The album Broadcast and Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age gives us sounds which are warped and blended to form songs and other mysterious, evaporated fictions arriving as if by faded and semi-arcane means of transmission. It grasps at the outermost of our shared senses and memories of magical stories in sound and image and Trish Keenan’s voice is the sonorous thread of its lyrical transformations.
‘Solar on the rise, solar on the heel, solar on the keel’ is where she takes us on I see so I see so out of the miasma and through a Magical January. It is day and there is Sunlight at both where we walk on the planet and where we cross its water, these places shaded by their own contact, where we intersect with its surfaces.
‘Rise, solar on the rise…’ The celestial presence in the nearby of a cosmic vastness, to which our lives are inextricably connected and dependant yet also rendered as a half forgotten sky-geometry. This seeing of the Sun and its lightness being brought into the contact spaces of each of our own intersections with the planet, that our returns can carry a sense of this lightness and of the cosmic. Substantial amounts of each of us (the heavier elements and minerals) could only have been made in the core of an active Sun, it is therefore, along with a sense of the planetary – a way of forming deeper context for a mystery of our existences…(and something that we’ll come back to)…
That I am aware, this is also the first of two references to witches (Rhiannon is the second).
Each arrives with a distinct snap of the unknown, where Stevie Nicks’ ‘All your life, you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind’ is the pauce declaration towards us, that we are either so far removed from a life where such a thing is possible that we have not seen, or perhaps the idea that we may have encountered, but still not seen a woman taken by the wind. That there may be gradients of possibility within our own perception, towards ourselves, others and the world – that could lead us to miss witnessing such a thing.
‘And wouldn’t you love to love her…’
To give oneself over to an elemental force of pure immanence as the ongoing expression of the moment (the wind) and as an ongoing female intensity, for whom to a male (or simply to others who are aware) love would be the most extraordinary form of relation or contact.
‘…she rules her life like a bird in flight’
As flight is concerned, there are dynamics of speed and force involved which make encounters of any kind a matter of great skill. There is also the fundamental of retaining that capacity for flight and the flight itself, which includes a sense of and responsiveness to the invisible content of the sky, its streams and thermals, pockets and layers and how these are relayed as vectors in terms of that flight. If you could make yourself aware of these things (and more) then maybe it would be possible for a woman who ruled her life in such a way to see you alongside her.
The same path it seems has always existed, positioned at a point apparently intersecting intensities of human perception and its communal vanishing point, and between human forces and a becoming with the land. Its trees, flowers and plants, animals, seasons, habits and hidden intents learnt often for the explicit purposes of healing and expanding the health of an individual. Although now and here, we seem to encounter the witch through song at a remove, as cult or something we have simply never seen, except the witch is never truly absent but maybe takes different forms (in fiction and whatever that means) and in this way, expresses different things.
After a cursory listen a couple of years back, I almost completely missed this song which I had left in a slightly cared-for place, found now once more under the branch of a convergence just becoming known, almost missed it… As such I don’t know too much about Dutch Uncles (they went early on to the Beatles cauldron of Hamberg to record) and though here it required a gap and a serendipitous return, there is a sublime awakening to this guitar pop. Intoning female socio-ritualistic ‘I put my dress on, I put my face on.’ in an empathic chorus refrain that includes a kind of melodic dead-tilt at the end of these short, vowel-extended statements about apparent surface experiences.
‘Till I get my dress on, and I put my face right, and I put my face in.’
For me the sense is inescapable that this song is partly a rebellion against the modification of the image of the female body from a trapped love-couple-perspective and what it is to live predominantly within that. ‘He thinks he needs me to be seen’ is the first line and the tight expressive timbre of the singing comes almost entirely from that position of relationality to the ‘him’ of the song, while relaying the locked polarities of the pulls and pushes of the relationship ‘In lanes the feeling goes my way.’ This song could never purely be about the surface (except maybe the tyranny of surfaces), even if it were only ever speaking of the surface (surfaces)… Lest we forget, there is energy to the ritual, as there is an energy to repetition (and specifically repetition with ritualistic intent) perhaps the understated power of this song and its expressive field are all the more striking given that the singer of the Dutch Uncles (an old expression for a person who gives you harsh, unpalatable truths) is Duncan Wallis, there is a genuine sense of gratitude to this band when I hear this song.
Incomparable and inestimable at her best – there is a strident depth to Kristin Hersh’s singing, an expressive force which does not rely on virtuousity in the instrument of the voice so much as drawing upon timbre and emotional depth (with a deceptive simplicity of song writing). A lot has been made of the way that Kristin once described how many of her songs came into being as a result of circumstances of mental health where she felt compelled to write individual songs that would otherwise take on an unwanted and invasive presence in her life. Listening to this live version of ‘Teeth’, it strikes me that her voice has had a hole ripped in the middle with a resonance chamber of experiences placed in the gap that criss-crosses it like spider webs.
Kate Bush, lamenting the double trap that awaits some young boys, that they are dreamed into the service of the State as members of its army (‘what a waste of all them army dreamers’) and that any male warrior-instinct is suborned to the State power structure, while simultaneously giving the impression of being its only or proper expression. They are given the epithet of ‘mommy’s little hero,’ a male-hero-dreaming being conferred to the boy by his mother. This is emblematic of the closing down of any ‘warrior’ tradition that may have existed prior, and although the warrior has for a long time partly existed in a collective social structure (the tribe, the caste, the city state) and has been replaced by the captured concept of the soldier, there remains also the idea of the warrior as a nomad, or part of a nomadic tradition, for whom control-territoralisation and its reactive, obsessive portrayal must be seen as a trapped social form. Added to this the context of the warrior from the Castaneda thought-world (also considered as a ‘man of knowledge’ although the later allied books are exclusively by women) and a wider side to the sense of the potential of human struggle and war is created, wherein a realisation must include the dimension of human cognition and correlates, shared on the level social-real, but almost completely missed in every sense. It was Beth Gibbons who sung ‘can’t anybody see, we’ve got a war to fight?’ while also later singing ‘love lost, wild white horses.’ Sadness and warning pervade these songs and outside of the suggestion of their own sonic beauty, little is given towards the transformed directions of opening life up to lines of flight whose material, even amidst a necessary navigation within expressions of a pervading form of sadness – is also an ongoing realisation and connection in the mode of immanent joy.
Diamanda Galas’ voice reaches pitches of power and intensity which can only be reminiscent of what we are left with when we think of banshees, the question occurs, What’s on the other side of the door of Diamanda Galas’ voice?
One thing I can confirm is that even after countless hours of repetition the Bjork/ Antony Hegarty sung ‘Dull Flame of Desire’ is a song which can continue to astound. When it came out on the Volta album in 2007 I noticed there was definitely something there, but didn’t quite grasp the song at that point. Bjork to me feels like a special case when it comes to singers (and the same might be said of Kate Bush), a woman who encapsulates her own musical mode, who broke through so utterly as a musical entity that she creates a vocal space of expression uniquely her own and yet available as a way of breaking out for others (something I feel is happening near the end of this brilliant Braids track). Still, it does not feel like embracing a song like Dull flame of Desire is without negotiation. The ‘flame’ is behind the partially closed eyes of the lover and while it can be the feeling here that it is sustained / partly hidden over time, it is also the hidden reflective desirability of the one lover in the other within the relationship.
Antony Hegarty is a fantastic presence whose voice feels expressively alive and awake at all times. When he and Bjork meet in a brief moment of wordless voices in the middle of the song, as the brass refrain resumes once more – it is two birds in the dance of the sky. There is a point in the final movement of the song, towards its denoument when Bjork’s vocal is a tour de force; the breathy, cracking outbreaks move with purpose and power and she has the last line. Yet I cannot help but feel that it is Antony Hegarty’s final passage which leaves the mark in the expressive terms of the refrain, leaving us with that final slide down in ‘desire.’ It feels like there has been a subtle critique at work within the song, the dull flame. In fact, it is almost as if the power of this song is coming from the background sadness of life (time-as-fall, all-will-fall), that this song which builds on its own refrains impeccably, has a rhythmic plateau and the same words circling at greater and greater levels of intensity over and over is an exercise in expressing love-over-time, through the relatively ‘darkened’ zone of desire…
It was only after I had written the above that I found out that the song’s lyrics are translated from a Russian poem by Fyodor Tyutchev which appears in the mesmerising science fiction film Stalker (ost) directed by Andre Tarkovsky. This film takes us past the human world, past its fenced off, compounded, defended lines (the protagonists must engineer, plan and improvise their break through) and into a terrain which humans have abandoned… ‘The Zone’ expressed as being vivid and alive, containing unknown forces, anomalous areas, passages and disembodied communications…
In a way what is at stake here is the idea of a wildness which extends through life to implicate unknown corners and spaces with dimensions of activity and influence which are normally portrayed as absent. That these corners and spaces should also be ourselves must be taken as read.
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