Friday, March 30, 2007

Coffin Joe

In my previous post, I namechecked José Mojica Marins aka Zé do Caixão aka Coffin Joe. For either the benefit or the corruption (depending on your point of view) of my readership, here is some information on this eccentric artiste.

José Mojica Marins is the Brazilian director and lead actor of a series of low-budget horror films centering around a boogeyman figure called 'Zé do Caixão', which translates as "Joseph of the Grave'. Zé is better known in the anglophone world as 'Coffin Joe'. Zé is a folkloric, almost mythical figure, a cultural symbol rather than a realistic 'character': always dressed in black, with a long black cape, a black top hat, a black beard, piercing eyes and impractically, ridiculously long fingernails.

From the early 1960's on, Marins produced tens of films about the 'Zé do Caixão' character. All films explicitly portray truly Sadean scenes of torture, filmed with such a psychopathological sense of delirium that the films can be regarded as outsider art. From the 'Aurum Film Encyclopedia - Horror' : "... the shoestring production exudes a genuine sense of madness, both in it's imaginings and the treatment of it's participants, with the eccentric, seemingly out-of-control staging veering from the pathological to the surreal".

Like all cultural symbols, Zé do Caixão is multivocal: he is Sadean, anti-religious and blasphemic as well as carnivalesque and fundamentally catholic, he is evil as well as just, he is cruel yet loves children. This multivocality is also evident in his film style, which combines influences of Westerns, serials, fumetti-style comics and melodramatic lovestories as well as horror films (especially the classic Universal monster movies). It is these internal contradictions which make the Coffin Joe films a highly intriguing series.

As the anthropologist Victor Turner wrote in "Dramas, Fields And Metaphors. Symbolic Action In Human Society" cultural symbols such as Zé do Caixão must be regarded as originating in and sustaining processes of temporal change, not as timeless entities. When the Zé do Caixão films were made, Brazil was a military dictatorship, and thousands of Brazilians were deported, imprisoned, tortured, or murdered, while official censorship led many artists into exile. It was a time of deep political crisis, in which the State was at least as cruel and vindictive as the Coffin Joe, but far more hypocritical. It is against this backdrop that the Zé do Caixão films must be understood.

Here is a link to his offical web site.
Here is a link to his IMDB page.
Here is a link to his Wikipedia page.
Here is a link to an interview with Marins originally published in Psychotronic magazine.
Here is a link to an interview with Marins in Filmmaker Magazine.

"First the hunt, then the revels!"

Hunted out some books today, mostly secondhand:
  • Henri Michaux "La Nuit Remue";
  • Joris-Karl Huysmans "Marthe";
  • Rainer Maria Rilke "Wladimir, der Wolkenmaler";
  • Michael Taussig "Walter Benjamin's Grave";
  • Georges Bataille "La College De Sociologie".

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Furze - Necromanzee Cogent


Where to begin when describing Furze and that band's album "Necromanzee Cogent"?

With Furze's music or with Furze's texts, such as his lyrics, which combine glossolalia and psychotic poetry, and his confusing interviews (here and here and here)?

And how to describe Furze's work?

With an exposé on Furze as 'outsider art', as music and texts and artwork which seem to be the product of an insane asylum inmate (the sing-song mumbling with which the album Necromanzee Cogent opens, instantly casts doubt on the artist's sanity)? Or with a sober analysis of his musical and literary strategems, downplaying Furze's oddness on the level of content in favor of the formal aspects? Or on his technical abilities as a musician, on determining whether his apparently clumsy playing isn't in fact the product of brilliant skillfulness (Furze describes it as 'complex primitivism'), on his "Satriani factor"?

No. I will begin with laughter.

From giggling to to full blown evil laughing (mwahaha, muhuhahaha), laughter has a prominent place in the music on Furze's album Necromanzee Cogent. The quasi-hysterical sped-up voices, the snippets of radio, the atonal organ melodies worthy of José Mojica Marins' extremely strange, surreally sadistic yet humorous horror films, and the slightly offbeat to outlandishly bizarre vocals shed a strangely comical psychotronic light over the Black and Doom Metal proceedings. The photograph of two children in a trick-or-treat Halloween costumes on the back of the Necromanzee Cogent album points towards a spooky but joyous playfulness, not towards the rather dour 'grimness' so often associated with Black Metal bands. The nom de plume of the artist behind Furze, "Woe J. Reaper" doesn't appear to be too serious either.

In as sense, Furze can be said to encompass the dichotomous types of the grotesque Bakhtin describes in "Rabelais And His World": both the Renaissance, Rabelaisian grotesque and Romantic grotesque.

The latter is described by Bakhtin as cold, ironic, sarcastic. "Laughter combined with bitterness which takes the (Romantic) grotesque form acquires traits of mockery and cynicism, and finally becomes satanic". The Romantic grotesque is "...something hostile, alien and inhuman...". Certainly, there is a evil, cold, gloomy, satanic aspect to the Furze grotesque. This is Black Metal, after all.

But there is also something of the Renaissance grotesque in the Furze esthetic. The Renaissance grotesque is playful, festive, carnivalesque, life-affirming, a funny monstrosity. Woe J. Reaper appears to be some kind of Ghoulardi figure, both frightening and irreverently humourous. "All that was frightning in ordinary life is turned into amusing or ridiculous monstrosities", dixit Wolfgang Kayser, quoted with approval by Bakhtin. Bakhtin himself: "In the grotesque world the id is uncrowned and tranformed into a 'funny monster' ". Now that is certainly true of Furze! It is exactly this aspect of the Rabelaisian grotesque which is represented by the photograph of the trick-or-treating children on Necromanzee Cogent's album. And the narrow-mindedness and stupid seriousness which is for Bakhtin the hallmark of the Romantic grotesque seems to be far off when one listens to Furze.

Thus, the madcap Furze marries both forms of grotesque; and Necromanzee Cogent is a Black Metal album that is not only highly recommended for it's very inventive Black Metal music, but that is also an interesting footnote in the history of 21st century laughter.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Headhunter Corpse Paint

Check out this utterly beautiful photoset by Eric Lafforgue, of the Mount Hagen Festival on Papua New Guinea.

The Festival is one of the most important occasions for ceremonial display for the culturally extremely diverse population of the island. There are more than 700 (!) language groups on the Melanesian island, each having it's own distinct cultural identity, beliefs, art forms. Many of these groups practiced head-hunting in the past, keeping the skull of a slain enemy as a magical trophy and as a proof of a warrior's prowess.


"Unter friedlichen Umständen fällt der kriegerische Mensch über sich selber her," Nietzsche wrote in Jenseits Guten Und Bösen: "In peacetime, a warlike man maltreats himself".

Black Metal points towards Nietzsche's aphorism: it is a Metal genre in which both war and automutilation are extolled.

With regards to the warlike nature of Black Metal: entire books could be filled in an attempt to catalogue all Black Metal references to war. In fact, a subgenre of Black Metal is called War Metal, which fuels it's aggressivity with a speedball injection of Grindcore and Death Metal. Apparently, a Canadian (such a peaceful country!) band called Blasphemy pioneered the genre.

And automutilation and Black Metal? Again, the references in Black Metal to cutting one's own flesh are too numerous to mention. Mayhem's Dead cut himself. French Black Metal band Antaeus produced an album called "Cut Your Flesh & Worship Satan" which was supposed to be produced with a steel jewel box, containing instead of a booklet only a razor blade. MkM, the band's frontman, is an adept automutilator - a photograph of him accompanies this post.

And if Nietzsche's aphorism is true: does the current vogue for automutilation amongst teenagers imply that an especially warlike generation is growing up? And if we reverse the aphorism, can we assume that those who maltreat themselves in peacetime, are the cruelest ones in war?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Amplifier House

A fascinating post on BLDGBLOG on a house which is built to act as an amplifier for the sound world of the house's environment, a sort of architectural version of Cage's 4'33". Perhaps Brian Eno could call such a place a home...

Nico - Ari

The Nico reissue 'The Frozen Borderline 1968 - 1970' is one of my recent acquisitions, a double cd collecting 1968's album 'The Marble Index' and 1970's 'Desertshore', fleshed out with demos for and outtakes from these albums.

Tinged by psychedelia and informed by folk music, both albums are very much the product their era. The repeating figures and atonal drones of the Indian harmonium Nico plays, point towards inspiration by the NYC minimalists such as Tony Conrad, La Monte Young and Terry Riley - but there's no Vedic enlightenment, there is no euphoria, it's no beautific Dream House. Instead, Nico welcomes the listener to her personal Schloß Alptraum, Nightmare Castle. Both albums are dramatic, terrifying even: one senses the chanteuse is teetering on the brink of the abyss, on the edge of blackest depression and heroin addiction, an abyss she would actually fall into in the next decade. Passing through the prism of NYC's minimalists, the nocturnal unlight of Pandit Pran Nath's Raga Malkauns is refracted into Nico's night of torment.

Nico's heroin addiction should not be romanticized. Heroin is not only highly addictive but also generates a strong tolerance in the user: soon, the drug is used primarily to avoid to prevent the effects of withdrawal, i.e. for future well-being instead of momentary loss of self. Heroin is not a transgressive drug, it is a means to an end and not an end in itself, it produces teleological slavery. Romanticizing heroin addiction is romanticizing economic subservience, romanticizing Nico the junky means romanticizing economic exploitation. Seeing Nico in the next YouTube video is sad, only sad.

Perhaps it is that I am to become a father in a week or four, but the album sparked an interest in Nico's troubled relationship with her only son, Ari. The mother-son-relationship permeats both albums. One of the songs on 'The Marble Index' is called "Ari's Song"; a song on 'Desertshore' is called "My Only Child" and in fact an eight-year-old Ari sings a rather saccharine song on that album. Other songs too point towards mothers and children: "Janitor of lunacy/Paralyze my infancy/Petrify the empty cradle" are the opening words of Desertshore. The mother-child relationship lends a special and (for such a Gothick album) unusual sense of familial intimacy to these stark albums.

In 1962, Christian Aaron Boulogne - Ari was his nickname - was born from a short-lasted relationship between the chanteuse and French actor Alain Delon, who denied paternity for many years. However loving Nico appears from the songs to have been as a mother, maternal responsibility wasn't her strong suit. She supposedly took LSD while pregnant (can you imagine the unborn child hallucinating in the womb?) and dragged the child with her in her nomadic bohemian lifestyle. His infancy was spent in New York with his mother, in Andy Warhol's Factory, as a mascot for the Velvet Underground. At the age of four he emptied the drinking glasses of Bob Dylan, John Cale and Paul Morrissey, and sucked on amphetamine pills, mistaking them for candy. Ari became Warhol's youngest star when he appeared with his Nico in the film 'The Chelsea Girls' in 1966.

When Alain Delon's mother, Edith Boulogne, saw Ari's photograph in a French newspaper, she was instantly convinced it was her son's child.

Edith Boulogne [Alain Delon's mother]:

"I said to myself, that's my son's child. We went to see her [Nico], her and the baby. The kid was about two years old. He came running into my husband's arms. We were so moved. I saw my own son in him. And I truly believed that my son would accept him... When he heard about it two years after we had taken the baby, he had his agent tell me that I had to choose between the baby and my son. My husband said, 'Your son can feed himself, but Ari can't raise himself.' So we kept him.

Think about it, he was so little. Before we took him, she [Nico] dragged him around everywhere. He ate nothing but french fries, in train stations, hotels, airports. They lived like bohemians. She came to see him once in three years. She brought him something from America. Guess what? An orange. My husband and I looked at each other, speechless. We took the orange and thought, she's really not like other people... but I still liked her. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen".

Delon's mother adopted the child, giving him his last name: 'Boulogne'. At the age of 17, Ari ran off from his adoptive parents, joined Nico and became a heroin addict - turned on to the drug by mother (!). Five years later, on july 8th 1988, Nico fell from her bicycle while on Ibiza on and was brought unconscious to Cannes Nisto Hospital,were she died from a brain hemorrhage. Thereafter, Ari spent his much of his life in and out of detoxication clinics and psychiatric hospitals. In 2001, at the age of 38, living in Paris, he fathers a son and writes a book about his relationship with his mother called "L'Amour N'Oublie Jamais" (Love Never Forgets). Currently, Ari works intermittently as an actor under the name of Ari Päffgen, recently appearing in La Repentie, a movie about a mysterious, black-clad femme fatale.

The Morning After

Reading back yesterday's "Lack of posts"...

1. OK, Metal and me was more than a flirtation, it was an obsession, a pretty bad obsession, comparable only to the one I experienced when discovering Coil's second wave of releases (i.e. the Equinox series and after).

2. Only after confessing to feeling somewhat intimidated by K-Punk and Blissblogs excellent ruminations on Metal, I checked the Technorati thingamajick and discovered that they actually link to my blog! I felt elated, having been an avid Reynolds reader for a long time. And K-Punk actually described my inelegantly written, stumbling, fumbling, wavering line of thought on Xasthur and Hauntology as 'fascinating'!

3. Intersections: Don Cherry, another Pandit Pran Nath disciple, performs Malkauns with jazz instrumentation on his 'Brown Rice' album, of which the title song was used in Kevin (The Bug; Techno Animal; God; Ice) Martin's epochal collector "Jazz Satellites"

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ragas To Play In The Dark

Currently, I am listening a lot to Pandit Pran Nath's "Midnight - Raga Malkauns": truly Musick To Play In The Dark.

It is a double cd of Indian classical music recorded in the United States in 1971 and 1976, the raga chants slowly, carefully, deliberately and sometimes fiercely intoned by Pran Nath himself. He is acccompanied on tablas and tamburas amongst others by minimalists Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Marion Zazeela.

Traditionally, Raga Malkauns is sung late at night: it is a raga for the witching hour. According to The Raga Guide, superstitious musicians describe it as a raga with supernatural powers, and some believe that it can attract evil spirits. In Pran Nath's performance, it certainly has a hypnotic, menacing quality, his vocalizations and the drones that accompany it a dark and consuming fire.

Little wonder Sunn 0)))'s blackened doom guru Stephen O'Malley has repeatedly namechecked Pran Nath on his blog as well as on his myspace page. Listening to Raga Malkauns, a Sunn 0))) vs. Pran Nath sound clash isn't too hard to imagine.

The voice of Pandit Pran Nath seems to work as a Coilean Time Machine, removing the listener from "temporal reality", facilitating time travel. Terry Riley, in a tribute to his musical guru, writes on Pran Nath's uncanny ability to manipulate time: "He was also able to create spaces in time which seemed to go against the laws of time's passing, in that he would get many, many more notes into a phrase than should be allowed to happen in the amount of time allotted to them".

But Pran Nath's music isn't all phantasmagoria: listening to his chants is also hearing a human body intimately, hearing how that very physical body resonates with sound, hearing hair, flesh and bones, hearing breath itself.

Lack of posts

A frantic pace at work due to understaffing, the flue and weekends spent in preparation for the imminent birth of my first child have kept me from posting the last few months ... as well as a feeling that - now the real blogerati have started writing about that axis of evil between Dubstep and Black Metal - I do not have much to add to what is being written and feel slightly intimidated by the quality of Blissblog's and K-Punk's posts on the matter.

Besides, my interest in Black Metal has diminished somewhat, due to buying some much-hyped but disappointing albums (Nachtmystium's "Instinct : Decay" being the very worst of them).

My lessened interest in the genre is probably also due to the discovery of some wonderful mp3-blogs that post late-seventies and early-eighties industrial and experimental c60-cassettes and lp's (find them here, here and here). I am drawn irresistably towards the musical black holes posted by these audioblogs: my collection of Throbbing Gristle albums has jumped from 1 to 9 in the space of a few weeks. I have yet to find a Black Metal track that is as revolting, as sickening as TG's 'Hamburger Lady' or 'Very Friendly'.

On the other hand, both much of TG's recordings and Black Metal share low sound quality, to which I seem to become addicted to, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend. Part of the fascination they exert on me is that of listening to their lo-fi (some of the c60-cassette rips sound as if mushrooms and other unspeakable things are growing on the tape) sound played back on my great-sounding Denon amplifier and my huge Elac speakers - perhaps it is an audiophile's variation on Bataille's notion of 'dépense' (expenditure)...

So perhaps not all hope is lost for my flirtation with Metal. I've recently ordered Sunn 0)))'s "La Mort Noir dans Esch/Alzette" and Wold's "Screech Owl" from Aurora Borealis; and I can't wait for KTL2.