Fragment: Harmonious Triads

“Debates concerning Paganini’s controversial virtuosity raged throughout European bourgeois and aristocratic circles. He himself reportedly started the legend that he had obtained his unparallelled skill from the Devil, continuing a centuries-old trope of violinists’ deals with Satan. His fourth string, which was rumored to be composed of the intestine of his mistress whom he purportedly murdered, elicited wondrous melodic tones. The rumors continued. He supposedly spent twenty years in prison for his murderous deed, accompanied only by his violin. During this time in solitary confinement, he was able to ferret out the secrets of his instrument, inventing a new fingering technique. As fantastic as these tales are, they seem to pale in insignificance to his very real performances. Whenever he broke a string from his passionate and forceful playing, he compensated without missing a beat, by continuing the piece with only three strings. Should another break, he could play with two. Indeed, his coup de grace was his uncanny ability to play an entire piece on only one string.”

Jackson, Myles. (2006) Harmonious Triads: Physicists, Musicians, and Instrument Makers in Nineteenth-Century Germany. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 253.

Theatre of Tragedy

According to Wikipedia, the Norwegian gothic metal band Theatre of Tragedy was one of the first, if not the first, bands to employ what are often termed “beauty and the beast” vocals. At the very least, they are one of the few bands I know that have used “death grunts”, the “beast” element of these vocals, to melodious effect, rather than having them overpower each other element of their songs. With lyrics in early modern English, German, the occasional sound clip, and haunting piano work, their early output remains the defining feature of their 17 year existence.

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Emilie Autumn, February 22nd 2012, Toronto

A mix of old and new greeted plague rats at the Opera House last Wednesday as Emilie Autumn once again visited Toronto, this time to promote her newest album “Fight Like A Girl”. While those representing order at the venue itself were a bit more authoritarian than I was personally used to, the space itself was very nice.

The performance began in much the same vein as her previous one with the perennial favouret “4 o’clock” with her rat mask and the spectacular shadow screen. I was pleased but also somewhat perplexed to see the similarities between the two shows. It seemed a bit like a splicing of two, admittedly excellent, separate performances into one.

Still, sporting an impressive and feathery fohawk, Emilie Autumn did her thing, and did it well, singing songs both angrier, and yet also more hopeful than her previous album.

And as I stood there in the audience, crow’s head staff in hand and flanked by my friends Scott, Brendan (possibly the worlds tallest Emilie Autumn fan) and his partner Sarah (both who I first met at an Emilie Autumn concert last year), standing in a sea of teenage girls, I really realized just how much we were vicariously sharing in Emilie Autumn’s trauma in ways that I think should be, if not problematized, at least reflected on in greater detail.

I have come to believe that we can not help but try to live out the dramas of our minds in the world around us, and more often than not the creative act becomes the medium through which we try to self-consciously shape ourselves. I think that Emilie is well aware of this, and she takes care at the end of her shows to applaud her plague rats for their unity amid diversity, and encourages them to sublimate their own suffering into creative acts, to “take back the asylum”. Yet just as much as the creative act, we also stage the people in our lives themselves as actors in our mental dramas. They fulfill a variety of archetypical needs, and indeed, it is in fact trickier than most would like to admit to say we “know” another person. In this case, the audience is just as much a part of Emilie’s mindspace as she is of theirs. In such songs as “Swallow” (one of my favorites) I have the feeling Emilie knows this. Which such stanzas as:

I’ll tell the truth all of my songs
Are pretty much the fucking same
I’m not a faerie but I need
More than this life so I became
This creature representing more to you
Than just another girl
And if I had a chance to change my mind
I wouldn’t for the world
Twenty years
Sinking slowly
Can I trust you
But I don’t want to


I don’t want to be a legend
Oh well that’s a god-damned lie, I do
To say I do this for the people
I admit is hardly true
You tell me everything’s all right
As though it’s something you’ve been through
You think this torment is romantic
Well it’s not, except to you
Twenty years
Sinking slowly
Can I trust you
But I don’t want to

What I wonder is, how many of her fans are likewise so aware? What are we really doing when we share in this kind of vicarious trauma? Is it cathartic, voyeuristic, or part of the compulsion to repeat inherent in the traumatic event itself? How many plague rats actually do think “this torment is romantic”, or conversely, how could one actually survive such torment unless sustained by a kind of romance? What does she represent to her fans more than “just another girl”? I know that I am not what one would consider the target demographic for such performances, the infamous 49%, as it were, and I’m still struggling through “The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls” (the content makes it a difficult book for me to read), but I think I have some sense of these answers for myself.

But enough of my endless attempts at something like introspection and hyper-intellectualization, and back to the show!

The pre-encore performance ended with the song “One Foot in Front of the Other” which I have to say was probably my favoret of the new songs sung that night. After all the displays of trauma and sexuality it completed the performance with the not-uncomplicated sense that maybe things are going to be ok.

Stan Rogers and Reflections on Nova Scotia

Repeat readers of The Starry Messenger will know the ways in which I tend to be critical of most traditional “Canadian Icons” – and Canadian culture in general for that matter, though there are still some that intrigue me greatly. One of these exceptions is Stan Rogers (1949-1983), the east coast musician whose “Barret’s Privateers” became a folk song in his own lifetime (including, as it did, a forgetting of its original author and lyrics!) While employing much of the rural nostalgia endemic to most east coast music, Stan Rogers seemed aware of the limitations of this approach, and brought much that was fresh and reflective to his work. In most of his music he strove to document the loss of a way of life that he had never directly experienced, while at the same time acknowledge that he had never directly experienced it.

I have tried, and failed, to fully justify my interest in Stan Rogers on intellectual grounds. At first glance his songs, such as Fisherman’s Wharf and Watching the Apples Grow, do indeed seem fueled by a sense of ressentiment towards the modern world. (Though I confess to a certain ressentiment of my own in the enjoyment I take in the line: “Ontario, y’know I’ve seen a place I’d rather be / Your scummy lakes and the City of Toronto don’t do a damn thing for me / I’d rather live by the sea.” In that song Stan Rogers was, in fact singing about the place were I grew up.) Few things, it seems, more readily instill a sense of where one is from, with all that is comforting and deeply problematic about it, than being force to leave that place, particularly when it is coupled by the growing suspicion that one will never be able to live there again.

So much of the Novia Scotian sense of cultural identity revolves around the idea of ships and sailing. Despite this, the present experience is only one of economic diaspora, as those with the education head out to larger cities such as Toronto or Montreal seeking greater opportunities, while those without the education often go out west at the ambiguous promise of sharing in the wealth of the the oil fields. Aside from this, most Nova Scotians live a very sedentary lifestyle, and have for the past 40 years or so, out of touch with the motifs and themes that they continue to celebrate. While nostalgia is something I can certainly understand, it seldom travels in the company of reflection, and self-questioning.  And that, perhaps, now that I have taken the time to write it out, is one of the more valuable things about Stand Rogers’ music: Its awareness of what it is, which is a refreshing aspect of any project really.

Stan Rogers died aboard Air Canada Flight 797, reportedly helping others get off the plane before being caught in a flash fire.

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An interesting psychological analysis of the symbols in this song:

Zirco Circus and Ultraviolet Detours

Often playfully macabre, theatrical, and possessing an impressive and creative dedication to all the possibilities of black light, I first met James “Zirco” Fisher at the Bazaar of the Bizarre where he was promoting a number of his diverse projects. Aside from being a part of the dark ambient group “Squid Lid”, Zirco Fisher also does an array of illustrations including his “Disfigures of Speech” series, one of which is shown below:

Whether DJing or performing their own work, Squid Lid’s shows are a sight to see, for throughout they constantly change up their fantastical, black light costumes to things ever more outre and strange.

Which brings me to the second topic of this post. Black light, or ultraviolet light was discovered by Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1776-1810) in 1801 Ritter, an acquaintance of such figures as Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt, Herder and Schelling, was part of the early naturphilosophie movement in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Like several naturphilosophen, he held that a base principle of nature was that of polarities. The discovery of infrared light had been announced in 1800 by the British astronomer William Herschel, and Ritter reasoned that there must be something on the other side of the spectrum, and went about devising elaborate means of detecting it.

Ritter was also infamous for his tendency to perform often excruciating electrical experiments on almost every tissue of his own body, but that is a story for another day.

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Fugitive Flights: Nick Cave and Wings of Desire

While perhaps a somewhat dubious honour to the Australian musician, when I first heard Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds I was struck by how effectively he seemed to have tapped into a particularly “American Gothic” sense of sin and felony. At any rate, his appreciation for the work of Johnny Cash is certainly evident in his collected discography, narrating, as it does, dark scenes of love, death, crime and condemnation with classic goth rock wedded to country tunes and ersatz organs that scream out of a religion in which the Devil is everywhere, and salvation so very, very fleeting.

These themes are very well brought out by Pernille L.G.’s accompaniment for “Up Jumped the Devil”, which is an excellent example of an artistically sophisticated fan-created music video, and speaks to the positive effect of YouTube in exhibiting these kinds of projects to a much broader audience than they might have otherwise enjoyed. The use of stop motion animation for the bones, the manipulation (and incineration) of paper characters and the skillful setting of the action to the rhythm of Nick Cave’s music set this out from the bulk of similar videos.

Speaking of artistically inclined movies, I was also quite enthused to learn of Nick Cave’s appearance in the film Der Himmel Über Berlin – Wings of Desire, in the English release. A meditative romantic fantasy starring Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander as the weary and world-curious angels Damiel and Cassiel, and also featuring Peter Falk (of Columbo fame), Wings of Desire is a worthwhile and important film, and a poignant snapshot of Berlin in the 1980s, before the fall of the wall.

So I suppose the theme of this post has been the way in which art begets art, and speaks to its diverse globe-spanning influence, from America, to Australia, Germany and Denmark, Pernille’s base of operations. Indeed, I can think of few things more fugitive, or fulfilling.

For More Information: (Pernille’s Youtube channel)

Zbigniew Preisner: Requium for My Friend

Mostly known in North America for his work composing the soundtrack to the Secret Garden, and  recently for this song, Lacramosa – Requiem for My Friend, in the film Tree of Life, the Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner has an impressive array of projects to his name. This piece was originally intended as part of a collaborative project with the director Krzysztof Kieślowski, but became a memorial after Kieślowski’s death in 1996.

His work speaks to the continuation of a tradition of great composers, in no way cheapened by its currently heavy reliance on the medium of the movie soundtrack to express itself.

I first heard this piece in my late teens, and still hope to someday write an epic poem in part inspired by its profound effect on my thinking at that time.

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Johnny Hollow

With their fantastically creepy visual effects, dark ambiance and haunting lyrics, Johnny Hollow is a group that has exponentially increased the intrigue for me of their home town of Guelph, Ontario, putting the city on my map of weird which I had previously only associated with sports players or business folk.

They’re also associated with the animated short: “The Lady Paranorma”, which promises to be quite a treat, employing poetic narrative and an uncanny imagery that Trevor Tuminski of The Rue Morgue describes as “an exceptionally well-executed animated film about a woman who goes searching for the source of the ghostly whispers that haunt her,” that the the writer and director Vincent Marcone calls a “visual poem dedicated to the weird inside all of us.”

In short, definitely worth exploring.

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The Cure, the Lullaby and the Nightmare

I was introduced to The Cure by a longtime friend and have come to appreciate their music. This particular video, with its accompanying lyrics, struck me as being very reminiscent of the effects of Sleep Paralysis. While I do have the tendency to read into things, it seems to go along with the strong connection of this experience with artistic expression. In any event, I’ve put it here so others can consider it.

The Chemical Wedding of Art and Science, the Secular and Sacred

I still do not know quite what to think of the relationship between Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson and the occult. His fifth solo album “Chemical Wedding”, the single “Man of Sorrows” and his hand in writing the recent film also titled “Chemical Wedding”. The songs on the album are harder than the pieces he worked on with Iron Maiden, but they do evince more than a passing familiarity with occult thought and symbology. I have yet to see his film, but my most respected esoteric friend seems very critical of it. Still, I remain curious.

The occult has had a long and productive relationship with art, which is intriguing for the divide between the esoteric and exoteric demands of the tradition. Yet they both function through similar, metaphorical channels and ways of thinking, and, like Goethe’s claim in Faust, can be hidden openly in the artistic work. Not only hidden, I contend, but addressed and developed as well. Representative of the divide between Newtonian and Goethean alchemy, it has been the primary mode of esoteric exploration in the west since the Enlightenment. Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, Peter Birkhäuser, Achille-Claude Debussy, William Blake, and many more besides. At the end of the 19th century the Newtonian interest in the occult, that is to say, the experimental, physical emphasis, looked to be reviving in the work of the London Society for Psychical Research, with William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace, Oliver Lodge and the journalist W.T. Stead’s efforts at the scientific popularization of esoteric research. Unlike many other modes of thought, it seems likely that this realm of exploration benefits equally from artistic and scientific exploration, for both its psychological and physical effects on human knowledge, and the primary place of pattern recognition in its myriad manifestations.

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