JEANNE OF THE DARK
e-guitar/e-bass, e-violin, percussion, live-electronics, video and light
(partly composed in collaboration with Terre Thaemlitz)
composed in 2008
Jeanne of the Dark is an exploration of the image of the vamp in the multimedia context of music, lighting, and silent film. Rather than tell a story, co-composers Marko Ciciliani and Terre Thaemlitz have created an unconventional artwork that derives its imagery and its sound world from a range of reference points transgressing stylistic and cultural boundaries, from vampire movies to eroticism, from heavy metal to cannibalism. The stereotype of the vamp – the seductive but dangerous woman, man-eater, femme fatale, inseparable from the dualistic male view of the female as virgin/whore – is teased out and recontextualised, and a consuming process of attraction and repulsion is set in motion for the listener/viewer. The work is structured in four large panels, the first three composed by Ciciliani for his ensemble Bakin Zub, connected by musical and filmic interludes composed by Thaemlitz.
The first three larger parts, exploring respectively vampirism, eroticism and cannibalism, each have their own particular colour tone (blue, yellow and red); as in his other recent works Ciciliani has composed the light design as integral parts of the musical structure. These three parts are ingeniously superimposed to create the final panel, the most dense part of the work, which manifests (and unpicks) the multiple threads of the vamp’s complex, even contradictory nature. One of the points of departure for Jeanne of the Dark was the 1916 black-and-white crime serial Les Vampires by director Louis Feuillade, filmed in the streets and interiors of World War I Paris. The film, initially banned by the French police for its supposed glorification of a band of criminals, became a hit and, later, something of a cult item, ensuring vampire-like immortality for its star Jeanne Roques (aka Musidora), emblematic in a black body suit and mascara-laden eyes in the role of Irma Vep (anagram-spotters take note), the cinema’s first screen vamp. Les Vampires has itself been cannibalised by Ciciliani and Thaemlitz and woven into Jeanne in several ways. In the three interludes we encounter, as though in a dream, the vamp herself, disembodied, abstracted, in anachronistic swathes of colour; and at the climax of the work’s final part we see a three-minute extract from the film with new sound effects composed by Ciciliani, giving the half-comic, half-diabolic exploits of the Belle Époque criminals a contemporary voice.
Musically, Jeanne of the Dark sucks blood from a range of innocent and not-so-innocent victims. The line-up of Bakin Zub (electric violin, electric guitar, bass guitar, percussion, synthesizer and percussion) resembles a rock band more than a contemporary music ensemble; the virtuosic and fully-notated score flits over and between the worlds of Heavy Metal and Goth, the easy-listening schmooze of porn films, the sharp edges of present-day electronica, and much else. The result is a haunting and multi-layered world that is both entertaining and provocative: as with the vamp herself, we find ourselves questioning if it’s OK to be seduced by its charms. But perhaps we should relax: during the hour we spend in the company of Jeanne of the Dark, seduction is the only game in town.
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