Filtering by Tag: literature

The Ruins Of The Tower Of Babel

First of all, I want you to know that yesterday I released my short film Introducing Lilith. It’s now on YouTube and, of course, on this website (on the ‘pictures’ section). It’s a film I really care about because of many reasons: if you’ve got 2 minutes (literally), I suggest you check it out. Also, the soundtrack of the film is available on iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon etc. Among all the pieces of music I composed, it’s probably my favourite one, so I would be particularly happy if you listened to it and left a feedback to give me your opinion.

Now, I’ll probably talk about these new releases next week. Today, I’d like to write about the last song of the album I’m recording, Songs Of Fear And Agony. I discussed the themes of all the others, so this will be the last post of the series.

The song is called The Ruins Of The Tower Of Babel:

 

When I’m alone, I’ll fall into

Antique Italian dreams, among

Thoughts made of marble, tears of paint

And ghosts mouthing rhymes.

 

In churches built of human blood,

I’ll listen to God’s harmony.

And when I return, I’ll tell

Everyone of my secret life.


Who would really comprehend my words?

Who would try to understand

Who I really am?


For now, I’d better hold my tongue

And work on some new cryptic lines,

While German songs and Indian chants

Try hard to overcome the noise.


We all belong to it now, and to

The unbridled Irish wind:

A frenzied oracle of hope that

Speaks in tongues and we can’t see.


Who would really comprehend his words?

Who would try to understand

Who he really is?


Who would really comprehend our words?

Who would try to understand

Who we really are?


A floating world would be enough

For me to face a sudden change,

Although my poor, chaotic talk

Would force me to lie ceaselessly.


Concealed behind the shadows

Of countless Japanese identities,

I’d greet the darkness, kneel

And, lastly, enjoy my solitude.

 

I think it’s fairly easy to understand that one of the main themes of the lyrics is ‘communication’ (or, better, the absence of it). The myth of the Tower of Babel has always been used extensively to discuss this particular topic, so this won’t come as a surprise. If we looked at the lyrics more carefully, though, we would find a deeper meaning concealed underneath the first one: loneliness.

It would be hard for me to deny that this song is particularly personal. To a certain extent, it’s even autobiographical, and the references to Italy and Ireland are there to prove it. At the same time, and this might probably sound strange to some people, Dublin has always made me feel less lonely, so the adjective ‘autobiographical’ wouldn’t be accurate.

Loneliness has been used many times to describe two different feelings. A person who’s got not friends or partners experiences loneliness, for example, and so does someone who can’t feel the presence of, let’s say, God. The two situations, although intrinsically connected, are different: interpersonal loneliness and existential loneliness are not the same.

When I was writing The Ruins Of The Tower Of Babel, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I wanted to write about interpersonal loneliness in order to talk about its counterpart. I pictured myself lost in a city full of people I could’t understand, a city built upon the ruins of the Tower of Babel, and I pictured many, many people like me.

There they are... Why can’t they understand each other? It’s because they (their fathers) built the Tower of Babel: it’s because they wanted to reach God.

Now, does interpersonal loneliness, absence of communication, or even absence of empathy, come directly from the absence of God, or his inaccessibility? Does it come from existential loneliness?

 

Thanks for reading! 

 

Building Of The Tower Of Babel, Hendrick van Cleve III, About 1525 - 1589

Building Of The Tower Of Babel, Hendrick van Cleve III, About 1525 - 1589

Three Short Stories

Last week I found three short stories I wrote around ten years ago in Florence. I decided to read them, and I have to say that it was a particularly interesting experience.

As you can imagine, I wrote them in Italian, my first language. They’re pretty long, and that’s something I didn’t remember at all. I also noticed that they were sort of connected, thematically speaking. Did I want to write an entire book of short stories? I really don’t remember...

Anyway, it’s the writing style that made me think, and that’s because, although different, there are many, many elements that I brought with me during all these years. I’m talking about the use of metaphors, similitudes, anaphora and other rhetorical devices, mostly.

Will I find them again ten years from now?

Thanks for reading! 

The Three Ages Of Man, Titian, 1511 - 1512

The Three Ages Of Man, Titian, 1511 - 1512

Art Evolution

Three days ago, I wrote a very brief post about the implications of being an independent artist. It wasn’t particularly informative, to be honest, but I’m happy I did it because on the same day I received a very interesting comment on Instagram:

@neva_2018 About your post: I often wonder if creative works are ‘selected’ over time for traits that make them more competitive in the book market, like ‘literary evolution’. Do these popular works deserve their selection? Based on what general traits are they selected? What are your thoughts?

(By the way, I suggest you check @neva_2018’s Instagram profile: you’ll find some very interesting poems!)

The following day I wrote a very long reply and... I deleted it by mistake... Undaunted, I decided to write an entire post about the topic.

So here it is (if you’re not into literary theory, I suggest you skip this post. Come to visit this page on Wednesday, though: I’ve got some good news about my music!):

First of all, I’ve got to say that I’m not a scholar and this is not an essay: only my very humble (and probably disconnected) thoughts.

As far we know, humans have always tried to select and preserve the best works of art, but there’s always been a problem: what does ‘best’ mean, when applied to art, and literature in particular? Things get even more complicated if we realise that the concept of art itself has changed through the history of mankind.

In my opinion, there’s one precise human aspect that has always played an important role in the ‘literary evolution’, and that’s taste. Unfortunately (that is, fortunately), even during the same period, people’s tastes vary depending on many, many factors (country, social position, age... The list could go on and on).

I recently read a very interesting introduction to one of the most famous books of all time, ‘One Thousand And One Nights’ (or ‘The Arabian Nights’). Although the stories contained in the original manuscripts (most of them, at least) were originated in the Middle-East, India and even China, they didn’t gain much attention until they reached the European countries. That’s because their language wasn’t refined enough to be part of the Arabic canon. People didn’t like them and, even now, many scholars of Arabic literature question their value.

That’s a good example to explain why, personally, I’ve always found sentences like ‘That’s his finest writing’ or  ‘He’s the best writer in the world’ to be essentially naive (please keep in mind that, like most people, I often said things like that). How can an adjective like that be applied to a particularly subjective field as art?

Famously, Aristotle’s opinions on poetry ended up being so influential that for centuries numberless writers tried to stick to what they considered to be sacred rules. Even now, when teaching screenwriting, people take his ‘Poetics’ as fundamental for storytelling. 

(A very personal note: Unfortunately, Many Hollywood producers understood how to make tons of money with a very basic narrative structure, and Hollywood films have always been very influential. Sometimes I feel like the existence of films such as those by Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini or Akira Kurosawa is considered a sort of anomaly...)

Funny enough, the tragedies of William Shakespeare, who usually ignored the Aristotelian rules, are more famous than those of many other writers of the same period who followed them. Why? Because the tastes of the English in the 16th century were probably very different from those of the Greeks in the 4th century BC (and I’m not even talking about individual tastes).

Now, I want to get straight to the questions of the Instagram comment I told you about.

My thoughts about taste being fundamental in the selection (and in the preservation) of any work of art are pretty clear, I think, and I also already said that there are many general traits that are appealing to the people of a certain time and of a certain space. There are so many, that I might write an entire book trying to identify them... Sadly, I won’t be able to make a list today.

As for the selected books of the past, I really don’t know if they deserved to be selected. If I replied to this question, I would have to say that they were or they weren’t better than others, and as I said I don’t know how I could affirm something like that while being sincere.

But let’s talk of the book market. For a very long lapse of time, books (and works of art in general) were chosen because people wanted to preserve them. This kind of selection was essential and, as I said multiple times, was dictated by taste. The advent of printing in the 15th century changed everything, though, and everything changed even more with the birth of our capitalistic society around five hundred years after that. Although things are slightly changing, the books we now find in our favourite bookshops were selected by a number of people working in a publishing house.

Did they select them because they simply liked them more than others?

In my opinion, yes and no.

Although I believe many books get published because beautiful or interesting, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to read them if considered difficult to sell. I say ‘considered’ because, unfortunately (and the internet is here to prove it), it’s very hard to understand what will be successful or not, especially now. There certainly are particular traits that ‘make them more competitive’, but I do believe they’re difficult to analyse (there are probably entire teams that do it) and, most importantly, they’re unpredictable.

The people in the music and film industry, being these two fields particularly commercial, have tried to solve the problem by dictating or directing the taste of the people. This is something that happens for books as well, but I don’t think the problem’s so serious (maybe I’m being very optimistic, though).

Anyway, it seems this system is going to collapse. The artists can now reach the audience directly, and it seems this kind of self-production/self-distribution/self-promotion will last for a while (who knows?).

The art selection is becoming more democratic, but also more brutal, and apart from the artistic merits of a work, advertising and promotion are the essential elements of this reality.

In the end, it still is a matter of people’s tastes, but tastes in ads, probably, more than in art.

Oh, dear! It seems today I wrote a bit too much... I don’t know how many people will reach the end of this post. If you have, you can consider yourself a hero! I’m not sure whether what I wrote above makes sense or not. I didn’t really plan it, so it will probably sound like a chaotic series of random thoughts.

Anyway...

Thanks for reading (I promise I’ll post more entertaining stuff in the future...)!

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, Rembrandt, 1653

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, Rembrandt, 1653

The Books Of Hell

‘The Books Of Hell’ is the second track of my album ‘Songs Of Fear And Agony’, and it’s one of my favourites.

One more stroke of fear to start

Provoking all those vacuous eyes.

Disdain is just a simple matter

Of self-preservation.

Some years ago I spent one of the worst periods of my life, and this song was inspired by it. It could be considered as my personal vision of hell or one of the many.

Depression amplifies every single aspect of life you normally dislike and, at the same time, erases the pleasure you get from what you love. You constantly try to find something you might enjoy, and unfortunately, sometimes the only thing that gives you pleasure is your own condemning other people’s sins.

Why is this song called ‘The Books Of Hell’?

Books are my special friends. They give me pleasure and food to feed my mind at the same time. Music and films are special because they’re alive, in a way, and that’s because of their essential element: time. You’re face to face with them. Books are different. Books are dead, and that’s not a negative thing: the dead are the greatest teachers.

Books, like any other things, didn’t give me much pleasure during the time I told you about, but...

But after all, I can’t complain.

I’ve got some books of poems and plays

And, yeah, the amusement’s gone but, still,

Their fundamental truth remains.

Thanks for reading!

Picture from the series ‘Divine Comedy’, Gustave Doré

Picture from the series ‘Divine Comedy’, Gustave Doré

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

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