A State Of Cosmic Mind

translated for Wednesday's Korner by Claudia Haman, Cologne, Germany

Monday, 12.12.1994, 2:30 p.m. Desperate search for a parking space in pre-Christmas Cologne. The high priest of american Pre- and Post-Industrial, Michael Gira and his high priestess, Jarboe, have invited to an audience on the occasion of the release of their latest revelation, The Great Annihilator, and already I am close to a nervous breakdown. When a little later we give away private details in the rooms of the Chelsea Hotel, my festive mood has vanished completely. But I am rewarded by some very interesting statements, since life's dark sides have always been one of the favorite subjects of these two. But read yourself!

Since 1992 there has been no sign of life from the Swans. Aren't you afraid that people might have forgotten you?

 M. Gira: Maybe that would be good (laughing). After all we have released a Swans album every year for ten years, plus three World of Skin albums and several live recordings...

You have moved from New York to Georgia in the meantime. Don't you miss the influences of a big city, which have, among other things, left their marks on the typical Swans sound?

 M. Gira: Not necessarily. In New York I spent most of the time in our studio, which doesn't even have windows. Actually, I spent most of my life there without any daylight and without going out. I don't know how the city has influenced our music but I think that I would make the same music everywhere, no matter where I live...In the first place we moved to Georgia, because we had spent more than 13 years in N.Y. and we had basically exhausted all creative impulses of the city.

Does the title of your new CD have a biblical touch? It reminds me of passages from the apocalypse.

 M. Gira: No. It is based on a theory by the British physician Stephen Hawking. I am no scientist, but I read a lot of scientific articles. Based on the Big Bang theory, after which the Big Bang was caused by the compact, dense mass in the center of the void, which expanded slowly and finally exploded in all directions of space, Hawking assumed that the same matter slows down after some time and will finally be drawn back into the giant black hole in the center of the universe. While it moves back, time will automatically run backwards as well! Hawking calls this black hole "The Great Annihilator." In the meantime he has retracted from this theory, but I still like it because it grants the universe its own consciousness.

On your new album there are some new elements, like for example oriental influences. For example the title track, where the chorus is accompanied by the hypnotic music of an Indian snake-charmer.

 M. Gira: Yes, an Indian oboe. I alway liked drones. This song is actually following "Tomorrow Never Knows" by the Beatles, at least it has the same drum groove and it is an allusion to the "State Of Cosmic Mind" that this song is about.

Have the Swans finally taken on the character of a project?

 M. Gira: Basically Swans was never anything else but a project with a changing cast, which usually didn't last longer than one album.

So where is the difference between Swans and a project like Skin or World of Skin?

 M. Gira: No idea, I suppose the whole thing is just work mania. Swans has always been my project. In the mid-eighties Jarboe joined me and quickly developed to an equal partner. Skin basically consisted only of Jarboe and me, but the whole thing was easier from the beginning. We used Jarboe's voice more often and also she distributed more to the whole attitude of the albums. In the meantime everything is more or less blended.

The song "Killing For Company" sounds like a serial killer subject.

 M. Gira: Not necessarily in this sense, it is more about loneliness. What seems interesting to me is the question: what is going on in someone who kills a person, has sex with the body, puts make-up on it and bathes it afterwards? I think, the most fascinating thing about a necrophile serial killer like Dennis Nilsen is the fact that he thought about these weird things and then had revelations in the style of a William Blake (British painter and poet of the 18th/19th century). He saw himself as a kind of universal poet and artist. He wrote, painted... In a certain way he wasn't even far from being an artist, at least as far as his segregation from the rest of society is concerned.

Jarboe, on your solo-album Beautiful People Ltd. you had a different partner for the first time...

 Jarboe: Yes, Larry Seven - quite an eccentric, androgynous, enigmatic person. The album was released on Sub Rosa and will probably be a unique thing, although I really love it. It was recorded in a pretty weird way, mainly with instruments that Larry had built himself, or found in the garbage and had repaired. For example we borrowed this little red toy organ from a street band on 2nd Street in New York. When we finished recording, it burst into flames (laughing).

 M. Gira: He is like a mad scientist. During the recording there were wires and cables everywhere. On the album there is a track on which Larry has manipulating Jarboe's voice.

 Jarboe: I wanted no lavish effects, I rather wanted to work in an experimental way. Therefore I recorded my vocal tracks while he pulled the tape out of the recording machine with his hands. Certainly an art, because the tape could have torn any second. This way my voice was distorted completely, slowed down and stretched. I think this is unique (laughing).

 M. Gira: I like the idea of getting the most effective, creative result with the simplest possible means. Therefore we recorded Jarboe's new solo album in Bill Rieflin's house in Seattle. He only has a 12-track recorder, on which 2 tracks didn't even work. A micro, a reverb, some samplers, pianos and several acoustic guitars, that was it. I think the result really sounds good.

So far about the various projects of Michael Gira's and Jarboe. In the near future we can look forward to a Swans CD-Rom. So, no matter what the Chinese horoscope tells us, '95 definitely seems to be the year of the pig!

Ralf Wetzel Nr. 21 - Jan./Febr. '95

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