Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review/Essay - Porta Vittoria and Sonnenkind - Die Bruecke


Hello followers and readers of this blog. Since the year has started, I’ve been busy with writing. I want this year to be even more successful than last year in terms of my writing, in both to my Italian film studies, but also neofolk studies and maybe even short story writing too. I’ve recently been invited to be a contributor to Heathen Harvest, in which I’ve done a few reviews. However, do not take that as a sign that this blog will be neglected. Far from the truth! I am still working on my next two major essays, Ex Libris by Verney 1826 and Blood is the Food of the Gods by MARS. I’m getting in the home stretch for Blood is the Food of the Gods, in that I am on my final bit of research: reading the book Violence and the Sacred by Rene Girard. I’m going to approach that essay as a real, presentable essay. It’s a long time in coming, and it’s been tough, but I’m learning a lot.

However, I have not had a modicum of actual dialog or analysis on the blog since my Changes Terra Fria essay back in September. This essay is an attempt to fill this content gap. Recently, Porta Vittoria and Sonnenkind collaborated on a digital single called Die Brücke that only contained one song. I sensed an opportunity to do a meaningful essay that would also not be so resource intensive as my other essays are. For this one, I’ve let both projects give their insight on the song’s genesis and meaning.

Biasness

Since The Summer of our Discontent has been released, I’ve held Porta Vittoria on a high pedastool (see my essay on that release). I am not able to hide my adore for that project and their members, Christian and Lisa. So I will admit my heavy biasness towards them. For Sonnenkind, I do not have the same rapport as I do with Porta Vittoria, but that also prevents me from forming rose coloured glasses.

The .mp3 of the song I downloaded was not a gratis version, but one I paid for (despite the track being available for free streaming in a variety of locales). Although the artists for Die Brücke are supporters of the Eurasian Artists Association, this essay takes no such political stance. It comes from a western and democratic point of view, with both projects cited and presented as correctly as possible to explore this release.

General Overview and Presentation

Die Brücke was released across various streaming platforms, from Soundcloud to Bandcamp, on January 15th, 2015. The digital single is available for purchase via the Bandcamp for My Owl Music, the label ran by Christian of Porta Vittoria. The Bandcamp package only contains the titular song, and this essay is based on that version. The digital only release of the single/song is a departure for Porta Vittoria, who prefer physical releases. While Rudolf of Sonnenkind thinks the digital release is more practical1, Porta Vittoria chimes in on the proliferations of the song via the different avenues:

There are a lot of proliferators. We have a band profile on each site you mentioned except iTunes, ‘cuz we don’t like much the idea of selling digital stuff. We do prefer physical releases. Digital area is for collaborations or gifts or who knows… in the future when CD dies, thousands iFiles from thousands iBands who want to leave a sign, We’ll be in that hotchpotch. Or We’ll be releasing music-cassettes and vinyl.2


Die Brucke - Artwork

The single’s cover art is a photo by Arizona based photographer Brooke Shaden, who specializes in creating new worlds and telling stories through her works. The artwork depicts a young lady in a gown floating under water holding a bouquet of flowers. Her back is arched, her face hidden, and only her figure is illuminated, her floating to the surface seeming to have connotations with her ascension. Porta Vittoria elaborates on the imagery of the photograph and how well it pairs with the song:

Rudolf’s adaptation of this song tells a very sad and gloomy story of a drowned girl. I [Chris] was thinking about Ophelia painting by Sir John Everett Millais, but in the end, thanks to a little brainstorming and Lisa’s suggestions we thought that photography may fit perfectly with the song’s atmosphere.3

Rudolf offers his insight on the photograph in that

Lisa chose the artwork, and I like it. It does not exactly suit the lyrics but at least somehow (dead girl in the water), though it looks more romantic than the lyrics are, these are just sad.4

Production Notes

“Die Brücke” is a fine example of a globalized collaboration within the larger neofolk/post-industrial scene, demonstrating the overcoming of distance barriers with technology, European acts tapping into Vietnamese poetry, and each member contributing their strengths to the end product. Rudolf providing the text, melody4.5 and lead vocals, Lisa the backing vocals and a hint of driving force of the over all collaboration, and Christian with technical acumen on composing and producing the music.

Rudolf explains the genesis of the two projects collaborating on “Die Brücke”:

I shared the original version of the song by Trinh Cong Son and Lisa liked it a lot. I had already written a German text for it, so I proposed Lisa to record it together. Christian was not the biggest fan at the beginning, but then I sent him a folk version I recorded at my home and I guess Lisa actually convinced him to try it.5

Porta Vittoria seconds the initial skepticism by saying that “Rudolf asked us if we were interested in making a song with Sonnenkind. At first his proposal sounded a bit weird. Kind of tribute to a songwriter from Vietnam.”6

Despite Sonnenkind being located in Germany while Porta Vittoria in Italy, the geographic barrier posed no challenge in the song’s composing. Rudolf relied on using his home computer and data transfers7 while Porta Vittoria lauded the ease of using emails to collaborate.8

The actual music composition was handled by Christian Ryder of Porta Vittoria himself. He explains his methods and tools to create the song:

I worked on Mac with several VSTs and a lot of noisy samples for percussions. I used Apple Logic Pro for recording and mixing everything. I also recorded a distorted guitar but I put it in the background. Very, very low. Lisa didn’t want the track to sound like Revolting Cocks.9

In regards to the actual music, Christian “wanted to mix past and present, Eastern and Western Suggestions. So that’s why the song is kind of crossover between classical elements and Asian sounds, in the key of a dirty technological pulse.”10 He elaborates further that the song was

… quite far and different from our European way of feeling and most of all from Western music scale. [The] lyrics were sad. I thought the song needed some anger, and I wanted to give it an occidental and modern taste mixed with Asian feeling. The result is a bit weird, mixed with Rudolf’s folk melody, but I think we experimented something new. How to call that? Electro-industrial folk?11

For the backing vocals, Lisa (who has been singing as a jazz vocalist for the past 15 years,12 is always looking for new ways to use her voice as an instrument. For “Die Brücke”, she would receive Rudolf’s tracks and sing the melody.13

Track Analysis

Review

A bit of a departure of the Mediterranean-pop sounds from Porta Vittoria, and the romantic-folk from Sonnenkind, “Die Brücke” feels both different yet canon to both music projects. Porta Vittoria’s music is serious, almost to the point of sounding menacing – haunting synths.

Rudolf’s vocals are an intriguing example of an aural-Kuleshov Effect. In his own music, his voice sounds romantic or parody. However those same vocals without deviation, sound somber and serious when juxtaposed against Porta Vittoria’s music, especially during the chorus were it takes on even more intensity and emotion. Lisa’s vocals join in halfway through the song, and harmonize well with Rudolf’s. Both definitely compliment each other, and highlight’s Lisa’s desire to do more with her voice (this time singing in German in contrast to her native Italian). It’s an effective song, but remains accessible, much like the darker, moodier synth songs of the 1980s.

Video of the song at the official Porta Vittoria Youtube page

Verdict – Great song

Lyrics

Die Sonne lächelt milde, doch ohne jeden Sinn
Ich geh' über die Brücke zur alten Schule hin
Seit nunmehr drei Tagen wird Schwesterchen vermißt
Muß schau'n, ob sie wohl heute bei den Toten ist

Heimatstadt, der Frühlingswind zieht an mir vorbei
Doch riecht alles nur nach Tod mitten im Mai
Maienwind, weht so lind
Ob ich wohl mein Schwesterchen find'?

Weiße Leinentücher liegen Reih' an Reih'
Nur schweigend, wie benommen, geh' ich d'ran vorbei
Dann, auf einen Schrei folgt irres Lachen schon
Ein Vater drückt fest an sich den Rest von seinem Sohn

Schwester, bist Du nicht an diesem graus'gen Ort,
Um uns herum ist Frieden, und Du bist gar nicht fort?
Und all die kalten Menschlein, das alles auch nur Schein?
Wie das Gesicht der Alten dort, als wär' es ganz aus Stein...

Die Blicke ungerichtet geh' ich irgendwo hin
Die Sonne lächelt milde, doch ohne jeden Sinn
Als vorne, an der Brücke, mein Atem stehenbleibt
An mir vorbei, im Flusse, ein bleiches Mädchen treibt...14

Analysis

The subject matter of “Die Brücke” is a point of interest for at first glance it doesn’t look like it is within the interests of either project. For Porta Vittoria, their album Summer of Our Discomfort showcased a variety of interests, from the cinematic, to wrestling with modernity, the works  of J.G. Ballard, and so on. The work of Sonnenkind on the other hand has straddled the line of German politics and romantic ballads, so it is jarring at first to see an interest in a song from Vietnamese culture, specifically from the catalog of singer/songwriter Trịnh Công Sơn who gained prominence during the Vietnam War.

“Die Brücke” is not a literal translation of Trịnh Công Sơn’s song “Bài ca dành cho những xác người” which was about the Hue Massacre, where many civilians (men, women and children) along with prisoners of war were massacred by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army in early 1968. Instead it is a reinterpretation by Rudolf. He explains:

..it is not a translation, but basically my own lyrics, I just took some few motives and words and used it. Actually “Xac nao la em toi?” [sic. – this is a lyric in the original version] (“Which of the corpses is my little sister?”) and the setting in spring, the rest of my lyrics are pictures that came to my mind independently.15

And:

[The lyrics] are not linked to a certain event, but about the sufferings of children in war. I wrote about a young man searching his sister, which was lost three days ago. He goes to the school, where the corpses lie, waiting to be identified. He does not find her, and eventually leaves, going along the river and at the bridge in the water he finds her dead in the water.16

While the text has some deeper meaning for Rudolf, Porta Vittoria take a more laissez-faire approach to the subject matter. For them, they “enjoyed Rudolf ‘s incisive and tragic adaptation of the original chanson, he had control on this direction and we simply let his poetry flow, without further meanings.”17

For Rudolf, Trịnh Công Sơn and his songs have been important and left a lasting impression on him and is worth highlighting in this essay to help contextualize not just this song, but the music project of Sonnenkind further. Rudolf elaborates:

I discovered Trịnh Công Sơn when I was a student of South East Asian sciences and a Vietnamese fellow student held a presentation about his music and lyrics. It impressed me a lot. Actually he had some impact on my music, and I have some similar ideas. For example: that the context of a love song, where the loved one is addressed, is actually used for reasoning about spiritual and philosophical matters. But I guess this was his influence only in so far as he made me do this more consciously, which I had already done before, in some “kindred spirit”.18

Rudolf had been drawn to the song by way of Khánh Ly, a female Vietnamese singer who performed many songs by Trịnh Công Sơn, of which Rudolf has several records of. 19

Final Thoughts

This is a complex song, both musically and thematically. However, it showcases a lot of interesting positives. As mentioned in the Changes Terra Fria essay, its interesting to see many neofolk/martial/post-industrial acts reject modernity and post modernity, however these collaborations show globalization, a fine hallmark of modernity, in full force. These types of projects could not be so successful executed, no communicated or consumed without the prevailing winds of modernity, globalization, and the improvements of technology. It’s an interesting (if not a little ironic) scenario.

Both projects have definitely come out of their shell with this song, not only taking a gamble with new sounds, but also successfully executing them. It will be interesting to see how both bands keep growing, especially Porta Vittoria as they are still fairly new to the scene.

There are plans for “Die Brücke” post this digital release. For Sonnenkind, there is a folk version already available Youtube and Rudolf has plans to strengthen it:

I also did a folk version in my home studio and I probably will record this in a more professional version for my next studio album. I hope I manage to play the Dan Bau until then, that I can use this wonderful Vietnamese folk instrument to add more colour to it.20


Official Links

https://www.facebook.com/portavittoria - Official Facebook page for Porta Vittoria
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sonnenkind/185381024825310 - Official Facebook page for Sonnenkind
https://myowlmusic.bandcamp.com/ - Bandcamp page for My Owl Music which has Die Brücke for purchase
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTHGY-HYhTk - Official Youtube video for “Die Brücke”

Other Resources

http://www.discogs.com/artist/2585006-Porta-Vittoria - Discogs.com entry for Porta Vittoria
http://www.discogs.com/artist/2242897-Sonnenkind - Dicogs.com entry for Sonnekind
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tZltzdBzbE - Youtube video for the Sonnenkind version of “Die Brücke”
https://soundcloud.com/porta-vittoria/sonnenkind-and-porta-vittoria-die-brucke - Soundcloud Page for "Die Bruecke"

End Notes/Citations

1. Rudolf Sonnenkind, email message to Nicholas Diak, January 21, 2015.
2. Christian Ryder and Lusa Duse, email message to Nicholas Diak, February 9, 2015.
3. Ibid.
4. Sonnenkind, email.
4.5. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ryder and Duse, email.
7. Sonnenkind, email.
8. Ryder and Duse, email.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Rudolf Sonnenkind, “Die Brücke”, https://myowlmusic.bandcamp.com, accessed February 15, 2015.
15. Sonnenkind, email.
16. Ibid.
17. Ryder and Duse, email.
18. Sonnenkind, email.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.