Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Heart of Darkness


“Mistah Kurtz - he dead
                                 A penny for the Old Guy”
T. S Eliot – The Hollow Men


“We live as we dream – alone”
Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness


As usual with my mixes, this one was meant to be something else at the beginning. I had a vague idea to do a “jazz ambient” mix and started to collect tracks based on that sound. Almost none of these ended up in the final mix. There was going to be no theme or binding idea. Just a jazz ambient mix.

Then one day it occurred to me, “like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead” that the mix had to be about Heart of Darkness. When I understood what the mix was to be about I was surprised it had taken me so long to come to the idea. I had been obsessively watching and studying Apocalypse Now for months and reading around the themes and interpretations. I was possessed by it to some degree and it seemed the only way to exorcise this unhealthy fascination was to make a mix.

Part of the draw to Apocalypse Now had come from watching the film again for the first time in more than twenty years and my identification with Martin Sheen’s Willard. I had only ever seen the film once, a long time ago and didn’t remember much. When I switched it on one night it was almost out of passive curiosity rather than any important question or desire. As I had forgotten everything the opening scene overwhelmed and surprised me and I was almost frightened by what I saw and recognized in it. I had put the film on at a tough time. Lots of work. Years of work. Long hours, long weeks. Every week. For a long time. Working almost every day. For years. Literally. Grinding out progress and emails and wiping out the joy, the flexibility and the mobility of normal life. Everything was focus, intensity; mind over body; immobility and concentration. The outside world started to disappear. Perhaps better given its current state. But too long was spent inside, crushed against the screen and the words and the calls and racing against unattainable deadlines. There was gradually nothing to see and nothing to say. Worse, there was almost nothing to feel. No emotion. “My heart was empty” to paraphrase Nico in the opening of the mix.

I wanted to change it. I asked to change it. I looked for ways out of it. But it seemed there was no way and no time. There was always more to do. Another demand; another problem to solve. There was nowhere to go. There was almost no weekend, no separation from work, not even in sleep. I’d often leave work and get home and say to myself: “Saigon. Shit. I’m still only in Saigon”. Saigon and the war had become the metaphor for work. Like waking up on Sunday morning in dread. Work. Shit. I’m still only at work.

Given the schedule and the constant demands and purpose I found myself drinking too much. A bit every day. One for the road. One more as a reward for working. Friday was the worst. Usually so tired and so drained that a social activity was almost impossible. Usually I preferred to stay at home alone, drinking and listening to music, sometimes in the dark. “Pretty soon the walls closed in a little tighter.” I once found myself around midnight seated on the couch in the dark, slumped over a beer with a raging nausea and headache from booze and extreme tiredness. I’d almost crashed out, “lost in a Roman wilderness of pain”. Then I watched Apocalypse Now and saw Sheen’s performance of Willard and understood maybe too much how he felt as he smashed the mirror and covered himself in blood and cognac. Almost every day I would wake up and replay the image of the jungle exploding in my mind and think “this the end”. I´m going to get off the boat. If Apocalypse Now is something of a confession, then so is my mix.

The mix is also meant to hark as much as possible to the original book Heart of Darkness by joseph Conrad, one of the greatest in the English language. The book is a slow crescendo of darkness, a journey from relative safety to complete danger, from supposed civilized power and wealth to methodless madness and death. All in the name of colonialism and wealth. I have tried to restore at little bit more weight to the novel with the samples where possible to help differentiate from the film as much as possible. I browsed some eBooks of Heart of Darkness for more dialogue from the books but did not like the tone of many. There is also the curious literalness (sic) of eBooks which makes them poor samples. For example, in Conrad’s text and thus the eBooks is the line “. “"And this also," said Marlow suddenly, "has been one of the dark places of the earth"”, one of the most essential lines of the novel (this line is essentially drammatised in the opening scenes of the film without being explicitly uttered). Much more sample friendly is the less literal sound bite “And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.” One of the other important scenes of the book is also captured in the mix and is also present in all the various interpretations of Conrad’s book including the film Aguirre. The scene where there is a deep silence and only the jungle looking out at the boat and when the boat is suddenly attacked by “natives” who remain invisible in th jungle is essential. The absurdity of those on the boat firing blindly into the jungle or making noise with their guns is one of the most powerful and thematic images of the book.

The film and the mix also draws in some of Coppola’s literary additions. There is T. S. Eliot’s 1925 poem The Hollow Men which is prefaced by a quote at the beginning from Conrad’s novel about the death of Kurtz. Having Brando’s Kurtz read it in the film as an astounding existential touch, and also adds to a sense of destiny and supernatural to the arc of the film. This is also supported by the references to the Golden Bough and the ritualistic, pagan climax. Much has been made of this and Coppola’s insistence that the film should be seen like the end/beginning and beginning/end of a periodic cycle like a day, a year, a lifetime. Willard dies at the beginning only to be reborn to take the place of Kurtz as the Heart of Darkness. The lines:

“Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.”

are poignant for the film and the novel. The samples used are actually from Eliot himself as recorded from Youtube. Coppola would also repeat the existential trick by appearing in a cameo role in the film directing the action as Willard arrives to meet Kilgore (nominative determinism again). This is also used in the mix.




Both the book and the film especially refer to the Odyssey, another great boat tale. The boat in Apocalypse now is called Erebus, the Greek deity and the dark region of the Underworld where the dead go immediately after dying and the Playboy bunnies are the Sirens. The scene from the movie at Do Lung bridge where the soldiers try to flee is also a reference to Dante’s inferno.

There is also another famous quote from the book not used in the movie: “We live as we dream – alone”. There is a sample of this used as sung by Michael Stipe from R.E.M. just before launching in to World Leader Pretend from their peak moment on the Green world tour in 1989. The line is actually from a short acapela cover of We Live as We Dream Alone by Gang of Four from their 1982 album Songs of the Free. Lucy’s track The Horror for example is accompanied on the Churches, Schools and Guns album by a track also called We Live as We Dream.








There is a brief excerpt of Klaus Kinski from the other “river” movie Aguirre – The Wrath of God (1974), also an influence on Coppola. Aguirre was sadly underused in the mix in the end. Hi famous monologue is repeated in the place of Kurtz’s equally infamous snail and razor speech.

“When I, Aguirre want the birds to drop dead from the trees, then the birds will drop dead from the trees. I am the wrath of God. The earth I walk upon sees me and quakes. Who follows me and the river will win untold riches. But whoever deserts…”

In Franciso López’s Hyper-Rainforest, of which various segments are used throughout, I have used once (during the arrows scene) samples of a South American bird that can often be heard in Aguirre and always reminds me of the film. It also appears as a sound in many other films shot in the jungle. I am convinced it is not found in Vietnam or Cambodia so its presence in the jungle there in the mix tells me that we are mixing ecosystems along the way. The is one other real “jungle” track (sic) hidden away in there, or at least the opening anyway to Deep Blue’s classic Helicopter Tune. Richie Hawtin/Plastikmans’s Helikopter got a look in but didn’t fit the mould.





Hopefully then, in this way at least the mix is not just a direct facsimile of Apocalypse Now even if it is a rich mine. I stayed as far away from the obvious dialogues as much as possible, but mixed all sources to create some sense of narrative. The need to evoke travel and a sense of progression is also important. Travel is invoked by returning to Willian Basinski’s hauntingly perfect The River I (nominative determinism as described below) and extracts from T. S. Eliot himself reading from his 1925 poem the Hollow Men. Dialogue to drive the narrative is snatched from Apocalypse Now and an Orson Welles radio play from 1938. There are additional samples from the 1939 trailer to his sadly unmade movie of Heart of Darkness, but at least he made Citizen Kane instead. Like the film and the book there should be a sense of going back in time as things progress up river. This is emphasised by the arrow scene and also the GIF RIFF track which has an African feel despite being made by Millie and Andrea, the project of Andy Stott and Demdike Stare's Miles Whittaker. The track is also “colonialist” in fabrication (cultural appropriation to some degree) and used to imply colonialism in the mix. Similarly, adding in Welle’s cries of the dying Kurtz and his blinding by ivory is also important to step back from the film and reinforce that theme.






You will note that I did not use any samples of Nicolas Roeg’s 1993 film Heart of Darkness. I did not find a complete copy and was reduced to watching snippets of Tim Roth as Marlow and John Malkovich as Kurtz, but found the ambience woeful and the staid delivery was jarring against the buzzing old material and Marlon Brando’s astounding macho performance. Michael Gira also makes a fine performance as Kurtz in the mix. Willard is a difficult character to catch as he is the observer, not meant to speak. He is meant to pass through and witness all the horror so as to come back and describe it, like Dante passing through the rings of hell or Homer’s Odysseus voyage home after the Trojan war.



Many of the tracks were given extra attention also because of the added meaning their name adds and several refer directly to the book or the film. Several of the tracks used are also from Houndstooth label compilation “In Death’s Dream Kingdom” which is a line from the Hollow Men.

“Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.”

According to the press release “In short, the cream of leftfield electronic talent have been given a brief: to take the phrase “in Death's dream kingdom”, or the whole of TS Elliot's poem The Hollow Men from which it comes, as inspiration.” It seems only appropriate that some of those tracks make it on.





The second Diamanda Galas track L'Heautontimoroumenos (Self-Tormentor) is from a 1857 Charles Baudelaire poem. In the French plantation scene there is a French child who is castigated for badly reciting the Baudelaire poem L'Albatros. Perhaps the former is most suited to the themes at hand:

“As ships set out for voyaging,
And like a drum that beats the charge
In my infatuated heart
The echoes of your sobs will ring!”

Diamanda Galas was also used by Coppola in the soundtrack to his frustrating film Dracula, in one of the final scenes where the limited acting of Winona Ryder butchers the scene of her possessed by the fireside. The Rabit track also comes from an album called Les Fleurs du Mal after Baudelaire’s famous collection of poems.




The overall structure of the mix is based on the interpretation of Criswell. There are seven chapters, with three belonging to the three levels of dehumanisation represented in the film. There are also other chapters for character, set and setting. Criswell’s assessment is astute and finds certain subtle details that are fascinating once exposed. His interpretation of the Lance character is not what I had originally believed and creates such a contrasting, but justifiable position that adds even more wonder to the film.

The End (Marlow)
King Zulu King
The River
Dehumanising Other
Dehumanising Self
Dehumanising Mind
The End (Kurtz)








The mix starts with several different versions of The End. I saw Soap and Skin perform it live at LEV Festival in Gijón a few years ago. It was funny to see that although everyone knows the song, you could tell that most of the audience didn't know what track it was until the vocal started at which point they invariably cheer and woop. The melody alone is not enough or some reason. Part of my fascination with the film was to watch the opening with the music and the jungle just suspended for a long patient time. The first splashes of percussion follow the smoke and the jungle seems to ooze that melancholy fatalism that precedes the napalm strike. The powerless tress forever captured in such a beautiful and devastating last moment. Witnessed and burned into the minds of millions.









There was no place for Karlheinz Stockhausen's Helikopter-Streichquartett (Helicopter String Quartet) although I tried. 






The mix ends with Ryoji Ikeda’s track +/- which is a frequency at the edge of hearing more noticeable when gone than present. This is also a trick used in the film during the final scenes. A subtle tension that disappears as Kurtz’s life fades fast and as the boat slips away again to start the cycle anew.

There are 58 tracks in total in the mix plus additional samples. There are so many small pieces and chopped and changed tracks that probably there is over 300 small sound fragments assembled into the final piece.

Dedicated to John “still on the boat” Rossi and Luca “cha cha né” Maggioni




Track
Artist
Title
Label
Year
1
The Doors
The End
Elektra
1967
2
Nico
The End (álbum versión)
Island Records
1974
3
Swans
Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture
Young God Records
2014
4
Soap and Skin
The End (live in Salzburg 2012)
Youtube
2012
5
The Caretaker
Drifting time misplaced
History Always Favours the Winners
2017
6
The Trancendence Orchestra
Ampney Crucis
Editions Mego
2017
7
Nico
My Heart is Empty (live, in Tokyo 1987)
Castle Communications
1987
8
Nico
The End (live, Rainbow Theatre, 1 June 1974)
Island / Universal
2012
9
R.E.M.
World Leader Pretend (live 1989, Tourfilm)
Youtube
1989
10
Swans
Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture
Young God Records
2014
11
The Doors
The End
Elektra
1967
12
Francisco Lopez
Hyper-rainforest
Self released
2014
13
Coil Presents Blacklight District
Refusal of Leave to Land
Eskaton
1996
14
John Duncan
Shortwave 6
iDEAL
2018
15
William Basinski
The River I
Raster Noton / 2062
2002
16
Francisco Lopez
Hyper-rainforest
Self released
2014
17
Coil Presents Blacklight District
Refusal of Leave to Land
Eskaton
1996
18
Christoph de Babylon
Opium
Digital Hardcore Recordings (DHR) / Cross Fade Enter Tainment (CFET)
1997 / 2018
19
Lustmord
Part II
Soleimoon Recordings
1990
20
Roly Porter
Without Form
Houndstooth
2018
21
Kolhoosi 13
From Comradery to Sustenance
Cryo Chamber
2016
22
Deep Blue
Helicopter Tune
Moving Shadow
1993
23
Koenraad Ecker
Under Glass Argus Eyes
In Aulis
2018
24
Yves Tumor
Hope In Suffering (Escaping Oblivion & Overcoming Powerlessness)
Warp
2018
25
Varg
Ond_F.T.P.
Posh Isolation
2018
26
L/D/R (Lana del Rabies)
Submerge
Deathbomb Arc
2018
27
Yves Tumor
Hope In Suffering (Escaping Oblivion & Overcoming Powerlessness)
Warp
2018
28
Koenraad Ecker
L'incendio Genovese (In memoriam Carlo Giuliani)
In Aulis
2018
29
William Basinski
The River I
Raster Noton / 2062
2002
30
Yves Tumor
Perdition
PAN
2016
31
Andy Stott
Time away
Modern Love
2014
32
Lucy Railton
Gaslighter
Modern Love
2018
33
The Bug
Those Tapes Are Dangerous
WordSound
1997
34
José Feliciano
Susie Q
RCA
1970
35
William Basinski
The River I
Raster Noton / 2062
2002
36
Francisco Lopez
Hyper-rainforest
Self released
2014
37
Millie and Andrea
GIF RIFF
Modern Love
2014
38
Coil Presents Blacklight District
Die Wolfe Kommen Zuruck
Eskaton
1996
39
Otto Lindholm
Cain
Houndstooth
2018
40
Francisco Lopez
Hyper-rainforest
Self released
2014
41
as
Trepaneringsritualen manifest
iDEAL
2018
42
Lustmord
Part V
Soleimoon Recordings
1990
43
Rabit
Dogsblood Redemption
Halcyon Veil
2017
44
Diamanda Galas
Εξελόυμε (Deliver Me)
Mute
1986
45
Sephiroth
Uthul Kulture
Cold Meat Industry
2005
46
Diamanda Galas
L'Heautontimoroumenos (1857) (Self-Tormentor)
Mute
1986
47
Koenraad Ecker
Kurtz
Digitalis
2014
48
Keiji Haino
“Right Now”
P.S.F. / Black Editions
1991 / 2017
49
Alexander Lewis
Back Thread
Blackest Ever Black
2013
50
Throbbing Gristle
Violencia (The Bullet)
Industrial Records / Mute
1982 / 2018
51
Coil Presents Blacklight District
Red Skeletons
Eskaton
1996
52
L/D/R (Lana del Rabies)
Submerge
Deathbomb Arc
2018
53
Swans
Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture
Young God Records
2014
54
The Doors
The End
Elektra
1967
55
Lucy
The Horror
Stroboscopic Artefacts
2014
56
Suicide
Frankie Teardrop
Red Star
1977
57
Pere Ubu
Heart of Darkness
Hearthan
1975
58
Ryoji Ikeda
+ / -
Touch
1996


Includes additional samples from:

Apocalypse Now (Dir: Francis Fors Copola; 1979); Aguirre – Der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre – The Wrath of God; Dir: Werner Herzog; 1972), Orson Welles – Heart of Darkness (unmade movie reel; 1939); Orson Welles – Heart of Darkness (radioplay; 1938); T. S. Eliot reading The Hollow Men (unknown year). 

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