Released 29 March 2018
DK UPC: 840092443480
Mystery, Babylon! This album marks a point in time in which I began to understand more fully the power of writing music to exorcise demons. Not the ceremonial magic kind, I mean the personal kind — those hived-off and ignored portions of the psyche which we do not embrace as part of our sense of “self”, for (generally) reasons of social conditioning, out of personal fear, or because although we know they have been put there by past traumas, we are not yet in a position to tame and integrate them.
There were several forces in my life at the time of writing this album that came together to initiate me (more fully) into discovering the source of my demons and pressing them into willing service. To put it into less challengingly arcane terms, it taught me how to develop healthy and successful methods for coping with absolute bullshit in my day-to-day life, and to achieve spiritual and emotional equanimity in the face of and despite the accidence of my incarnation on the physical plane.
It may be that by creating an external body of work in which one’s essential being is necessarily stamped, with the will of doing this in as whole-heartedly and honestly a way as possible, brought a lot of this to the fore around now. It became apparent (even to me!) that I was persisting in this strange project…
And putting one’s work — essentially oneself — “out there” into even the tiniest tiny public realm, is a responsibility. Even with the best intentions and deepest reflection, it is a fact that even if you had everything right out in the clearest of clear light, people are going to misunderstand your intentions and ideas, get it wrong or even just lie, and this could be dangerous to someone encountering it in the wrong state of mind at the wrong time. I became aware of this possibility when I was perpetrating Bad Influence, and the sense of moral responsibility for what I was doing was something I felt I needed to consider. I didn't want to have to put disturbing caveats on everything I do. Maybe it’s the struggle between “being liked”, “being successful”, “being popular” and choosing to do something absolutely (and in a sense, dangerously) genuine — and choosing the latter of these, even if these should prove to be diametrically opposed to one another — that prompted this kind of assessment of moral responsibility. Or maybe the decision to do this thing was the result, and not the cause, of the “inner sorting” I seemed to be doing, I don’t know. I do know that airing one’s humanity in public is not only dangerous to your ego, it’s also unseemly and uncomfortable to others, particularly if they don’t consciously understand, and block off from what’s uncomfortable about it for themselves for personal reasons.
Reaching into the unconscious depths and stirring that stuff up for all to witness isn’t the acceptable type of public onanism we’re used to in our times. There’s nothing in the production-for-use handbook about this sort of thing. And yet… it’s a duty.
It's also why what I do has a particular level of invisibility here on the internet. I've done some (visual) experiments regarding this, and to this day, my essentially empty and meaningless "grey hat" meme has garnered the most attention (albeit not much, but more than anything else of mine by a longshot) amongst Tumblr users. It seems to suggest that if you want to chase after success, you must make your work as safely shallow and emotionally non-threatening as you can so as not to invoke any level of unease. I.... can't even do that with my deliberately empty experimental memes. It doesn't even have my triangle on it!
But my path, at least, is clear...
For consideration: Technically speaking, there is everything right about this meme, apart from the fact that the word "fuck" might disturb some people (but not in an exclusively "edgy" way). It is safely colourless, it is more or less safely meaningless, and also embarrassingly badly executed in terms of digital photo manipulation. What's wose, after getting fucked off with the great emptiness of modern-day Tumblr and the charmingly samey people who (mostly) populate it, I dreamed this meme. It pissed me off in my dream, so I re-created it specifically for Tumblr as an experiment. And it did ok. Not great, but better than anything I've done that I consider to have any meaning or intention behind it. There's maybe a lesson in that for someone, somewhere.
Anyway, philosophical musings aside, Babylon was written in the winter, and under a certain amount of duress. It was cold and damp and dark, even in southernmost Sicily. An unusually wet and miserable winter, particularly with those of us with large, single-glazed, badly installed windows. My partner’s family were doing their best to be as intrusive, controlling and interfering as possible, and the underhanded behaviour, backstabbing and lies were flowing freely, like some kind of oozing, bitter pitch from Hades itself — just a miasma of toxic negativity (more difficult to deal with than the usual miasma of toxic negativity that exudes from them normally, since it was most definitely still directed.) If this were anime, there’d be a dark purple and grey smoke rising off of us from it — soul-crushing, ill-making energy. It’s easy to dismiss such things as “magical thinking” and an elaborate system of blame, but the fact remains that our own consciousness affects our reactions to (and interactions with) the things around us, and if we feel weighed down by a variety of factors, our ability to cope with the stressors in our lives is greatly affected.
And then, of course, there are weird happenings that can’t be explained away by this alone. Actually, those kind of things happen (to a lesser degree) every time my infinitely “spiritual” de-facto mother-in-law “sends us energy”. We get ill and exhausted, little weird things go wrong in weird, inexplicable and wildly unlikely ways, and it’s generally just an annoying (and sometimes prolonged) piss-off. She think it’s a good thing, I guess. I’ve known the same kind of phenomenon to happen with my ex father-in-law. You can call it sheer coincidence, but every time an animal died unexpectedly on the farm, we could be sure a letter would arrive from him out of the blue the next day. It was freakily uncanny. Just because I can’t explain these things away with nomenclatures that human scientific endeavour at its present levels of observation can afford us does not mean that I haven’t observed and experienced them repeatedly myself. Dismissive dogma will not trump my own experience in this matter.
Anyway! On top of the toxic family stuff that was going on at the time, my workload as a translator was reaching insane levels as my work was more and more in demand, requiring me to put in 16-hour days, 7 days a week to deliver the work in a timely fashion to the standards I felt it my duty — because it was within my power and responsibility — to maintain. All for what had slowly been wheedled down to about €300 per month, if I was lucky (yes, this is exactly how Japanese companies work their employees to death). It was an unsustainable workload, it felt pointless, and it was sapping my energy, particularly because I felt a little resentful that my ridiculous work ethic was essentially being used against me. Even if I didn’t want to acknowledge this at the time, out of a sense of personal integrity and loyalty, it was undeniably exhausting.
I realised that the only thing that was keeping me going through all this was writing the music. In between translations, at the end of the day, first thing in the morning, deep into the night. I was angry — at the cold, at that shitty collection of vipers we call my partner’s “family”, at the unsustainable workload with what worked out to be €2 per hour remuneration (minus transfer fees, minus taxes), and at myself for putting up with it all. I was tired, both physically and mentally. And I started to feel the nervous, anxious feeling of what I call “slipping down into the Black Hole”. Seasonal depression, burned-out depression. Deep depression. It’s not alien to me, and I don’t like to go anywhere near that slope if I can help it. You know how people have that saying “Take things one day at a time”? There was a time in my life in which I had to stave off “suicidal thoughts” minute by minute. I told myself then “take things a minute at a time”. I did not care to return to that state if I could help it.
There are two verses in particular from Swinburne’s “Garden of Proserpine” that begin to assert themselves in my consciousness when I’m tending towards that ledge. I copy them out here, from memory:
“I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap.
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.”
and, more particularly and insistently:
“From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.“
I posited a question: could I, perhaps, pull myself out and back from the edge of depression, but also from “snapping” (despite the actual real-life conditions driving me into these states) by writing music?
Babylon still does have a lot of subtle humour in it, because that’s just how I am. I laugh darkly in the face of the Abyss, and press on. I delight in things that amuse me, and I like to hide them in unexpected places. “Lurking jokes” that maybe no one ever finds have been a thing with me for as long as I can remember, not just in music. They are one of the small joys in my life.
(Incidentally, if you play Portmonteauuaetnomtrop backwards, it sounds almost exactly as it sounds forwards. That’s not a joke, that was a structural sound experiment. I wanted the name to read Portmonteau|uaetnomtroP to make this kind of clear, but online record stores and streaming services balk at “strange characters” in song names. It’s also Why “Chi Va Là?” on the Sirius album lacks proper punctuation, sadly.)
So, Babylon, though it may not seem so, came from a fairly dark place. It is angry, desperate and stubborn underneath it all, and full of the kind of feelings that are not generally acknowledged in popular “dance” music. The Act of Will that it took to create it has helped me immensely, personally. It is a sincere wish of mine that anyone who happens upon it in times of similar strain will be strengthened and supported by its strange energy.
I learned, with this album, that a large part of this weird mission of mine was to reach into these deeply human dark places, and to shed a clear light onto the uncomfortable things that we find in such places. It was an exercise in integration for me personally, but as such, it may also become a tool to aid others in similar situations. But ultimately, for all this chattering, it’s an album of music. You can run or cycle up steep hills with it. You can listen to it while driving to work for that 9:30 meeting with asshole clients. You can clean the windows on a Saturday morning to it. You can play it to gear yourself up before that dinner with your shithead mother-in-law.
Speaking of shithead mothers-in-law (as we have been), Babylon contains the first electronic song I wrote in which lyrics are present. I want to single it out not only for this bit of trivia, but also because it illustrates what I mean about “exorcising demons” with music. (Crossing The Abyss pulled me out of a deepening depression, but that’s not much of a story, except that it did, and I was pleased).
Manipulative Bitch came from a 3-line email, sent to me by my de-facto mother-in-law two days before Christmas. I opened and read it — a non-specific “apology” for unspecified offences against me (unspecified because she never does know which ones of which I’ve already got wind and which ones I haven’t. This has happened before, so the pattern is quite standard by now. Also, actually writing out “I’m sorry I lied to anyone who would listen and told them that you’re a drug-addled whore and my son is your pimp, even though he’s still a good person despite being with an evil shit like you. I was wrong to do that.” isn’t maybe very Christmassy, come to think of it).
Ordinarily, this shitty little tactic would have worked. By playing on my sense of decency and forgiveness and playing the game for the sake of “niceness” during a holiday, she could save face, feel forgiven enough to have permission to continue her games, and keep the playing field where she liked it. It was a perfect trap — if I caved, she would win and have the upper hand, with permission to shit on me further with impunity. If I ignored her, I was in the wrong, she would have the upper hand, and could therefore, with impunity, shit on me further. And that would (normally, previously) piss me off. It was something I was grappling to know how to effectively deal with, like a persistently annoying fly at the beach. I stopped speaking to her entirely around this time — ain’t nobody got time for that. She still pretends that there’s nothing amiss, and that’s just fine. Hopefully, in time, she’ll find other doors to darken and leave us alone completely.
Yet! Back to this 3-line email. Something very different happened this time. I read that email and laughed. I had an almost-Satanic level of glee. And I had an inspiration, just handed to me on a silver platter. This was a sweet song and video. This was fuel. This was freedom. This was A Good Christmas. And a valuable lesson: everything was fuel. Everything could be transmuted. In fact, the more shitty and absurd a slap in the face it’s meant to be, the better. The more self-absorbed and self-justifying, the better. Just as I’d embraced absurdity in a lowkey kind of way, naming the album Babylon (with Biblical, not Thelemic spelling: the insult was flung from a Biblical perspective, but the identification, as I chose to embrace it, is Thelemic). Music is transformative. It’s alchemy and initiation. This was the path, rediscovered, after crossing the abyss, in which one may surely “show the face you had before you were born”.
The fact that when I used the computer voice, slowed down to a self-absorbed speed, it sounded exactly like this woman’s actual manner of speaking only made it better. It was as though “God, the Universe and Apple computers”, had conspired to send me a big confirming “yes” in my moment of doubt.
There is great liberation in retaining one’s ability to care deeply about genuinely important things and being able to shout, in absolute earnestness and joy, “Ha! I don’t care!” about bullshit at the same time. Embracing the W.O.B. identification, Crossing the Abyss on a conscious, emotional plane, and dealing with the Manipulative Bitch through music gave me a lot of surprising “personal breakthroughs” in making Babylon. For these (and other) reasons, I’m fond of it. I also think it’s a good album — it plays well. Because of the duress under which it was written, and because it emerges triumphant, it’s maybe not a “dance” album, but I do find it is a very good accompaniment for strenuous exercise.