Devil Doll - Interview with Mr.Doctor (Burrn)



INTERVIEW FOR BURN MAGAZINE MADE BY TELEPHONE ON OCTOBER, 10, 2008 – TRANSCRIPTION OF RECORDING

1.Back in 1987, Devil Doll has started to operate. Would you please tell us the musical and lyrical concept when the project was formed.

"At the time I was deeply caught by the silent cinema from the 20s and early 30s, especially Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr, the Tod Browning/Lon Chaney collaborations, and the visual masterpieces of Expressionism - Murnau’s Faust and Sunrise, Pabst’s The Love Of Jeanne Ney and Diary Of A Lost Girl and Dupont’s Variety. I penned a long composition (which later was to be titled The Mark Of The Beast) which had a filmic structure, in the sense that the lyrics and the musical themes were developed as in a screenplay, without resurfacing anymore throughout the composition. At the same time, I decided to break the banks of musical genres, incorporating any kind of music which could better carve out and express the deepest feelings of the story. The aesthetic unity was given by a voice-instrument which could speak, shout, scream, tremble or sing, in an extreme sprechgesang style, without studio tricks but with self-imposed tortures to the vocal cords, following the no-compromise way of Lon Chaney when he created his visual portrayals of the Hunchback Of Notre Dame, of the legless man in The Unknown or his dual role - Man/Old Woman - in The Unholy Three I placed an advert to form a group with the phrase “A Man Is The Less Likely To Become Great The More He Is Dominated By Reason. Few Can Achieve Greatness, And None In Art, If They Are Not Dominated By Illusion” and slowly developed the nucleus of the musicians – some from Italy, some from Yugoslavia (now Slovenia) – who would become Devil Doll. The name was taken from a 1936 film directed by Tod Browning without his favourite actor Lon Chaney, who had prematurely died six years earlier."

2. Regarding composition of music, what brought you main influences to you? In the music of Devil Doll, we notice the feels and moods of rock/metal, prog rock, classical music, and movie's soundtracks... If it is fine, please mention the groups/bands/composers which meant a lot to you when you started writing your own song/music?

"My mother was a classically-trained piano player whose lone influence in my love for music was that she introduced me to the classical-classics – she was particularly fond of Beethoven – in a peculiar way: music could only be listened in silence and in total obscurity. As a little child, I was sitting in the dining room – where the stereo-player was – she was switching off the lamp, as music AND light were not allowed to co-exist. It was like to be in a Cinema – with my closed eyes visualising the suggestions inspired by a soundtrack made by Beethoven: the second movement of his Seventh Symphony, with its martial, funeral-like procession, was an early favourite. She was not an adventurous listener, so I did not have the pleasure to experience anything but the obvious ones – Bach, Mozart, Brahms and Vivaldi. I subsequently turned to Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, Gustav Holst’s Planets (I consider Mars the very first Hard Rock piece ever composed) or Samuel Barber’s Adagio. Personal influences which thrilled me when I started Devil Doll were the Dmitri Shostakovich of the Eighth String Quartet or of Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk, the Prokofiev of Aleksander Nevsky and the Bela Bartok of the Concert For Orchestra and the Charles Ives of the Fourth Symphony, whereas Kryszstof Penderecki and Witold Lutoslavski enhanced my interest in the universe of timbre. A brief but intense spell with some British symphonists of last century – Arthur Bliss, William Alwyn, Arnold Bax, Benjamin Frankel, Humphrey Searle – led me to an in-depth exploration into the world of soundtracks, as these composers had also been responsible for many immortal film scores, most significantly Odd Man Out (Alwyn) and Things To Come (Bliss). Apart from Bernard Herrmann, whose entire oeuvre I still find eminently inspiring, I never cared much of most of the famed American film composers, or at least of their widely acclaimed sub-symphonic scores. Among the Europeans, Ennio Morricone’s remarkable talent was much more influential for me on little films such as Who Saw Her Die/Chi L’ha Vista Morire? (which is bizarrely built on spine-chilling children choirs) than on those over-acclaimed soundtracks plagued by the dull warbles of his female vocalist Edda Dell’Orso. And I cannot forget Nino Rota’s score for Fellini’s Casanova, which features a track entitled Il Duca Di Wurtenberg that is possibly the most extreme piece of DevilDoll-esque music I have never written. Rock music has also been a great influence, primarily for its effectiveness: it goes straight to the point like a scalpel in a plastic surgery operation. I adored Teddy And His Patches’ 60s psych-garage single Suzy Creamcheese, graced by an uncontrolled primal energy which easily compensated for its compositional rawness and technical ineptitude. At the same time I found abrasively effective the eccentric and only-apparently simple songs written by Arthur Lee for Love’s third album Forever Changes, and a few prog-rock diamonds such as Red by King Crimson, or Peter Hammill’s In The Tower/The Black Room (from his Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night album), or the Shin Toku Maru album by your own J.A. Caesar/Seazer’s."

3. How about composition of lyrics? What gave you a kind of inspirations or influences? I guess literatures, philosophies, tradition, religious things etc. etc. are main or small references to a lyrical aspect of Devil Doll?

"I always write lyrics first: and it is the most complex, delicate and difficult aspect of the whole project. Lyrics themselves ARE music. Every word has a specific sound with a subliminal effect related to the chosen succession of letters. But every word beside its sound has also a meaning, so the creation of a “word-sound” has more strict boundaries and more tortuous paths than the composition of the music. Furthermore, words are naked: bad lyrics are always there, in their embarrassing emptiness which cannot be hidden behind an ingenious orchestration or a spellbinding arrangement. I also believe that in Art, a concept can be the starting point: it fascinates ratio and feeds it, but in its essence it is nothing more than an attractive façade or a suitable wrapping. Being architectural, once you catch it…the game’s over. A conceptual Art is a contradiction in terms. With a paradox, I could say that in Art, nothing is more stupid than Intelligence as the mechanisms of making Art and of absorbing someone else’s Art – same as in Love, in Faith and in Magic – are ruled by Induction, not by Deduction It’s the primal power of poetry, impalpable and ever-metamorphosing in the succession of its metaphors, which pulls ever-different inner strings, miraculously opening unseen perspectives of perception. I often find pleasure in adding references and quotations, which work transversally as a series of key-words recognizable by twin-spirits or by whoever wants to “go in-depth”. Some references are more obvious or even openly declared in the sleeve notes – such as Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson and Emily Bronte in Dies Irae – whereas some others are more subtly present, from Franz Kafka and Ambrose Bierce to Rainer Maria Rilke and Luigi Pirandello, just to name a few poets and writers from different cultures and styles."

4.Would you please give readers concepts, themes, and suggestions of all the record which are re-issued as re-masters and paper-sleeves in Japan?

The Girl Who Was...Death

"The Girl Who Was…Death was the first long-player to be distributed, because our debut album, The Mark Of The Beast, had been thought as a sort of “aural painting”, hence it was pressed in one single copy, to which I made myself the hand-painted artwork. One of the most memorable parts from The Girl Who Was…Death (introduced by an arpeggio of guitar followed by the lines “Who Are You Looking For…What Are You Looking At…” and by a breathtaking violin solo) was in fact transposed from The Mark Of The Beast: the lyrics are different, but the music was basically the same, although instrumental and vocal parts were reversed, in the sense that the instrumental parts of The Girl Who Was…Death were sung on The Mark Of The Beast and vice-versa."

"Recorded first-take-live-in-the-studio, The Girl Who Was…Death is Rockier and more immediate than any other Devil Doll album. Patrick McGoohan’s esoteric TV series The Prisoner was its loose inspiration. The Prisoner was McGoohan’s personal obsession as Devil Doll was mine: ONE man was in full control of the whole project, creating the concept, being the main actor, the screenwriter of the chief episodes, the director of some of them, the executive producer, the one who had even whistled the theme music to the series (later arranged by Ron Grainer) and the only person who knew what the whole thing was about, as the series, which had started as a bizarre spy-story, progressively metamorphosed into the realm of a nightmarish allegory on Man, at the same time Prisoner and Captor of Himself."

Eliogabalus

"Eliogabalus was almost entirely performed by the Italian section of Devil Doll and featured the title-track, plus Mr.Doctor, a composition which I had originally called The Black Holes Of The Mind and was inspired by the confession of an early Devil Doll fan, who told me she had been raped for many years by her older brother, a respectable “Doctor” who had eventually taken his own life jumping under a high-speed train. Among the crimes featured in the lyrics, the killing of “my brother” came from a dream I had, with “the unnameable who gave me the axe” being my mother. The rest of the story came from criminal cases found when I worked as a doctor in Law specialized in Criminology. The lyrics of Eliogabalus were about the most unknown of all Roman Emperors, Eliogabalus, who had been put to power when still a young boy because of his god-like beauty. He surpassed even the wildest borders of eccentricity and depravity and was soon killed. The Roman Senate ordered that no trace of his existence should ever left to posterity, hence his memory was obliterated by history until much later, when a brief profile was included in Aelius Lampridius’ Storia Augusta. In the Devil Doll track, I wanted the mad Eliogabalus as the symbol of the diverse or deformed who’s watching the world from behind the mirror. Where I always was. The Black Holes Of The Mind was played live many times before its recording (the only Devil Doll composition whose live performance pre-dates its studio recording) and the finale was taped late at night in a lousy bar just up the recording studio: you can still hear the cashier thanking the customers who buy cigarettes and pay. During the recordings of The Black Holes Of The Mind, I desired to also record Eliogabalus, a brand new track I had finished the day before entering the studio, so it had never been rehearsed. Furthermore, I had not thought of how to perform my vocal parts, but time was tight, so it was completely improvised."

Sacrilegium

"It is the most intense and claustrophobic of all the albums, and was recorded in dramatic circumstances during the cruel Yugoslavian war. Of the Italian half of the group, only drummer Rob Dani and pianist Francesco Carta dared to cross the Yugoslav border: the others quit the day before the beginning of the recordings, but Michele Fantini Jesurum joined at the last minute. He had been my school mate for eight years at secondary school and a master improvisator at the Pipe Organ, in the wake of his best friend and mentor, the old French organist (and a living legend of the instrument) Jean Guillou. Sacrilegium’s story was set in a pre-2nd World War Europe, with its smell of decadence, doubt and impending death, which was not dissimilar from the street atmosphere of those days. The social setting was mirrored by the suicidal personal anguish I was experiencing those days. As a result, my vocal performance is filled a desperation and a “no-tomorrow” lack of mental oxygen, which is would be very hard to recapture.

The Sacrilege of Fatal Arms

"As a companion to our sparse live performances, I wrote and filmed a silent movie entitled The Sacrilege Of Fatal Arms, a Dreyer-esque symphony of death whose soundtrack incorporated most of the music of Sacrilegium (although in a remixed form), plus thirty minutes of material specifically recorded to fit the images. The film and the soundtrack open with our rendition of the Drina March, a war song which had become the anthem of the cruellest faction during the recent Yugoslav war."

Dies Irae

"After the release of The Sacrilege Of Fatal Arms, I started to record an album which was going to be entitled The Day Of Wrath. In the middle of the recordings the studio was completely destroyed by a fire, whose origin is still shrouded in the mist of post-war vendettas. I saved my skin but not the tapes, of which only an unmixed cassette survived. We were consequently forced to re-start the work in a different studio. Dies Irae resurfaced from the ruins of The Day Of Wrath and is the most complex and artistically rewarding of the five albums reissued by Belle Antique. The concept acts on two levels: a series of paradoxical philosophic questions connected with love, life and afterlife, culminating with the killing of the loved person in order to guarantee her eternal life . . Every passage is crystalline in its logic, though elliptically expressed in the flashes of poetic metaphors. The second level is personal. The lyrics, the artwork, the music feature over five hundred references, quotations, tiny clues which could reveal (to the most careful and prepared listener) all the influences which have fed my soul through the years. From a lyrical viewpoint I was particularly delighted by the way I managed to describe the killing (“and the virgin blade kisses, freeing, your white throat”) and by the last monologue of the man in a strait-jacket followed by the orchestral grand finale. From the musical viewpoint I still have a preference for the frightening “Incubus” section. In fact, I had composed and recorded two of them, one should have been featured on the European version of the album, and the other on the American pressing which was cancelled at the last minute. The material we recorded for Dies Irae filled altogether over 700 minutes of master tapes: the tiny clips which are part of the “Incubus” were in fact long compositions of which only a few seconds have been randomly chosen, illogically, as it happen in the worst nightmare, which is uncontrollable by reason."

5.After releasing Dies Irae, why did you have to stop activity of this band? Or, do you have a plan to write new materials for Devil Doll's future activity?

"I immediately made my second silent film, whose soundtrack incorporated 90 minutes of music from the Dies Irae sessions. I was tempted to release both, but the project was shelved when I started to compose a soundtrack to back Jean Epstein’s 1928 silent film The Fall Of The House Of Usher. The project was recorded, but was not performed as I decided to interrupt the collaboration with the Slovenian National Cinematheque, which had commissioned the work. Since then I have never stopped to write and record Devil Doll music, but in the past ten years I have lost interest in releasing the recordings. The stupefaction of the birth of a new composition is still the prime motivation, the rest is inessential."

6. Devil Doll is appreciated by many kind of music fans, like prog-rock listeners, and also metal/hard rock fans...and maybe, some classical music listeners will be fascinated by your music. Of course, is it big deal that your music have such a huge universality?

"Every musical idiom – Metal, Gothic, Prog-Rock, Classical or whatever – has its charm, as it puts the emphasis on a particular aspect of Music, such as the Energy for Metal, the Atmosphere for Gothic or the Structure for Classical or some Prog-Rock. But what really matters is Music itself, with its enchanting, magical power which transcends senses. A piece of music is remarkable or unremarkable regardless of its idiom: the problem only lies in the sensibility of the listener, who can open his horizons to odd, unheard, demanding sounds, or can remain stuck to the limited idiom of his tribe, to its stereotypes, which are the strict borders of his ignorance. In ancient Hebrew, the word Knowledge and the word Love, where one and the same word – because you can only love, appreciate, understand and be filled by the energy and the vibrations of what you KNOW. With a statement like – It’s not my TASTE – many hide their inability to transcend the narrow limits of their musical horizons. Exactly what Devil Doll has always fought against. "

7. And, on the other hand, Devil Doll does not seem to belong to a certain music genre strictly. Devil Doll is Devil Doll, even though some metal, some goth, some prog-rock, some classical influences are in there... A concept of originality uniqueness must be big to your musical journey, no doubt? Actually, you never repeated same thing between each album through you music career?

"Devil Doll does not belong to any genre as it is the faithful mirror of what I really am. It is no movie, no fake, no façade, no architecture. It is not done to please anybody or to sell records. I have no time nor interest in posing, and I despise a following of poseurs. All I care about is the amazing daily opportunity to open new doors, walking beyond the limit of my previous limit. If I think and talk and act and create in metres, I want to think and talk and act and create in centimetres, always re-setting my sensibility on the strength of new magnifying lenses. Hence, there’s no risk of riding a formula, as I am one and the same ever-changing merrily Tormented Man. "

8. What are you listening to currently?

"As I do not own a television and I do not read newspapers or magazines, I am unaware of which are the new trends or who are the music stars. Nevertheless, I have an ever-increasing collection of over 40.000 records of the most varied musical nature and I am always thrilled by the desire of finding different, original, stimulating music from every part of this (or any other) planet. Production values and technical proficiency are not as important as the bare brilliant ideas often found in obscure records originating from the most remote locations."

9. In art-wise, what is your next moves? Still writing music?
Or your steps are into another genre of art?

"Besides music and Devil Doll, which are my primary interest, in the past few years I have written and published two books, one entitled Music For The Eyes, which unveils all the “chemical formulas” behind Bernard Herrmann’s Film Music, and the other called “The Bible”, which is a 1200-page tome on UK Independent music. And I am currently working on a book which is provisionally entitled Fear Of Music - The Music Of Fear, which analyses more than a thousand musical compositions capable of producing fear and discomfort."

Thank you for answering.
All the best,

Taka Okuno/Burrn magazine