There’s a great review of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (Deutsche Grammophon C20 series reissue) on the Amazon US site, and it’s informative lucid writing. The writer of the review states that the some of the stories told in the work are rendered in a way that is unintelligible: ‘made so vague that only the phonetic properties matter’.
Phonetic properties is a great phrase. And Berio’s Sinfonia is genius. And Sinfonia‘s reviewer is right – only the phonetic properties matter. Much of the time. Words under water, messages in bottles, the tongue set free. Words appropriated and re- ( or is that ‘de-’?) contextualised are central to Berio’s Sinfonia in a way not dissimilar to Heiner Goebbels’ Eraritjaritjaka, Museé des Phrases. The latter is a stage production, of course, its words all Elias Canetti’s, and all discernible, but the similarity remains: words under water or thrown into the air, where they fly around overhead. Le Seagull, le trawler, le kung fu kick of language.
Unholy Soul by The Orchids was described by Ian McCann in the NME as “a Pet Sounds for the 90s” and is an unclassifiable work of wonder. (I’ve never listened to Pet Sounds so no idea if McCann’s comparison was on the mark). Much of Unholy Soul is straightforward guitar-based pop, but it constantly pushes at the form’s limits and what we have here is cathedral like in its invisible structure, when we’d have expected a shed.
Sung in a mumbled, diffident Glasgow voice, the songs phonetic properties are unusual and lend the songs a timelessness/ otherworldliness. It’s difficult to believe that this was a real band and not a portrayal from a work of fiction. Singer James Hackett’s vocal style means that much of the lyrical content is lost to me in terms of its meaning, but we can take this as a positive, like Berio’s words under water.
The LP starts off with a strong vibe of the oneiric, and (in a way) like the film Inception, never quite opens its eyes. Could these be dreams within dreams? From Me And The Black And White Dream:
Picture this. A thousand people with no eyes, staring at you
But you had a [...] and I had a [...]
It’s gotta be me
In the black and white dream
More dreams, this time from the song Peaches:
Dreaming dreaming dreaming, baby
Dreaming dreaming dreaming, baby
A lot of these songs suggest the vibe of a place, but without the specifics that define it. They conjure a world of stone buildings, viaducts, rain and shelter, moss and lichen, a liminal zone between adolescence and adulthood. A slightly bleak urban landscape peopled by musical geniuses and machine elves. An almost – but not quite – monochrome world, where colour explodes in unexpected places and in vividly weird combinations.
Things take a turn for the surreal during The Sadness of Sex Part 1. I dunno if it’s some production trick using stereo, but this track has that feeling you get when you listen to Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite – that the room has turned upside down and gravity has temporarily stopped doing its thing. More great, if not always audible lyrics:
There’s a cat in my window, where the light had been
And she’s telling me secrets, [...]
And the last time I saw, well it was a [...] time
Gotta stop gotta stop gotta stop
Stepping over you
The song also contains short phrases of sampled dialogue from diverse sources including the films Arsenic and Old Lace and The BFG. Part love song, part sound collage, complete fucking genius. But – maybe because of the diffidence thing – you get the feeling that The Orchids had no idea they were painting a late 20th century masterpiece with Unholy Soul.
Unholy Soul was reissued a while back and is easily available on CD.
The Orchids have a great website. My second favourite website of all time, in fact – www.theorchids.net. What’s my first favourite website of all time? Why, www.lunkhead.net of course!