All this began a couple of months ago, when Isabelle Schad said, “looks like I won’t have time in April to get in the studio with you, so here’s a week for you, call it a mini-residency.” Her studio, Wiesenburg Halle in Wedding, is in a 150 year-old, abandoned former homeless people’s asylum on the Panke canal that was built on funds from the Berlin Jewish community, then appropriated by the Nazis, used as a factory for manufacturing insignia, then munitions, then bombed and shot to all crap, then quietly returning to forest while the original owner’s descendants live in the front apartment building (an entire story in itself) – and a few years ago, Isabelle and the Wiesen 55 e.V. got funds to turn one of the decrepit halls (well, mostly its walls) and neighbouring areas into a rehearsal space surrounded by gardens. Huge and airy, and with a full lighting and sound rig, plus a kitchen, mezzanine, garden full of birds and life, a lot like being in the forest and not in a big city.
So I arrived on Monday with bike (cos I was taking full advantage of being in Wedding to go morning cyclocross-ing in the forest), two bags of stuff, and one “I have no idea what I’m doing.” It’s been a long time since I was in a studio making art, and a solo … that’s something I’ve not really ever done. Solos are the present currency of performance makers of all stripes, in large part because they’re cheap to stage and tour, in part also because of the ongoing fixation on autobiographical authenticity, but I’ve always preferred the intermediary of dancers (even if I performed in my own work). Doing a solo has always been a mix of “I have nothing to say,” and “I have no idea what to do,” and inflicting one on myself … maybe now I’m capable of it cos I don’t really give a shit anymore.
Black Metal is a lot about that last bit, doing stupid stuff in my bedroom to amuse myself, not caring about potential audience (or lack of) or all the usual games of funding, producing, venue-ing. Of course watching the video of the showing it has to be ‘good’ in the sense of I myself as my own audience have to get a kick out of it and go, “fukkenyeeeaah!” which means I have to go all spectacle on my own arse – to put it another way, in choreographing and performing myself, I have to be convincing to my other self as audience, I have to be good (competent, artistic, compelling) at what I do.
Lucky I had some ideas. Not big ones, not many, only four – really only one but call it four – not very ambitious, not wanting to make something big or complicated or involved. I’ve been trying on and off for a few years to get a solo out, and kept falling into the trench of unrealisable ideas, paralysed by too bigness, things that require budget and support and all, and seeing Germany is consistently uninterested in what I do, the likelihood of making a big work with several dancers and all the rest is highly improbable, which left a solo, which kept failing when my thinking modality banged up against incommensurability with budget. So, basically bedroom stupidity. With metal.
Things I love: Heavy metal. Hoonage. Swearing.
When I was a student in Australia, SBS used to have Top Fuel drag racing on a Friday night. Fukken heaven. This isn’t a piece about that or swearing, but there’s something of the cultural displeasure at both in it, what’s acceptable and what’s not. Heavy metal – in any of its derivatives, death, speed, thrash, hair, black, folk, doom, power, and on and on – is only really palatable to an outside audience if it’s made ironic. Metal might be many things but it’s never ironic. The commitment to the theatre of the act never lets up, never gives a knowing wink at the audience, no matter how ridiculous and embarrassing it might look – listen and look at Lost Horizon, or Gorgoroth’s Kraków, brilliance all round.
There’s a close relationship between punk, goth, and metal; I’ve been all three and can say, Metal Rulez!!! In seriousness and partisanship here, I think there is a larger possibility for creativity in metal than the other two which comes in part from the—wait, must headbang to Sword in the Metal Wind for a bit—ok, back … comes in part from the theatricality (not to confuse that with playing pretend, theatricality here is the performance of image), and part from the joy of music. Listen to Sword in the Metal Wind or Gorgoroth’s Antichrist, constantly changing time signatures, rhythms, melodies, keys, even Slayer’s Raining Blood goes all over the place. It draws on the history of western classical and folk music (or for Taiwan’s Chthonic, traditional Taiwanese music), and for me there’s a lineage I can hear with say, Trelldom or Sunn O))) and Hildegard von Bingen across a thousand years. Which is maybe to say there’s a greater intellectualism (as differentiated from politicalism in punk) in metal that its theatricality doesn’t always make apparent.
Metal, yeah, I could go on about it all day. I’ve used metal music in pretty much every work I’ve made, it’s probably one of those things I should deny myself in the interests of getting over my habits and devices. This piece I wanted to go into the least-liked of subgenres, the one of church burnings, murder, neo-Nazis, Norway, corpse paint, that inadvertently made some incredible and influential music. And as I went along, Gaahl, the lead singer of Gorgoroth, and with his own project Trelldom (and others), tall Gaahl from a fjord village north of Bergen with the haunted eyes and penchant for burning churches and torturing people who cross his line, gay Gaahl, became central. I’d planned to only use music from him or in which he sung, but that didn’t work out during the residency, limited to what I had on my laptop. So, Sunn O))) which I’ve used so many times it’s a cliché, Gorgoroth from immediately before Gaahl joined (the incredible eponymous track from the Antichrist album), fucking Nazi Burzum – going to go into why I’m using Burzum and why it doesn’t seem like a bad idea right now: maybe it’s possible to appropriate his music, and maybe within the context of black metal and the history of the last millennia of northern Europe it’s apt, maybe also it elucidates without nuance the arrogant misogyny, nationalism, hetero-bro-ing, racism of black metal, and by extension all metal and most contemporary music genres.
And then there’s Hildegard von Bingen, who you should really read about cos she was well awesome. I wanted to use some mediæval music, and obviously my proclivities and interests meant the composer should be a woman, and best if it was from 12th century-ish northern Europe. This doesn’t leave so many possibilities, but lucky my ongoing enjoyment of Mechthild von Magdeburg led to her, though they likely never met and were on opposites of Thüringen. I was trying to find some non-folk music that was instrumental, but seems like gaping yaws is the default, so her O Tu Suavissima Virga swings between too beautiful, too easy, too overbearing, too saccharine, quite a few other toos, but also might be the piece. After the showing we had plenty of talking about music, about Hildegard and soaring mediæval sacral music, and how the showing was a one-to-one relationship of music to dance. A proper sound design is one possibility, though I wonder if that might become too complicated and not crap enough. For the moment I’m not sure. Same goes for lighting, though I’d love to have Giacomo Gorini along. Either way whatever I do needs to be convincing even without sound or lights.
Inadvertently I’ve jumped from a general what I was doing and how it came about to a long blab about music. Which means I’ll have to save writing about what I was doing for next time.