Monday, December 28, 2009

FEATURE 40 - Fever Ray

After the success of their third album 'Silent Shout', The Knife have taken time out, presumably to take a creative break from each other. Though they've recently been commissioned to write an opera. What Olof Dreijer has been individually doing we know not, but his sister Karin Dreijer Andersson, newly married, gave birth, and has followed that major life event with this solo project - Fever Ray. This impressive debut album bears some of the hallmarks of what Karin Dreijer Andersson brought to 'The Knife', an introspective, and distinctly North European electronic ambiance. Though there is something altogether more earthly and pagan going on here, as if you're hearing a shaman's incantations carried to you by an arctic wind, barely visible in the bleak Swedish half light. Quite what the subjects of the songs are, is not always lyrically clear, it works more on the level of a sequence of moods, these collectively explore a musical landscape that is isolated, with an all pervading sense of an individual alone with her personal demons, internal and external.

Dreijer distorts her voice to create a mood of underlying menace, her altered vocal tone bringing an edginess to it. You can rarely sit easily with a song, never mindlessly hum along. She appears to be using the sense of gender ambiguity this creates ( is this voice masculine or feminine? ) in a similar manner to the performance artist Laurie Anderson. In fact Anderson is one of Fever Ray's nearest musical antecedents, particularly on tracks like, Concrete Walls and Coconut. Search out Anderson's 'United States' mega performance piece from the eighties (its available on Spotify) and hear for yourself. The Knife, have often crossed over into what is performance art territory, with some distinctly Lynchian aspects appearing in the videos to their songs. Fever Ray,however, have an even more accentuated sombre tone, the humour is darker, it moves from the mundane to the sublime within the space of a sentence. As on the track 'Seven', where Dreijer sings:-

'I leave home at seven. Under a heavy sky, I ride my bike up, I ride my bike down.' - 'Accompany me by the kitchen sink. We talk about love, we talk about dishwasher tablets, illness, and we dream about heaven.'

Anderson and Dreijer are somewhat kindred, both exploring the different ways we experience alienation within modern urban life. For all our improved means of communication and hi-tec gadgetry, our closeness becoming more attenuated, our remoteness from each other to only grow worse. On 'Concrete Walls', even becoming a mother seems to have isolated Dreijer, abandoned to the demands of her child, with whom she cannot yet converse, her own young child is not always the sort of stimulation she seeks or needs:-

'I live between concrete walls. when I took her up she was so warm. I live between concrete walls. In my arms she was so warm. Eyes are open and mouth cries. Haven't slept since summer. Oh how I try. I leave the TV on, and the radio.'

But then we are contrary beings, we want individual autonomy, yet wonder why we feel lonely. The more we spend our lives on our own, the harder it becomes to accommodate other people into it. The crowds in the streets, become a nightmare, a threat, we wish everyone would just go away, so we can remain untroubled by the presence of others. Dreijer's lyrics hint at an underlying fear lurking in the existential core of this:-

'Whispering. morning keep the streets empty for me. Uncover our heads and reveal our souls. We were hungry before we were born.'

We are starving, we crave food, yet refuse to eat what's offered to us. It's as though a subtle fever, slowly overtaking us, has suppressed our appetite for everything that provides human sustenance. Fever Ray explores this alienated split in human nature, it can be quite a moving experience to listen to. It displays a maturity and breadth very few artists are able, or would dare, to attempt on their first outing.

'This will never end cause I want more. More give me more give me more.'

Sunday, December 06, 2009

FEATURE 38 - The Knife

You know when Amazon 'recommends for you,' well, just occasionally they prove to be correct and highlight something which is right up your street. Hence how I stumble across The Knife, a Swedish electro combo. Not your common or garden Swedish electro combo, but a decidedly quirky and unique one. Part Bjork, part Native Hipsters, part something altogether more dark or brooding, more Munch than Munchausen. If John Peel were alive today, I feel sure he'd be a fan. Of all my great 'enthusiasms' distinctive popular music remains an enduring one. This duo are terrific.

These three videos go with tracks from their most recent album from 2006 - Silent Shout - they show that their colourful, unnerving streak extends into their visual world too - the tracks are - Like a Pen - Marble House - We Share our Mother's Health.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

DIARY 119 - The path through the wood

This week I've felt overwhelmed, as if dense undergrowth and knotted branch spirits of an old folk wood have sprung up around me. My hip and back have been acting up more than usual, I guess largely psycho-physical in origin. A combination of physical, mental and spiritual dukkha, has, not unsurprisingly, dragged my spirits down into the leaf mold of my psyche. It made more acute a general dullness that's been hanging around my experience since Jnanasalins's return from Ghuyaloka, and I began working in the Warehouse at the end of July. There have been moments when a clearing has opened up in the wood, or peaks have thrust themselves out like mountain cordillera to bask in the high altitude sunlight. But these were brief periods and unsustained.

Whilst Jnanasalin was away getting ordained I was doing a less physically taxing job, it was clear to me what I wanted to achieve in those four months; to focus on meditation practice; painting my ordination gifts; and getting physically fitter in preparation for working in the warehouse. I planned ahead, and used my time well. I had some sense of renewed purpose as an Order Member too, to get myself back up to speed. I didn't want to feel myself as a spiritually laggard anymore.

Since July, I've not found it easy maintaining that momentum, its been hard work. I began experiencing periods of exhaustion, and persistent low level weariness early on through working in the warehouse. This was accompanied by lethargy blocking any creative work at home. This reluctance has been frustrating, but five months down the line its still been hanging around. My practice has consisted in letting go of any expectations I have of myself, being more humble, and cliche though it is, staying more in the moment and going with the day to day flow. This has created a moderate level of contentment, though it feels flimsy and incomplete, its just the letter, not quite the living spirit of it. Something has been shifting around ever since, like a theater set being rearranged for the next act, moved invisibly by black clad stage hands.

Previously the discontent I've experienced, arose out of desires for creative fulfillment being in some way thwarted. As my future work pattern looks like being largely unchanged in 2010, so this shift in my attitude has not only to continue, but go deeper. To further relax the tight grasp of this underlying aspirational archetype - to be creatively fulfilled. But if I'm not to be this type of person then who exactly was I to be - was being a simple warehouse worker ever going to be enough?

My osteopath, of all people, once said of me, that he imagined me as being like a specialist shop filled with highly precious objects carefully arranged in it, where only one thing had to be out of place for the whole presentation to be ruined. I'm afraid this seems very true of me. If only one thing appears flawed in my life, I'm unable to feel grateful or appreciative for anything else that's going well, or is good. I am beginning to see that the problem is not what I'm holding onto, but how I'm holding onto it - the preciousness. Too much depends on that long sought for fulfillment for it to be healthy.

Keturaja reminded me on Tuesday, that I'm a person of great enthusiasms. This has been so since I was a child. What has been worthy of remark about the last few months has been the lack of these enthusiasms. It's slowly becoming clearer that I can't motivate myself purely by doing things that are solely for my own benefit. I can't paint and write just for me, I just don't see the point of that anymore. The dilemma for me this week has centred around how I engage with my enthusiasms without them becoming precious self-intoxicating obsessions, ones I must do to the exclusion of everything else, that inevitable become embroiled in unrealistic and thwarted desires to achieve an ultimate fulfillment through them. I don't want to get caught up in that self-orientated tangle anymore.

The way forward, at present, seems encapsulated in the Tibetan aphorism 'if you can't do something for yourself, then do something for others'. To shift my focus away from egregious self-fulfillment, to what will benefit others. If I paint, to do so as a gift to an individual, Windhorse or Buddhist Centre. I had no problem painting seed syllable designs for Maitrigosha and Jnanasalin, it only foundered once I was doing one for myself. Quite how I move my writing in this direction, I need to give further thought too - perhaps preparing talks to actually give? I mentioned previously, after the National Order Weekend in early November, that I wanted to focus my dharma practice more in this 'other regarding' direction, I just need to settle on how I want to do this. This would appear to be where the path through the wood is currently leading me.