Sunday, February 15, 2009

Black Metal Sound Poetry



Vermyapre Zuerkle Uatre
Kloarbe Vurtrue Zuerkle Goebtre
Aaprab Vergz Varbadre
Berv Tre Mve
Eakre Uatre Zurgtapre
Uatr Borvuatre Zuerkle Droer

These words are not the work of a forgotten Dadaist or Futurist of the interwar period - they are the song titles of French Black Metal band Brenoritvrezorkre's 1995 demo Ervoelbtre.

Brenoritvrezorkre was only one of many impossibly named French Black metal bands of the mid-nineteennineties: others are Dzlvarv, Dvnaèbkre, Moëvöt, Vzaéurvbtre, Vrepyambhre, Vagézaryavtre, Mveprebrartre, Eëtheryarkluatre, Mavbtreëh and Norzbgorobtre, to name a few. They were part of a shadowy group of bands collectively known as 'Les Légions Noires' ('The Black Legions').

These strange band names and song titles can be said to form part of a long underground tradition, that of the carnivalization of speech. As I've written before, Black Metal is a carnival genre, a genre of destruction and uncrowning. In Black Metal, 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). The strange song titles and band names of 'Les Légions Noires' can be appreciated as carnival language. In his classic 1965 study Rabelais and his world, Russian philosopher and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin writes:

"One of the popular forms of comic speech was the so-called coq-à-l'âne, "from rooster to ass." This is a genre of intentionally absurd verbal combinations, a form of completely liberated speech that ignores all norms, even those of elementary logic. The forms of verbal absurdities were widespread during the Middle Ages. (...) In a period of the radical breaking-up of the world's hierarchical picture and the building of a new concept, leading to a revision of all old words, objects, and ideas, the coq-à-l'âne acquired an essential meaning: it was a form which granted momentary liberation from all logical links - a form of free recreation. It was, so to speak, the carnivalization of speech, which freed it from the gloomy seriousness of official philosophy as well as from truisms and commonplace ideas."

Genealogically, one can link the Medieval coq-à-l'âne to the Renaissance works of Rabelais, to Paul Scheerbart, Christian Morgenstern, Lewis Carroll, Pétrus Borel, Molière, Quirinus Kuhlmann, the Russian and Italian Futurists, and the Dadaists - and from there to 'Les Légions Noires'. Black Metal has the most unexpected antecedents.

Nevertheless, it must be said that Bakhtin's reading of the coq-à-l'âne is rather more optimistic and emancipatory than the rather macabre, terrifying tone of the Black Metal of 'Les Légions Noires'. In spirit, the carnival speech of these French Black Metal bands is closer to the tragic modernist grotesque than to the comic Rabelaisian grotesque.


If one focuses on the acoustic sensation produced on the ear by the strange combinations of vowels and consonants of these band names and song titles, one senses that they have an insidiously powerful feeling-tone. The acoustic sensation suggests the darkness of Transsylvanian tombs. The band names sacrifice logopoeia (meaning) to phonopoeia (sound value); they are a rot of referentiality in the stinking soil of sound. But even among these pseudo-primitive sounds, one finds words which suggest French originals: 'Vermyapre' clearly sounds like 'Vampyre'. It is these words which give a tension to the band names and song titles which is absent from 'pure' sound poetry.

The names and titles have not transcended meaning, they have transgressed it, and inhabit the border zone between language and that which is beyond language.

Post scriptum

This Les Légions Noires Journal on Last FM states: "What is the language they use? The language is called Gloatre and was entirely created by Vordb. Know that Gloatre does NOT contain umlauts, the word Moëvöt is not Gloatre since the project existed before Les Légions Noires. We suppose that Gloatre is based on French language and the aesthetic of the letters, hence you can’t really translate it. The easiest word might be Vérmyapre which means vampire. Vérmyaprèb is plural." Note that I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this statement.

Surprisingly, Jahsonic hasn't posted yet about Mikhail Bakhtin's Rabelais and his world (there is a big article on the Art and Popular Culture Wiki, though). Jan, Bakhtin's birthday is November 17th, so perhaps you should aim for the day of his death, which is a lot closer: March 7th.


Anonymous said...

I first put Rabelais and His World on my blog in April of 2004. Thanks for bringing up Quirinus Kuhlmann, I was unaware of him. Thanks also for mentioning my wiki, it means a lot to me.

I usually only do birthday celebration for decades, this year years ending in a 9.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

The carnival foundation goes very deep. And I would also want to include "rough music," charivari and so forth in this lineage. Ergo black metal as *shaming*, of everything!

Here are some sentences from by Salzburg paper that relate to what you are saying about words: "Wrestling with and against its own indication, in love with the sign as its fiercest enemy, metallic deixis is a noisy semiotic struggle to make itself what it points to. Before all signification or making of points, before all themes and purposes, metal indicates via the negativity of the unknown sign that it is indicating, that it is happening as indication. Indeed, metal utilizes significative forms (music, words) and digests whole discourses expressly for this purpose, neither to express nor not to express things with them, but to make and indicate the making of the sonic fact of their expression into a significance preceding and exceeding all they could express. From this perspective, metal’s conceptual commitment to negative themes (death, apocalypse, void, etc.) is an absolute aesthetic necessity, ensuring that insofar as metal does signify beyond itself, that this beyond only expose metal’s own inexplicability as significative event."

recommendation: Teutoburg Forest



valter said...

Thanks Jan! Strange, I searched for Bakhtin on the blog and the 2004 post didn't come up. A search for Rabelais didn't turn up the post either. As I absolutely love yr wiki, I've decided to put a link up in the blog roll (under 'Doctrine', I hope you don't mind, I doubted about 'Variety')

Thanks Nicola for your comment. I'm in agreement with the gist of your comments, but have doubts with regards some of the details.

- You lay a lot of emphasis on the 'preceding' and the 'before'. This gives me an uneasy feeling, because it could be mistaken to mean that you refer to some kind of foundation which precedes and grounds what comes after. Isn't 'exceed' enough in itself - if one takes 'exceed' not only to mean space, but time as well? Of course, I'm not much of a philosopher but I'd be interested in your thoughts on this point.

- The use of the word 'negative' in 'negative themes' also worries me. I'f your serious about the 'preceeding', then (from a dialectic pov) the 'negative' is actually the 'positive' (ie the thesis not the antithesis'). From a nondialectical pov one should perhaps prefer something like 'themes of black excess' or 'themes at the boundary'. I admit using these words is kind of unwieldy.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

About the meaning of precede, exceed, and negative that passage, I am not trying to assert that there is some stable foundation that metal exists in relation to, either by assent or negation. Rather I am saying that metal exists as refusal of all foundations that could locate it somewhere, that it produces *itself* as "preceding", "exceeding" and "negating" all outside or foundation in the same way that God Is Dead means that there is nothing *there* in the place where God was/was thought to be. So just as God Is Dead is not really a statement *about* God (it logically can't be), so metal as I am understanding it here is not fundamentally *about* its so-called negative themes. Though it does have 'things to say' about the themes it speaks of, it has them essentially in its reach towards the no-man's land where one is neither expressing nor not expressing. In terms of the foundation issue, this means that metal aims towards refusal of external foundation, producing itself as its only foundation, and negating (usually through its own generic categories) its own procedures of negation. Or something like that! This last bit, like the apophatic 'negation of the negation' would then correspond to those moments in metal interviews where the artist, asked to articulate the deeper meaning/philosophy behind their music and its philosophical/esoteric references, retreats/advances into tautological reductiveness (its just fucking metal) or some absolute emotion or stance (I hate everything, I just do what I like).

Of course in speaking about metal like this I seem to be essentializing it, saying that there IS such a thing as metal that can be defined. But that is not of any consequence. All thought is error and shortcut. Most people most of the time seem to work and think on a vague generic assumption of a mechanistic space-time reality on top of which their 'lives' are posited/built, forgetting completely the weirdness of being's own event. The only foundation I am happy to assume, which of course may be its own kind of silly error, is the fact (single in experience, double in language) that *something is happening* and that *one is.*

Certainly carnival experience and black metal as carnival also get to this kind of facticity, the no-purpose-outside-itself sense of life, which, to be sensed and enjoyed, nevertheless parades about in visible opposition to the conventional order of things and in so doing suffers a *participation* in what it rejects. The 'noblilty' of black metal in this sense is not some elitist satanic spirituality, some belonging to another order. It is rather, the wholesale impossibilization of embarrassment, the perfect honesty of eternal disguise.

Thanks for your response, which is enjoyable to respond to.

valter said...

Without the social, political and religious order prevalent in late-eighties Norway, there wouldn't have been Black Metal. I'm not saying that this order was the foundation for Black Metal; but is certainly was an important point of departure. Indeed, many Black Metal musicians seem to connect to Norway's conventions. I don't think Black Metal was sullied by being created in Norway.

Thus, I'm not sure Black metal as carnival can be said to suffer a *participation* in what it rejects; what's more, perhaps what is rejected by Black Metal is 'ennobled' by serving as something to be rejected (the conventional order of things as some kind of necessary decoration for carnival; as some kind of altar server to Black Metal). The whole Black Metal episode can be said to have added a measure of prestige to Fantoft Stavkirken. Certainly, it has drawn more tourists to the church!

Whatever the case may be, I have always felt the 'Black Metal Elitism' to be utter tripe. Even if one would grant that the concept of 'elective community' still has some viability, a Black Metal community that aspires to be an Elite will end in dreariness. Furthermore, for such 'Elitist' communities violence only exists as something to be projected outwards - as something functional, as something instrumental, as something to strengthen boundaries instead of moving towards their transgression. This way, a new homogeneous order is built on 'neutralized' heterogeneous matter.

I'm well aware that this means that a big part of Black Metal culture is 'not for me'. Furthermore, it means I don't agree with Caillois' vision of 'Elitism'.

In Black Metal, I smell the scent the impossible gives off. That's why I'm drawn to it, and not because of the promise of some violent, Bourdieu-like distinction.

Anonymous said...

I should explain. Before the wiki there was I "blogged" there in a plain text format from 2001 until 2006. remains one of my most popular platforms but it grew too unwieldy to maintain. I ran it from 1996 until 2006 and it was my research period which I am now consolidating. Rabelais is of course canonical on my wiki. The canon now features 174 individual formative to my thought.

Anonymous said...

On the new SUNN O))) record "Monoliths & Dimensions" there is a song titled "Big Church [megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért]"... Perhaps a nod to LLN?? Stephen O'Malley has posted LLN bands for download on his Ideologic website before...

Nicola Masciandaro said...

I really like black metal as "scent of the impossible," which also seems a good description of the aromatic sense of carnivalized speech as the impossibility of meaning (though in the black metal permutation of the Land of Cockayne it is not fragrant perfectly roasted geese that fly on to your fork but something more foul and inedible).

And I would also hold out that black metal's impossible outdeepens whatever historicist account is necessary to understand it here and now, that its impossibility is possible not only in late-eighties whereever, and that there are very likely multiple other planets and worlds where something (un)nameable as black metal exists--at minimum for the sake of rendering intellectually unsafe anything like a 'secure location' from which black metal might be understood, for keeping close to its contestation with existence.

"The difficulty--that contestation must be done in the name of an authority-- is resolved thus: I contest in the name of contestation what experience itself is (the will to proceed to the end of the possible). Experience, its authority, its method, do not distinguish themselves from the contestation" (Bataille).

magick mike said...

thank you for these posts-- it seems we have gotten into LLN at the same time and your explorations are certainly helping my thought. i haven't been quite this excited about a musical "circle" for a long time.

valter said...

Mike, it's good to hear from you again! Your 'Esotica' blog is still surely missed - is there any chance you'll resume posting?