce teint blafard
Lorsque je sortis de la gare
Nantes m'était encore inconnue
Je n'y étais jamais venue
Il avait fallu ce message
Pour que je fasse le voyage:

"Madame soyez au rendez-vous
Vingt-cinq rue de la Grange-au-Loup
Faites vite, il y a peu d'espoir
Il a demandé à vous voir."

A l'heure de sa dernière heure
Après bien des années d'errance
Il me revenait en plein cœur
Son cri déchirait le silence
Depuis qu'il s'en était allé
Longtemps je l'avais espéré
Ce vagabond, ce disparu
Voilà qu'il m'était revenu

Vingt-cinq rue de la Grange-au-Loup
Je m'en souviens du rendez-vous
Et j'ai gravé dans ma mémoire
Cette chambre au fond d'un couloir

Assis près d'une cheminée
J'ai vu quatre hommes se lever
La lumière était froide et blanche
Ils portaient l'habit du dimanche
Je n'ai pas posé de questions
A ces étranges compagnons
J'ai rien dit, mais à leurs regards
J'ai compris qu'il était trop tard

Pourtant j'étais au rendez-vous
Vingt-cinq rue de la Grange-au-Loup
Mais il ne m'a jamais revue
Il avait déjà disparu

Voilà, tu la connais l'histoire
Il était revenu un soir
Et ce fut son dernier voyage
Et ce fut son dernier rivage
Il voulait avant de mourir
Se réchauffer à mon sourire
Mais il mourut à la nuit même
Sans un adieu, sans un "je t'aime"

Au chemin qui longe la mer
Couché dans le jardin des pierres
Je veux que tranquille il repose
Je l'ai couché dessous les roses
Mon père, mon père

Il pleut sur Nantes
Et je me souviens
Le ciel de Nantes
Rend mon cœur chagrin


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Svarte Greiner - Knive

A review of 'Knive', the debut album of Svarte Greiner - an incarnation in musical form of Erik K. Skodvin, half of the Norwegian ambient duo Deaf Center.

Svarte Greiner's debut album reminds me strongly of a certain part of Rainer Maria Rilke's strange 1910 faux-autobiography 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge'. In this part of the novel, the author as a child is rummaging around in the dusty, rarely-visited attic of the Danish country manor of his aristocratic forebears. He finds a lot of disused clothes and uniforms, some decades old, and dresses up in them, using them for playacting, as costumes, like an actor would. Then, the child finds a mask, dons it, and descends towards the empty guest room to see himself in an antique mirror, a mirror so ancient it has acquired a personality. Inadvertently, the child knocks over a table with all kinds of knick-knacks, which fall and break into pieces, aggravating the child. Then, he sees himself masked and in disguise in the mirror and the mirror uses that reflection to avenge the broken things: the mirror reflects "... an image, no, a reality, a strange, incomprehensibly monstrous reality, which suffuses me against my will: because now the mirror was the stronger one, and I was the mirror". On seeing this ghostlike apparition, the child almost faints and flees the room in terror*.

Why are these images called forth so strongly by Svarte Greiner's music?

First of all: 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge' is a very continental-European novel, and likewise 'Knive' is a very European album, notwithstanding the fact that American bands Earth and Angelo Badalamenti are namechecked as influences. Though the influence of both Earth and Badalementi can indeed be recognized in the music, Svarte Greiner doesn't have that quintessentially American epic sweep, that vastness in space that they have: Svarte Greiner's proper dimension is time, that most European of dimensions, that dimension which plays such an important role in 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge'. In the dimension of time, Svarte Greiner is vast too.

Svarte Greiner repeatedly mentions liking horror films, and the horror films he reminds me of are not American slasher films, not David Cronenberg's biomechanical horror, not Romero's zombie films, but European cinéfantastique films like Harry Kümel's 'Les Lèvres Rouges', Lucile Hadzihalilovic's 'Innocence', Georges Franju's 'Les Yeux Sans Visage' and Borowczyk's and Robbe-Grillet's erotic horror films.

Musically, Svarte Greiners closest agnate is The Third Eye Foundation - the same type of continental-European phantasmagorical pseudo-soundtracks, albeit without the drum and bass rhythms - in fact, Matt Elliott is so continental-European in style that it cannot come as a surprise that he has moved from the UK to France**? Like The Third Eye Foundation, Svarte Greiner comes at darkly romantic themes from an oblique angle, from the angle of ambient electronica rather than from the more obvious angle of gothic music or black metal.

Second, like that of Rilke, Svarte Greiner's style is late-romantic, sensitive and introspective. "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" is described by the author as "Introspective and retrospective, mystical and sensitive, and much concerned with loneliness, fear, suffering, and death." The same might be said of Svarte Greiner's music: the atmosphere of 'Knive' is dreamily mournful, romantically minor-key, with sensitive cello and string instruments, with mystical Dead-Can-Dance's-Lisa-Gerrard-style singing. Svarte Greiner's mix tapes (here, here and here) are something of a revelation also: highly introspective and retrospective landscapes of ambient music, jazz, modern composition and improvised music.

Third, it is the way Svarte Greiner uses found sounds and field recordings. The album is replete with beautifully sinister sounds of wind, rain, wood creaking (á la Nurse With Wound's Salt Marie Celeste), digging, sawing, rusty metal scraping rusty metal, footsteps through the underbrush, someone yawning, the call of crows and other black birds, antique vinyl hiss, crackle and pop, the grammophone needle running out of the last groove... Svarte Greiner uses these sounds, which he must have purposefully sought out and found in an attic of the ear, for dramatic effect, much as young Malte Laurids Brigge used the clothes found in the attic for playacting. For example, in the last track, titled "Final Sleep", the conjunction of the song title with the sound of digging evokes horror film burials or exhumations ... Svarte Greiner or the listener transforming into grave robber John Gray, played by Boris Karloff in Robert Wise's 1945 film 'The Body Snatcher'. Found sound hasn't been used this well since C-Schulz & Hajsch eponymous album.

"Music is closer to us, then; it streams toward us; we stand in its way, but then it goes right through us. It is almost like a higher air, we draw it into the lungs of spirit and it gives us a greater blood in the secret circulation" - Rainer Maria Rilke



*Strange that K-Punk has no yet mentioned this most hauntological novel of all European literature.
** Post script: check out this YouTube link to a video made for Matt Elliott, the sad and haunting 'Kursk'.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Blut aus Nord

Continuing the French theme of the last few posts, a review of French Black Metal band Blut Aus Nord's recent cd MoRT ...

A few posts ago, I proposed the idea that Black Metal has drunk deep from occidentalist wells - the term occidentalism referring to Buruma's and Margalit's hastily put together but interesting enough booklet on the western origins of antiwestern thought. In this post, I'll explore this idea a little further.

One of the characteristics of occidentalist thought is that it contrasts wild and rural landscapes with urban landscapes. The urban landscape is portrayed as an inversion of the values of the wild and rural landscapes. The urban landscape is associated with capitalist greed, soulless rationalism, vice, dishonesty, superficiality: the city is both a whore and an automaton. The rural landscape on the other hand is unselfish, spiritual, soulful, deep, pure and true. This vision of nature versus nurture has roots going al the way back to Tacitus' Germania and had some of it's ugliest proponents in the German nazi era.

In Black Metal, rural and wild landscapes, especially those of Norway, are highly significant. The cd cover art of Emperor's "In the Nightside Eclipse" features pictures of Norwegian landscape (one of a fjord and one of a ruined castle) and the lyrics of that album repeatedly portrays the lyrics' narrator in natural surroundings: "Beyond the great vast forest / Surrounded by majestic mountains / Dark rivers float like tears of sorrow / Frost submerge the holy ring of fire" or "As the Darkness creeps over the Northern mountains of Norway and the silence reach the woods, I awake and rise... Into the night I wander, (...) Under the moon, under the trees. Into the Infinity of Darkness beyond the light of a new day, into the frozen nature chilly, beyond the warmth of the dying sun. Hear the whispering of the wind, the Shadows calling... (...) I gaze into the moon which makes my mind pure as crystal lakes, my eyes cold as the darkest winter nights, by yet there is a flame inside". Many Black Metal bands subscribe to deep ecological or ecofascist beliefs: misanthropic, biocentric ideologies that put nature before man.Burzum's Varg Vikernes occidentalism is apparent when he states in a rather disgusting interview "Ironically, the only thing that can save mankind is a stream of pandemics, natural disasters and other human catastrophes, wiping out most of us. In fact, I think the catastrophe is inevitable - unless something drastic happens very soon, - and to be honest I even welcome it. The sooner this world order collapses the better. We don't even need to do anything for it to collapse in chaos. The best and only thing we can do is to get away from the tidal wave, and make sure the best amongst us survive, along with our Pagan culture. We can physically move away from the modern world and all its moral, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual decay and depravity".

Given that Black Metal despises the city, it is all the more surprising and original that Blut Aurs Nord presents urban Black Metal. Just visit Blut Aus Nord's unusual and interesting website (not completely up to date as their most recent cd is not yet included in the discography) and you will see why this strand of the Black Metal web is an urban strand: the site lets the visitor stray through a mazelike, somewhat futuristic but derelict city, vaguely Blade Runner-ish, with Piranesi-like subterranean vaults and Gothic churches, and sombre high rise buildings. Click on the oriental glyphs and be led astray in a decaying urban world, the Paris of a nightmarish future, light years from nature.

Blut Aus Nord's recent cd (MoRT, 'Metamorphosis of Realistic Theories) continues this urban atmosphere. No 'natural, spiritual simplicity' here, but academic intellectualism and philosophical concepts. No blastbeats and 'simple, authentic, rural' folk music but industrialized, complex, almost-IDM-like rhythms and mention of Webern, Ligeti and Stockhausen as sources of inspiration. And aren't academia and industry the epitomes of urban existence?

The way Blut As Nord uses guitars deserves special mention. In an interview with a German website, band member Vindsvall states "We have moved far away from every theory of harmony. This was the perfect way to work more modulations into the guitar sound. If one plays the guitar fast, one has no possibility to hear the last vibration of the sound. But there exactly began our work: we used these last vibrations, gave them a new tone". In an interview with a French website, band member Vindsval tells that they wanted to use the guitar like a piano, "with eight fingers on the neck to obtain the same variations on the different parts played simultaneously by each of the hands", and have started to work with a touch guitar to optimize such techniques. "This broadens enormously the possibilities on the harmonic level, and when you do away with the frets you even multiply those possibilities".

All this makes for a discordant, seasick, murky, disturbing, haunting album, an album of writing tentacles, as formless as a spider, an album that does not sound like it is composed but like it is emanated, emanated like a Victorian trance medium emanates a cloud of ectoplasm, an album that is " (...) part of the human body, external to it, unstable, sometimes soft, occasionally hard, from time to time vaporous, variable in volume, visible only in semi-darkness, making an impression on photographic emulsion, presents to the sense of touch a humid and slippery sensation, leaving in the hand a residue which, when dry, has under microscopic examination the appearance of epithelial cells, without odour or definite taste, in other respects fleeting and transient, whether projected or otherwise, of uncertain temperature, fond of music" (from the DaCosta Dictionary's entry on ectoplasm).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Palais de Tokyo

The place in Paris I love most must be the Palais de Tokyo. It was built for the '1937 Exposition internationale des arts et des techniques dans la vie moderne', which drew over 34 million visitors during its five month run. Today, the exhibition is remembered mostly for the fact that the bombastic Nazi-German and Sovjet-Russian pavillions where built opposite each other, facing each other across the Ponte d'Iena in an "I'll meet you in Poland baby" arrangement. Also, it is remembered for the exhibition of Picasso's Guernica in the pavilion of the war-torn Spanish Republic. (designed by architect José Luis Sert in collaboration with Juan Miro, Alexander Calder and Picasso).

Here and here are some links to sites with 1937 photographs of buildings and pavillions for the Exposition Internationale.

The Palais de Tokyo was designed by architects Dondel, Aubert, Viard and Dastugue. The monumental architecture presents two autonomous buildings, seperated by a large terrace but held together by a huge portico. Nowadays, the building is used minotaurically: partly as an official museum of modern art (with some wonderful cubist and surrealist work) and partly as a temporary autonomous zone for contemporary artists and skaters. The building itself reflects it's minotauric use: built in the sternly martial building style of the nineteenthirties, it is now covered in a caleidoscopic explosion of colours by many graffiti artists.




Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Hand of God or the Devil's Hand?

A YouTube video of Barbara's 'Chapeau Bas'...



Another video of Barbara, playing "La Dame Brune" with Georges Moustaki...

Faces of Paris

Visiting Paris, it was one of my goals to buy three cd's:
  • 'Presque Rien' by Luc Ferrari;
  • 'Barbara Chante Brassens et Brel' by the eponymous chanteuse; and
  • 'No Longer Human Senses - Et Fugit Interea Fugit Irreparabile Tempus'* by Spektr;
  • and write a post about it called 'Faces of Paris', the post's title being a riff on the notorious 'Faces Of Death' video nasties of the 1980's.

    The nexus of the post would have been Pierre Klossowski's 'Sade - My Neighbour', more specifically the chapter of that book on the Divine Marquis' relation to the French revolution, where Klossowski describes regicide as the killing of God by proxy. The post would have linked the three cd's thematically through:
    • the violent, sadomarxist, even selfdestructive aspect of existentialism, that philosophical movement of which Barbara was one of the figureheads (didn't Sartre write in his preface to Frantz Fanon's 'The Wretched of the Earth' that ".... by their mad fury, (...) by their ever-present desire to kill us, (...) have [the oppressed] become men"?);
    • the violent, regicidal aspect of the may 1968 Paris uprising, where 'Soyons cruels!' was one of the slogans and where De Gaulle was to play the role of sacrificial king; the uprising of which Luc Ferrari's 'Music Promenade' is a music concrete collage of field-recorded sounds; and
    • the sadean aspect of Black Metal, which needs no commentary here. "Les Hordes Noires", cruel deicides par excellence, would have been presented as the heirs of the Sadean regicidal revolutionaries.
    However, as I came down with the flue during the visit to Paris, I only bought Ferrari's cd, so this post will never be written. It is up to you, dear reader, to imagine it's shape from these contours.





    *The title of Spektr's cd is a paraphrase of Virgilius "Fast flies meanwhile the irreparable hour".

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    Almost nothing - Luc Ferrari vs Chris Watson

    Presque Rien is quite something.

    In Paris this weekend for a short holiday, I got the flue and wondered through the city's old and rain-swept streets feeling sick and bleached out like a ghost on a Victorian photograph. Nevertheless, I was able to buy my third Luc Ferrari album - Presque Rien - at 'Wave', a nice little record store on the Rue Keller (near the Place de la Bastille). 'Wave' is also an outlet for the avantish 'Disques du soleil et de l'acier' record label and distro.

    Luc Ferrari (1929-2005) was a French composer, whose work is both highly varied and unorthodox: his compositions show influences from serialism, minimal music, music concrete, classical music and Cagean aleatorical music. Humour is an important element in Ferrari's musical world: on his 1985 composition 'Collection de petites pièces ou 36 enfilades pour piano et magnétophone" he quotes famous classical pieces such as Strauss's 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' to great comical effect. Ferrari also some wrote humorous spurious autobiographical texts; all in all, he comes across as a very likable person. With Pierre Schaeffer and François-Bernard Mâche, Ferrari founded the Groupe des Recherches Musicales (GRM, 'Group for Musical Research') in 1958, a studio whose contribution to electronic music cannot be overestimated. Since it's inception more than 200 composers have worked at GRM.

    Presque Rien means 'Almost Nothing'. It is a series of field recordings, which have been treated electronically by Ferrari - in some cases only slightly, in other cases intensively. The first of the series, "Presque Rien n˚ 1, le lever du jour au bord the la mer", was recorded in 1970 in a tiny fishing village on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia (in those days part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). In an interview for the Paris Transatlantic magazine, Ferrari recounts:

    "I was in this Dalmatian fishing village, and our bedroom window looked out on a tiny harbour of fishing boats, in an inlet in the hills, almost surrounded by hills-which gave it an extraordinary acoustic. It was very quiet. At night the silence woke me up-that silence we forget when we live in a city. I heard this silence which, little by little, began to be embellished... It was amazing. I started recording at night, always at the same time when I woke up, about 3 or 4am, and I recorded until about 6am. I had a lot of tapes! And then I hit upon an idea-I recorded those sounds which repeated every day: the first fisherman passing by same time every day with his bicycle, the first hen, the first donkey, and then the lorry which left at 6am to the port to pick up people arriving on the boat. Events determined by society. And then the composer plays!".

    And then the composer plays... To see how the composer plays, it is perhaps rewarding to compare Luc Ferrari's method on 'Presque Rien N˚ 1' to that of another great field recordist: Chris Watson, former member of industrial innovators Caberet Voltaire and The Hafler Trio, and now best known for field recordings made in nature reserves around the world. Both musicians edit field recordings of a long duration into relatively short tracks. For example, both Ferrari's 'Presque Rien N˚ 1' and Watson's 'Ol-Olool-O' telescope a day's recording into almost 20 minutes of music.

    The composer's choices become visible first of all in the choice of material. The human world intrudes only slightly on Chris Watson's sound world (church bells on his recording at Embleton Rookery, Northumberland, England, on "Stepping into the dark"; talking Kenyan nomads on the first track of "Weather Report" and wellingtons sloshing through a rain-drenched Scottish landscape on the second track): the sound of nature always plays the main role for Watson. With Ferrari's field recordings however, it is the human world that takes centre stage: Ferrari records the fishing village slowly waking up, one hears motor boats, a truck driving away, villagers talking, chickens, goat's bells chiming, some singing.

    Chris Watson is a dramatist - he creates beauty by dramatizing the recorded material through editing. The most telling moment is that moment in 'Ol-Olool-O' where a thunderclap is immediately followed by the roar of a lion. Juxtaposing these sounds creates drama by presenting together two powerful forces that both are threatening and frightening to mankind (the lightning and the predator). On the second track of "Weather Report", where three months in Scotland are condensed into 18 minutes, the dramatic moment is provided by the sound of a large bird flying away, followed by the sound of the wind - creating the dramatic illusion that one is flying ecstatically through Scottish stormclouds. Watson's 'wide-screen' editing style certainly helps the dramatization strategy.

    Ferrari on the other hand takes a more understated approach: 'Presque Rien N˚ 1' sounds more like a chance meeting of John Cages 4'33'' and the Dalmatian sea coast on a tape recorder than an aestheticizing soundscape. Hearing it, it is easy to forget it was edited from a whole day of recorded sound, it is easy to forget that the work is a composition in the traditional sense of the world, i.e. sound organized by conscious interventions (editing) by the composer - even though no 'musical' sound is apparent.

    Where Watsons work draws attention to dramatical, violently beautiful moments of wildlife , Ferrari's ' Presque Rien N˚ 1' might well be characterized by Steve Roden's description of lowercase music: ''Lowercase music bears a certain sense of quiet and humility; it doesn't demand attention, it must be discovered. The work might imply one thing on the surface but contain other things beneath. It's the opposite of capital letters -- loud things which draw attention to themselves".

    For me, both Watson's and Ferrari's approaches are valid. After all, both ascecis and dramatization have been methods to achieve "an intimate cessation of intellectual operation" .



    Postscriptum

    As a postscriptum, I must add that in later parts of the 'Presque Rien' series, Ferrari as a composer does not hide himself as much as he does in the first. For example, on 'Presque Rien N˚ 2, ainsi continue la nuit dans ma tête multiple' (a 1977 field recording made in Tuchan, a tiny village in Corbières, France), Ferrari's voice is both part of the recording and simultaneously commenting on it; both a diegetic and a non-diegetic sound. In the last movement of this piece, there are clear, musical interventions in the sound recording which sharply and dramatically highlight the sound of thunder on the field recording. Much the same goes for later 'Presque Riens'.


    Post-postscriptum

    What if Chris Watson went to that very same Dalmatian fishing village and rerecorded, 'covered', 'Presque Rien N˚ 1'?

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Xasthur - A Haunted Burial, Postrock's Kindertotenlied

    In keeping with one of the constant interests of this blog (black and blackened music, Black Metal versus Dubstep), Phil Freeman calls "Xasthur (...) pretty much metal's own Burial..." on his ever-interesting blog 'Running The Voodoo Down': "... if you want hauntology, check out his cryptic wailing".

    Does Freeman misread 'hauntology' as spookiness? As K-Punk writes: "Hauntology isn't about hoky atmospherics or 'spookiness'...". The fact that Xasthur's wailing can make your hairs stand on end, does not make his music hauntological.

    On Dissensus, ' hauntology' is described as a concept that "... is deployed towards a music that employs certain strategies of disinternment - a disinternment of styles, sounds, even techniques and modes of production now abandoned, forgotten or erased by history". "Yet," writes K-Punk, "...in sonic hauntology, disinterment goes alongside internment, the deliberate burial of signal behind noise". Hauntological music is music in which surface noise is foregrounded instead of repressed: "There is no attempt to smooth away the textural discrepancy between the crackly sample and the rest of the recording".

    Can these concepts be applied succesfully to Xasthur's music?

    Certainly, the unusual sound of Xasthur's music foregrounds it's technological production, foregrounds 'layers of fizz, crackle, hiss, white noise'. As the Aquarius Records review of his 'Subliminal Genocide' writes on Xasthur's debut album 'Nocturnal Poisoning': "... the sound was murky and muddy and fuzzy, but above it, were delicate melodies, dreamlike minor key filigree over a bottomless black pit. (...) You could see the texture of the canvas and the individual brushstrokes beneath the art".

    In foregrounding technological production, Xasthur's music is not very different from much of Black Metal, a genre whose deliberate low-quality sound recording serves to introduce " ... the technical frame, the unheard material pre-condition of the recording, on the level of content" (to quote K-Punk again). Perhaps this is the third meaning of the lo-fi Black Metal production mode explored in the previous post.

    On the blackened laments of 'Subliminal Genocide', the Aquarius Records review writes: "Taken out of a black metal context, they'd sound like some sort of super emotional epic post rock, but as they are, buried under thick layers of blackened buzz and wrapped in huge swaths of fuzzy sonic fog, they become even darker and more desolate, lonely and mournful". Thus, Xasthur is both interment in noise and disinterment of the Postrock genre. Postrock, the disinterred style, sound, musical technique ... Postrock, now abandoned, forgotten and erased by history ... Postrock, a genre that died in it's infancy ... Postrock, already haunting us, like the red-cloaked child of Nicholas Roeg's tale of haunted Venice,"Don't Look Now".

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Black metal production

    The low quality of Black Metal production values is proverbial - flat, harsh, raw, tinny, trebly, thin, hissy and fuzzy are some of the adjectives for the production used by both detractors and aficionados of the genre. On this site, a Black Metal fan answers his own rhetorical question: "But what would a black metal album be without low production values? Not a black metal album".

    With the exception perhaps of the originators of the genre, the low quality of production is part of Black Metal "spider's web of significance". The low production values are a matter of choice, not of economic necessity:
    • Black Metal was started in defiance of Death Metal. To distinguish itself aesthetically from Death metal, Black metal had a low and dirty sounding production quality, instead of having high-quality, clean production. However, Black Metal not only strived to distinguish itself on an aesthetic level from Death Metal: it also strived to be more controversial in lyrical - i.e. ideological - content than Death Metal. Here, aesthetic considerations seem to cause ideological choices.
    • The choice for low production values not only has an aesthetic meaning, but also an ideological meaning. Black Metal is a carnival genre, a genre of destruction and uncrowning. The good is dethroned in favor of it's opposite - both in a moral-ideological sense (evil) and in an aesthetic sense (bad in the sense of ugly). Black Metal strives for the destruction of the bonum, verum, pulchrum. (This inversion of the usual hierarchy of adjectives that this ideology entails, can sometimes make for confusing reading of Black Metal album reviews - adjectives that are normally negative should in these cases be read as positive recommendations - this confusion is quite the same as that which I had when I first read Bataille's work).
    Thus, the ideological and aesthetic strands of Black Metal are closely interwoven and mutually dependent on each other.

    However, the analysis of Black Metal production values cannot stop at the conclusion that a Black Metal album without low production values is not a Black Metal Album.

    Interestingly, some bands have, while remaining flat, harsh, raw, tinny, trebly, thin and fuzzy, sculpted that characteristic sound into an artform onto itself. Think of the starkly expressionistic chiaroscuro sound of Spektr and Haemoth, of the ghostly dementia of Striborg's production, and of the Shoegazer-Black Metal sound of Lurker of Chalice. And those who complain that Xasthur makes the same records over and over again, fail to acknowledge that the development is not in the musical structures but in the sound world. Malefic is a master of grey monochrome, the Yves Klein of Black Metal. Thus, anti-aestheticism has been recuperated into the world of the aesthetic. Does this spell the end for Black Metal's transgressive appeal, or is it on the contrary a sign of the genre's undiminished dynamism?

    Monday, November 27, 2006

    Coil - Häxan

    I saw Benjamin Christensen expressionistic film Häxan many years ago in the Amsterdam Film Museum - and today found this rather nice YouTube video in which Coil's "First Five Minutes After Death" and "Golden Section" (both from Horse Rotorvator) provide the soundtrack to that film.

    Saturday, November 25, 2006

    Blackened woman

    Sonny Sharrock's "Black Woman" is to late 'sixties blues and rock what Khlyst's "Chaos is my name" is to black and doom metal.

    Khlyst is a collaboration between metal maverick James Plotkin and northern siren Runhild Gammelsaeter. Gammelsaeter made her burn mark on metal with Thorr's Hammer, an early (1995) doom project of Sunn o)))'s Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson; after disappearing into oblivion for almost a decade, she rematerialized on Sunn o)))'s 'White 1' album. And James Plotkin? To make more than a cursory sketch of his musical career would require this review to be tens of thousands words long. Suffice to say that his roots are in the fertile soil of late-'eighties-to-early-'nineties British grindcore, the very same sooty and smelly soil bands like Skullflower, Godflesh and Scorn grew from. Like these bands, Plotkin's work has always been ideosyncratic: his grindcore band 'Old' used: "vocoded voice, looped guitar, synth guitar, bass, tapes, rhythm machine... and a drop of 303" - can that still be called grindcore? Plotkin's best known band is, without any doubt, the now defunct Khanate.

    Sonny Sharrock (1940-1994) was a free jazz electric guitarist. He played with many jazz greats, such as Dave Burrell, Norris Jones (a.k.a. Sirone), Milford Graves, Elvin Jones, Peter Brötzman, John Zorn, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, and Herbie Mann. Transposing John Coltrane's and Pharaoh Sanders free jazz saxophone technique to the guitar, his axe was a dissonant blowtorch welding fiery free jazz to the blues. His playing has been compared with that of avant-garde painter Jackson Pollock's approach to paint. Sharrock's 1996 album "Black Woman" is perhaps the best known of his oeuvre. On the album, Sharrock's wife Linda sings. Sings? It is more of a free jazz speaking in tongues, extatic chanting, shouting, screaming, howling and yelping ... a voice in terribly bad taste but somehow still engrossing in it's shamelessness - a very late-1960's shamelessness, that is.

    Why compare Khlyst's "Chaos is my name" to Sharrock's "Black woman"? The eight chapters of Khlyst's shortish (35 minutes) album feature Plotkin on guitar - which is unusual, as he normally play bass. Plotkin's guitar conjures up a Sharrock-like soundworld, albeit one heavily treated by electronica - visceral drones and monolithic sub-basses, screaming overtones and distortion. And Runhild Gaemmelsaeter is Plotkin's Linda, but an undead Linda, screeching, grunting and moaning like a banshee, like a decomposing freejazz Diamanda Galas without professional operatic training.

    Notwithstanding the musical affinities between Sharrock and Khlyst,"Chaos is my name" is a far cry from 1960's free jazz black power angry-yet-selfconfident, progressive, emancipatory optimism. Full of failures, sufferings, anxieties, terrors, rages, and humiliations, it is a Niflheim, a dark and misty hell of an album, and it's orientation on the retro-futurist axis is the reverse of that of bands like Broadcast, or of British record labels Mordant and Ghost Box's rosters - it is futuristically retrogressive, oriented backwards, backwards, downwards, spiraling towards the blackened void that history tries to hide but cannot help but point towards.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    Crime and punishment

    Below one of the most bloodcurdling descriptions of cruelty against animals I know, from my current reading, Dostoevsky's "Crime And punishment". The only comparable scene, qua intensity of description, is the terrifying sacrifice of the kitten from Yukio Mishima's "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea". Do any readers of this blog know comparable scenes in world literature? Please use the comments to tell me!

    "And now he dreamt that he was walking with his father past the tavern on the way to the graveyard; he was holding his father’s hand and looking with dread at the tavern. A peculiar circumstance attracted his attention: there seemed to be some kind of festivity going on, there were crowds of gaily dressed townspeople, peasant women, their husbands, and riff-raff of all sorts, all singing and all more or less drunk. Near the entrance of the tavern stood a cart, but a strange cart. It was one of those big carts usually drawn by heavy cart-horses and laden with casks of wine or other heavy goods. He always liked looking at those great cart-horses, with their long manes, thick legs, and slow even pace, drawing along a perfect mountain with no appearance of effort, as though it were easier going with a load than without it. But now, strange to say, in the shafts of such a cart he saw a thin little sorrel beast, one of those peasants’ nags which he had often seen straining their utmost under a heavy load of wood or hay, especially when the wheels were stuck in the mud or in a rut. And the peasants would beat them so cruelly, sometimes even about the nose and eyes and he felt so sorry, so sorry for them that he almost cried, and his mother always used to take him away from the window. All of a sudden there was a great uproar of shouting, singing and the balalaika, and from the tavern a number of big and very drunken peasants came out, wearing red and blue shirts and coats thrown over their shoulders.

    “Get in, get in!” shouted one of them, a young thicknecked peasant with a fleshy face red as a carrot. “I’ll take you all, get in!”


    But at once there was an outbreak of laughter and exclamations in the crowd.
    “Take us all with a beast like that!” “Why, Mikolka, are you crazy to put a nag like that in such a cart?” “And this mare is twenty if she is a day, mates!”

    “Get in, I’ll take you all,” Mikolka shouted again, leaping first into the cart, seizing the reins and standing straight up in front. “The bay has gone with Matvey,” he shouted from the cart—“and this brute, mates, is just breaking my heart, I feel as if I could kill her. She’s just eating her head off. Get in, I tell you! I’ll make her gallop! She’ll gallop!” and he picked up the whip, preparing himself with relish to flog the little mare.
    “Get in! Come along!”

    The crowd laughed. “D’you hear, she’ll gallop!”
    “Gallop indeed! She has not had a gallop in her for the last ten years!” “She’ll jog along!” “Don’t you mind her, mates, bring a whip each of you, get ready!” “All right! Give it to her!” They all clambered into Mikolka’s cart, laughing and making jokes. Six men got in and there was still room for more. They hauled in a fat, rosy-cheeked woman. She was dressed in red cotton, in a pointed, beaded headdress and thick leather shoes; she was cracking nuts and laughing. The crowd round them was laughing too and indeed, how could they help laughing? That wretched nag was to drag all the cartload of them at a gallop! Two young fellows in the cart were just getting whips ready to help Mikolka. With the cry of “now,” the mare tugged with all her might, but far from galloping, could scarcely move forward; she struggled with her legs, gasping and shrinking from the blows of the three whips which were showered upon her like hail. The laughter in the cart and in the crowd was redoubled, but Mikolka flew into a rage and furiously thrashed the mare, as though he supposed she really could gallop.

    “Let me get in, too, mates,” shouted a young man in the crowd whose appetite was aroused.

    “Get in, all get in,” cried Mikolka, “she will draw you all—I’ll beat her to death!” And he thrashed and thrashed at the mare, beside himself with fury.

    “Father, father,” he cried, “father, what are they doing? Father, they are beating the poor horse!”


    “Come along, come along!” said his father. “They are drunken and foolish, they are in fun; come away, don’t look!” and he tried to draw him away, but he tore himself away from his hand, and, beside himself with horror, ran to the horse. The poor beast was in a bad way. She was gasping, standing still, then tugging again and almost falling.


    “Beat her to death,” cried Mikolka, “it’s come to that. I’ll do for her!”


    “What are you about, are you a Christian, you devil?” shouted an old man in the crowd.
    “Did any one ever see the like? A wretched nag like that pulling such a cartload,” said another. “You’ll kill her,” shouted the third.

    “Don’t meddle! It’s my property, I’ll do what I choose. Get in, more of you! Get in, all of you! I will have her go at a gallop!…” All at once laughter broke into a roar and covered everything: the mare, roused by the shower of blows, began feebly kicking. Even the old man could not help smiling. To think of a wretched little beast like that trying to kick! Two lads in the crowd snatched up whips and ran to the mare to beat her about the ribs. One ran each side. “Hit her in the face, in the eyes, in the eyes,” cried Mikolka. “Give us a song, mates,” shouted some one in the cart and every one in the cart joined in a riotous song, jingling a tambourine and whistling. The woman went on cracking nuts and laughing.

    He ran beside the mare, ran in front of her, saw her being whipped across the eyes, right in the eyes! He was crying, he felt choking, his tears were streaming. One of the men gave him a cut with the whip across the face, he did not feel it. Wringing his hands and screaming, he rushed up to the grey-headed old man with the grey beard, who was shaking his head in disapproval. One woman seized him by the hand and would have taken him away, but he tore himself from her and ran back to the mare. She was almost at the last gasp, but began kicking once more.


    “I’ll teach you to kick,” Mikolka shouted ferociously. He threw down the whip, bent forward and picked up from the bottom of the cart a long, thick shaft, he took hold of one end with both hands and with an effort brandished it over the mare. “He’ll crush her,” was shouted round him. “He’ll kill her!” “It’s my property,” shouted Mikolka and brought the shaft down with a swinging blow. There was a sound of a heavy thud. “Thrash her, thrash her! Why have you stopped?” shouted voices in the crowd. And Mikolka swung the shaft a second time and it fell a second time on the spine of the luckless mare. She sank back on her haunches, but lurched forward and tugged forward with all her force, tugged first on one side and then on the other, trying to move the cart. But the six whips were attacking her in all directions, and the shaft was raised again and fell upon her a third time, then a fourth, with heavy measured blows. Mikolka was in a fury that he could not kill her at one blow. “She’s a tough one,” was shouted in the crowd. “She’ll fall in a minute, mates, there will soon be an end of her,” said an admiring spectator in the crowd. “Fetch an axe to her! Finish her off,” shouted a third. “I’ll show you! Stand off,” Mikolka screamed frantically; he threw down the shaft, stooped down in the cart and picked up an iron crowbar. “Look out,” he shouted, and with all his might he dealt a stunning blow at the poor mare. The blow fell; the mare staggered, sank back, tried to pull, but the bar fell again with a swinging blow on her back and she fell on the ground like a log. “Finish her off,” shouted Mikolka and he leapt, beside himself, out of the car. Several young men, also flushed with drink, seized anything they could come across—whips, sticks, poles, and ran to the dying mare. Mikolka stood on one side and began dealing random blows with the crowbar. The mare stretched out her head, drew a long breath and died.

    “You butchered her,” some one shouted in the crowd.


    “Why wouldn’t she gallop then?”


    “My property!” shouted Mikolka, with bloodshot eyes, brandishing the bar in his hands. He stood as though regretting that he had nothing more to beat.


    “No mistake about it, you are not a Christian,” many voices were shouting in the crowd.
    But the poor boy, beside himself, made his way screaming, through the crowd to the sorrel nag, put his arms round her bleeding dead head and kissed it, kissed the eyes and kissed the lips.… Then he jumped up and flew in a frenzy with his little fists out at Mikolka. At that instant his father who had been running after him, snatched him up and carried him out of the crowd.

    “Come along, come! Let us go home,” he said to him.
    “Father! Why did they … kill … the poor horse!” he sobbed, but his voice broke and the words came in shrieks from his panting chest.

    “They are drunk.… They are brutal … it’s not our business!” said his father. He put his arms round his father, but he felt choked, choked. He tried to draw a breath, to cry out—and woke up. He waked up, gasping for breath, his hair soaked with perspiration, and stood up in terror. “Thank God, that was only a dream,” he said, sitting down under a tree and drawing deep breaths. “But what is it? Is it some fever coming on? Such a hideous dream!”

    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    Black hexagon sunn

    Another playlist, it's title a Boards of Canada paraphrase:


    Again, with some YouTube videos.

    The Wicker Man:



    Burzum:



    Coil:



    Sielwolf:



    Sunn 0)))



    The Third Eye Foundation



    Stockhausen:



    The Bug:



    Boards of Canada:



    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Spider's web II

    A few posts back, I wrote that Black Metal is a culture, a spider's web of significance where ideological and aesthetic strands are closely interwoven and mutually dependent on each other.

    Nonetheless, vast differences in ideological perspective are apparent within the Black Metal genre, often related to the local culture of the place of origin of the band in question. Thus, Eastern European bands (Drudkh, Hate Forest) often have a strongly nationalistic orientation, an orientation which for example is not so apparent in Californian Black Metal bands (Weakling, Leviathan, Xasthur) and "orthodox evil" French Black Metal bands (Blut aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, Haemoth). The ideology of some more artistically inclined Black Metal artists is more likely to be extremely liberal (tending towards anarchism) than highly intolerant.

    The ideological orientation of Black Metal bands is interwoven with their aesthetic orientation: if a Black Metal album features a lot of folk, the chances are that the ideological orientation of the band is nationalistic, intolerant and paganistic. Folk music in Black Metal signifies the Volk, the national heritage (a completely different meaning than Folk music has in Free Folk, or for Bob Dylan for example). Misanthropy, which is an important theme in Californian Black Metal, is tied to a very specific Californian Black Metal sound: Black Metal with strange song structures, bizarre parts, and an accent on mood and ambience - as if hatred of Man goes hand in hand with the destabilization of 'normal' song structure.

    Without doubt, the ideological and aethetic differences are causally linked to the different uses of Black Metal in these specific local cultures.

    I can of course only guess what uses Black Metal has in Lebanese society (check this interview with Ayat, or the information "Dark Ritualistic/Barbaric Black Metal" band Kafan on FMP), but one can be sure that they are very different from the uses of the genre in the Ukraine or San Fransisco - if only because the political and religious situation is vastly different. Even the name of Kafan points towards the importance of the local context of the band in question: "Kafan" is the shroud of the dead Muslim. And also Ayat's statements that "Every prejudice westerners might have regarding Arabs is correct" and the stress on the irreligious nature of the music provide insight into this Black Metal scene's relationship to local society and culture.

    And what to think of Iranian Black Metal? Wikipedia suggests that these bands are rather nationalistic, but I can only imagine what it must be like to make music of Satanic origin in a fundamentalist country. And Iranian Black Metal cannot derive meaning only from it's relation to local culture, but must also derive meaning from the relation of that local culture to the wider world, and specifically to the West - origin of Black Metal, focus of hatred for Shi'ite Fundamentalists.

    "However, Black Metal culture is not woven as neatly as spider's webs usually are... Perhaps they're more like the webs of spiders on drugs: chaotic, tangled ... it is an eccentric, centrifugal genre after all".

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Black and blackened

    Another article in which a connection is made between the blackened doom-metal of sunn 0))) and the black bass-voids of dubstep on Artforum.

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    Earth

    On the ever-interesting BLDGBLOG, a post about artist Florian Dombois's Auditory Seismology project which "plays you the sound of earthquakes".

    Now I see well why with such dark flames

    "Now I see well why with such dark flames
    your eyes sparkled so often.
    O eyes!

    It was as if in one full glance
    you could concentrate your entire power.
    Yet I did not realize - because mists floated about me,
    woven by blinding fate -
    that this beam of light was ready to be sent home
    to that place whence all beams come.
    You would have told me with your brilliance:

    we would gladly have stayed near you!
    But it is refused by Fate.
    Just look at us, for soon we will be far!
    What to you are only eyes in these days -
    in future nights shall be stars to us
    ".

    From this sombre poem about the death of a child, the cd "KTL", a collaboration between Stephen O'Malley and Peter Rehberg, descends. In this post, I'll trace it's genealogy a bit more extensively than has been done in other reviews of the album.

    The poem above was written by the romantic poet Friedrich Rückert, while grieving over two of his children, who had both died within 16 days at a very tender age: Ernst Rückert (january 4th 1829 – january 16th 1834) and Luise Rückert (june 25th 1830 – december 31st 1833). It is part of a much larger cycle of poems, called "Kindertotenlieder". The cycle contains no less than 425 poems in total, which are reproduced in full here.

    From this cycle of poems, the late-romantic composer Gustav Mahler selected five poems for a symphony - the one above (reproduced in a translation by Emily Ezust) is one of these five. The poems that Mahler chose for his "Kindertotenlieder" symphony all deal with the theme of light and darkness. The composer wrote that "[t]hese five songs are intended as one inseparate unit, and in performing them their continuity should not be interfered with". Mahler's wife Alma wrote in her book 'Erinnerungen und Briefe' (1946) that she felt that Mahler tempted fate in setting Rückert's poems to music - and sure enough, fate answered Mahler's call, death taking his oldest daughter Maria in 1907 at the age of 4.

    This year, Gisèle Vienne (philosopher, marionetist, director) and Dennis Cooper (writer, poet, performance artist, blogger) created a theatre piece named after Mahler's sombre song cycle, a piece which "interrogates the confusion between phantasm and reality in the collective sphere". Cooper calls it "a combination black metal concert/funeral in the dead of winter in the middle of the Austrian woods".
    Besides the cycle of Mahler's poems, Vienne and Cooper were inspired by folkloric Yuletide rituals from Austria, in which people don monstrous masks to portray the devils and daemons of the Wild Hunt - masks that would make many a black metal performer proud! These rites too are connected to the death of children. From Wikipedia: "In the folklore of Bavaria and Austria, Perchta was said to roam the countryside at midwinter, and to enter homes on Twelfth Night. She would know whether the children and young servants of the household had behaved well and worked hard all year. If they had, they might find a small silver coin next day, in a shoe or pail. If they had not, she would slit their bellies open, remove stomach and guts, and stuff the hole with straw and pebbles". This ancient tradition is apparently still very much alive in Austria, judging by the number of websites dedicated to it: see here, here and here for some examples.

    The premiere of "Kindertotenlieder" will take place on february 28th 2007, on the Festival Les Antipodes, at the Le Quartz gallery in Brest, France. Here are some dialogues from the play. A photograph from the website is reproduced nearby - note that the dead child (don't worry, it's only a doll) is wearing a Burzum hoodie!

    From these funereal forebears, KLT descends, a collaboration between Stephen O'Malley and Peter Rehberg. The music on the cd is apparently not the soundtrack to the theatre piece, though elements may appear in the finished piece.

    On the website of the Rehberg's record label Éditions Mego, KTL is called "A six part collision amongst the increasingly fading prescences (sic) between the light and the dark" - echoing the theme of those of Rückert poems (light and darkness) that Mahler selected for his symphony. That very theme is also reflected in the description of the two places the music was recorded, each a place where light and darkness collide: "Pieces were recorded in a resistance fortress in southern France during a thunderstorm. Others in a wintergarden drenched in the sunlight": thunder (light) versus storm (dark), winter (dark) versus sunlight (light).

    As the Mego website calls KTL a "threatening new collaboration taking in parallel worlds of Extreme Computer Music and Black Metal", I feared that this release would be marred by the schlock-horror approach of Black Metal, so unapproapriate for the mournful theme of this release. Thus, I think, it is a good thing O'Malley and Rehberg did not follow the musical onomatopeia which is present in Mahlers work (from Derek Lims essay: "... the most subtle is in Wenn dein Mütterlein, Mahler accompanies the melody with pizzicato cello, imitating in the Bachian sense, the mother's footsteps. Later, pizzicato viola imitates the footsteps of the daughter who once followed the mother's footsteps, but no more"). A modern-day variation on Mahler's musical onomatopeia - such as a sample of a weeping mother or whimpering child - would have spoiled the stark, pristine beauty of KTL with lurid sensationalism.

    Thankfully, this is not the case: O'Malley and Rehberg do not take a leaf out of Mahler's late-romantic style, but follow their own musical path. Like Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, the six tracks of the cd "... are intended as one inseparate unit, and in performing them their continuity should not be interfered with".

    The first track of the cd, Estranged, opens with an icy-blue shimmering ambient tone - somewhat reminiscent of the ambient sound of the last track of Burzum 's "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss", but even more minimalist. Over this, sound effects are slowly added, O'Malleys guitars putting accents on the electronica. As a whole, the track is somewhat similar to Sunn 0)))'s "A Shaving of the Horn That Speared You" , from White1. Another musical precursor is Justin Broadrick's Final project.

    Then, on the four movements of "Forest Floor" - the second to sixth tracks on the cd - the music crescendoes into a cold and ferocious metallic (not just metallic as in the musical genre, but metallic as in the element, as in iron, steel, silver) soundscape - an assault of industrialized loops - and then slowly diminuendos into desperate and desolate drones - the musical equivalent of being lost in the alps in a winternight night during a snowstorm.

    When the storm has settled, all is covered in snow: "Snow", the coda of KTL ... starting with flakes, blots, squiggles, marks, scribblings, doodles of noise ... Henri Michaux described fighting with such blots, likening them to 'insatiable desires or knots of force, which are destined never to take form' ... one cannot decide whether their origin is electronic or electric ... and out of these slowly a structure rises up, slow loops, sombre repetitions, sinister slashings of sound: the most mournful of all six tracks.

    Breathtaking.

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    Spider's web

    A few posts back, I received a comment from Martin, posing the question whether Black Metal is fueled by a certain ideology, or rather by the appeal of a certain imagery/aesthetics.

    Almost having finished his "Available Light. Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics", I'd like to use Clifford Geertz's definition of culture for a reply to that question:

    "The concept of culture I espouse. . . is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after. . . . " (Geertz in "The Interpretation of Cultures").

    Black Metal is a culture, a spider's web of significance where ideological and aesthetic strands are closely interwoven and mutually dependent on each other. Take away either the ideological (i.e. politico-moral) strands or the aesthetic strands and the whole web will shift, destabilize, maybe even threaten to collapse or in any case reform into a completely different shape.

    However, Black Metal culture is not woven as neatly as spider's webs usually are... Perhaps they're more like the webs of spiders on drugs: chaotic, tangled ... it is an eccentric, centrifugal genre after all.