Le Poisson Rouge
The venue is small, intimate – and from any spot in the room the stage, fitted with a movie screen, was within clear view. I sat there with two friends (my favorite Aussie, Belladonna, and a colleague who knows everything film). As we sat at our table, and 8:20pm rolled around, the lights dimmed, and Severin, clad in black, entered the room and climbed the stage. Though Severin never took center stage, nor has he ever, he is one of those individuals that have presence and visual character. He took his seat by his equipment, and the film, “The Seashell and the Clergyman” began to roll as he generated the soundscape.
Directed by Germaine Dulac and written by Antonin Artaud (who is said to have been disgusted by the finish product), “The Seashell and the Clergyman” premiered in Paris on 9 February 1928. Though not considered by most film historians to be the first surrealist film, history is being revisited on that question. This film is bizarre – it may make you laugh, cringe, or feel revolted, or all three at once. But Severin’s music to the film was not mere cut the idea on the screen and paste it to music, but rather an expansion, an elaboration of the moods and emotions on the screen. Instead of the music working to enhance the visual, or the visual as a means of passive experience while listening to music, they both worked hand-in-hand to create an experience that was at both visual and audio, an experience that was both intellectual (as you pondered the elusive narrative on the screen) and visceral (as you tried to understand your own reaction to the sensory overload). This was an amazing experience.
After the thirty-one minute film, there was an intermission. As captured on his current release, “Music for Silents” (iTunes link), the second half of the show would concentrate on short, abstract scenes. From the symmetry of forms as two women playing against mirrors in “In Loop,” to the sexual and violence of “The Bad Dropper” and “Third Bride” – what really caught my eye was “Mercury Gash.” Starting with similar sounds to a flanger effect-pedal, the illustrated imagery was nothing short of Dionysian. A frenzied, orgiastic experience, as images of surreal sexual positions, the music itself never reached the point of losing itself in passion. That would be too easy, and Severin is a genius. Instead, the music is a very self-contained experience, with repetitive elements that mirror the repetitive elements of sex.
I came across the work of Steven Severin years ago, and one of the things that I admired most about his character is that he never uses the coattails of past monuments to fuel new endeavors. Every phase of his career, every album he ever compiled, every song he ever composed, each was done by its own merits and not hoping the past would propel him to another success. This show, and its corresponding release, is no different – “Music for Silents,” both a static album or a living performance, is a new step into a future that has not been charted out. It would not surprise me to see more artists start to perform in this format, as Severin has always had the power to influence his peers. And as history is starting to show, he can even influence future generations into a new mindset about how to approach music.
Mosey on down to his MySpace page and get more information on the following live dates. Make the investment; the show will blow you away.
18 October 2009 – Rome, Italy
11 November 2009 – Los Angeles, CA USA
13 November 2009 – Olympia, WA USA
18 November 2009 – Los Angeles, CA USA
1. The Seashell and the Clergyman
3. The Bad Dropper
4. Mercury Gash
5. Figure in Movement
6. Third Bride
Keep up with Steven Severin at his homepage and MySpace.