Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Cathedral That Is Red

This looks extremely interesting:

"Defying the Atlantic with Broadband connections, The Red Cathedral was formed by members of Krieg, Njiqahdda, Wraiths and Caïna in late 2008 to make evil hellnoise - music to follow shortly."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

iTunes list 2008

These are the albums which my iTunes indicates have been added in 2008 and have been played most often, in descending order:

1) Hototogisu - Some Blood Will Stick
2) Aluk Todolo - Descension
3) Various Artists - Basic Replay
4) Leviathan - Massive Conspiracy Against All Life
5) Hototogisu - Green
6) Ofermod - Mysterion Tes Anomias
7) Skullflower - Desire For A Holy War
8) Ghäst / Yoga - Split
9) The Bug - London Zoo
10) Krieg - The Black House

The chosen criterion means that albums which have been released before 2008 also appear on the list. I've reviewed all of these albums on this blog, except the Krieg album and the Basic Replay album.

Obviously, albums added late this year are somewhat at a disadvantage.

Furthermore, it should be taken into account that I use the iPod mainly for commuting - Ambient is unlikely to be played frequently as the noise of the trains would spoil it. This means that excellent albums such as Kevin Drumm's Imperial Distortion, Expo '70's Black Ohms, Fennesz' The Black Sea and Aethenor's Betimes Black Cloudmasses do not appear in the list.

Furthermore, genres such as Dubstep and Dancehall are underrepresented: the missus doesn't like Black Metal and Noise, so I tend to play the former genres relatively more often over the stereo and less on the iPod. This means that albums such as Benga's Diary of an Afro Warrior, Skull Disco's Soundboy's Gravestone Gets Desecrated By Vandals, as well as the compilations Dancehall. The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture, An England Story. The Culture of the MC in the UK 1984-2008, Wackies Sampler V0lumes 1, 2 and 3, and King Jammy's Selector's Choice Volume 1 are absent.

Anticipated albums for 2009 are Velvet Cacoon's Atropine, Aethenor's Faking Gold & Murder (featuring David Tibet), Khanate's Clean Hands Go Foul, Sunn 0)))'s Dimensions, Lurker of Chalice's Perverse Calculus (does anybody know something about its status?), Deathspell Omega's Chaining the Katechon, as well as Xasthur's new album. A compilation announced by Tumult has piqued my interest also: Unblack and Blessed.

Now that I'm at it, these are the albums which I've played most often since I bought my iBook in 2005 (in alphabetical order):

1) Abruptum – Evil Genius
2) Can – Future Days
3) Haemoth – Kontamination
4) Hototogisu – Spooked Summer
5) Leviathan – Tentacles of Whorror
6) Mirag – Black Temple Carved In Smoke
7) Skullflower – IIIrd Gatekeeper
8) Skullflower – Orange Canyon Mind
9) Velvet Cacoon – Genevieve
10) Xasthur/Leviathan - Split

As you can see, I'm a sucker for Matthew Bower's work.

Post scriptum

To the list of anticipated albums I should add Svarte Greiner's second full-length album, “Kappe”.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shock Xpress - Vietnam Vets (pt. 3)

In an article in the first Shock Xpress book ('Fighting A Battle That is Finished - The Cinematic Plight Of The Vietnam Vet'), film journalist, co-founder of Headpress and co-author of the books Killing For Culture and See No Evil, David Kerekes examines the portrayal of the Vietnam veteran in exploitation cinema. These are trailers for some of the films discussed in the article.

Forced Entry (Jim Sotos, 1975)

Jacob's Ladder
(Adrian Lyne, 1990)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Aidan Baker and Tim Hecker - Fantasma Parastasie


The cover art of Aidan Baker and Tim Hecker's recent musical collaboration 'Fantasma Parastasie' shows a Phantasmagoria.

A Phantasmagoria was a magic lantern show, invented in France in the late 18th century. In these shows, magic lanterns projected frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens. The projector was mobile, allowing the projected image to move on the screen, and multiple projecting devices allowed for quick switching of different images.

The Phantasmagoria took place on the threshold between science and superstition, between Enlightenment and Romanticism. They employed the technology of Enlightenment, and ostensibly had the purpose of enlightening the audience. Thus Philip Polidor, who first introduced the Phantasmagoria in Paris in 1793 (during the height of the Terror), introduced his spectacle as follows:

"I will not show you ghosts, because there are no such things; but I will produce before you enactments and images, which are imagined to be ghosts, in the dreams of the imagination or in the falsehoods of charlatans. I am neither priest nor magician. I do not wish to deceive you; but I will astonish you." (sourced from this extremely interesting essay)
Phantasmagoria can be called "... an art of total illusion that also contained its own critique." (ibid). But even if Phantasmagoria were justified with appeals to rationalism, the subject matter was inspired by Gothic novels, which were very popular at the time. Étienne-Gaspard Robert, a professor of physics and the most famous creator of Phantasmagoria, created a full-fledged Gothic decor for his his first performance at the Pavillon de L’Echiquier in 1798:

The members of the public having been ushered into the most lugubrious of rooms, at the moment the spectacle is to begin, the lights are suddenly extinguished and one is plunged for an hour and a half into frightful and profound darkness; it’s the nature of the thing; one should not be able to make anything out in the imaginary region of the dead. In an instant, two turnings of a key lock the door: nothing could be more natural than one should be deprived of one’s liberty while seated in the tomb, or in the hereafter of Acheron, among shadows.” (sourced here)

Phantasmagoria were at once a product of the scientific rationalization of nature, and an aesthetic revolt against this rationalization. They were a liminal phenomenon: ambiguous, open, and indeterminate performances of light and darkness on the doorstep between Enlightenment and Romanticism, between the future as technological Telos and the future as Doom.


'Fantasma Parastasie' is a shortish (34 minutes) album which documents a collaboration between two Canadian musicians.

The first of these is Tim Hecker, who creates Minimal Techno under the Jetone monicker and glitchy Ambient under his own name. As Jetone, his work is obsessively precise; under his own name, his music has a drifting, billowing, blissed-out quality. In both cases, Hecker's music flaunts its technological, digital, inorganic character.

The second is Aidan Baker, a writer, poet and immensely prolific musician, who is best known for his Doom Metal under the Nadja moniker. Doom Metal is a genre which can be said to be one of the musical inheritors of the legacy of the Gothic novel: drug abuse, cemeteries, melancholia, superstition, Satanism, occultism, pessimism and amor fati are among the themes shared by Doom Metal and the Gothic novel.

So is the Phantasmagoria depicted on the cover art of 'Fantasma Parastasie' an apt metaphor for the album? Is 'Fantasma Parastasie' a Doom Metal album that is also a technological, rationalistic critique of Doom Metal? Does it present music which is an assemblage of technological know-how and of what we fear we might want to believe? Is it an album in which Doom Metal seduces glitchy Ambient to forget - even if only for a moment - its optimistic technological constructions and believe in Doom Metal's sombre pandemonium?


That is because Tim Hecker's Electronica and Aidan Baker's Doom Metal have been integrated rather too well, or rather: because Hecker's Electronica has canceled the Doom Metal content. Where in the Phantasmagoria the technological origin of the illusion was obfuscated, here Electronica's technology has elucidated Doom Metal's malevolent spirits out of existence. In fact, Hecker's music has swallowed up Doom Metal so completely that the two genres cannot attract and repulse each other anymore, they cannot intermingle, alternate, amalgamate, penetrate, receive, expand, converge, diverge, sympathize or antagonize any more. As a result, all ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy has dried up.


The term "fantasma" comes from the Greek phantasia (appearance, imagination), and was taken up in a more technical sense in psycho-analytic theory. Freud took phantasms to be disguises for infantile auto-erotic activity or for the memory of a traumatic event. In his analysis of the structure and function of phantasms, Freud gave particular importance "to the role of hearing: for the noise that impinges on the phantasm may not just be brute sound, but also might be the ‘familial noise’ (bruit familial) which carries the histories or legends or traditions of parents, grandparents and, indeed, the whole tribe. The noise, then, is both interruptive and interpellative and it is a critical component of the phantasm. ‘Phantasms are produced by an unconscious combination of things lived and things heard.’" (sourced here).

Parastasie or Parastasis is a medical term, which refers to a phenomenon familiar to those who watch the medical television drama House. It is a reciprocal relationship among causal mechanisms that can compensate for, or mask defects in, each other; for instance, a syndrome in which a hyperactive organ masks the deficiency of another organ.

Both the fantasma and parastasie are feverish cover-ups, disguises overripe with tension, maskings ready to burst.

Not so Tim Hecker and Aidan Baker's album: too consolidated, too consistent, 'Fantasma Parastasie' lacks grit and is ... polite.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Shock Xpress - Vietnam Vets (pt. 2)

In an article in the first Shock Xpress book ('Fighting A Battle That is Finished - The Cinematic Plight Of The Vietnam Vet'), film journalist, co-founder of Headpress and co-author of the books Killing For Culture and See No Evil, David Kerekes examines the portrayal of the Vietnam veteran in exploitation cinema. These are trailers for some of the films discussed in the article.

Apocalypse Domani (Antonio Margheriti, 1980)

The Exterminator
(James Glickenhaus, 1980)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From 'Illusory Confections'

I found this terrible, terrible and beautiful photograph over at the excellent 'Illusory Confections' blog (here).

And here is a link to the IMDB page of the film advertised in the background, the 1943 'Reise in die Vergangenheit' ('Journey into the Past'), directed by Hans Zerlett.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

W.B. Seabrook - The Magic Island

At a second-hand bookstore - for a mere € 15 - I found a beautiful hardcover edition of W.B. Seabrook's 1929 book 'The Magic Island', published by The Literary Guild Of America in 1929, in New York. It is illustrated with (politically very incorrect!) quasi-expressionist drawings by Alexander King, and with photographs by the author. Some of these are reproduced below (click to enlarge).

Seabrook was an exceptional figure: he was a Great War veteran, a journalist and a traveller, a friend to both the Surrealists and to the notorious sorcerer Aleister Crowley, an alcoholic and a sadist. He had supposedly eaten human flesh ("like good, fully developed veal"). The Surrealist photographer Man Ray was inspired by Seabrook's sadist practices to create pornographic photographs such as "The Fantasies of Mr. Seabrook", "Lee Miller and William Seabrook" and "Homage to D. A. F. Sade", all with Lee Miller as a protagonist. In 1933 Seabrook was voluntarily committed in order to cure his alcoholism, and he documented the experience in his 1935 book "Asylum". Despite the treatment, Seabrook remained an alcoholic. He committed suicide by a drug overdose on September 20, 1945.

The illustrator, Alexander King, was a rake also, described "as a thief, morphine addict, failing playwright and painter, a man of iconoclastic observations and caustic humor who began his career as a painter of human figures, focused primarily on the face. Then he became an art thief, stealing fifty prints from the Metropolitan Museum." King, who claimed to have been married five times, published anecdotes on his life in a series of humorous books, such as May This House Be Safe from Tigers, Mine Enemy Grows Older, I Should Have Kissed Her More, and Is There Life After Birth. King was a frequent guest on on TV talkshows from roughly the mid-1950s until his death in 1965.

Georges Bataille's Surrealist journal Documents published an appreciative article on Seabrook's 'The Magic Island', written by Michel Leiris and Bataille himself. Even if Seabrook's reputation amongst anthropologists is quite bad (his account of Voodoo is often regarded as crypto-racist), Leiris credited Seabrook with being a "conscientious observer and the first man of the white race initiated into the mysteries of voodoo" and praised him for his "humane attitude" toward his subject. Bataille was especially appreciative of the final paragraph quoted below - it echoes Bataille's philosophical attempt to harness the forces of a dis-enchanted sacred to revitalize Western society.

From 'The Magic Island':

"And now the literary-traditional white stranger who spied from hiding in the forest, had such a one lurked near by, would have seen all the wildest tales of Voodoo fiction justified: in the red light of torches which made the moon turn pale, leaping, screaming, writhing black bodies, blood-maddened, sex-maddened, god-maddened, drunken, whirled and danced their dark saturnalia, heads thrown weirdly back as if their necks were broken, white teeth and eyeballs gleaming, while couples seizing one another from time to time fled from the circle, as if pursued by furies, into the forest to share and slake their ecstasy.

Thus also my unspying eyes beheld this scene in actuality, but I did not experience the revulsion which literary tradition prescribes. It was savage and abandoned, but it seemed to me magnificent and not devoid of a certain beauty. Something inside myself awoke and responded to it. These, of course, were very individual emotional reactions, perhaps deplorable in a supposedly civilized person. But I believe that the thing itself - their thing, I mean - is rationally defensible. Of what use is any life without its emotional moments or hours of ecstasy? They were reaching collective ecstasy by paths which were not intrinsically peculiar to their jungle ancestors, but which have been followed by many peoples, some highly civilized, from the earliest ages, and will be followed to the end of time or until we all become mechanical, soulless robots. It is not necessary to look backward to the Dionysian orgies, the bacchanalia, the rites of Adonis, or frenzied David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. What, after all, were they doing here in these final scenes, when formal ritual had ended, that was so different from things which occur in our own fashionable and expensive night clubs, except that they were doing it with the sanction of their gods and were doing it more succesfully? Savage rhythm, alcohol, and sex excitement - yet there was an essential difference, for here was a mysterious something superadded. Lasciviousness became lust, which is a cleaner thing, and neurotic excitement became authentic ecstasy, the 'divine frenzy' of the ancients.

There us nothing quite as stupid and pathetic as an orgy that doesn't quite come off. Perhaps there is a deep mystical truth in the saying attributed to a much-misunderstood voice, 'Whatever ye do, do it in my name.' Perhaps if we mixed a little true sacrificial blood in our synthetic cocktails and flavored them prayerfully with holy fire, our night clubs would be more orgiastically succesful and become sacred as temples were in the days of Priapus and Aphrodite."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shock Xpress - Vietnam Vets (pt. 1)

In an article in the first Shock Xpress book ('Fighting A Battle That is Finished - The Cinematic Plight Of The Vietnam Vet'), film journalist, co-founder of Headpress and co-author of the books Killing For Culture and See No Evil, David Kerekes examines the portrayal of the Vietnam veteran in exploitation cinema. These are trailers for some of the films discussed in the article.

Taxi Driver
(Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Don't Answer The Phone
(Robert Hammer, 1980)

Combat Shock (Buddy Giovinazzo, 1986)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ambient Burzum

Burzum's 1994 album 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss' contained the band's first Ambient track, 'Tomhet'. Though the track was at the time compared to Aphex Twin's classic 1994 album 'Ambient Works Volume II', actually the track was closer to the music of 1970s 'Berlin School' Kraut Rock Electronica (Klaus Schulze, Kluster, Tangerine Dream). After the 1996 album 'Filosofem', which contained a 25-minute Ambient track, Burzum released two albums containing only similar Ambient music: the 1997 album 'Dauði Baldrs' and the 1999 album 'Hliðskjálf'. The two Ambient-only albums were recorded and released after Christian 'Varg' Vikernes (the mastermind behind Burzum) was imprisoned for murdering Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth.

Before he was murdered by Vikernes, Aarseth functioned as something of a mentor for his assassin-to-be. Aarseth was not only a founding member of the legendary Black Metal band 'Mayhem', but he was also an aficionado of Berlin School Electronica. Aarseth sought out Conrad Schnitzler when visiting Berlin, camped outside the German musician's home, and persuaded him to contribute a track to his band Mayhem's debut album, 'Deathcrush'. In fact, Aarseth felt so honored by Schnitzler's contribution that he made it Deathcrush's opening track. Opening one's debut album with the music of another artist: surely that gesture underlines the immense importance the music of Schnitzler and of the Berlin School had for Aarseth. Surely, it is Aarseth's influence which is responsible for Vikernes creating Ambient in the style of the Berlin School.

Burzum's gradual cross-over from Black Metal to Ambient-only music is said to be due to the fact that Vikernes is not allowed to have the instruments and equipment necessary for Black Metal in his prison cell. Nevertheless, today, bicycling through a wintry forest landscape listening to 'Filosofem', I intuited another reason for Burzum's musical transformation. I sensed Euronymous haunting the album's Ambient track, the 25-minute, pompously titled 'Rundgang Um Die Transzendentale Säule Der Singularität'.

After he was imprisoned, Vikernes could have chosen to remain silent. He did not. Instead, he went on to create music in the style so beloved by his victim, 'Berlin School' Ambient. Did Vikernes become possessed by Aarseth after he murdered him, as Raskolnikov was tormented by the memory of the old pawnbroker and her sister, both of whom he murderded with an axe? Does Euronymous, in a sense, live on in the Ambient music of his murderer?

In any case, to my mind the Ambient tracks present the weakest side of Burzum. This is not only because of my personal distaste for 'Berlin School' Ambient. It has rightly been said that all the great works of literature either establish a genre or wind one down - and the same might well be said of music. Burzum's Black Metal certainly did establish a (sub-)genre, and thus can be said to be a 'major work of music'. The same thing however cannot be said of Burzum's Ambient music. Here, Burzum is a follower rather than a leader. And although many Black Metal bands intersperse their guitar noise with Ambient tracks, the latter tracks tend to be of the Industrial Ambient rather than 'Berlin School' Ambient variety. Brian Williams' Lustmord seems to be a bigger influence than Burzum. Why? The answer is simple: Vikernes' Ambient music is dreary, dreary, dreary - it doesn't quite open up to the cosmic dimensions suggested by the music's titles. Vikernes himself is supposed to have explained his move toward Ambient as a move away from Black Metal, which - as it is a 'late style' of Rock is in fact of Afro-American origin. Indeed, Burzum's Ambient is about as mindnumbing as the ideologies Vikernes converted to in the period he murdered Euronymous.

And yet my intuition points towards another possibility: if it would indeed be true that the fact that Vikernes' abandoning Black Metal for Ambient was the exoteric effect of him being haunted by Euronymous, perhaps the weakness of Burzum's Ambient can be said to be Euronymous' ghostly vengeance upon his murderer. Is Aarseth slowly draining Vikernes?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shock Xpress - Harry Alan Towers (pt. 2)

There's a nice interview with exploitation film producer Harry Alan Towers, conducted by Allan Bryce, in the first Shock Xpress book. These are some films discussed in the interview.

Edge Of Sanity (Gérard Kikoïne, 1989)

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare
(John Hough, 1988)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Skinny Puppy - Last Rights

I've always regarded Canadian Industrial band Skinny Puppy's 1992 album 'Last Rights' as a failure - a bloated album. If the band's 1990 album 'Too Dark Park' already teetered on the edge of the swollen, the 1992 album certainly was overdone. Nivek Ogre's vocals had devolved from anguish into kitsch sentimentality; the music was "... a scribble effacing all lines, a scramble effacing all sounds ..." (Deleuze & Guattari), a "statistical heap" of samples; the album as a whole somehow smacked of puerile Hollywood Gothic.

It was the last Skinny Puppy album I bought. In fact, the album was one of the reasons I abandoned the Industrial aesthetic and crossed over to the nascent IDM scene, a scene which I would abandon for Black and Doom Metal when IDM became too complacent and anodyne. To experience once more something filthy, something guilty! Writing my post on South Korean Black Metal band Pyha's 2008 album 'The Haunted House', made me go back to the Skinny Puppy album.

I must say the sixteen years which have passed since 'Last Rights' was released, have been kind to the album. It is as if time has assembled the scribble, the scramble that I used to hear into a consistency; as if time has simplified, creatively limited, selected the album's overabundance of sounds. The hands of the clock have achieved what the hands of the musicians could not.

By what means has the clock done this?

In 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', Walter Benjamin writes that "Within major historical periods, along with changes in the overall mode of being of the human collective, there are also changes in the manner of its sense perception." Certainly, my manner of sense perception has changed in the last sixteen years.

In part, this change is due to technological advances: the stereo equipment I own is much better than the one I had when the album came out, the acoustic spatiality of my Elac speakers making the disparate elements that constitute the album more clearly discernible. Furthermore, where the production style of 'Last Rights' seemed too rich, in fact downright Hollywoodesque at the time, now - in this age of compression and subsonics and 5.1 surround sound - it sounds quite restrained.

But my manner of sense perception has also been affected by changes in my personal mode of being. The passing years have expanded my musical horizon. Thus, 'Last Rights' has found a place in the procession of musical genres that I have liked. For example, the final track, 'Download', foreshadows the glitch music aesthetic by several years. My appreciation of chaotic music, pomposity and cartoonesque histrionics has grown through listening to Black Metal. And listening to Free Jazz has engendered an interest in (over-)ripe, late-style music in which complexity and chaos go hand in hand. The expansion of my musical repertoire has provided an enriching context for Skinny Puppy's album, and has allowed me when listening to select, capture and extract certain aspects of the album and thereby to effect a certain simplicity. Furthermore, my biographical aging has had an effect on my mode of perception. When I was young, I was more sectarian in my musical tastes than I am now; 'Last Rights' accords better with my current eclecticism than with my former purism. And in all probability, a barely-acknowledged nostalgia to the time when I was twenty-something plays a role also.

Finally, I like it that 'Last Rights' is completely outdated and utterly unfashionable. As noted by Walter Benjamin, the Surrealists had been "...the first to perceive the revolutionary energies that appear in the 'outmoded' - in the first iron constructions, the first factory buildings the earliest photos, objects that have begun to be extinct, grand pianos, the dresses of five years ago, fashionable restaurants when the vogue has begun to ebb from them. The relation of these things to revolution - no one can have a more exact concept of it than these authors. No one before these visionaries and augurs perceived how destitution - not only social but architectonic, the poverty of interiors, enslaved and enslaving objects - can be suddenly transformed into revolutionary nihilism."

'Last Rights': a dress of five years ago, slightly dusty, taken from its cupboard to contemplate for a few brief moments, and then put back.

Post scriptum

Here is the video for 'Killing Game'.

And here a (crappy-looking) live performance of 'Love in Vein'.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shock Xpress - Harry Alan Towers (pt. 1)

There's a nice interview with exploitation film producer Harry Alan Towers, conducted by Allan Bryce, in the first Shock Xpress book. These are some films discussed in the interview.

Der Heiße Tod
(Jesus Franco, 1969)

Circus Of Fear (John Llewellyn Moxey, 1966)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Various Failures

Such a sad list: a top 10 of records I should have bought in 2007 ... but failed to.

1) Birchville Cat Motel - Gunpowder Temple of Heaven
2) Skullflower - Circulus Vitiosus Deus
3) A Guy Called Gerald - Black Secret Technology (2008 Edition)
4) Appleblim - Dubstep Allstars Vol 6
5) Nahvalr - Nahvalr
6) Striborg - The Foreboding Silence
7) 2562 – Aerial
8) Zomby – Where Were U In 92?
9) Chaos Moon - Languor Into Echoes, Beyond
10) Nordvargr - Helvete

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Shock Xpress - Joe Dante (pt. 3)

The first Shock Xpress book contains an interview with film director Joe Dante, conducted by noted critic Kim Newman. Here are some trailers of films mentioned in the interview.

(Joe Dante, 1987)

The 'Burbs
(Joe Dante,1989)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

wargus,vargr - 'Verbrecher' 'Wolf' - eine sprach- und rechtsgeschichtliche Untersuchung - von Michael Jacoby

From Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind's 1998 journalistic study of Norwegian Black Metal, "Lords of Chaos. The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground":

'A fascinating dissertation exists entitled Wargus, Vargr - 'Criminal' 'Wolf': A Linguistic and Legal Historical Investigation by Michael Jacoby, published in Uppsala, Sweden, but written in German. It is a highly detailed, heavily referenced exploration of the Germanic word Warg, or vargr in Norse. The paper begins with a section "The term Warg as a Designation for the Criminal in Ancient Germanic Sources," discussing the connotations for the root word among the various Northern European cultures. It appears in the different language dialects, but always with a negative implication when descriptive of men, conveying the sense of "criminal," "outlaw," "outcast," "thief," "malefactor," "evil being," "the damned one," and indeed, even "Devil."


Jacoby's research continues with an investigation and examination of the most noteworthy crimes which were strongly connected to the word. These are: grave robbery, treason, theft, and manslaughter. A case can be made that Varg Vikernes fulfilled each one of these specific connotations in some respect. Describing the first of the crimes, there is clause in another ancient Germanic legal text, the Salic law, which states: "If anyone shall have dug up or despoiled an already buried corpse, let him be a varg." Vikernes advocacy of, and participation in, grave desecrations certainly qualifies him for this designation. As regards treason, Varg proudly states a desire to see the current government of Norway overthrown, and he identifies with the man whose name has become synonymous with treason in the international vocabulary, Vidkun Quisling. Vikernes has also often been called a "traitor" by others in the Black Metal scene for killing Øystein Aarseth. Vikernes was found guilty of theft - he stole 150 kilos of explosives and had this stored in his apartment at the time of his arrest. The old Germanic laws do not appear to make a distinction between first-degree murder and manslaughter, and refer only to the latter. Vikernes was convicted of mudering Euronymous, although he insists this was only manslaughter, done in self-defense. It is eerie and uncanny that someone would live up to their name so well, even down to the subtleties of its earliest etymological essence. As he result of his actions, he has truly become and "outlaw" and "outcast" in the eyes of society."

I bought Jacoby's dissertation through the internet - it's front cover and the invitation to the dissertation defense are reproduced nearby. Here is a link to a post I wrote earlier, in which I examine Moynihan and Søderlind's hypothesis on the meaning of the word Vargr for the deeds of Varg Vikernes from an anthropological point of view.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Shock Xpress - Joe Dante (pt. 2)

The first Shock Xpress book contains an interview with film director Joe Dante, conducted by noted critic Kim Newman. Here are some trailers of films mentioned in the interview.

Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984)

Gremlins 2: The New Batch
(Joe Dante, 1990)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Yamaguchi Goro - Bell Ringing In The Empty Sky

The title of this reissued 1969 cd of Japanese Shakuhachi flute music, 'A Bell Ringing in the Empty Sky,' is named after a composition that refers to the death of Fuke, the master of the eponymous sect of Zen Buddhism:

"One day at the street market Fuke was begging all and sundry to give him a robe. Everybody offered him one, but he did not want any of them. The master [Rinzai Gigen] made the superior buy a coffin, and when Fuke returned, said to him: "There, I had this robe made for you." Fuke shouldered the coffin, and went back to the street market, calling loudly: "Rinzai had this robe made for me! I am off to the East Gate to enter transformation" (to die). The people of the market crowded after him, eager to look. Fuke said: "No, not today. Tomorrow, I shall go to the South Gate to enter transformation." And so for three days. Nobody believed it any longer. On the fourth day, and now without any spectators, Fuke went alone outside the city walls, and laid himself into the coffin. He asked a traveler who chanced by to nail down the lid. The news spread at once, and the people of the market rushed there. On opening the coffin, they found that the body had vanished, but from high up in the sky they heard the ring of his hand bell."

A beautiful legend: the absurd dislocation of the signifier and the signified (robe and coffin) points towards an absent referent, thus initiating a series of exchanges of absence: the absence of Fuke at the East and South Gates is answered by the absence of spectators outside the city walls, the absence of spectators is reciprocated by the absence of a corpse in the coffin, and the empty coffin is in turn answered by an empty sky. Like the bell in this legend, the music on this cd announces a void - a void that can hit you with the power of an oncoming freight train.

The music on the album is starkly austere; its austerity is what makes for the richness and intensity of the music's effect. This austerity is not the ascesis of those who are working 0n the project of salvation. It is an austerity which kills the desire which binds one to the object, without proposing ascesis as a new object for desire, without subjugating experience to the goal of salvation or deliverance. Rinzai Geko said "If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go." If you meet salvation or deliverance, destroy it! That Rinzai Geko's murderous attitude to Buddha-as-object struck a chord, should not come as a surprise: many followers of Fuke's teachings were roaming samurai. These followers lived as mendicant monks and wore wicker baskets on their heads which covered their face completely: acephalous monastics. These followers were called komusō, 'monks of emptiness'.

Even though I use the word 'music' in referring to "Bell Ringing In The Empty Sky", perhaps even music as such is absent from this cd: the playing of the shakuhachi bamboo flute is intended as a meditative respiratory exercise, that is: as a method for experiencing the breathing body intimately - an experience that is a signpost towards absence. It is a non-aesthetic sound, abstract and a-rhythmic: the absence of music.

The sound of "Bell Ringing In The Empty Sky" asks the listener to requite its emptiness by absenting himself.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shock Xpress - Joe Dante (pt. 1)

The first Shock Xpress book contains an interview with film director Joe Dante, conducted by noted critic Kim Newman. Here are some trailers of films mentioned in the interview.

Piranha (Joe Dante, 1978)

The Howling
(Joe Dante, 1981)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Georges Bataille's House in Vézelay

When I took William S. Burrough's "Ah Pook Is Here" out of my book cupboard to write the post about the Ghäst/Yoga Split, a photograph that I had forgotten about fell out. It is a photograph of Georges Bataille's house in the village of Vézelay, France.

In Le Coupable, Bataille describes his first night in the house:

"Arriving from Paris we entered the house, net curtains of black crêpe were drying on the trees in the sunny garden. This gloomy 'omen' was heart rending (reminding me of the long black streamers of [Innsbruck] presaging my misfortune). The first day we slept at the house, there was a lack of light in the kitchen were we dined. As night fell, the wind accompanying the storm reached an unprecedented violence, the trees in the garden were shaken like rags and twisted in the roaring of the wind. Night finally fell and the lights went out in the whole house. In the darkness I found a Christmas candle and some matches. After a while in the darkness, light finally returned.
These slight difficulties comforted and even seduced me. The calm in the storm had the strongest meaning in my life: the torment coming from the outside had calmed me down. I was afraid of nothing, it seemed to me, which might come from my deep depression."

In Michel Surya's excellent biography of Bataille, we find a description of the interior of the house:

"The house was basic and falling to pieces: a dark, narrow corridor crossed its whole depth. It first led to a dining room, then to a kitchen with a stone sink. Between them, a steep staircase led to the first and only upper floor. The landing led to two bedrooms, which were directly above and the same size as the rooms on the ground floor. One looked onto the road and the other Bataille later made his office, since the view was magnificent, overlooking a narrow terraced garden (through lack of space, Vézelay was constructed by superimposition) and, beyond it, the valley. No stove (only fireplaces), no running water (a pump), no bathroom".

Bataille first moved to the Vézelay house in March 1943, staying there until October. He moved to that house again in 1945 until 1949, when he moved to Carpentras. He was also buried in Vézelay, in 1962, in a small cemetery at the summit of Vézelay hill.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shock Xpress - Freaks in the Cinema (pt. 4)

Inspired by Colin Davis' article 'Freaks in the Cinema. A Selected History' in the first Shock Xpress book.

Terror of Tiny Town
(Sam Newfield, 1938)

Terror! Il castello delle donne maledette
(Dick Randall, 1974)

Monday, November 24, 2008

La Taranta (pt. 3)

Ernesto De Martino's fascinating 1961 ethnography of Apulian Tarantism, 'The Land of Remorse: A Study of Southern Italian Tarantism' is strongly influenced by the idealist humanism of Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce.

Because of its optimist, positivist, rational, humanitarian, decent nature, one can read De Martino's ethnography in the way proposed by Roland Barthes in 'The Pleasure of Text': "The more decent, well-spoken, innocent and saccharine a story is told, the easier it is to invert it, the easier it is to blacken it, the easier it is to read it against the grain".

Reading of De Martino's ethnography against the grain is certainly easy- one can destabilize the book's idealism when it is creatively misread in a way informed by Lovecraftian paranoia and the Cthulhu mythos!

Just consider the following quotations from the chapter on the medieval origins of Tarantism:

"First of all, there is the problem of the phenomenon's origins, the period and historical climate in which tarantism came into being, with its own forms, on the ruins of the orgiastic cults and the mystery religions. In this regard, it is impossible for us to trace any useful indication of the symbolism of the taranta in the Phisiologus and medieval bestiaries, or in the prayers, spells and recipes collected by Pradel in Griechische und Süditalienische Gebete, Beschwörungen und Rezepte des Mittelalters. The same must be said for Arab writers. (...) Furthermore, in the De Venenis by Cristoforo Degli Onesti, a Florentine who taught medicine in Padua from 1379 to 1386, there is a chapter which treats De morsu tarantulae. Although this chapter appears in the index of the manuscript preserved in the National Library of Paris, [it] is missing from the text (...)".

Why is the chapter on the bite of the tarantula missing from De Venenis? Did De Martino check all Arab writers - or did he omit to mention that he found some blasphemous indications in the work of the mad one? Why did the authorities really close up the miraculous well at St. Paul's Chapel in Corso Garibaldi in Galatina in July 1959, the well to which those afflicted by Tarantism flocked every year? Doesn't the fact that Tarantism only runs in certain family point towards an Innsmouth-like atavism? And what about the 'Sanpoalari' - Southern Italian snake charmers and traveling healers? To which secrets are they privy? And why doesn't the spider which is held responsible for tarantism correspond to any arachnid of modern zoology? Is there any connection between tarantism and the spider-god Atlach-Nacha? Does the yearly cycle of Tarantism in any way correspond to the astronomical cycle of the planet Cykranosh (or Saturn, as we know it today), the planet from which this demonic deity is said to come? Do the caverns deep beneath Mount Voormithadreth, where the god resides, lead to the Apulian Monte Gargano, or even further south? What about the giant, bloated purple spiders of Leng, which are thought to be the children and servitors of Atlach-Nacha? Wasn't Tarantism mentioned in Unaussprechlichen Kulten by Von Junzt? Or was it Ludwig Prinn's De Vermis Mysteriis?

Post scriptum

Only after writing this post, I read the passages in Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia on Hidden Writing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

La Taranta (pt. 2)

I stumbled on the documentary featured in the previous post when reading Ernesto De Martino's classic 1961 ethnography La Terra Del Rimorso (The Land of Remorse: A Study of Southern Italian Tarantism). The book is the result of ethnographic research into Tarantism, conducted by an interdisciplinary team of historians, psychiatrists, medics, anthropologists and social workers. The fieldwork took place in Apulia, the state that forms the heel in Italy's boot, in the summer of 1959.

What is Tarantism? It is an affliction which the Apulians ascribe to the bite of the Tarantula spider, and which reoccurs in regularly repeating yearly cycles in those bitten. The symptoms include "...falling to the ground, a feeling of prostration, anguish, a state of psychomotor agitation with a beclouding of the sensory apparatus, difficulty in remaining standing, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting, various paresthesias and muscular pains, a heightening of sexual desire...".

The research team found out that - even though the symptoms vaguely resembled those of spider poisoning - Tarantism could be reduced neither to the bite of an actual spider nor to other causes, such as sunstrokes or psychic illness. On the contrary, in the course of the investigations Tarantism acquired the meaning of a mythical-ritual symbol, culturally conditioned in its functioning and efficacy.

The spatial and temporal distribution of 'spider's bites' made it highly unlikely that actual spiders were responsible for the phenomenon. There was an overwhelming prevalence of pubescent female participation in Tarantism, and the phenomenon afflicted certain families only. Once bitten, the victim would be affected in the summer for several years, the phenomenon obeying a strict calender. Furthermore, certain locations associated with specific Saints - such as the town of Galatina, of which the St. Paul church is featured in the film - provided immunity from the spiders' bite.

The spider which was held responsible for tarantism was a mythical creature which did not correspond to any arachnid of modern zoology. Instead, the Taranta assembled the characteristics of several different species of spider into a mythical whole. Different colors were attributed to the spiders - principally red, green and black - and the 'bite' of each respective spider caused different behaviour in the victim. Those bit by red spiders displayed martial, heroic behaviour; those bit by green spiders displayed eroticized behaviour; and those bitten by black spiders were fascinated by funerary paraphernalia. Furthermore, each color spider had its own repertoire of musical figures and dances: for example, those bitten by a green spider would only dance to a Tarantella tune associated with the green spider. Finally, the victims of the spider's bite were fascinated by pieces of cloth with the appropriate color. Thus, during the course of an exorcism different Tarantella tunes were played and different colors of clothes were given to the victim in order to determine which spider possesses her. Only the appropriate Tarantella tune, the appropriate color and the appropriate dance would cure the victim - at least for the time being, until the affliction re-occured a year later. Music serves at once as diagnosis and therapy.

Rather than the result of the bite of an actual spider, Tarantism was a mythical-ritual experience which was modeled on the medical symptoms of the actual bite of a poisonous spider. Examining parallels in ethnography and folklore, De Martino found structural similarities between Tarantism and Afro-Mediterranean and Afro-American (Vodou) possession cults. Furthermore, De Martino found antecedents to this religious formation in classical Greek mythology and rituals.

De Martino interprets Tarantism primarily as a form of psychological therapy. For his, the Tarantella is an exorcism, as a ritual eviction of the spider which possesses the victim. The spider symbolizes a traumatic event in the biography of the victim (specifically frustrated eros), and it is the memory of that traumatic effect which causes the affliction of Tarantism with its attendent symptoms. This memory is cast out my music, color and dance - the Tarantella. For De Martino, the symbol of the Taranta is a "mythical-ritual horizon of evocation, release and resolution of unresolved psychic conflicts (...). As a cultural model, the symbol offers a mythical-ritual order for settling these conflicts and reintegrating individuals into the group. The symbol of the taranta lends a figure to the formless, rhythm and melody to menacing silence, and color to the colorless in an assiduous quest of articulated and distinct passions, where a horizonless excitation alternates with a depression that isolates and closes off."

(A short aside on formlessness. That De Martino associates the spider with formlessness certainly struck a chord with me: for Georges Bataille, the spider was an almost formless creature, an invertebrate that is not like anything: "To declare (...) that the universe is not like anything, and is simply formless, is tantamount to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spittle." (Documents 7, 1929). The relation between Bataille's thought and formlessness is the polar opposite of the relationship between De Martino's thought and formlessness.)

Gilbert Rouget, whose 1985 ethnography "Music and Trance. A theory of the relations between music and possession" was featured before on this blog, was highly critical of De Martino's interpretation of Tarantism. Rouget writes that De Martino's analysis makes one lose sight of the most obvious aspect of Tarantism: the identification of the afflicted with the spider. Rouget: "One of the dance figures of the tarantulees - the best known - consists, as we know, in imitating the spider's movements: back to the ground, body arched to a great or lesser degree, the tarantulee moves about like a spider on all fours. One can see this very clearly in D. Carpitella's film, and the sight is striking." (Rouget is mistakingly referring to La Taranta as Carpitella's film: Carpitella merely recorded the music). Rouget reproaches De Martino for making himself an heir to a Christian tradition which abjects possession and possessing divinities and thereby misinterpreting Tarantism. Rouget: "Despite appearances, the divinity responsible for the possession is not the one that is excorcised. On the contrary, it is the divinity concerned who, by allowing the possessing person to identify with him or her, provides the means of ecxorcising the illness - real or imagined - from which the person is suffering."

Whatever the case may be, De Martino's book is highly interesting for those who are interested in possession - whether for scientific reasons or because possession can function as a model for countercultural practices. In De Martino's book, possession is not the exotic practice of an exotic people in an exotic land: La Terra Del Rimorso presents ethnographic and historiographic material on a possession cult which takes place in Europe itself. What's more, Tarantism has its roots in the very soil from which Western civilization sprang: in classical Greece. We were already possessed in the cradle.

Post scriptum

Here is an indepth review of De Martino's book (link).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

La Taranta (pt. 1)

The two YouTube videos embedded below together form the 1962 documentary La Taranta, which investigates a Southern Italian possession cult: Tarantism. The film, directed by Gianfranco Mingozzi, documents this fascinating peasant religious formation in which the victims of the bite of the mythical Tarantula require a ritual exorcism of frenetic dance, music and colors.

Even if you do not speak Italian, do watch the film, for it is convulsively beautiful. In my mind, its 19 minutes assemble Luis Buñuel's 1933 documentary on the grinding poverty of Spanish peasants Las Hurdes, Herk Harvey's 1962 existential horror film Carnival of Souls and Jean Rouch's 1955 documentary on the Hauka possession cult Les Maitres Fous. The documentary was filmed in a black and white which is so funereal it is almost Xasthuresque, and its music - the famous Tarantella - is haunting. In short: my highest recommendations!


The next post will provide indepth material on Tarantism!

Post scriptum

Some readers of this blog might be familiar with Mingozzi's name from the 1974 nunsploitation film Flavia, la Monaca Musulmana.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Shock Xpress - Freaks in the Cinema (pt. 3)

Inspired by Colin Davis' article 'Freaks in the Cinema. A Selected History' in the first Shock Xpress book.

The Elephant Man
(David Lynch, 1980)

Captive Wild Woman
(Edward Dmytryk, 1943)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ghäst / Yoga - Split

The work of J.R.R. Tolkien has had an indelible influence on Black Metal culture. Many names of Black Metal bands have been derived form Tolkien's oeuvre. Christian 'Varg' Vikernes was a Tolkien aficionado, and named his one-man band Burzum, the word for "darkness" in the Black Speech of Mordor. Norwegian Black Metal band Gorgoroth is named after the plain of Gorgoroth within the mountains that cordon off Mordor from the rest of Middle-Earth. Isengard - named after the castle of evil sorcerer Saruman - is a solo project of Fenriz, the drummer of Darkthrone.

What does that mean? What does the choice of the Tolkien's oeuvre, of the literary genre of Fantasy reveal about Black Metal?

Science Fiction can be loosely defined as fiction which speculates about social effects of future technological advances. Fantasy as a genre is not oriented towards the future or technology. Fantasy constructs fictitious pre-modern (tribal or feudal) societies, and explores themes related to the history of religions, morality (good vs evil) and heterophobia (in the sense of: "fear of that which is different"). Because it is not oriented towards future societies and explores different themes, Fantasy has been compared negatively to Science Fiction. Fantasy has been called retrogressive. However, the mere fact that the fictitious societies of Science Fiction are technologically advanced and those of Fantasy are not, is in itself not enough to condemn the latter genre. Themes like the history of religions, morality and heterophobia are relevant to our society, and are highly likely to be relevant to societies of the future. Calling literature in which the drama takes place in pre-modern societies irrelevant is tantamount to calling the academic disciplines of history and anthropology irrelevant. Like all literature, good Fantasy novels can convey to us something about the human condition.

The themes of Fantasy novels are highly relevant to Black Metal. Black Metal themes such as Satanism, daemonology, paganism and black magic all indicate an interest in the history of religions. The musical genre's obsession with evil relates to questions of morality. Heterophobia finally is a hallmark of this ofttimes intolerant, hateful music.

One might say that without the Fantasy influence, Black Metal wouldn't be Black Metal but another genre entirely.

Nevertheless, I feel that such a statement is a little bit too facile. And anyway, it is interesting to speculate what Black Metal might have sounded like, if classic Norwegian Black Metal bands had not been influenced by Tolkien, but by other literature. What would it have sounded like if the work of William S. Burroughs had played the role that Tolkien's oeuvre played?

What if the landscape of Mordor was replaced by a landscape of "swamps and garbage heaps, alligators crawling around in broken bottles and tin cans, neon arabesques of motels, marooned pimps [screaming] obscenities at passing cars from islands of rubbish"?

What is orcs and elves and hobbits were replaced by "followers of obsolete, unthinkable trades doodling in Etruscan, addicts of drugs not yet synthesized, pushers of souped-up Harmaline, junk reduced to pure habit offering precarious vegetable serenity, liquids to induce Latah, Tithonian longevity serums, black marketeers of World War III, excisors of telepathic sensitivity, osteopaths of the spirit, investigators of infractions denounced by bland paranoid chess players, bureaucrats of spectral departments, officials of unconstituted police states..."?

The music of two-man band Yoga might provide the beginning of an answer to those questions.

In an interview with the Hammer Smashed Jazz blog, one of Yoga's musicians describes the music as 1970s 'Berlin School' Kraut Rock Electronica (Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream) recorded with the fuzzed out, cold, hollow-sounding, thin, raw, completely blown out and in the red recording style prevalent in underground Black Metal. "The dirtier and [the more] desperate the sound, the more otherworldly and distant the sounds became."

I'm not at all a fan of the New Agey strains of Kraut Rock. Tangerine Dream's universally acclaimed classic, the 1974 album Phaedra, bores me: entirely conventional, soothing, feeble music. I enjoy Yoga's music exactly because it uses New Agey Kraut Rock in a way William S. Burroughs proposed to use the voice of Alabama pro-segregation politician George Wallace. Burrough's essay 'The Electronic Revolution' contained these instructions: "Take a recorded Wallace speech, cut in stammering coughs sneezes hiccups snarls pain screams fear wimperings apoplectic stutterings slobbering drooling idiot noises sex and animal sound effects and play it back in the streets subways stations parks political ralleys." Where Burroughs advises to garble Wallace's conservative harangues with the aural excretions of the human body, Yoga destructurates Kraut Rock's conservative side with sonic detritus, hellish wailing, ruinous distortion, tape hiss, drop outs, intense squalls of blackened noise, sinister drones, constant churning and warbling.

The resulting music evinces the hallucinatory quality of Burroughs work: a fantastic, nightmarish merging of the rectums of early Coil, Goblin and Xasthur, an unendurably ragged, malodorous delight.

Post scriptum

The split cd under review contains 8 tracks by Yoga and two by Quebecois Doom Metal band Ghäst. The Ghäst tracks earn sympathy by using samples from Amando de Ossorio's 1971 horror film La Noche Del Terror Ciego (aka Tombs of the Blind Dead), but are otherwise instantly forgettable. The Yoga tracks were released on an extremely limited cassette (only 50 copies!) before being released in its current form (limited to 250 copies)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Shock Xpress - Freaks in the Cinema (pt. 2)

Inspired by Colin Davis' article 'Freaks in the Cinema. A Selected History' in the first Shock Xpress book.

The Mutations (Jack Cardiff, 1974)

The Sentinel
(Michael Winner, 1976)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vodou, Art and Mysticism from Haiti

Do not visit the exhibition 'Vodou, art and mysticism from Haiti' at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. I did, on November 8th 2008, and still I sleep uneasily.

Do not visit that exhibition when it moves to the Museum of World Culture in Göteborg, Sweden. The exhibition starts innocently enough, presenting Vodou's most acceptable, folkloric face. It starts politically correct enough, appealing to the emancipatory meaning of Enlightenment in presenting the Haitian religion as a weapon in the struggle against French and American colonial domination. It starts nicely enough, in an Apollonian mode, presenting the Lwa - Vodou's spirits - as the contemporary equivalents of the gods of ancient Greece, exotic and slightly naive, weird but safe. But then you turn a corner, and through a dimly lit passageway you are led to two darkened rooms which reveal a world which has nothing to do with our solid, daylight-filled and clear-headed world. You are led into the ominous world of the secret societies known as Bizango. There, your nerves will start to fray, as did mine.

Do not visit the exhibition when it appears at the Etnologisches Museum in Berlin. Some paragraphs in Alfred Métraux' classic 1959 ethnography Voodoo in Haiti should provide ample warning:

"The people designated by [the name Bizango] are sorcerers who (...) have joined secret societies whose members, united by the crimes they have committed together, give each other help. The [Bizango] derive material benefits from membership - wealth and all its trappings - a fine house, luxurious cars and a trip to France - though these considerations are secondary to the satisfaction of returning evil for evil, and of 'eating people' during nocturnal expeditions. (...)

Countless stories can be heard about [the Bizango] really belong to the province of the fairy tale, but it seems likely that certain people sometimes do band together, in secret, to practice sorcery or to use the popular belief in sorcerer societies to sow terror around them. Proof that the matter is not wholly a question of superstition is to be found in the passports of the [Bizango], confiscated in humfo [voodoo temples] or handed over to curés by repentant voodooists.

The most sinister fantasies of a kind sure to capture popular imagination have been centered on the 'red sects'. Hideous or grotesque aspect, weird dress, obscene and bloody ceremonies, gratuitous cruelty, weird dress, obscene and bloody ceremonies, gratuitous cruelty - there is no conceivable trait that is not attributed to them provided it is sufficiently repulsive and odious. (...)

And please do not visit it in Bremen's Überseemuseum, in Germany, as the three rooms in the exhibition dedicated to the Bizango societies contain many frightening artifacts, especially paquets, statues and mirrors (see them on this excellent Flickr slideshow).

The paquets ('parcels') are a special kind of talisman, made of wallets or bottles (sometimes big onion-shaped bottles) wrapped in cloth or silk studded with sequins and adorned with frills. Some of the Bizango paquets on displays had human skulls as stoppers. These paquets, which contain the flesh of a sacrificed 'curly cock' mixed with vegetable substances, have the power of 'heating' or exciting the Lwa; but they also have the power of raising goosebumps on the skin of the museum's visitors.

There is a veritable army statues on display. They are life-size, made of black and red cloth filled up with unknown materials, and adorned with ropes, metal chains and little oxidation-stained mirrors. The statues represent the spirits which rule the Bizango sects, and especially the trinity of Kaifou, Gran Bwa and Simityè (Crossroads, Great Forest and Cemetery). Their eyes - most white, others red, some reflecting - rest heavily on the visitor to the exhibition. They rest all the more heavily when the realization dawns on the visitor that human skulls are sown into the head of these statues; thereafter, their eyes seem to be neither seeing nor dead, neither living nor blind.

But the mirrors on display are the most disconcerting of all exhibits. They are ornate, 19th century mirrors, stained by oxidation, weathered by the passage of time. Their gilded frames are elaborated with rusty chains and sinister woodcuts of snakes and daemons. At the top of a huge circular mirror, a primitive Lucifer winks to the visitor. These mirrors are used to call forth the spirits of Bizango; their reflective surface forms the permeable boundary between this world and a nightmarish Otherworld. As philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty noted, mirrors "...change things into spectacle and spectacle into things; myself into another and another into myself...". I trembled at seeing myself in these mirrors, sensing they dissolved the boundaries between self and Bizango.

In his ethnography of Vodou, Métraux writes that - when seen up close - the religion of Haiti does not have the morbid and hallucinatory character which books have given it. That black legend, writes Métraux "..belongs to the colonial period when it was the fruit of hatred and fear. Man is never cruel and unjust with impunity: the anxiety which grows in the minds of those who abuse power often takes the form of imaginary terrors and demented obsessions. He treated him like a beast of burden but dreaded the occult power which he imputed to him. And the greater the subjugation of the Black, the more he inspired fear; that ubiquitous fear which shows in the records of the period and which solidified in that obsession with poison which, throughout the eighteenth century, was the cause of so many atrocities. Perhaps certain slaves did avenge themselves on their tyrants in this way - such a thing is possible and even probable - but the fear which reigned in the plantations had its source in deeper recesses of the soul: it was the witchcraft of remote and mysterious Africa which troubled the sleep of the people in 'the big house'."

The exhibition 'Vodou, art and mysticism from Haiti' proves that Voodoo - or the Bizango cult in any case - does have a hallucinatory and morbid character. The sleep of the people in 'the big house' was not troubled for nothing.

I still sleep uneasily.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shock Xpress - Freaks in the Cinema (pt. 1)

Inspired by Colin Davis' article 'Freaks in the Cinema. A Selected History' in the first Shock Xpress book.

Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)

She Freak
(Byron Mabe, 1967)