This interview with Mauro of Canaan features questions by Y. Arkadin
Canaan is a vehicle for mental and physical anguish. When I first heard Blue Fire several years ago I could not break out of my mind the loneliness and hopelessness that must have played a role in its manifestation. Like tragic Greek literature, it ameliorates pain in a sense by capturing it in advance, twisting it and releasing it out into the open. The atmosphere is cathartic, but deadly for the uninitiated. It seems to me an analysis and mystification - I would be careful to use 'glorification' - of misery, but I can never imagine listening to it in a truly fragile or disturbed state of mind. It would be much too overbearing. Canaan's music is relatively simplistic, but only superficially so, for inside is a bottomless ocean whose waves are never-ending, and what lurks deep in its water is only for the mariner most daring to know. I got in touch with the ever active Mauro Berchi to discuss his musical project, experimental music, musical aesthetics, and much more. Follow me into the open womb
1) Greetings, Mauro. I would like to ask, firstly, how you first got involved in making music? For example, what were some of your first experiences with creating and recording your own songs? Did you always have confidence that you would be able to play and compete with others as an unique and original identity as you are today in the underground? Could you ever foresee yourself in the past as involved in such activities as you are now?
Nice question. As far as I remember, the switch that turned on my desire to play music was CELTIC FROST's "To megatherion". This record grabbed my attention in such an heavy way that I said: is it really possible to compose music like this? Yet this desire of mine remained frustrated for quite a long time until I finally found some people to play with. Before that date (October 1992) I never did any experiment to record music alone, as I considered (and still consider) a band like a group of individuals who contribute to the same cause; I'm not too keen on one-man bands, as I think creativity must in some way be subjected to approval from somebody else on the same mental wave-length of yours, to avoid redundancy and excesses of arrogance. Regarding the identity of our music, all I can say is that we never plan anything. When we started playing in RAS ALGETHI, the music simply came out that way, and the same happens with CANAAN: whenever we gather to play, we let music flow freely, and even during the recording sessions, improvisation and complete freedom in modifying/re-arranging songs play a very important role.
2) It is interesting that you chose the name Canaan for your band given its historically religious aspects. Canaan, as you know, was originally mentioned in the Old Testament as a land in southwest Asia where a people known as the Canaanites existed. It seems that they were involved in primitive religions involving worship of deities Baal (or Baalzebub as He is also known) and Ashtoreth before being assimilated by the Hebrew people. How did it come about that you adopted the name? Was this historical connection intentional in any such way?
I was fully aware of the religious implications when I decided to pick CANAAN as our name. However, the choice was rather guided by my love for the well-known german psychedelic band AMON DUUL II, one of whose songs was titled "Kanaan". Canaan has NOTHING to share with the cancer called religion, and even if this choice could be regarded as misleading, I don't care that much..
3) I know that you Mauro are very interested in experimental music generally. How do you recall discovering experimental or avant-garde music? What were some of your initial reactions?
The first examples of industrial music I came across were the early works of SIGILLUM S - era 1986/87. Having a mainly "metal" background at that time, I remember I had some troubles in focusing my perception upon such a different kind of "music" and a different stylistical approach, as I was used to consider music done with proper instruments and eventually sung. Yet good music is good music, no matter how it is played, and it didn't take me long before falling in love with dark ambient/industrial and power electronics. The process of evaluating/absorbing/enjoying/analyzing music changed during my lifetime (experience is everything.), yet the only thing I've constantly been after in music was the right negative vibe. When a music establishes a link with my mind, it's not important whether it's pop, dark, metal or industrial. Good music is good music. Stop.
4) It strikes me interesting that Canaan thus far has evenly divided its pieces between the experimental and melodic, instrumental and vocal compositions. Will you ever experiment in amalgamating these styles in the future? Or do you prefer to keep the lines drawn distinct between one and the other, so as to increase the sense of 'purity'?
I don't know what we'll do in the future. Uncertainty plays a very important role in CANAAN, and at present stage I can't say we'll try a way rather than another, which is pretty stimulating to say the least In our new album "Brand new Babylon" (whose recordings ended in April), there is a song amalgamating these two components, though I'm not singing it, as we took an indian vocal scale and adapted it to a dark droning background. Result is nice..
5) Purity or purification rather appears to play a very large part in the band. Would it be correct to arrive at such a conclusion? How much of a role does this concept play?
It is absolutely fundamental. Purification and preservation from the soiling miasms of spiritual decadence is a very important concept to us all. The way I achieve this "purification" (if any) is protecting myself from the external stimuli by building shields around me. The band is probably the strongest, though other ones play a role. The band can then be considered as a kind of self-exorcism rite we perform to discharge negativity, cleanse the venom poisoning us, purge the sicknesses, keep the mind focused, purify ourselves. You see, CANAAN is not just a band, and I doubt I could explain further this concept. I don't play for "fun", but because I NEED to..
Canaan caught for just a moment...
6) In conceiving your music, how much would you say of the process is spontaneous? What level of collaboration exists in the construction of Canaan's music overall? Does it ever happen that you compose songs beforehand in your mind, perhaps culling aspects from dreams, and then attempt to transcribe them into sound?
I think I have partially answered this before. All of the four members contribute to creating and arranging the music, while I'm the only one responsible for the conceptual/lyrical point of view. Quite often one of us (normally me or Matteo) come at the rehearsals with just a few ideas/riffs/harmonies. We then develop them together, and keep on modifying them until a first backbone is ready. Thereafter, anything can happen, and many of our songs reached their final version (which you can listen to on our cds) only after the final mixdown process. One of the strangest feelings in my life ? Knowing that MUSIC is already floating in its final form around me - and that it's just a question of grabbing/freezing/framing it in some way. Sometimes I feel I'm just a mean to convey energy - it's not CANAAN composing and playing music, but rather MUSIC playing CANAAN like unconscious instrument. One of the most intense experiences you could have, believe me.
7) There have been some comparisons with your present and past work to the Italian band Monumentum. Do you feel any relationship with them, nationalistically, perhaps spiritually? Are you still receiving acknowledgements from people who've listened to Ras Algethi and cannot forget its existence?
The only relationship I can see between us and them is the fact that MONUMENTUM former member Anthony Duman is our bass-player since 1996. This is the only connection. Nationalistically ? I'm sorry, but the concept of nationalism means nothing to us. About RAS ALGETHI, we still gather attention from quite a few people, being the only real doom band Italy ever had. The ultra limited re-edition of our demotape on cdr (100 copies) was burnt out in less than one week, as a testimony of the interest we're still gathering.
8) Whatever can be said of Canaan, it cannot be disputed that the music is dark. Very dark in fact. What had drove you, you think, to creating such dark music as you write today overall? What can be so appealing in melancholy and tragic themes, as opposed to the felicitous and celebratory nature of most popular music? Do you think that tragedy and negativity in music has more of a connection to reality taken truthfully; that there is more 'truth' to be found in negativity than in positive emotions?
Upon my nervous system, negative feelings always acted stronger than positive ones. The balance of my existence tends towards them. My past experiences tend towards them. My being a negative person is an innegable fact, and failure was/is/will be a constant. I had pretty negative experiences in my life, studies, jobs, human relationships. CANAAN music is dark because we are all such. Other people praise/analyze/focus their efforts upon the positive sides of life: good for them if they succeed. I have other aims and needs, and to say the truth I can't see anything particularly happy in what's surrounding me, nor any reason to praise what's happening. The human swarm is consuming mother earth's resources, and we are all heading towards collapse You see, I'm not after TRUTH, as it has too many faces - one for each human insect. I am just a witness of my slow decaying and slow withering: disillusion permeates conscious belief, and there's little I can do but trying to avoid as many traps as I can.
9) I've talked to several people that have emphatically stated that music is not art, anything but art. But what is music, if not art? Would you reason disparity between these conceptions of 'art' and 'music' is justified today, as, for example, the disparity between 'politics' and 'philosophy'? How would you view your own work in such a context?
To my eyes, music is the highest form of art. If others think differently, it's their business. This doesn't mean I consider myself an "artist": I just have respect for the most universal and culture-transcending language called music. No other human product is so resistant to time and cultures. No other language has such a direct approach and such fast and assimilable components. No other language resists structural/cultural modifications this well. Isn't this art ? Well, then what is it ??
10) Returning to Canaan, I notice there are very powerful philosophical messages in your lyrics. They are at times nihilistic, at times mournful, at other times mystical and fantastic. Is there something you consciously aim for, if anything, when writing your lyrics? How do you feel about alternating between the Italian and English languages? Do you sometimes find that your thoughts are easier to transcribe in one language more than the other?
CANAAN lyrics are a part of the "rite" I told you previously; I often write them in a semi-conscious state and only afterwards take conscience of what I wrote. A kind of "ecstatic" (not religious of course) state of mind whose results come indifferently in italian, english, latin. When the creative impulses are strong enough to trespass my normal state of mind, I become a kind of instrument in the hands of I don't know what. Guess my subconscious is much stronger than expected/foreseen. I have no special meaning nor any will to force the listener/reader to understand & appreciate my points of view. I just write what I feel appropriate for that particular music. Most of my lyrics have different layers of significance, and it's up to the reader to understand them I would never explain them. Or at least I would never explain their real meaning..
11) "Walk Into My Open Womb" is interestingly subtitled the "Apathy Manifesto." In original Greek, apathes, the root of this word, means "without feeling." Only recently has it been used to define general lack of interest or concern. This creates a curious ambiguity and double meaning in my mind. But I don't know whether I'm simply looking "too deep" into your lyrics. Can it be so? What is your own view of apathy in the world?
Apathy is a shell, a shield, a protecting device. Not the only one, but surely one of the strongest. Our culture and education see it as a pretty negative thing, but if what surrounds you looses meaning, apathy becomes the most powerful tool to walk on the subtle blade of life without having your feet cut in two.
12) The booklet of that same release contains a curious aphorism that caught my attention. What could it mean to "Love under the Power of Will"?
Control over primordial impulses. The only thing that makes us different from animals is control..
13) That's all I have for now. Thank you again, Mauro, for your time in answering this brief interview. Feel free to add what is necessary in this final space. We'll see you at the nexus.
Thanks for your support and good luck with the magazine. See you in Babylon.