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If you are wondering who wins in a zombie versus vampire apocalypse, I have an alternative theory.

Black Metal Gnomes win.

They don't even fight. They just run around in the background with cheesy evil pointy guitars, shredding these stupidly steep riffs, breathing fire, drinking mead from horns, perfecting a "transistorized" EQ setting that can actually drill holes in teeth, proclaiming mighty oaths, reciting epic poems about their Black Metal Gnome ancestors' heathen past, making sculptures out of goat skulls, trading limited edition vinyl and make-up tips, designing an unreadable logo for the apocalypse, and adjusting their codpieces in ways that are just wrong.

When the zombie virus has infected all the vampires, the gnomes string red silk ropes between gold poles, all over the world. The zombie-vamps act on vestigial memory, and shamble into an orderly que, waiting for a nightclub that never opens. Until they rot to pieces. Or burst into flames. The Black Metal Gnomes don't even care which. To them it's all just window dressing for music videos, anyway. You Tube survives the apocalypse.

When they are the only infernal supernatural overlords left standing (and now the tallest - finally!), the Black Metal Gnome lead singer, Bulwark, rubs his hands together, and says, "Right, then. I'm taking over."

The Black Metal Gnome drummer, Crag, throws his sticks, but there's no one left to catch them.  He swears under his breath, "Fucker. It's always the singer."

Big Arse: The Personal Aftermath

Well, if you're a reader of this journal - rather than a skimmer - you'd have sampled my disillusion with the field of Music Production, which is published online in angsty detail:

Reflective Essay > Tracking > The Lab 'Stormbringer'
The Lost Art Of Mixing By Committee
Stitching Stormbringer into its Shroud

While that is rather a lot of reflection on one disappointing project, there's another layer to this onion, and that's the personal aftermath. The original title of the song tracked ('Stormbringer') was 'Big Arse' - hence the delightful title of this piece of writing. The song has since reverted back to it's original title, which I know because the song was co-written by my boyfriend, and the band I took into the studio is his band.

Ah, yes, we reach the personal layer of that onion. The one that really stings.

I can tell you know that I wish I'd never thought to bring his band into the studio, but that's one of those hindsight observations, for which I challenge you to find a use!

I'd thought it'd be a cool way to show some support for him and his music, and that he in turn would be able to support me in my climbing that mountain toward a full-time creative career. We even sat around the table at his parents house, talking about how cool it would be to support each other.

It kinda didn't work out that way, as you'd know if you'd read the above blog posts - the teacher totally took over the project, and really slammed me down into a very lowly place, with no authoritive creative input.

It wasn't my partner's fault that he didn't know what to say to counter that while it was happeneing; hey I didn't even know how to tackle it head on on the day, and I've spent a lot more time thinking about these sorts of issues. I wish that I'd had the confidence to take to teacher aside, right at the beginning of the day, and say, "Hey dude, I don't know how you have conceptualized how I will need to communicate with these artists to work with them, but what you did just then undermined me, and how do you intend to undo that damage so I can work here?"

I wish I could have done that, but I couldn't believe the carpet had been yanked out from under me like that, and my experiences at another academie - where I was told amazing things by a sexist teacher - like "Everyone in the industry is going to HATE you and want nothing to do with you!" (for discussing gender politics in production) have damaged my confidence and voice.

My boyfriend knows all about that, and I wish he'd been able to turn around to 'Okblock [not his real name] and say, "Hey, 'Okblock, it's really nice for you that you're super-experienced, and you have those eight ARIA Awards all shiny, but we're not here to record with you - we're here to work with Talie, the whole reason she is here at your University is to work on this stuff. If you track the song, your time might not be wasted, and our time might not be wasted, but Talie's time is completely wasted."

It would have been nice if he'd been an independant enough thinker to look at things like that, but it didn't even remotely occur to him; he's since told me, "I know we said we'd support each other at my parents, but once I was there in the studio, I forgot all about you. All I was thinking about was the band, and what I could get out of this for the band."

That has been a huge strain on our relationship. It's been hard for me to accept that is just the way he is: he is the quintissential guitarist. Nice guy normally, but once he picks up his guitar he becomes an ego maniac who only cares about himself and his own dreams. He's hard-wired that way, and expecting anything else from him is not realistic.

My concerns about the way the bass-player Gavin [not his real name] networked with 'Okblock, and got me lined up to render audio for him so he could mix the project himself (instead of accepting my mix as a gift), is also something that my partner doesn't really understand. His take on things is, "Gavin was just doing his thing, getting in there and working things for himself - I would have done the same thing if it had been another dude's girlfriend."

So I lose my identity (in the project, and perhaps beyond it); I become this kind of non-person known as "a dude's girlfriend".

Again a huge strain on the relationship, the cause of many a sleepless night and heated fight.

My boyfriend tells me, "Your perspective is twisted. You're taking these things personally, when it wasn't meant personally."

I know it wasn't meant personally. It's not like Gavin took the time to get to know me, before he decided he would much rather do his own mix than be stuck with mine. It was totally impersonal; I didn't register on his radar as important enough to worry about offending. I didn't register there at all. That's what sexism is: it's not being taken on your merits, but being shoved blindly into a box based on gender stereotypes. It's being invisible. It's being a non-person.

It's been hard, in that I obviously put that Gavin guy squarely in a category of "people you wouldn't touch with a fourty foot pole" - there's no way I would want to associate with him, after he viewed me with such complete disregard. But to my partner, he's a brother, and so he's since been invited around to the home we share. For me that's really tough. And it doesn't seem worth trying to explain to this Gavin that his behaviour was crap; I'm sure he hasn't a twinge of conscience on that call. In his mind, by his values, he was just kicking networking goals for himself that day.

My boyfriend told me, "I'm the enemy. I'm what you're fighting against."

It will not astonish you to learn the relationship did not survive.

As for my production career...

I'm currently working on arranging one of my own songs for assessment. It's an interesting process - lyric writing is very different from prose or poetry - you can not only get away with being quite simple and bold (and even cheesy), but the song form really demands simplicity and boldness. The images need space, and the musical texture needs to be able to share your attention (without fighting for it). Cliché almost seems to have a different threshold in songwriting, you still have to be careful, but writing in the oral tradition seems to allow for broad strokes - often it's all you have time for.


The Howling Ages

 

to the howling ages I was born

with a howling rage

and the devil’s song in my heart

 

raised by wolves

and dusted with blood

reared in the law

of the fang

and the club

and the howling ages

 

I walked

with the ripper

his mind was a blade

I walked

through the fire

my soul is ablaze

I danced

in the flames

till I don’t know my name

 

the wild call

echoes in the wild at heart

the dark love

lingers in my wild heart

the wolf cry

echoes through the ages

 

to the howling ages

I belong

with a howling rage

and a howling song

all my own

 

raised by wolves

and bonded by blood

I’ve mastered the law

of the fang

and the club

and the howling ages

 

I walked

with the ripper

his mind – just a blade

I would not be conquered

and I won't be enslaved

I danced in the flames

and I learned all the names

 

you are not the moon

in a misty sky

you are not the glint

in an evil eye

you are not the raider

upon the sea

you are not the thing

that will finish me

you are not my bane

or my reckoning

you are not the flames

that are beckoning

 

the rain falls

while the wild calls

the rain falls

while the wild calls

 

we can lacerate the sky

we can burn inside a lie

slowly rot here till we die

but there are those who heed the cry

 

to the howling ages

I was born

with a howling rage

and a howling song

 

 

Obligatory copyright notice:  © Talie Helene, 2009. All Rights Reserved



The Howling Ages – Analysis of Symbols

 

The Howling Ages is a song I wrote after attending The Ned Kelly Awards for crime fiction. I’d enjoyed the company of some excellent writers that evening, including the gorgeous Deborah Crabtree and Leigh Redhead, and I was feeling inspired and motivated. (Worst hangover in the history of bad hangovers? Possibly.) I was also reading Jack London’s The Call Of The Wild at the time, underlining passages that I loved, and this song alludes to several Jack London phrases – ‘the howling ages’ and ‘the law of fang and club’. Another influence is my involvement in performing and recording with Wendy Rule, particularly working on a demo of the song The Wolf Sky. It was as though we had conjured some wolf spirits, and when we went in our separate creative directions, some of the spirits accompanied Wendy, but some of those wolves had other ideas, and followed me, harrowing my unconscious until I honoured them with a quite different song of my own.

 

The first draft of the song was improvised at the piano – both words and music, at the same time. Right away I jotted down my first two verse lyrics, and chord progression. The song had a first performance the next day, in rough form, in a TAFE keyboard workshop class. Over several months I tinkered with the structure, worked out a coda section, and tried to layer in symbols and images that worked with the song. I deliberately allude to songs by other artists, and each of these symbols has a broad connotation, as well as a personal (and sometimes private) significance to me.

The title was derived from the following quote, which I simply adore:


"It was an old song, old as the breed itself - one of the first songs of the younger world in a day when songs were sad. It was invested with the woe of unnumbered generations, this plaint by which Buck was so strangely stirred. When he moaned and sobbed, it was with the pain of living that was of old the pain of his wild fathers, and the fear any mystery of the cold and dark that was to them fear and mystery. And that he should be stirred by it marked the completeness with which he harked back through the ages of fire and roof to the raw beginnings of life in the howling ages."

Jack London (The Call of the Wild)


I was also very taken with this related quote:

"In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the old life within him, the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks... And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him."
Jack London (The Call of the Wild)

The teacher who took the keyboard workshop class, is a very talented composer called Peter Hurley. He once commented, "All music is a mating cry." To which I immediately added, "Or a war cry." I feel Jack London's phrase encapsulates both, in a primal way that is inescapable. It's this old song that comes before language and the world of words. A very compelling idea.

My reference to ‘the ripper’ represents all misogynist masculine violence, as well as specifically referring to my very disharmonious stint working with Hobbs’ Angel of Death; that was a strange time in my life, and I felt both thrilled to be getting some experience working with figures from the past of Australian metal, but also kind of disturbed and weirded-out to be playing songs that I had recognized as very misogynistic when I first heard them as a kid. The self-defeating politics at work in that band – duplicity, a mind like a blade – is another symbolic meaning of ‘walking with the ripper’. The other meaning is a personal one, about surviving a violent domestic relationship, where my life was threatened and my daily existence was under constant menace. While I lost myself in it for a time, and ‘didn’t know my name’ – through hard introspection, and of course the denial-crushing benefits of writing, I empowered and freed myself by ‘learning all the names’ – that is, to understand the psychological damage of domestic violence, and unflinchingly render it on the page.

 

The ‘devil’s song in my heart’ refers both to metal genre (which was formative for me as a teen) and to the wolf as symbol for the devil in Christian tradition. My rejection of my parent’s Catholic faith, and my exploration of this kind of music, went hand-in-hand.

 

Being ‘raised by wolves’ and ‘dusted with blood’ represents my falling in with some of the roughest and most debased boys in the metal scene  – more formative experience, and something I identified with London’s ‘law of fang and club’. The second verse reference to ‘bonded by blood’ is another musical allusion, and represents the similar (but different) experience of a fellow writer and veteran of the extreme metal world, a lady who is one of my heroes.

 

The ‘wild call’ refers literally to music, to Jack London’s novel, and alludes to Doro Pesch’s album Calling The Wild – meeting Doro was an inspiring moment in my life, her commitment to her creative career is something to behold.

 

The series of ‘you are not’ statements in the coda, each contain an image, and some are symbolic on several levels. The ‘moon in a misty sky’ was possibly influenced by an interview I did with Galder from Dimmu Borgir/Old Man’s Child, where he talked of black metal being originally about silver moons and misty moors, but how it had evolved as a kind of heathen poetry about man and ecology. Of course the moon symbolizes femininity and fertility too. The ‘glint in an evil eye’ symbolizes superstition, and how impotent delusions of grandeur fail to impact on reality. The ‘raiders upon the sea’ symbolizes an Irish concept of external destructive forces, like Viking raiders. ‘The thing that will finish me’ represents all unnamed horrors of the body. We mediate our anxiety through metaphors of monsters and dreadful things; horror tropes are a metaphor for those real-life horrors we struggle to name in civilized society. (And there can be social fall-out if you dare to name "unmentionables" of body or experience in your everyday life - quite the little-bastard-reveal).  The ‘bane’ and the ‘reckoning’ represent a worthy enemy, and a worthy judge. The ‘flames that are beckoning’ could be hellfire, could be an ecological catastrophe so much bigger than the personal concerns of one person, or could be some kind of glorious conflagration.

 

I allude to Slayer’s Reign In Blood album when I write how we could ‘lacerate the sky’ – and set against ‘burn inside a lie’, this could symbolize environmental destruction, or personal destruction. I wonder in retrospect if I was making a criticism of what I perceived as immature narcissism in Peter Hobbs’ statement ‘I love Slayer so much I wanted to kill them’. I'm still processing the weirdness of that band experience, but it seemed to me like a creative process that was focused on other peoples creative processes, instead of being it's own integral animal. We all have influences, but setting out with a rival in mind? That is something I still think is pretty weird, and if that weirdness snuck in as subtext, it makes sense. ‘Slowly rot here till we die’ alludes to the Obituary album Slowly We Rot, which represents all death metal, that culture, that world, and maybe the way the genre seems sometimes stuck repeating itself, no longer avant-garde.

 

These symbols were intuitively layered into the song, rather than through any dry intellectual process – but my understanding of myth and symbol, to create a resonant work, certainly came into play during the writing process.

The following reflection has nothing to do with microphone placement, compression, EQ or gain structure. It's about a negotiated culture that doesn't exist in the studio, a dictatorial culture that predominates in the studio  – and about the quality and the feeling of experiencing that firsthand.

5000 more words behind the cutCollapse )
That might seem like a rather grand quote to use regarding audio engineering, instead of politics or law, but the most professional female live sound technician I know – an VMIT graduate – she told me, “You become neuter to do the job. You have no gender.”

Men have a word for that – when it happens to men, they call it “emasculation” – and they HATE it. They rise up in their own defense, if they feel that their identity as a man is under threat. That identity is precious to them. And our culture has defined the word as:

emasculate |iˈmaskyəˌlāt|
verb [ trans. ]
make (a person, idea, or piece of legislation) weaker or less effective : our winner-take-all elections emasculate fringe parties like neo-Nazis.
• [usu. as adj. ] ( emasculated) deprive (a man) of his male role or identity : he feels emasculated because he cannot control his sons' behavior.
• archaic castrate (a man or male animal).
• Botany remove the anthers from a flower.

There is no word for “efemination” – to lose ones identity as a woman, to be made weaker or less effective. That word doesn’t exist. Instead, we have to tangle with this one:

effeminate |iˈfemənət|
adjective
(of a man) having or showing characteristics regarded as typical of a woman; unmanly.

Both words are about the loss of male identity.

If we don’t even have a word for the loss of female identity in our entire culture, how could there be a theory for guarding against it in studio practice? My concern is that there is no concept of female identity in music production at all, and there is no place reserved in education for a discourse on it.

Now because I don’t want to become a woman-shaped neuter-thing (or a woman-shaped man), because I want to be me, I have to figure out some way of participating in these arts practices, without being engulfed by the boys club behaviour. I want to communicate my own way. I want to hold onto my own values. I don’t want to be defined by boys club conventions, to adopt the communication style, even though it is so quick to use – it's rapid fire communication, because it’s waving the flags everyone is already holding – it seems more convenient, so deceptively clear, deceptively simple.

My sense of personal integrity and artistic integrity are not bundled separately, and I don’t think you can make great art if you let yourself be transformed by a dominant culture, and swept away from your own values.

I’ve talked to Tradiedude about this, and I was so relieved that he was open to listening to me. He said I blew him away by how articulate and succinct I am. That all I’ve said is true, that he could see these things happening – that these are the things most people see happening, but they just let it slide, because that’s their coping mechanism. He also said I’m too intelligent for my own good sometimes – or for audio engineering – not too intelligent to do it, but to fit in with the culture and do it. How guys find it threatening to have these things talked about. How Mr Cockblock isn’t going to want to hear this – because even though he probably sees himself as progressive, and he has the ideal of equality in mind, that on a grass roots level he probably hasn’t had to think about the day-to-day social reality of it, think about it for hours ever day, for  months and years, and and internalize awareness, and come up with new ways of communicating – and even if he doesn’t take it personally, I am still challenging the way things are.

I don't know. Maybe Mr Cockblock will be totally open to his own growth as an educator, and welcome the feedback. That would be nice. I want awareness integrated into a pedagogy for the discipline. As a student, I cannot effect that very much. It's up to the teachers to "get it". For that to happen, they have to care about it; these issues have to be seen as important, central issues within the discipline, by those in a position to effect change.

I owe it to myself as an artist, to critique these cultural practices when I feel excluded by them. I felt completely undervalued and excluded from my own recording project.  It was a wasted opportunity for growth and advancement and the forging of musical allies. To use some technical industry jargon: that sucked.

I’ve become so censored. I’m frightened of the consequences of having a voice. I’ve witnessed such a ruckus that can follow talking about these kinds of issues, a brutal, defensive status quo tumbling down upon my head, tonnes of bricks and centuries of patriarchy. Do I have to worry about defamation, when I critique a little TAFE assignment? I mean, I *could* change the teachers name to something bogus, but why should I have to? [This was revised and all names were changed except my own.] There’s nothing in this reflective piece of writing that deals with anything secret or confidential. It’s stuff that happened in the studio while working on an assignment. Am I not entitled to critique it?

As messy and imperfect as this reflective piece of writing is - it articulates things I cannot find anyone talking about - I guess someone has to sound these things out first.

In certain rooms, a woman with a voice is the end of life as we know it.

So, tell me again – how is that a bad thing?

What’s the point of all this? It’s decompression, with no excuses or apologies. If a heap of hellish experiences won’t kill my enthusiasm, a bunch of mediocre ones won’t either. No, wait – that's whistling in the dark. Stack up enough mediocre experiences, and be surrounded by enough ignorance – that will totally kill my enthusiasm. My verve is depleted. I’m not fixating on this project - I'm moving forward to the next learning thing, and the next real world thing – but I do think it’s crucial to reflect on these experiences, and document them, and have a dialogue about them. The freedom to do that is a HUGE part of the not-having-your-enthusiasm-killed deal. Allowed to be deflated. Allowed to bounce back. And my voice – I'm trying so hard to remember I'm entitled to have one.