Saturday, February 16, 2008

Spektr - Mescalyne

In 1963, author and poet Henri Michaux participated in the making of a documentary film on mescaline, "Images du monde visionnaire":

The film was produced by Laboratoires Sandoz, the company for which dr. Albert Hofmann worked when he discovered LSD by accident in 1938, and it was directed by Eric Duvivier. The film's intended audience was the medical profession. In an essay on that film ('Tempo de l'infini turbulence'), artist Jean-Jacques Lebel writes that Duvivier had never taken mescaline himself. Michaux felt the film did not adequately reflect the psychedelic experience, and created a spoken word introduction to the film which subtly undermines it.

Here, I translate part of that introduction.

"When it was proposed to make a film about mescaline hallucinations, I have declared, I have repeated and I repeat it again, that that is to attempt the impossible.
Even in a superior film, made with substantial means, with all one needs for an exceptional production, I must state beforehand the images will be insufficient. The images would have to be more dazzling, more instable, more subtle, more changeable, more ungraspable, more trembling, more tormenting, more writhing, infinitely more charged, more intensely beautiful, more frighteningly colored, more aggressive, more idiotic, more strange.
With regard to the film's speed, it should be so high that all scenes would have to fit in fifty seconds."

For the title track of their "Mescalyne" ep, French industrialized Black Metal band Spektr have sampled this very text. In using this specific sample, they raise the bar on themselves. Is their music "...more aggressive, more idiotic, more strange..." or is it "insufficient"?

In his writings on drugs Michaux writes that 'interruptions of consciousness' are characteristic of the mescaline experience. Such interruptions are echoed in the musical structure of Spektr's ep: Industrial Ambient and highly charged, aggressive and tormenting Black Metal alternate abruptly, as in the abrupt switching on and off of consciousness, as in sudden neuronic polarizations of depolarizations. The timing and dynamic of these alternations is irregular, prompting some reviewers to complain about a lack of composition. I do not agree: I believe the irregularities are intentional. I believe these irregularities purposefully mimic Michaux's description of the mescaline experience - or the mescaline experience itself.

Mescalyne is not "...more frighteningly colored...". Rather, it is a stark black and white, like their previous album "Near Death Experience". I had hoped that Mescalyne would continue down the path struck out by "Near Death Experience", which refers to musical idioms beyond Black Metal's narrow boundaries. I had hoped that - where "Near Death Experience" already incorporated funky, jazz-inflected drumming - Mescalyne would turn into a full-blown rhizomatic Black Metal, with Ambient, World Music, Jazz and Dubstep, mixed together with street noises, radio static and the sound of war into a blackened and surreal sound collage. It was not to be: Mescalyne is a little (though not much) more conventional than "Near Death Experience".

That is not to say that Mescalyne is "insufficient" - far from it! Spektr is a Sielwolf for the naughties and Mescalyne is "intensely beautiful". I especially love it's Ambient: it sounds as if Montague Rhodes James's chosen medium was music instead of story, and as if he had personally lived through the horrors of the 20th century instead of the gen
teel and sheltered world of 19th century King's College, Cambridge. "Malevolence and terror, the glare of evil faces, 'the stony grin of unearthly malice', pursuing forms in darkness, and 'long-drawn, distant screams', are all in place...". Recommended!

Post scriptum

Here is a post on the ever-excellent Ombres Blanches blog about "Images d'un monde visionnaire".

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