Thursday, June 26, 2008

Exotica - Screamin' Jay Hawkins

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"Alan Freed also brought Screamin' Jay Hawkins to movie fame: 'I did Don't Knock the Rock, but they cut it out - they even paid me for it, but they cut it out because I walked on naked with a loin cloth across here, white shoe polish marks on my face, a spear in one hand and a shield in the other, like one of those wild Mau Mau and I was singing a song called 'Frenzy'. The movie people claimed it would be an insult to the black people of the United States. I bet it would go over today. Again, I was trying to explain to them that I was different, I do everything different. Do you realize they banned 'I Put a Spell On You' because it had cannibalistic sounds? When they banned it, it had already sold a million. When they banned it, it sold another quarter of a million. I wish they'd ban every record I made." Screamin' Jay Hawkins, interviewed by Norbert Hess in Blues Unlimited, 1976."

Below you'll first find a truly wonderful YouTube video for "I Put A Spell On You". Second, an entertaining, long (1h 42m) Greek (English-language) 2001 documentary on Screamin' Jay Hawkins called "Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put A Spell On Me" featuring Jim Jarmusch, the Fuzztones, Bo Diddley, Diamanda Galas, Arthur Brown, amongst others.

I Put A Spell On You

Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put A Spell On Me


Wouldn't it be nice if Imperial's N.i.l. would cover 'I Put A Spell On You' on his next album?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

N.i.l. - Nihilism Is Liberation

"Nihilism Is Liberation": abbreviated, this motto forms the name for the new band of US Black Metal foreman Imperial (Neill Jameson, formerly of Krieg and Twilight) and J. Marcheski (March Into the Sea, Urine).

The motto presents nihilism as a dark Enlightenment, nihilism as man’s emergence from his self-imposed humanist shackles. For Imperial, Kant's 'Sapere Aude' means to dare to espouse a violent, Social Darwinist mutation of Mad Max-style anarcho-primitivism which does away with all the niceties of humane thought. Imperial, bastard child of Lodovico Settembrini and Leo Naphta, adheres to a particularly virulent form of occidentalism:

"I believe in a world free of humanity and social morality where the beast in man could be allowed to thrive and be set upon the weaker species. (...) I would bring back the old systems that allowed man to be a lawless wanderer, shaping his own world to fit his own desires. Man prospered and became more intertwined with his beast form during nomadic times. Freedom from want, freedom from need. And if that didn't work then unleash the missiles... (...) Nothing in the modern world is worth saving. Our history and ancient cultures/traditions from which we all come from. Every race should be proud of its heritage and maintain this pride in their daily functional lives. The old ways, before the plagues of modern life and religion, were best suited for man's needs. A world turned to ash so that it may be reborn like the Phoenix is the only way for us to reach the true potential that we are born with. Cleanse the races and creeds and allow the weak to be devoured by the wolves instead of giving them a crutch to lean on." (sourced here).

As you can read, Imperial's political philosophy is none too sophisticated - but then again, what else would you expect from a man who has called Michele Soavi's 1989 horror film La Chiesa "Argento's greatest work" (here)? On the other hand, it shows an intellectual honesty lacking in more politically correct forms of anarcho-primitivism: Imperial openly acknowledges that destroying the state, eliminating technology and industry and dismantling civilization can only be brought about by, and will result in, killing billions ("...unleash the missiles.").

N.i.l.'s music - especially the fast tracks - reflects the brutality of Imperial's ideological views: it is an album of harshly droning Black Metal, of relentlessly primitivist, repetitive one-riff-per-song Noise.

But there is an other side to Imperial's music, which comes to the fore in N.i.l.'s self-titled album more clearly than it ever did in Krieg. That other side is mournful, sombre, minor key. In N.i.l.'s debut album, this side is already evident in the very first track,"Plague Doors Rusted Shut", which opens with the sad sound of record crackle, of vinyl grown old and forgetful, and subsequently introduces the plangent sounds of an acoustic guitar. But the sorrowful side is most evident in the slower, Burzumesque tracks, on which atypical instruments such as a mandolin and singing bowls are used. Burzumesque - but where melancholy in Burzum signified a nostalgic longing for a lost Viking Eden, the sadness in N.i.l. seems to have a different meaning: Imperial comes across as too cynical to yearn for a Paradise Lost. Where in Burzum melancholia strengthens the band's ideology, N.i.l.'s sadness seems to be at odds somehow with the ideological content: why laments, instead of brutal paeans to an anarcho-primitive future?

I feel that there is a discontinuity in N.i.l.'s music, a break, where two mutually exclusive codes collide. One code is Imperial's 'official' ideology, which puts forward nuclear Armageddon as a means to achieve a social-darwinistic anarcho-primitivism, an ideology informed by Black Metal's 'canonical' Misanthropism, an ideology of hateful Enlightenment. The other code may well be an merciful, pitying side, a hidden side which where the temptation of the end of civilization can be lost to an almost general sensitivity to human suffering.

I love it when Imperial plays Black Metal cover versions of non-Black Metal songs: his version of the Velvet Underground's "Venus In Furs" was the best song on Krieg's excellent 2004 album "The Black House". The best song on this album is N.i.l.'s Black Metal cover version of a Big Black song: "Bad Houses" from the 1986 album "Atomizer" (an album of which the cover art is also governed by the temptation of the end). In the lyrics to this song, again two, conflicting codes are in evidence: a moral code ("I tell myself I will not go") and a second code, which transgresses the first ("Even as I drive there"). The moment when Imperial speaks these lines in an untreated, rather flat Midwestern parlando is the high point of this album: Big Black Metal. The conflicting codes are mirrored in the music, fuzzed out Black Metal colliding with catchy Punk Rock.

Again, it is the untenable juxtaposition of two codes which creates a tension in N.i.l.'s music, a tension which raises N.i.l. above the facile misanthropy of most Black Metal.

Though N.i.l.'s self-titled album lacks the raw excellence of Krieg's "The Black House" and the immediacy of that band's "Blue Miasma", with N.i.l. Imperial has created an interesting platform for creating Black Metal that burns with inconsistencies, ambiguities and contradictions. N.i.l. has announced that where this album explores the drone, the second album, to be titled "Nothing.Is.Limitless.", will investigate Post Rock and other non-Black Metal music. I am certainly interested.


Here are links to interviews with Imperial: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Exotica - Dr. John the Night Tripper

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"It was in (...) 1967 (...), that [Mac Rebennack] transformed, like the Loop Garou of legend who carried his head under his arm, into Dr. John, the Night Tripper. 'The original Dr. John claimed to be a West African prince,' wrote Jeff Hannusch in his notes to the Dr. John Anthology, 'and lived in New Orleans during the mid-1800s. He told fortunes, sold "gris-gris" potions, and held seances and voodoo ceremonies. Rebennack had long held a fascination for voodoo, especially as his sister gave him some books on Haitian voodoo she found at an antique store where she worked. Several musicians Rebennack hung out with (particularly Jessie Hill) shared his interest and occasionally he'd visit Cracker Jack's drug store on South Rampart Street, which sold candles, love potions, good-luck floor wash, and incense.

During the period of promoting his Dr. John persona to the rock press, Rebennack played up the voodoo, played down the R&B. 'I was afraid of voodoo, black magic,' he told Jacoba Atlas for Melody Maker in 1970, her transcription adding to the factionalisation, 'but when I got to the Temple of Innocent Blood dey's all dese people groovin' around happy, no race differences, no hates. Dey wuz all one! And I could feel it all aroun' me. I say, dus is fo' me.'


With its strange timbres, its deep studio echo, its loose-limbed percussive clatter and throb, its ominous tales of charms and spells and nocturnal rituals, [the music of Dr. John] conjured the secrets of African-American mythology and Louisiana magic, filtering them through phantasmagoric Hollywood and its technologies: old as the swamp, new as plastic, real and fake all at once."


Friday, June 20, 2008

Pierre Verger - Retratos Da Bahia

Last Saturday, I was finally able to buy a book of photographs by Pierre Verger: 'Retratos De Bahia' ('Portraits Of Bahia'). It is a very beautiful oblong, clothbound book, printed in Bahia, Brazil, itself in 1980 by publishing house Editora Corrupio. The book contains more than 250 black and white photographs of Bahia and its people by this enigmatic photojournalist, ethnographer gone native, and Candomblé priest.

Pierre Verger (1902-1996) is now best known for his photographs printed in two books by Surrealist dissident Georges Bataille: photos of bloodspattered Voodoo ceremonies, printed in Bataille's 1957 book L'Érotisme and his 1961 art book Les Larmes d'Eros. These photos were taken in 1948 in Haiti, where Verger was living in the Centre d'Art, an institution in Port-au-Prince which supported Haitian folk artists. Photos from the same period can be found in the classic 1958 ethnography "Le Vaudou Haitien" by Bataille's and Verger's close friend, the ethnologist Alfred Métraux. Bataille, who did not know Verger personally, called him "one of the most remarkable - and most famous - photographers of these times".

A remarkable figure indeed: after a career as a globetrotting wartime journalist, photographer and ethnologist, Verger between 1953 and 1956 gradually converted to the faith of the black descendants of slaves in Bahia. He was initiated into Candomblé and in the African Ifa divination cult, where he received the name "Fatumbi" and the title of "Babalaô" (The Father of Secrets), allowing him access to the orally passed-on wisdom of the Yorubá. As an ethnologist, Verger "went native", giving in to the attraction of the Other, losing all critical distance between himself and the subject he studied. 'Going native' is the ethnographer's eroticism.

'Retratos De Bahia' contains no photos of gruesome Voodoo rituals: instead, it is a testament to Verger's love for the vibrant black people of Brazil. The book collects photos of street vendors, Capoeira dancers, people celebrating Carnaval, fishers, musicians, people Candomblé rituals, people sleeping in the street, and so on. Many of these exquisitely beautiful photographs can be found on the excellent website of the Pierre Verger Foundation.

Below, you'll find a YouTube slideshow of photographs by Pierre Verger and his biography as found in 'Retratos De Bahia', amateurishly translated from Portuguese into English by myself.




"Pierre Fatumbi Verger, born Pierre Edouard Leopold Verger, on November 4th 1902, in Paris. French photographer, ethnologist, Candomblé priest, he used to explain the facts of his life as a series of accidents.

In the nineteenthirties the first important accident happens: he loses his mother, his last remaining direct relative. Without any identity rooted more deeply with the social context in which he was living, he then decides to abandon that context. With a backpack and a camera he parts to find new experiences and especially to be forgotten by too many others. Thus, he leaves Paris in 1932 and heads for the Pacific Islands.

For fifteen years he travels through different regions of the world, photographing that which took his interest. Bit by bit he collects precious documentation on ancient civilizations which are on the brink of disappearance, or were suffering a profound transformation of their cultural traditions. Examining these materials reveals his talent as a researcher.

This period takes him to the United States, Japan, China, the Philippines, Sudan (now Mali), Togo, Dahomey (now Benin), Nigeria, parts of the Sahara, the Antilles, Mexico, Guatamala, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentinia and Brazil. Besides reporting, he is also charged with the photographic laboratory of the Musée D'Etnografie (now Musée de l'Homme), in Paris. While a wartime correspondent in China for Life magazine, he also collects photographic documentation for the Museo Nacional de Lima in Peru.

A second important accident precipitates Verger definitively into research: the discovery of Bahia in 1946.

Drawn to Bahia by reading Jorge Amado's book Jubiabá, he is pleased by the city and especially by the people living here. He installs himself, and lives in an intense way with Bahia's people. He commences to tirelessly research the worship of Orixa deities and the way trafficking slaves has influenced economy and culture.

From then on, between 1949 and 1979 he makes several journeys between Bahia and Africa's west coast, mainly Dahomey and Nigeria. He visits every Yoruba stronghold of the New World. He intensifies his research on its ethnicity, on its influence on Bahian culture and on the ties which are established between them.

The relationship between Verger and black culture bit by bit starts to surpass mere intellectual interest. He involves himself deeply in the Candomblé, is initiated and starts to fulfill religious functions. In Bahia, he is an Ogã priest in the Opô Afonjá temple of Miss Mãe Aninha, and in the Opô Aganjú temple of Balbino, in Lauro de Freitas. In Dahomey, he is initiated as a Babalaô when studying Ifa divination, and receives the name of Fatumbi - which means 'Reborn' in Ifa.

As a Babalaô, he has access to the cultural heritage of the Yorubas, their mythology, their botanical therapies and the liturgy of their possession cults.

Verger creates, as photographic reporter, an important body of historical and ethnographic work. His acute powers of observation, the use of austere equipment, his intellectual humbleness, and his human wisdom - based on simplicity, respect and truth - certainly facilitated his task.

In 1966, the development and the talent of Verger's work is officially recognized by science: at the University of Paris, through the Sorbonne, granted him the title of Doctor, even though Verger abandoned his academic studies 17 years earlier.

Currently living in Bahia, Verger tirelessly works on his documentation, collected during 34 years of research. He focuses on the dissemination of his work, preparing books and articles for journals and conferences, answering the requests that come from various parts of the world.

Pierre Fatumbi Verger is the "free and available" man of which his friend Théodore Monod speaks. True to his calling, his profound work corresponds to loneliness and freedom."


Here is a link to an exhibition in Basel, Switzerland, called 'Black Gods in Exile'.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Exotica - instrument inventors

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"Noise for the machine age mixed with the echoes of magical rites and ancient court ceremonies. Alongside the futurism of electronics, percussion emerged from centuries of intellectual purdah as a major new multiple instrument for the first half of the century. The newly invented jazz drum kit took its place among ritual drums of Cuba, Africa, Haiti and Brazil, shakers and rattles of Central and South America, scrapers from Mexico, gongs from Burma, xylophones and marimbas from Africa, tuned percussion from Bali and Java.

Then there were the unique inventions from numerous instrument inventors: Harry Partch and his Spoils of War, Zamo-Xyl and Mazda Marimba; Luigi Russolo and his Intonarumori; Harry Bertoia's Sonambient gongs and metal rods; the Baschet Brothers and their chronophagic Structures Sonores - the Crystal, the Glasshorn, the Tubes Graves, the Grille a Echo."

Here is a video Harry Bertoia's Sound Sculptures:

Here is a video of Catherine Brisset playing the Braschet brothers' Crystal; with Gilles Dalbin on percussion.

Here is a short video of a reconstruction of Russolo's Intonarumori by the Russolo Ensemble:

Monday, June 16, 2008

Georges Bataille - 1958 interview

Here is a fascinating interview for French television with Georges Bataille on his 1957 book "La Litterature Et Le Mal" ("Literature And Evil"). The interview, held with Pierre Dumayet as a part of the broadcast Lectures Pour Tous, was televised on May 21st 1958.

From Surya's biography of Bataille:

"In [the interview], Bataille appeared relaxed and handsome, and scandalous (for the times) beneath an absolutely serene exterior (his way of saying the worst of things with an air of innocence was all his own). He talked about literature and what was 'essentially childish' and infantile about it. It is a childishness that literature has in common with eroticism: 'It seems to me to be very important to perceive the infantile nature of eroticism.' Evidently Bataille was little concerned about demonstrating that eroticism was innocent in the sense that morality would like to understand it. It has the cruel, black innocence of childhood. To understand it, we must reflect on what Bataille said of Gilles de Rais: 'We could not deny the monstrosity of childhood. How often would children, if they could, be a Gilles de Rais.' It is a monstrously happy childhood that Bataille was thinking of, a childhood that has no limits except those imposed by law (by authority). And literature is dangerous because it is linked to childhood; because it is the element within us that is open to childhood that it is essential for us to 'confront the danger' in it, and that it is essential, through it, to 'perceive the worst'.

It was Bataille's first and last television appearance. He was too tired to remember what he had found to say (though in fact he had been clear to a fault); leaving the studio, he only recalled having talked about polygamy, and this was enough to send him into raptures."

Even though the video has no subtitles, I recommend non-Francophones too watch this fascinating 9-minute video, just to hear his voice and see his body move.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hototogisu - Some Blood Will Stick

Hototogisu's 2006 album 'Some Blood Will Stick' is a really intense and desolate experience.

It contains edited and remastered Noise Rock from two earlier Hototogisu albums: Swoon Scream (2004) and Awful Symmetry (2005). Both albums were released as cdr-s on Heavy Blossom, Hototogisu's own record label, in editions limited to a mere 100. Needless to say, both albums have been long sold out.

There is a paradoxical aspect to the music: where one would expect the mastering of the album to match the raw, primitive and visceral nature of Matthew Bower and Marcia Bassett's noise, the production is in fact sophisticated, with a great sense of space in the music. Record label VHF, which released this album, is quite right to call the mastering "crushing and invigorating".

The mastering was done by Scott Hull at Visceral Sound, his studio in Bethesda, Maryland. He is the current guitarist and producer for Grindcore bands Pig Destroyer, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, and Japanese Torture Comedy Hour; he is also a former member of Anal Cunt. Hull has collaborated with Matthew Bower several times: he mastered Skullflower's Orange Canyon Mind and Tribulation albums, as well Hototogisu's album Prayer Rug Exorcism. Furthermore, he remastered the recent rerelease of Skullflower's epochal IIIrd Gatekeeper album.

Hull's background in Grindcore points to something important. Where many reviewers have strained to make a connection between Hototogisu and Skullflower's music and Black Metal, I would say that a connection between that music and Grindcore is much more relevant.

It should be pointed out that Matthew Bower emerged from the very same scene that Grindcore emerged from: the British Industrial, Crust Punk and Noise Rock underground of the early-to-mid 1980s. In fact, Skullflower has toured together with Industrial Grindcore band Godflesh. Furthermore, that band's Justin Broadrick, who was in the very first incarnation of Napalm Death (the founding fathers of Grindcore), released two Skullflower albums (IIIrd Gatekeeper and Infinityland) on his HeadDirt label.

Hototogisu's Some Blood Will Stick can be heard as a psychedelicized, liquid slide Grindcore; an improvisational Grindcore in which the Crust Punk-influenced riffing has been radically destructured; a Grindcore in which the Hardcore and Thrash Metal drumming has disappeared in treacherous currents of scree; a vertical, multidirectional, ecstatic, Free Grindcore; a shot-to-hell Grindcore; a Grindcore which moves in mindbending waves.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Exotica - Harry Partch

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"The early works of composer, instrument inventor and theorist Harry Partch (...) have been described by Danlee Mitchell as 'masterpieces of Americana, employing the language in a natural style uninfluenced by European traditions' (sleeve notes to The World of Harry Partch). Through Partch's search for integrated theatre, this Americana was enriched by more remote sources. 'The work that I have been doing these many years,' stated Partch, 'parallels much in the attitudes and actions of primitive man. He found sound-magic in the common materials around him. He then proceeded to make the vehicle, the instrument, as visually beautiful as he could. Finally, he involved the sound-magic and the visual beauty in his everyday words and experiences, his ritual and drama, in order to lend a greater meaning to his life. This is my trinity: sound-magic, visual beauty, experience-ritual."

Here is a nice BBC documentary on Harry Partch:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Michael Taussig - Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man. A Study in Terror and Healing (pt. 2)

In my previous post about Michael Taussig's 1986 ethnography "Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man. A Study in Terror and Healing", I wrote that Taussig's description of the montage-like (dis-)order of Indian healing rituals is very reminiscent of Deleuze's and Guattari's concept of the rhizome. It must be stressed though that where Deleuze and Guattari tend towards the obscurantist and the disembodied, Taussig's work remains in close contact with the filth and grime of the physical world.

Below I quote Taussig's description of yagé-intoxicated montage-like (dis-)order in full, as I found it beautiful and inspiring.

"Montage: alterations, cracks, displacements and swerves all evening long - the sudden interruptions, always interruptions to what at first appears the order of the ritual and later takes on little more than an excuse of order, and then dissolves into a battering of wave after wave of interruptedness into illusory order, mocked order, colonial order in the looking glass. Interruptions for shitting, for vomiting, for a cloth to wipe one's face, for going to the kitchen to gather coals for burning copal incense, for getting roots of magical chondur from where nobody can remember where they were last put, for telling and retelling a joke (especially for that), for stopping the song in mid-flight to yell at the dogs to stop barking ... and in the cracks and swerves, a universe opens out.

Montage: the manner of the interruptedness; the sudden scene changing which breaks up any attempt at narrative ordering and which trips up sensationalism. Between the swirling uncertainty of nausea and the abrupt certainty of the joke there lies little if any room for either the sensationalistic or the mysterious.

Montage: suddenly altering situations of the group withing the room and mood-slides associated with these changing situations, scenes, as it were, from the art of trompe-l'oeil, passing in a flash from night to day through ages of time from despair to joy and back again without any guarantee of happy endings.

Montage: flashing back and forth from self to group; not simply self-absorption broken up and scrambled by participation in the group or with one or two members of it, but also through such flashing back and forth from self to group and group to self a sort of playground or testing-ground is set up for comparing hallucinations with the social field from which they spring. Hence the very grounds of representation itself are raked over.


Montage: the 'interior" scenes of dots and dashes of color and of phantasms, coming and going, death scenes, above all fragments of things - shiny blades of grass quivering under the rain, a tiny feathered segment of intricate pattern (the edge of a bird's wing, perhaps?), the quavering of yagé songs butting into the river's rush - all metamorphosing into memory images as the past gains force in its rush into the present "now-time" of the Jetztzeiten where time stands still as an image in which past and future converge explosively.

Montage: oscillating in and out off oneself; feeling sensations so intensely that you become the stuff sensed. But then you are standing outside the experience and coldly analyzing it as Bertolt Brecht so wanted from his "alienation effects" in his epic theater. Only here, in the theater of yagé nights in the Putumayo foothills, the A-effect, standing outside of one's own defamiliarized experience and analyzing that experience, is inconstant and constantly so, flickering, alternating with absorption in the events and their magic. Perhaps that is the formula for the profoundest possible A-effect, standing within and standing without in quick oscillation."

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Michael Taussig - Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man. A Study in Terror and Healing (pt. 1)

Michael Taussig's 1986 ethnography "Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man. A Study in Terror and Healing" examines the origins of the extraordinary cruelties inflicted by colonial rubber traders upon Colombian Indians and those of the shamanic healing rituals of the Colombian Indians living in the Putumayo foothills.

In Taussig's view, both the cruelties and the healing rituals are motivated by a view of the Indian as a Wild Man, that savage from medieval and Renaissance legend, Europe's version of Bigfoot.

The cruelties visited upon the Indians in the 19th and early 20th century by the colonial rubber industry were extreme. This terror was bloodthirstier by far than could be explained by rational, economic motives: in fact, the terror went against business interests as it destroyed scarce labor power. Taussig views the terror as an abreaction against the Wild Man, a construction of the Indian as a savage anti-self of the colonist, an anti-self which necessitated violence as savage as the 'savage' it was directed against. This anti-self was not well-defined and clear-cut, but was swathed in what Taussig calls 'epistemic murk': the colonists worried incessantly about the Wild Man, and this worry infected their imagination with terrible nightmares of Indian attacks, conspiracies, uprising, treachery, etc. It was the unclear, murky nature of the wildness ascribed to Indians in colonial fabulation that gave this wildness such a powerful, obsessing hold on the imagination of the colonists.

Quoting Alfred Métraux's 1958 book 'Voodoo In Haiti', Taussig notes that "Man is never cruel and unjust with impunity: the anxiety which grows in the minds of those who abuse power takes the form of imaginary terrors and demented obsessions. The master maltreated his slave, but feared his hatred. He treated him like a beast of burden but dreaded the magical powers imputed to him."

White colonists visit Indian shamans to be cured of the sorcery. The sorcery is either of human origin, perpetrated because of Invidia (envy, a capitalist affect par excellence), or the result of mal aires (literally 'bad winds'; for Taussig, memories about Indians killed in colonial conquest coming back to haunt colonists). The colonists believe that the 'wilder', the more mysterious the Indian is, the more powerful his healing capabilities are. Thus, in the healing rituals of Indian shamans, the healers use the view of the Indian as a Wild Man. The terrific magical powers imputed to the shamans by the white colonists are a colonial construction appropriated and used by the colonized. Taussig: "So it has been through the sweep of colonial history where the colonizers provided the colonized with the left-handed gift of the image of the wild man--a gift whose powers the colonizers would be blind to, were it not for the reciprocation of the colonized, bringing together in the dialogical imagination of colonization an image that wrests from civilization its demonic power.” It is Exotica used as a healing power by those deemed Exotic by the colonists.

The shamans use yagé, a hallucinogenic drink made from the Banisteriopsis spp. vine, native to the Amazon Rainforest, in their healing rituals. The psychological effects of yagé, the montage-like (dis-)order of the healing rituals and the symbolic wildness create an 'epistemic murk' which heals by unraveling colonial, capitalist culture: "Wildness challenges the unity of the symbol, the transcendent totalization binding the image to that which it represents. Wildness pries open this unity and in its place creates slippage. (...) Wildness is the death space of signification.”

Some critical remarks:
- Taussig's book is about yagé ceremonies and the symbolic efficacy of montage and cut-ups. Yet Burrough's and Ginzberg's book 1963 "The Yagé Latters" is only given passing mention. Isn't it likely that Taussig's book is more deeply indebted to Burrough's conceptual apparatus than he acknowledges?
- Taussig's description of the montage-like (dis-)order of the healing rituals is also very reminiscent of Deleuze's and Guattari's concept of the rhizome. Another unacknowledged inspiration?
- In one of the final chapters of the book, Taussig almost calls Victor Turner a fascist, in short because he feels Turner's (Durkheim- and Mauss-inspired) attention to the community-forming effect of ritual and symbols is totalitarian. I disagree with Taussig on this point. Not only does Taussig fail to acknowledge the roots of Durkheim's and Mauss's thought in left wing (albeit non-Marxist) activism, and the continued relevance of that thought for issues of social solidarity. But if one denies the continued importance of community and solidarity, one plays into the hands of neoliberalism and its spurious, atomizing individualism. Furthermore, isn't Taussig's unwarranted attack on Turner the type of theoretical intolerance which will ultimately lead to a left wing divided against itself, to left wing paralysis? Finally, Taussig misrepresents the dynamic nature of Turner's analytic framework, which is directed not towards legitimizing stable hegemonies but towards change, towards "social structure in action".

Despite these criticisms 'Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man. A Study in Terror and Healing' is rightly regarded as Taussig's major work. Where Taussig's 1980 book 'The devil and commodity fetishism in South America' suffered from a heavy-handed Marxist approach, the orthodoxies had been shaken off by Taussig when he wrote this book six years later. While retaining a strong left wing political focus, Taussig's approach to his subject matter had become much more free (in an almost Free Jazz sense of the word). Walter Benjamin's work had clearly begun to inspire Taussig. But the book is not only highly interesting not only from a theoretical standpoint. It is also very well written, the theoretical content informing the literary structure of the book: the text is riddled by alterations, cracks, displacements and swerves, making it a work of hallucinatory montage. Recommended!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Gérard de Nerval - El Desdichado (1853)

El Deschidado

I am the man of gloom - widowed - unconsoled
The prince of Aquitaine, his tower in ruin:
My sole star is dead - and my constellated lute
Bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.

In the night of the tomb, you, my consolation,
Give me back Posillipo and the Italian sea,
The flower that so eased my heart's desolation,
And the trellis that twines the rose into the vine.

Am I Eros or Phoebus? Lusignan or Biron?
My brow is still red with the kiss of the queen;
I have dreamt in the grotto where the siren swims. . .

And, twice victorious, I have crossed Acheron:
My Orphic lyre in turn modulating the strains
Of the sighs of the saint and the cries of the fay.

(Translation by Richard Sieburth, sourced here; here is a line-by-line interpretation in French)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Henri Michaux - Le Prince de la Nuit, 1937

Prince of the Night

Prince of the night, of the double,
of the star-gland,
of the seat of Death,
of the useless column,
of the supreme question;

Prince of the broken crown,
of the divided reign, of the wooden hand.

Petrified prince in a panther's robe.
Lost prince.

(Painting: Le Prince de la Nuit, 1937, 33x25 cm, gouache on black background, Musée national d'art moderne, Paris; Poem: Peintures, G.L.M., 1937).

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Chris Watson & BJ Nilsen - Storm

On August 20th 1907 German expressionist poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote 'Die Insel' ('The Island'), a triptych of sombre poems on Pellworm, one of the Frisian Islands.

In these poems, the elemental force of the North Sea - floods and storm - is associated with blindness, darkness, death, nothingness. The lonely life of the inhabitants of the tiny Frisian island Rilke writes about, is touched by this force: "its inhabitants who were born / into a sleep in which many worlds / are silently confused, for they rarely speak, / and every phrase is like an epitaph / for something washed up on shore, unknown, / that inexplicably comes to them and remains." In the last lines of the third and final poem, in lines which remind of Nietzsche's aphorism 'The Madman', the island itself is presented as adrift in cosmic darkness, "not in the plans of planets, suns and systems".

Storm is a cd of field recordings of North Sea storms by Chris Watson and BJ Nilsen. It consists of carefully edited and layered recordings of North Sea storms, made over a period of five years. The first track ('No Man's Land) was created by Watson; the second track ('SIGWX') is a collaborative effort; and the third and final track ('Austrvegr') was created by Nilsen.

The album paints a sound picture of the North Sea that is as ominous as Rilke's poems. The icy wind is harsher than the coldest Black Metal noise; the geese murmur and grunt, the seagulls shriek and the seals jabber as if they are all moonsick; the waves crash and the sea churns and rages and roils relentlessly. That no human sound is to be heard on 'Storm' only adds to the sense of desolation. The sound of 'Storm' is the sound one might hear on a rough night on that ‘long stretch of shore--shingle edged by sand, and intersected at short intervals with black groynes running down to the water’, the ‘bleak stage’ on which ‘no actor was visible’, and defined by ‘the absence of any landmark’, of M.R. James' ghost story ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad’.

The liner notes to the cd, released on Touch Records, reflect the foreboding atmosphere:

"Late October on the strands of Budle Bay where dense layers of transient alien voices are swamped by a full moon tide creeping across the island’s silver causeway. Now lapping out of the gathering gloom an immersive sea wash is filling then draining away carrying slow currents from here to another place. There are no reference points in this darkness."


"A black ruthless sea. Heavy winds making it impossible to stand up straight, icy rain hitting your face like needles."

That Watson and Nilsen produce such a grim orchestration of field recorded sounds is not so surprising if one considers their antecedents. Chris Watson was a member of Cabaret Voltaire - cyberpunks avant la lettre, whose electronic dadaist cut-ups presented a bleak, oppressive vision of Thatcherite England. BJ Nilsen started out as Morthound. His first album was Black Romantic ambient and bore the title 'This Crying Age' . It was released on the Swedish label Cold Meat Industry ('Your Haunting Nightmare since 1987'), a label responsible for such releases as MZ412's 'Burning the Temple of God'.

Of course, the appreciation of storms as dramatic, as a sublime phenomenon is bound up with man's technological progress: with the industrial revolution came the introduction of steam-powered engines on board ships and the construction of iron and then steel hulls, and these gave humankind the illusion of rational control over nature. This made it possible to reduce nature to an object of aesthetic contemplation. No longer were the seas perilous to cross; they now became aesthetic spectacles. In a sense, 'Storm' is to storms and the sea what Swiss Black Metal band Paysage D'Hiver is to winter landscapes and mountains.

But the fact that it's aesthetic experience is historically determined in no way lessens my enjoyment of 'Storm'. Only for an withered, anaemic mentality would the fact that this aesthetic is bound up with an historical, cultural and social context be a reason for reluctance to love and enjoy this beautiful album. Such reluctance would be as senseless as complaining that the cathedrals were built in the middle ages.

The aesthetic concept of the sublime is not merely an abstract intellectual construction, far from the confusing and muddying effects of human experience. The sublime is also a historically, culturally and socially grounded method for intoxication, a set of practical waymarks and contextual clues leading to an experience which makes the air one breathes invigorating. It leads towards an experience at the extreme limit of the possible: "Strangely, from your little island in space, you were gone forth into the dark, great realms of time, where all the souls that never die veer and swoop on their vast, strange errands. The little earthly island has dwindled, like a jumping-off place, into nothingness, for you have jumped off, you know not how, into the dark wide mystery of time, where the past is vastly alive, and the future is not separated off." (D.H. Lawrence, 'The Man Who Loved Islands').


See also this (more conventionally beautiful than sublime) precursor to 'Storm', at the ever-interesting audio blog 'A Closet of Curiosities'.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Exotica - Colin McPhee

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"[Composer and ethnomusicologist] Colin McPhee was not a surrealist, but his self-willed displacement in Bali projected him into the Interzone, the imaginative construct, a place that encouraged 'extraordinary realities drawn from the domains of the exotic, the erotic, and the unconscious'. Though McPhee was too discrete to make a connection public, the 'sensuous charm' that he heard in Balinese music seems connected to his enjoyment of other sensual pleasures: cooking, drinking, sexual freedom. In his essay, 'Eros and Orientalism in Britten's Operas', musicologist Philip Brett quotes a letter from McPhee in which he wrote; 'Many times there was a decision to be made between some important opportunity and a sexual (homosexual) relationship that was purely sensual. I never hesitated to choose the latter. This I did deliberately and would do again and again, for it seemed the only thing that was real. The Balinese period was merely an extension of this."

The YouTube video below contain some silent movies Colin Mcphee shot in Bali in the 1930's.