"... only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning: "Why?" I don't think they were wondering why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams - this may be madness; to seek treasure, where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be".
This quote from Arthur Hiller's 1972 musical (!) film "Man of La Mancha" is sampled at the tail end of the second track of Velvet Cacoon's cd "Northsuite", which I finally got in the mail this friday. The cd collects tracks from two demos ("Chapel Flames" and "Music For Falling Buildings") from the long prehistory of the band: Velvet Cacoon was started in 1996, eight years before the first official release, "Genevieve".
"Northsuite" is a beautiful cd of droney black experimental shoegazer metal and minimalist ambient music. Compared to "Genevieve", the black metal drones are somewhat more smoothed out, like a landscape which has been covered in a thick layer of snow, rather than the billowing stormcloud drones of the first official release. The sound is a little bit more varied: the aforementioned second track, "Winterglow", features acoustic guitar; my personal favorite "Chapelflames" (a very BM reference to churchburning, that title) is a stately treated guitar drone without song and without the often monotonous drum machine rhythms; there are two ambient wash tracks instead of one; and the third track, "Fire Bloomed From Snow" features a very strange sound in the background, like heavily treated fairground noises ... for me, somewhat reminiscent of Carnival of Souls. Still, the black metal origins of Velvet Cacoon are more clearly apparent than on "Genevieve", both musically and qua imagery: though the music is still far from the orthodoxies of black metal music, "Northsuite"'s metaphors refer to wintry landscapes, that staple - cliché? - of black metal iconography.
The dominant element of Velvet Cacoon's music is the element of water. Water in it's solid state (ice and snow) informed the demos which are collected on "Northsuite"; fog, clouds and rain took centrestage on "Genevieve"; and on the yet to be released "P aa opal Poere Pr. 33" it is the ocean itself: "P aa opal Poere Pr. 33" is a two and half year endeavor of slowly sculpted soft black seadrones. This is the Ocean floor; depth is narcotic, head-pressure forces the eyes closed and deep sea comatose gradually takes over. Tiny humans that curve like violins, ivory in hue, posing for poems in the aquatic nightscape - muses for the moon". For me, the cds title is as strangely beautiful as Innsmouth jewelry. Listening to 'Genevieve' on my iPod while bicycling through the poring rain in a thunderstorm at night was certainly one of the best musical moments this year.
Josh's voice is perhaps the most watery, the wettest in black metal, the gargling snarl of someone whose mouth overflows with vomit or blood or mucus or spittle: "Spittle is finally, through its inconsistency, its indefinite contours, the relative imprecision of its contours, and its humidity, the very symbol of the formless, of the unverifiable, of the non-hierarchized. It is the limp and sticky stumbling block shattering more efficiently than any stone all undertakings that presuppose man to be something - something other than a flabby, bald animal, something other than the spittle of a raving demiurge..." (from Documents' Critical Dictionary, by Michel Leiris, 1929, available from @tlas Press).
Another quote from Man of La Mancha, one which has not been sampled by Velvet Cacoon but which certainly is relevant to their story:
"The Duke: I invent false information about a country and sell it to others stupid enough to believe it.
Miguel de Cervantes: Seems a sound proposition. What brought you here?
The Duke: A lapse of judgment. I told the truth".
From the start, Velvet Cacoon have been like the tricksters of myth legens and folklore, clever and mischievous, using trickery and deceit to generate interest in their music. They've told wild stories about bloodthirsty stage performances, about ecoterrorist activities and ecofascist politics, about non-existent musical instruments (the fabled 'Diesel Harp'), about the death of their drummer SKV, and about the asexuality of the artists (an instance of the gender variability so typical of the tricksters of mythology and folklore) ...
... and all these stories have been lapped up by a very gullible audience (whoever would believe in a diesel-powered guitar being amplified and recorded underwater in various sized aquariums, would probably also believe in the Tooth Fairy).
In the middle of august this year, a new story emerged. Velvet Cacoon were rumored to be plagiarists.
Supposedly, several songs on unreleased demos by Velvet Cacoon were actually created by the Portland artist Kourova, also known as Miranda Lehman, and had been released before on her album "Shipwrecks & Russian Roulette", apparently released on the 16sparrows label. This was her response:
"To the fans of Velvet Cacoon: It has recently come to my attention that the band Velvet Cacoon has not only STOLEN artwork and photos on their website from other artists but also their ENTIRE album, "How the last day came and stayed then faded into simulated rain". This "highly elusive" demo album is actually the property of another musician named Miranda Lehman, aka Korouva. The album's real name is Shipwrecks & Russian Roulette and has been sold through the website 16sparrows since February of 2005, before the release of the Velvet Cacoon Demo. Tracks from Korouva's album were also posted on her Livejournal, in working form, long before any Velvet Cacoon release. When Confronted with these accusations, Velvet Cacoon deleted their official Myspace music page which contained stolen tracks and artwork from Miranda. You can see that they link to their myspace page on their official site and that the myspace page has been deleted. Their main myspace fan page contains stolen illustrations and music as well: "lilac wine, black leaves and me" (real name, "Tide") and also the illustration of a girl with a ship that goes along with the song. I am sorry to all the devoted fans who have been deceived by Velvet Cacoon, their blatant theft of another artist's work is absolutely unforgivable."
A little bit later, another accusation was made, this time by a band called My Violent Ego:
"velvet cacoon, clicks & hisses, and how to feel cool
Current mood: tired
probably nobody cares a fu*k, maybe me in primis, anyway maybe i should write a couple of notes about the fraudolent action of a joke-band named 'velvet cacoon' involving me directly with my violent ego.
In brief, in last two days i read through some metal communities forums and wikipedia that this portland band downloaded from the net mve's free album 'clicks and hisses' some months ago and included it in their doubtfull discography, often available through p2p and other not specified ways. They changed the original album title in 'dizzy from eternity', and i also read some positive reviews over the net..
now, first of all, i can't understand how our mve dreampop melodies may sound 'black metal' (or related) to anyone..
..two, i think it is somewhat childish if you are convinced that "we stole this and that, because we want everybody to hate us so we can feel cool' if that was the real intention.. - how sad and boring..
...three, maybe you're just a kid who made a "big" internet-style joke, so thank for the publicity, - i just hope that someday you'll find your velvetcacoon-someone that decides to steal yr music.
that's it.. this my first myspace-blog post, hopefully the next one will be happier..
thanks for Yr attention".
The reply of Velvet Cacoon was:
"And on the subject of Velvet Cacoon, the band is a total fraud. Nothing about it holds any importance. The "How the Last Day" demo isn't even us. It's Miranda Lehman from Portland. (check the Wiki site). "Dizzy" isn't us. It's "My Violent Ego". Nothing is us. "Northsuite" was recorded in 3 hours and sold to a fake label who paid us enough for rent and substances. That's why its so terrible. We're utter bastards. We have no respect for anything. Now we're beginning the campaign to show just what we've done. We are walking examples of what far too many drugs will do. They make you crave havoc. They make you want to turn the world upside down while laughing like a maniac.
And now the soft afterglow sets in. VC is winding down. One last album. One final collection. And the damn thing isn't even recorded yet. Maybe we'll just steal it too. I must tell you that our correspondence will not continue much longer. I'm going to make a clean break - you'll know when the moment hits. You'll know exactly what I mean too.
First, I must convince the world that I am nothing special or intelligent, nor was Velvet Cacoon. If there was discussion about us before, I can only imagine what is about to come.
Feel free to spread this letter."
From august 19th 2006, the official Velvet Cacoon website displayed the following message:
"I'd venture to say that in terms of what a band can do to create chaos, the antics we've pulled rank high up there. Everyone is uneasy now; the sources we thieved, the label we work with, our fans - the entire situation has everyone on edge.
So lets cut the mustard, through the custard to the ripe truth. Many question why it is we do what we do. Why make music that people enjoy only to tarnish our reputation by lying about things? There has to be a reason. Right?
No. There is no reason. No rhyme, no reason. There is no point to any of it. If you're looking for a plot line, a climax, a theme, a reason, you won't find it. We are random and without cause. Up is down, left is right. Drugs are good and drugs are bad, and the only thing we stand for is this: everything is pointless. You don't matter, this doesn't matter. Stop thinking. For once, just stop. Just enjoy the moment. It's better this way.
We're random people who think the world and life/humans are amazing. We're laughing in our amazement of everything, and in very brief moments (and I'm talking MICROSCOPIC whisps of time) when we stop laughing for a moment and sober up, we create music that is symbolic of life in its entirety. Absurd, pointless, and mesmerizing.
That's what "Genevieve" is. It's what "PaoPP.33" is. Perhaps the only two records in the world made where everything from the outside world is voided out.
Are we crazy? Bi-polar? MPD? Does it even matter? The entire world is crazy. "Normal" is an illusion. The only thought that is really constant in my mind is that I love absolutely everything about life. Relax, we know everything now. It's over.
I'm going to sleep. Interesting correspondence goes here -> email@example.com".
Notice the difference in literary quality between Velvet Cacoons texts on the one hand and those of 'My Violent Ego' and 'Kourova' on the other?
From august 30th onwards, the aforementioned text too was removed from the Velvet Cacoon website: their was only a front page left, bearing the legend: "Amelioration".
A few weeks later, the frontpage was removed also. Now, the official Velvet Cacoon home page is only a sponsored link page. Perhaps the trick had backfired on the trickster. Is this the end of Velvet Cacoon?
I for one am still somewhat sceptical about the accusations of plagiarism. Is it the 'Cry Wolf' effect (another trickster legend, that)?
Kourova might well be a member, friend or associate of Velvet Cacoon: the title of her cd, "Shipwrecks & Russian Roulette", sounds much like the title of a Velvet Cacoon song or cd - shipwrecks pointing towards Velvet Cacoon's watery themes, Russian Roulette to their dark, black metal side. Also, Kourova is said to be an artist from Portland, Oregon, USA - the very home town of Velvet Cacoon. Could that really be a coincidence? Wouldn't it be a little farfetched to suppose that of all the bands in the world, Velvet Cacoon would plagiarize a band from their own home town? The 16sparrows website sells greeting cards for quirky, sarcastic folks and contains 'Fashion Tips for a Zombie Infested World'. Doesn't that sound just a little bit like the type of quirky, sarcastic, artistic folks who might aid Velvet Cacoon play pranks on hapless black metal fans?
On the other hand, I haven't been able to find the least clue connecting 'My Violent Ego' to 'Velvet Cacoon' . So maybe my paranoid scepticism has been misplaced and Velvet Cacoon have indeed plagiarized those bands.
Perhaps the most sober response was from Velvet Cacoons record label boss, Full Moon Productions Jon "Thorns" Jamshid: "Nothing was released by VC w/her material on it - maybe a couple of pix and an MP3 on their MYSPACE site - thats about it. Talk about being gullible - now there is more and more debate and "conversation" on the subject. Everyone seems to fall into Josh's web willingly".
In any case, Velvet Cacoon seem to have underestimated the potential backfire of their actions and have perhaps been as stupid as a trickster can be: "...isolated, amoral and unselfconscious, clumsy, ineffectual, an animal-like buffoon..." (Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger).
Miguel de Cervantes: I'm a poet.
The Duke: They're putting people in prison for that?
Miguel de Cervantes: No, no, no, not for that.
The Duke: Too bad.
Recently, there have been new signs of life from the Oregon pranksters. Southern Lord have announced the release of vinyl editions of 'Northsuite' and 'Genevieve'. Velvet Cacoons Myspace pages have reopened and their page on the Full Moon Productions website has been renewed, promising the release of "P aa opal Poere Pr. 33" this year.
Velvet Cacoons message to the world?
"All of our maps are lost in the wind, luxurious wordplay back in hand, laced to the nines in immaculate decadence, the late Oregon fold, life on a grey seacoast, snowsailing into the deep December lavender of a heartbeat's cadence, drinking grenache, over and over, grenache grenache grenache, spiced lacquer coating in the fade of dusk, passages from "A Rebours", manic laughter at old art and new vignettes, music of the sea, stars, drugs, dreams, soft nothingness treasured, and after much delay we have finally started recording the new album.
What is there to say? The rain out here is endless, grey waves all day, black waves all night, sheets of freezing rain are almost piercing, very influential on this whole process. This feels incredible".