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Words

Although it might sound strange, words are the most important ‘material’ I work with.

I know that many artists (musicians, but also filmmakers) start working on a project by creating sounds or pictures: tons of musicians compose the music of their songs before they even think about the lyrics, and several filmmakers I love make drawings or take pictures to be inspired.

That’s not my case. I start with ideas, concepts and themes, and these come to my mind as words.

When I’m happy about the lyrics of a song that still needs music, its harmony and its melody will reach my ears, naturally. When I’m happy about a dialogue, the pictures of the film will magically appear in front of my eyes.

Sometimes music and pictures come to me as I write.

Today I’m talking about words because I think it’s time for me to do something I haven’t done in a while: writing words which aren’t meant to be sung or spoken.

Wait! That’s the exact same thing I’m doing right now...

Thanks for reading!

Ways To Change [The Adverb Wall] (detail), Peter Wegner

Ways To Change [The Adverb Wall] (detail), Peter Wegner

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

‘Songs Of Fear And Agony’, the album I’m recording, is a very personal project. I wouldn’t call it autobiographical, but there are many, many elements that come directly from my own life.

That was not my plan, though. I love songs based on stories about specific characters, and I wrote several of them during the last two years. Unfortunately, there was no space for them in my first collection of songs.

What will happen to them?

Well, that’s simple: they will have a place in my next album. I’m already working on it. It does not have a real title, so I just call it ‘Devilish Cabaret’.

As I already said, I have a bunch of songs which are (more or less) ready, but I’m also writing some new lyrics. I finished one yesterday: It’s called ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. I’m pretty happy about it, although not completely satisfied.

I’ll work on it, again, later...

Thanks for reading!

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Rose Cecil O’Neill, 1905

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Rose Cecil O’Neill, 1905

Random Thoughts About Art: #01 Writing Songs And Making Films

For many years, I tried to choose between writing songs and making films. I thought I would never have time to do both. I wasn’t right, but it’s true that it can be hard, sometimes. I find myself writing lyrics, editing scenes of my screenplays, recording music and trying to find funds for my films during the same week.

I tried to stop writing music a couple of times: the first time when I was around 20, and the second time when I was around 26. Of course, it didn’t work. If you feel you need to do something (that is, something legal and morally correct... yes...), you shouldn’t stop yourself. It’s that simple. There are compromises you need to accept, yes, but if you really want to do it (and you know it if you really want to), then, do it.

Personally, I now know that I can’t write films if I don’t write songs. Why? Well, although the answer is right above these lines, I usually fool myself saying that...

Songs, being closely related to lyrical poetry, are naturally more personal than films, which are closely related to dramatic poetry: I need to use my voice in order to create voices for my characters.

Does that make any sense?

Thanks for reading! 

Terry Gilliam and Tom Waits

Terry Gilliam and Tom Waits

The Concept Of Tragedy

“The poet…is the man of metaphor: while the philosopher is interested only in the truth of meaning, beyond even signs and names, and the sophist manipulates empty signs…the poet plays on the multiplicity of signifieds.”

Jacques Derrida

A friend of mine once told me that the first lines of my song ‘The Concept Of Tragedy’ sounded like a quote from Jacques Derrida.

The lines in question are:

The philosopher

And the oldest trick in the book: 

If thinking leads to language,

And language leads to thinking,

We can deduce that knowledge

Stems from both in equal measure.

 Just put your trust in logic,

And we will find the root

Of your disorder.

One of the questions I’m usually asked is: ‘What’s the message you’re trying to convey with this work?’. I know this is a question people like, and I think they like it because we naturally try to understand (that is, understand logically) everything our senses perceive. At the same time, unfortunately, it’s not a question that can be really answered. Not properly, at least.

The quote above is perfect to explain what I mean:

‘The poet...’

(Middle English: from Old French poete, via Latin from Greek poētēs, variant of poiētēs ‘maker, poet’, from poiein ‘create’)

‘plays...’

(Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose)

‘on the multiplicity of signifieds.’

(The meaning or idea expressed by a sign, as distinct from the physical form in which it is expressed)

Why am I writing this? Well, because one of the many themes (and I don’t mean messages) that lie behind ‘The Concept Of Tragedy’ is (lack of) comprehension/understanding.

You can decide now if I’m playing the poet, the philosopher...

Or the sophist...

You’ve reached the end of the post, my friend... Thank you so much!

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida

Fear & Agony

I feel I should write a few lines about a song I wrote and recorded around four years ago. Its title is different now, but at the time it was called ‘Captivity’.

Usually, after I finish a song, I don’t really know how important that is going to be. Many songs I genuinely love during the writing process become unbearably dull to my ears after some time, while others I don’t really care of, eventually, end up being my favourite ones. I never know.

The situation of ‘Captivity’ has always been different, though. When I started writing it, I knew it was an important song and, after four years, it still is.

The problem with songs you really love is that you want their recording to sound as good as possible. Unfortunately, although interesting, the recorded version of ‘Captivity’ wasn’t that good. That’s why you won’t find it in my first two EPs.

Fortunately, as it happens many times in our lives, what seemed to be a problem turned out to be a blessing:

‘Captivity’, which is now ‘Fear & Agony’, has become the most important song of the album I’m recording...

And that’s because I feel I’m not done with it...

And I feel I’m not done with it because the energy the song contains hasn’t been released yet!

I’m going to do that soon with the help of a special guest (yes, Hugh Cannon, I’m talking about you),  and this time I won’t make the same mistakes (although I’m sure I will make some others...).

If you’re curious, this is the first stanza:

Can you hear the deep white noise

That heralds the executioner?

It mauls the crags and madly yells:

“Don’t waste your pleas: the sickle’s deaf.”

The main themes are, obviously, ‘fear’ and ‘agony’, but I’ve always felt there’s another one that underlines them...

The picture below comes from ‘Shame’, a film made by Ingmar Bergman in 1968. Four years ago I sampled the first dialogue of the film and added it to the recording of the song. That’s one of the few things that actually worked.

Thanks for reading!

Shame, Ingmar Bergman, 1968

Shame, Ingmar Bergman, 1968

Incantations

Today I’d like to write about a short film I made in 2016 while studying at Pulse College. It’s called ‘Incantations’ (Ireland, 2016). I never really wrote an introduction to it, so I thought I could do it now.

Although I’ve always seen it as a film, ‘Incantations’ might be considered the music video for a song I recorded in 2014.

If I remember well, I composed some of it when I was 16. Back then, I used to play in a (sort of) band (we weren’t that good, but we had lots of ideas). The band didn’t last long, but the song remained, and, ten years later, I decided to finish it. It later became the title track of my second EP.

The song, as it is now, is about the guitarist of my teenage band. He was my best friend and a very talented musician (you can hear his guitar at the very beginning of the song). Unfortunately, he died of cancer when he was 18.

The title ‘Incantations’ is a reference to some of the songs he wrote and ‘Left behind’, and the film revolves around the concepts of death, grief, loneliness and resurrection.

I’ll talk about them again in the future. 

Thanks for reading!

Incantations, Ireland, 2016

Incantations, Ireland, 2016

Sisyphus

‘The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labour.’

The Myth Of Sisyphus, Albert Camus

In my previous posts, I wrote about the themes of two of the songs I’m recording: ‘Pandora’ and ‘Prometheus’. What I didn’t say is that they’re part of a trilogy of songs inspired by Greek mythology, the third one being ‘Sisyphus’.

As I already explained, ‘Pandora’ is about depression, and in the lyrics, I focused my attention on the ‘misdeed’ (the cause).

‘Prometheus’, on the other hand, is about pain (the effect).

Now, ‘Sisyphus’ is a bit different because it’s not directly connected to the other two. It is about OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and it’s much more ironic (but not lighthearted).

It begins like this:

I always tried to fail.

I always failed to try.

I tried to find some symmetry.

I failed to mention why.

My mind's a perfect sphere,

A tidy globe of theories,

Smooth and abstract,

Real and compact,

Overpacked with queries.

Instead of writing about the ‘misdeed’ or the ‘punishment’, the cause and the effect, I decided to write about ‘the absurd’, a concept that in my opinion can be easily connected to OCD. 

Thanks for reading! 

Sisyphus, Titian, 1548 - 1549

Sisyphus, Titian, 1548 - 1549

Prometheus

‘Prometheus’ is the name of one of the 11 songs I’m recording.

It begins like this:

As life begins to slow,

I sense your impotent gaze on me.

Sure, everything's fine!

I’m just chained up to my first act.

I think the connection with ‘Pandora’, the song I wrote about last week, is clear enough. These two myths have always been associated for various reasons, the most important being their narrative structure. We could call it ‘Misdeed & Punishment’.

Here’s an extract from one of my favourite Greek tragedies:

‘PROMETHEUS

'Tis for this, in truth, that I am bent by sufferings such as these, agonizing to endure, and piteous to look upon. I that had compassion for mortals, have myself been deemed unworthy to obtain this, but mercilessly am thus coerced to order, a spectacle inglorious to Jupiter.’

Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus (Attributed to)

In my song there are no gods: the ‘titanic’ act becomes automatically the punishment. And, of course, the punishment is the pain (mental and/or physical).

Thanks for reading! 

Gnathian Bell Krater, Attributed to Konnakis Painter, about 360 - 350 B.C.

Gnathian Bell Krater, Attributed to Konnakis Painter, about 360 - 350 B.C.

Pandora

The statue below, which can be found in the Victoria And Albert Museum, London, was made by John Gibson, a Welsh Neoclassical sculptor who worked in Rome during the first half of the 19th century.

It represents Pandora, the first woman created by the gods in Greek mythology, and the ‘box’ (which should be a jar, but that’s another topic) containing all the evils of the world.

Now, the first song I wrote for ‘Songs Of Fear And Agony’ is called ‘Pandora’. It’s not just the first one I wrote, though: it’s also the opening track.

It begins with these lines:

Our words dissolve in fear.

As a stray groan

Betrays the offence:

Someone has unsealed

And hollowed out

The universe.

The ‘someone’ I’m talking about here is meant to be Pandora, while ‘the universe’ is meant to be her box (if you think about it, I’m afraid you’ll discover the foundation of this song to be pretty pessimistic).

When I wrote these first lines, it was clear in my head that that ‘someone’, that ‘Pandora’, was none other than me (me as the person who’s uttering the words), and the box my head.

I soon discovered that this song (for me) was about depression.

Thanks for reading!

Pandora, John Gibson, c. 1860

Pandora, John Gibson, c. 1860

Themes

Themes are obviously fundamental for most works of art. I don’t usually start a project thinking about a particular one because, if I did, I wouldn’t be surprised and excited to discover the endless possibilities of what I’m currently working on. Now, as I already wrote in another post, I’m recording my first album, which is called ‘Songs Of Fear And Agony’.

I thought it would be interesting to share some quotations/sounds/pictures concerning the themes that are part of my new songs.

I’d like to start with the simple definitions of the main ones.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary...

FEAR:

‘An unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or bad that is happening or might happen.’

AGONY:

‘Extreme physical or mental pain or suffering.’

(I’m afraid it won’t be a joyful album.)

In the next few days, I’ll post some more engaging content. I’ll probably do the same for the second big project I’m working on. I’ll definitely start with the definition of ‘AGALMATOPHILIA’.

Thanks for reading!

Illustration for ‘Tales Of Mistery And Imagination’ by Edgar Allan Poe, Harry Clarke, 1919

Illustration for ‘Tales Of Mistery And Imagination’ by Edgar Allan Poe, Harry Clarke, 1919

© Black Art 2019