For eight minutes of pure, unadulterated awesome, here’s Doc Severinsen, from his 1970 LP Doc Severinsen’s Closet, performing King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King.” No, this is not a hallucination, although it may represent some kind of ripple in the Matrix. Many thanks to Richard Metzger at Dangerous Minds for unearthing this, and to Joe Pulver for calling attention to it at Facebook. Metzger accurately conveys the feel of Severinsen’s cover when he describes it as “moving from an almost Morricone-like spaghetti western-sounding beginning” to an “(inspired) James Bond-ish bit (and back again).”
Personally, I have a soft spot for Severinsen not just because he’s a musical genius, and not just because I grew up during the era when he and his band were the house musical act on The Tonight Show during Johnny Carson’s tenure, but because in my former career as a video and media professional I was on the camera crew at The Grand Palace in Branson, Missouri, when Doc and the band came through town for a performance. (What? Doc Severinsen playing in Branson? No, really, there’s even newspaper evidence.) It was fully as cool as one would have hoped, and I even had a chance to chat with the band backstage. There was no “Crimson King” in their set, though. Which is probably for the best, since I strongly suspect this song would have melted the minds of that mostly Southern and Midwestern audience who had come to Branson mainly for country music and a big dose of manufactured nostalgia.
I assembled this a couple of months ago, near the end of the college semester, as background accompaniment for the mountain of papers and exams that I was then grading. It also works as an expressive playlist for greeting and fulfilling emotions of cosmic melancholy and infinite solitude, with a couple of palate-cleansing musical moments in a different direction. (Perhaps the fact that I originally made this as a soundtrack for grading student work says something about the emotions that I tend to attach to that particular endeavor.)
As with the previous playlist that I shared here (“Soundtrack for a Dark Enlightenment,” which duplicates a handful of the items on this new playlist), I have carefully arranged the order of things to provide effective transitions in mood and meaning from one piece of music to the next.
- “Untold Stories” by David Darling
- “Engravings II” by Ira Stein and Russel Walder
- “Abraham’s Theme” by Vangelis, from the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire
- “Escape (Piano Theme”) by Philip Glass, from the soundtrack to The Hours
- “Drowning in a Feeling” by Alexander Daf, featuring Maria Grigoryeva
- “Farewell No. 1” by Shigeru Umebayashi, from the soundtrack to House of Flying Daggers
- “The Great God Pan Is Dead” by Jóhann Jóhannsson
- “Blood for Dracula” by Claudio Gizzi, from the soundtrack to Blood for Dracula, a.k.a. Andy Warhol’s Dracula
- “The Last Man” by Clint Mansell, from the soundtrack to The Fountain
- “Into the Twilight” by Bill Douglas
- “How We Left Fordlandia” by Jóhann Jóhannsson
- “Stones Start Spinning” by David Darling
- “Mille Regretz” by Jordi Savall
- “Opium” by Dead Can Dance
- “Orphée’s Bedroom” by Philip Glass, Movement II from The Orphée Suite for Piano
- “Bibo No Aozora” by Ruichi Sakamoto
- “Death Is Disease” by Clint Mansell, from the soundtrack to The Fountain
- “Sun and Water” by Danny Heines
- “Knocking on Forbidden Doors” by Enigma
- “Back to the Rivers of Belief” by Enigma
- “How Fortunate the Man with None” by Dead Can Dance
“It’s not every day a nursery rhyme gets hijacked by a funeral march and a klezmer band. But then not everyone has the slightly warped mindset of Gustav Mahler, who somehow thought that plunking the children’s round ‘Frère Jacques’ into the funereal third movement of his very first symphony would impress the public. The pulse of Mahler’s march is set by two soft, alternating notes on the kettledrum. The melody, contorted into a minor key, is handed first to a solo double bass. A bassoon picks it up, then a tuba and a flute. Quietly building momentum, the tune is passed around the orchestra, with occasional sardonic commentary from the oboe. Later, the melody is elbowed out of the way, as if Mahler, in a nod to his Jewish roots, ushers in a raucous klezmer band to sashay through the orchestra. And, for good measure, he inserts a quote from a morose song, ‘The Two Blue Eyes of My Darling.’ It’s all ingeniously creepy, but Mahler’s early audiences were baffled. Crafting a funeral march out of a children’s song was simply distasteful.” (Tom Huizenga, “Mahler’s Twisted Nursery Rhyme“)
“The third movement used to upset audiences, and even today it’s puzzling to those hearing it for the first time. What are we to make of this odd assortment: a sad and distorted version of ‘Frère Jacques’ (Mahler knew it as ‘Bruder Martin’); a lumbering funeral march; some cheap dance-band music remembered by pairs of oboes and trumpets over the beat of the bass drum; and the ethereal closing pages of the Wayfarer songs — heaven and earth all rolled into one? No wonder people didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Mahler’s only clue is ‘The Hunter’s Funeral Procession’ — a woodcut made earlier in the century by Moritz von Schwind, a friend of Schubert — which he claimed was the inspiration for this music. About the vulgar band music Mahler leaves no doubt: ‘With parody’ he writes at the top of the page, just as the drum and cymbal join in.” (Philip Huscher, program notes for a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
“The third movement acts as the slow movement of the symphony’s four movement structure. The extra-musical idea inspiring the movement is taken from The Hunter’s Funeral, an old Austrian folk story. Mahler described the movement in a conversation with Bauer-Lechner in November 1900: ‘On the surface one might imagine this scenario: A funeral procession passes by our hero, and the misery, the whole distress of the world, with its cutting contrasts and horrible irony, grasps him’ . . . . In 1901 Mahler wrote in a letter to Bernhard Schuster: ‘the third movement . . . is heart-rending, tragic irony and is to be understood as exposition and preparation for the sudden outburst in the final movement of despair of a deeply wounded and broken heart.’ ” (Funeral March Movement Analysis at GustavMahler.com)
Moritz von Schwind, “The Hunter’s Funeral Procession” (1850)
A few months ago I discovered that my entire Daemonyx album has been uploaded to YouTube by CD Baby. This is the same album that accompanied my Dark Awakenings collection when people bought it directly from the publisher, Mythos Books.
In case you’d like to hear it:
The whole thing seems strangely alien to me now. Although playing music is still a very important part of my life, the four-year burst of inspiration and creative obsession / possession that resulted in this particular body of music feels, in retrospect, rather like a dream. I regard such an impression as pretty appropriate given the music’s dominant focus on themes of daimonic inspiration and possession, filtered and refracted through multiple musical styles and emotional wavelengths (primarily beauty, sadness, darkness, and sublime exhilaration). I know these same themes are important to many reader of The Teeming Brain, so maybe you’ll find that the music resonates with you.
Back when I was nearing the end of the project, I solicited a few comments and blurbs from friends and colleagues with similar thematic and creative obsessions. Some of you may have read these previously, but in case not:
Like a soundtrack to a fever dream, the music of Daemonyx plumbs an ever-changing world of mystery, mood, and melodic apparitions. Listen with the lights out and your imagination on.
– Brian Hodge
Daemonyx’s compositions conjure up images of eerie strangeness and awesomely alien worlds that nothing can evoke better than music.
– Ramsey Campbell
“There are many haunting and beautiful compositions that complement or completely make horror films — you know the ones — as well as appeal to listeners who are sensitive to the mystery and dread of life. In its debut album Curse of the Daimon, Daemonyx has offered us thirteen works of such quality.”
– Thomas Ligotti
The overall ambience of the music reminds me a little of the electronica of Klaus Schulze. There’s a similar powerful evocation of vast and terrifying soundscapes. In the song “Daimonica,” I very much like the way the haunting and oppressive music blends with the grim signal motif, “Is there someone inside you?” In “The Gates of Deep Darkness” the ominous martial nature of the music provides a real chill, as of some impending apocalypse.
– Mark Samuels
Intricate, haunting and complex pieces of music, richly creative and inspiring.
– Tim Lebbon
Jill Tracy’s Diabolical Streak has been a favorite album of mine for the past decade — see the video above for one of the many reasons why — and in this 2009 interview for Tor.com, the always-mesmerizing Ms. Tracy explains some of the philosophical-aesthetic worldview that informs her lush world of musical darkness:
We all want to believe in magic. It keeps hope alive. Sometimes I feel that magic and the suspension of disbelief is the only thing that matters. I think that’s why my music resonates with people on such a deep level.
I was given the book The Mysterious World when I was a child and when I first opened it, there was a picture of spontaneous human combustion. I had never heard of such a thing in my life. There’s that wonderful old photograph of Dr. John Irving Bentley who suddenly burst into flame. There’s a bit of his leg, with his foot still in a slipper, his walker, and cinders everywhere. And I’d read about toads and frogs and blood raining from the sky. Or Count Saint Germain, who was recorded to have lived for hundreds of years. He said his secret to immortality was to eat oatmeal and wear velvet encrusted with gemstones. To this day, no one knows exactly who he was, where he came from and if indeed he was immortal.
Unfortunately, these days of internet and technology have murdered “the legend.” That breaks my heart. Monsters, marvels, lore, and legend — these are the things that make us feel most alive. The most wonderful questions of all are the ones for which there are no answers. One of my favorite quotes is, “In the end, it is the mystery that prevails, never the explanation.” Sadly, the world has gotten to a point where everybody’s demanding an explanation. But after the info, they’re still bored and unfulfilled.
I think it’s my purpose to perpetuate the long-lost magic, allow people to slip into the cracks, to pry up the floorboards and search deeply. Believe. Imagine. It’s so important to hold on to that childlike sense of marvel.
In line with these sentiments, also see Ms. Tracy’s appearance as an interviewee in a recent, and excellent, in-depth article about Ouija boards and other spirit-communication devices, where she offers some perceptive observations about Victorian Spiritualism:
Jill Tracy — a San Francisco singer and composer who, with violinist Paul Mercer, performs a touring improvisational-music show called “The Musical Séance” — says that Victorians were more open about loss of life and honoring the dead than we are now. At The Musical Séance, she and Mercer will spontaneously compose pieces based on sentimental objects the audience brings in — from antlers and dentures to haunted paintings and cremated cats to swords and a lock of hair from a drowned boy — not to call in spirits so much as memorialize the audience’s loved ones.
Tracy says even as a parlor pastime, Victorians had a sweet, romantic side to them. “A séance brought people together,” she says. “It enabled them to face their fears because it was being pitched to them as a form of group amusement, instead of a frightening experience where one sits in their house alone and tries to talk to a spirit. A séance was also sensually charged, the true definition of arousing the senses. Men and women would sit in the dark in close contact, often holding hands or touching, and they would have no idea what was going to happen. For Victorians, it was almost an acceptable moment of abandon.”
Okay, so I’m coming late to the party, since everybody with an Internet connection has now shared this video in the five days since it was released. But “Weird Al” Yankovic has been a musical companion to me since I was in junior high, and lately he’s blowing the roof off with some of his cleverest stuff ever.
Case in point: the video for his new song “Foil,” from his new album Mandatory Fun. It’s a parody of Lorde’s “Royals.” And for those who are either cognizant of or — Adam Weishaupt help us — actual believers in the mass of conspiracy theorizing that has overtaken American popular culture and public discourse in recent years — including the Illuminati craze in the hip hop world — it is a veritable revelation of satirical sanity.
Or maybe it’s actually disinformation put out by the hidden masters of the New World Order!? (For some piquant observations in this vein, scan the comments that accompany the video at YouTube — if the have the heart.)
Yes, I talk a lot about the damnability of the Internet’s inbuilt capacity for destructive distraction, but damn, sometimes the whole thing is hugely useful for circulating a dose of pure fun. And if this mashup of nearly 70 movies featuring a vigorously dancing Christopher Walken, set to a very familiar and appropriate song, isn’t pure fun, then I don’t know what is. It also integrates a smattering of archetypal Walkenisms — various verbal intonations, facial expressions, and bits of body language — that any consumer of movie and media culture in the past 40 years will find familiar. (Note: Beware a few faint, fleeting moments of NSFW imagery.)
Kudos to Ben Craw, video editor at The Huffington Post, for this wonderfully conceived and created slice of entertainment. You can see a full list of the movies he used here.
Thomas Ligotti once spoke of having been subject to a “craving for enlightenment in darkness” that never worked out in real life, but that he channeled into various aspects of his horror stories.
If you, like me, happen to be someone who has shared this craving with Tom, and if by chance you’re searching for some aural accompaniment to take you deeper into the shadowy and mournful soulspace of that dark awakening, then please know that the following playlist is for you. It knits together over two and a half hours of music that has been profoundly meaningful to me personally over a span of years, and that has been involved in various ways with my own authorial and existential explorations of the dark and gloomy route to transcendence. I hope it may prove meaningful to you as well.
N.B., you should wear headphones or earbuds as you listen to these tracks, or else use a speaker system with plenty of bass capability, since that’s the range where much of the texture of this particular music comes through. I put a lot of thought into the order and progression of the different tracks with their specific themes, tones, and moods, the better to create a subtly structured progression through different chambers and modes of unfolding awakening to the inward reality of the mysterium tremendum and the silent, staring void.
Because we engage with this reality from the particular conditioned state of consciousness that we call “the human point of view,” it necessarily and alternately strikes us as threatening, fearsome, exquisitely beautiful, starkly horrifying, unutterably sad, and numinously mesmerizing. Those shadings and more are all represented in this music.
- “The Host of Seraphim” by Dead Can Dance (6:19)
- “Abraham’s Theme” by Vangelis, from the soundtrack for Chariots of Fire (3:18)
- “Migrations” by Jocelyn Pook (3:45)
- “The Rocket Builder (Io Pan!)” by Jóhann Jóhannsson (6:29)
- “Heaven in a Wildflower” by Bill Douglas (4:37)
- “Trent Makes the Map” by John Carpenter and Jim Lang, from the soundtrack for In the Mouth of Madness (2:15)
- “Blood for Dracula” by Claudio Gizzi, from the soundtrack for Blood for Dracula/Andy Warhol’s Dracula
- “Masked Ball” by Jocelyn Pook (6:14)
- “Bibo No Aozora” by Ryuichi Sakamoto (7:24)
- “The Cave” by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman, from the soundtrack for Ravenous (8:00)
- “Towards the Within” by Dead Can Dance (7:08)
- “Libera Me” by Elliot Goldenthal, from the soundtrack for Interview with the Vampire (2:52)
- “In Doubt” and “A Different Drum” by Peter Gabriel, from Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ (6:14)
- “Children” by David Darling (5:53)
- “Opium” by Dead Can Dance (5:45)
- “Saveoursoulissa” by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman, from the soundtrack for Ravenous (8:42)
- “The Great God Pan Is Dead” by Jóhann Jóhannsson (4:47)
- “Elysium / Honor Him / Now We Are Free” by Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard, and Klaus Badelt, from the soundtrack for Gladiator (8:16)
- “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten” by Arvo Pärt (5:09)
- “Twilight Twilight Nihil Nihil” by Current93 (8:23)
- “Across the Waters” by Byron Metcalf and Mark Seelig with Steve Roach (10:38)
- “Patripassian” by Current93, featuring Nick Cave (5:52)