DELIA & GAVIN: "THE DAYS OF MARS"
Been living with this for a couple of weeks now and I really like where it’s coming from:
Love the cover too!
“The Days of Mars” by Delia & Gavin coils and uncoils, pulsing and hissing like the Worldsnake itself. Music that invokes the Rhythm of Life: DNA-helices slowly unravelling, sound-sequences replicating themselves, changing and mutating as they gently guide us into some archaic Dreamspace formerly inhabited by our ancestors.
The electronics on this album have a wonderfully vibrant Old Skool feel to them…clean, smooth-sounding sine-waves…beautiful, pulsating analogue voltage-tones driven by what sounds like 16- or 8-step sequencers. The music is simple but totally mesmeric: this is sooo completely out-of-sync w/ any other electronic music being made at the moment.
And by Old Skool, I don’t mean Late Eighties Warp Records or Aphex’s recent “Analord” retro-series, it’s a bit like…argh, fuck, I’m doing it again: people my age are cursed to compare things to other things, it’s the price we pay for being so bloody old and decrepit…but these comparisons are unfair to the artists because they can sometimes get lumped in w/ other acts or scenes that they have nothing in common with, except some vague, accidental similarity in sound or approach that was misheard or imagined by a stupid/deaf/uncool old fart like myself. Still, you rabid, easily-excitable fan-boys und girls out there like to know what this stuff sounds like…you need some frame of reference, otherwise I get disgruntled Kid Shirt groupies phoning me up in the small hours moaning that they bought a Finnish 7” I recommended last year and it was, like, total shit, man.
Well, there are clips here, if you are so inclined.
When I heard Delia & Gavin's debut twelve on DFA last year (“Rise”/”El Monte”) I think I wrote something lazy along the lines of: “It’s the missing link between Ohr-era Tangerine Dream and early Human League; blurred 8mm footage of the moment that synthesiser music stopped dropping acid and started taking speed."
Hmm, okay. But let's open this up a bit more:
Yeah, the new LP is very European-sounding to my ears, though I’m not entirely sure what I mean by that…perhaps I mean that it’s warm and sensual and that it taps into various notions of ‘femininity’ and ‘romanticism’ that we associate w/ traditional European Schools of Music. There are clues in the track titles...they hint at various mythological connections, personal or otherwise. The sounds are carefully layered but never cluttered, creating the illusion of lines, grids and matrices hypnotically shifting and overlapping with each other, like, I dunno, the 8mm films of Len Lye...
There’s plenty of space in this music, and room to breathe. It doesn’t leave you feeling claustrophobic or hemmed-in. It's cinematic. As envelopes and filters are manipulated, the music slowly opens out, revealing hidden vistas…gentle curves, curls and half-circles of sound that suggest an inner topology, a three-dimensional shape embedded in the music that seems to map out the contours of some forgotten post-physical landscape…the music is acting as a subliminal narrative that describes something.
(Well, hell, that’s what it sounds like to me. Writing about this stuff is a lot cheaper than paying for Therapy. Music as an aural Rorschach Test, anyone?)
Delia & Gavin are well-established visual artists, so is it that outrageous to suggest that their music might have a strong visual component?
No drums on this, as such, but the sequenced rhythms are gently propulsive; there’s a sense that the music is constantly moving forward, that some sort of journey or exploration is being undertaken. This is Soft Motorik: music for bodiless drivers.
There are vague nods here to Mid-Seventies solo LPs by modular-synth pioneers like Schultze, Gottsching and Froese, as well as hints of the restless rhythmic-pulse of early NY Systems Music, but “The Days of Mars” is smoother, more organic and less breathless or jumpy than, say, early Philip Glass; it takes its time; it wants to show you something… but, really, at the end of the day, D&G’s music comes from somewhere else entirely, and now it wants to take you back there.
This is everything that the most recent Robert Fripp LP fucking isn’t.
They’ve had a tangled history, these two, a creative association that goes back eight years or more. They were both members of conceptual performance-pranksters M.I.M.E. and there were also flirtations with Subversive Cabaret Magic (Mystic Satin) and even Alt.Metal Posturing (Fight Evil With Evil: "The Sword is my Shepherd"). They abused the audience at From Scratch with homemade noise-generators and then there was an odd evening they hosted which involved bread rolls, berets and French music that was being played backwards. There's been bogus school science projects and heavy petting w/ blood capsules. One planned Public Intervention Event involved them arriving outside an arts centre with their limbs plastered in an ambulance playing Lynyrd Skynyrd. They contributed to exhibitions such as “Karaoke Death Machine” and “My People Were Fair and Had Cum in their Hair” They are talented, sexy and twisted.
They are, as Tim Goldsworthy says, “A super-interesting couple.”
Early last year, one of the glossies asked me to do a short piece on the pair…the catch was I had 48 hours to get some copy in and D&G had gone AWOL in Europe during a tour w/ The Black Leotard Front, so I had to internet-stalk them from Stockholm to Paris, narrowly missing them, leaving frantic email messages w/ non-English-speaking promoters and gallery owners, until I finally caught up w/ them, jet-lagged and strung-out back in their Brooklyn Glam Art-Lair. Despite being completely exhausted from their Euro Disco Walkabout, they were incredibly patient and gracious and let me ramble on over a Transatlantic phone-line about nothing in particular.
Gavin told me a story about a sculpture-piece they constructed where they took casts of their own bodies, then mixed the pieces up to create a life-sized transgender’d/hermaphrodite version of a music-box ballerina, except this tutu-wearing Davin & Gelia composite was pulling the pin out of a grenade w/ it’s teeth. Cool.
Despite having only just moved to Berlin, and being ultra-busy rehearsing/preparing for their forthcoming European Tour, the duo kindly answered a few more dumb-ass questions for me on the back of their album release:
Hi There. What prompted the recent move to Berlin?
Delia: Still not sure.
I was talking to mat Brinkman recently and he said Gavin had played a couple shows at Mount Thunder. Did either of you guys have any links/connections w/ the Mount Thunder “scene”. Did you hang out or collaborate w/ any of the artists/musicians over there.?
Gavin: I grew up in Providence, so I knew a lot of those guys although I was not part of that "scene". I played in a project band called "Corybantes" with Brian Chippendale (Lightning Bolt), Sean Greenlee (Landed, Pleasure Horse), Mike Kelley (Makes records with Morgan Geist) and whoever else was around. A lot of drumming and drones, but pretty good over all. Have a cassette of it somewhere... that was 1993 though, about 2 or 3 years before Fort Thunder started…
Not sure if I dreamt this or if you told me this the last time we spoke. Did the association w/ DFA start when Gavin went to their studio to fix one of James' synths?
Gavin: Yeah, that's true
Amongst other things, you guys build "furniture-synthesisers" (there's some photos on their website): aesthetically beautiful art-objects that generate music and noise. Did you use any of these on your new LP?
Gavin: We used a lot of different equipment on the record. The objects we make are a bit different sonically and electronically than what we use in our music. The sculptures are based on generating tones that self-compose, that cycle but don't repeat. A bit like they are alive, but in a very primitive way. The things I've built for our music are more about processing what we're playing live on keyboards, separating it out and adding a lot of new rhythms and harmonics. We did use quite a bit of gear on the record that I built specifically for this music.
The LP's got a beautiful, Old Skool Electronics feel to it. Was that feel something that you deliberately tried to capture or pursue, or was it more of an accidental artefact of the sort of gear you're using?
Delia: I'm just playing what I'm playing.
Gavin: I think we just started playing this music because it was what made sense to us sonically. And also because our aesthetic is so influenced by films. We weren't intentionally trying to make a 70's synth record by any means, although that does seem to be people's major reference point in giving it some context.
Any significance to your name-checking of El Monte?
Delia: "El Monte" is the title of a book by Lydia Cabrera, that is a collection of Afro Cuban folklore.
Gavin: Yeah, I think the track definitely evokes the spirit of what that book deals with.
Many thanks, guys.
Hmm. The Lydia Cabrera connection caught my eye, because it leads us into an interesting twilight zone where Surrealism overlaps w/ the religion of Santeria. I’ve always believed that, in their purest and simplest state, religions are actually about entering (or creating or ritualistically invoking) shared dream-worlds populated by archetypes. Surrealism is/was, I guess, a Post-Freudian exploration of dream-imagery, a kind of artistic invocation of dreamstates…so, in theory, you’d expect it to share some common turf with, say, religion, ‘magick’, shamanism, etc. Shock-value/self-promotion notwithstanding, it’s not that surprising that Dali plundered Catholicism for imagery later in his career, though I don’t personally find it particularly invokes any sort of ‘Catholic’ flava’d inner-mindspace.
My own knowledge of Santeria is limited and mostly sourced from tatty pseudo-sensationalistic papbaks like this:
(Well, actually, this one mainly deals w/ Marcumba, another Yoruba-derived belief-system, this time transplanted to Brasil)
I like the fact that Santeria, like Voodoo, is basically a deconstruction/reconstruction of Christianity, a religious remix where the bits that you don’t like (Hierarchical/Patriarchal Control Structures; Passive Rituals) are stripped out and replaced/mangled/blended in with some cooler stuff (Active Audience Participation; Pantheons; Deities that represent the elements/emotional states/etc; African/Old World/Lovecraftian/Hyperstitional Entities).
Elegua is Santeria’s equivalent of The Trickster. He is the Guardian of the Crossroads; the messenger between man and the Gods. He is Lord of All Doors, Gates and Roads; the guy who Robert Gordon and Jimi H would’ve got their geetar licks from. His numbers are 3 and 21. He’s best summoned on a Monday with offerings of chocolate, cigars and rum. His fave colours are red and black.
Delia and Gavin’s fascination w/ Santeria included building their own sculptural representation of Elegua, the seashell-eyed messanger of Olorun. Fucking beautiful, isn’t it?
It's like a celestial gimp-mask. Here’s some other, more ‘traditional’ forms of Elegua:
The title “The Days of Mars” comes, I think, from the title of a book by Winifred Ellerman Bryher (1894 – 1983), archaeologist, film-maker and novelist who hung out in Paris in the 20’s w/ Hemingway, Joyce and Gertrude Stein. Although married (for convenience) to the author Robert McAlmon, she had a 40-year lesbian affair w/ the Imagist poet Hilda Doolittle aka H.D. (1886 – 1961). This peculiar Menage a Trois were part of a group of Pre-War Writers, Film-makers and Mystics known as Pool.
Doolittle was an interesting character too: a Sapphic Modernist who counted fellow Imagist Ezra Pound amongst her lovers. She was obsessed w/ Greek Mythology, Spiritualism, The Tarot and The Qabbalah…she also hung out w/ Freud and became an expert in dream interpretation. (See, it’s all starting to make sense now…)
“The Days of Mars: a Memoir 1940-1946” traces a series of Trans-Atlantic letters written between Bryher, Doolittle and American writer May Sarton during the years spanning WW2.
I'm gonna guess that maybe "Black Spring" is a Henry Miller reference, but, ah, fuck it...you can ask 'em yrselves...
Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom will be performing 4 dates in France and England in November 2005. Catch 'em at:
12th Metz France w/CocoRosie @ Salle Ochs
15th Paris France w/Kid 606 @ Point Ephemere
18th London w/ DJ Tim '2 pints' Goldsworthy & Tim Sweeney @ Plastic People
19th Glasgow Scotland w/ DJ Tim '2 pints' Goldsworthy & Tim Sweeney @ Glasgow School of Art