Ella Blame Duo: Top 40 - from the Future and Outer Space
Electro. Ambient. Psychedelic Dance. These are styles of music that, against all logic, result in cookie cutter soundtracks to television commercials. With a universe of wide-open creativity available the artists of this type of music always come up with the same ol' same ol', musically speaking. And the emotions of vague desire and generic longing ring with the melancholy emptiness that is endemic of our times. And ring hollow. Passion as form and fetish, but empty of blood and soul.
Ella Blame Duo's Ineffable Desire, though, is full of blood and soul. And madness. Off-kilter, 4:00 A.M. raw, dark-night-of-the-soul madness. The CD cover with an outlandish ray of light beaming out of one of Ella's eyes conveys all of this. It's also the music that you wish would be playing in a sci-fi film where there's some future bar or club and people "dance" to bad synth music. Her voice, the heart and soul of the record, is the first thing that boggles the mind. Many of the songs have her voice covering almost her full range (she covers low middle and high registers with bull's-eye accuracy).
What drew you to the style of Electro Dance and Psychedelic music?
Ella: I find it interesting, atmospheric, and highly variable.
How did you come to develop such a wide vocal range?
Ella: I think this was inherited from my mother. She has almost the same vocal range of continuous four octaves. Of course, I have gained a few notes in range by training.
The madness comes from fear, confronting death, life intensity, longing itself, frustrated desire. Ineffable desire. Like the pure ectoplasm of uneasy spirits in a Korean or Japanese horror film; spirits trapped in pain and tormented by events that bind them from dimensions unknown to our own. Hers is the voice of horny ghosts in a future film.
And this isn't just in my mind. It's in the songs, too. "Covered With Sweat" illuminates the fears of unknown existence. "Last night I woke up/Covered with sweat/. . . Everywhere was anywhere/And I didn't understand the elsewhere . . . people were around me . . . you were the one whom I couldn't see./It seemed to be a waiting room/To the next existence travel . . . I dreamed my death that wasn't gory. It wasn't painful, just a soft hit." No wonder she woke up crying.
"Violent Silence" shows a deeper vision of madness. "These restless hours are not ending/This silence is so violent/My feelings are always contending. . . .Then I'm revolving faster and faster/But everything remains the same." These and other songs are delivered with complex but direct and driving music. A throbbing bass sound permeates the CD. Bells, piano, and a bass round out the music.
Her collaborator, Michael D. Temple, creates the sonic walls that her intense visions of life are framed by and projected upon. All the elements are there - beats, guitars, a violin, bass, keyboard sounds - but in a way that pushes past the boundaries of the usual. Where someone like Bjork opts for austerity, here Ella and Michael opt for a lushness of rich and varied sounds, used tastefully, of course, and in the service of the songs, though not in the obvious ways.
The song "Dance With Me (Temple Mix)" reads like it should be a club hit (and it could be with the proper remix) and is more direct, almost simplistic, compared to other songs on the CD: "Take me in your arms and I will be alright/Forget what's around us, hold me tight!/... Do you feel my heart jumping with the beat/... My little pumping heart explodes of heat." But the music is an insane translation of what a dance song is. The beat is a simple throb, the vocals are delivered as a dirge, and the keyboard sounds are an angry hum; rather than be a dance song, it is a frozen moment of club kid desire. Like the way Brian Wilson once said the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" is a dark song of frustrated lonely desire. How she achieved! this take on the lyrics, like the minds and reasoning of many an odd ball genius, is a mystery.
And like all mysteries, scary or happy or humorous, the songs exist in and are about the mind, like a good horror movie or things erotic. So into the mind we shall delve ...
What are your childhood experiences with music?
Ella: Music was always the most important thing to me. I have always dreamed of becoming a singer and sang my own melodies most of the time. I began to play the violin when I was seven years old. My violin teacher and my parents wanted me to go to a music college to become a violin virtuoso, but in the meantime I had discovered my foible for painting. When I was 17, I began to study painting at an Academy of Fine Arts instead of studying at the music college.
You mentioned that you come from a musical family.
Ella: My mom played the violin during her childhood and adolescence and still sings in a choir, and my dad is a pianist who plays classical music and jazz. They are interested in all kinds of music. At home, I heard opera, symphonic and chamber music, including twelve-tone music by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern and the like. We listened to jazz of all styles by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Mingus and Ornette Coleman amongst others. Soul music, including Aretha Franklin, and funk by the likes of James Brown, George Clinton, and Prince. Music of all these different styles was played almost around the clock during my childhood.
What groups and performers influenced you?
Ella: Frankly speaking, I don't know. However, the singer who had the highest emotional impact on me was Billie Holiday.
How much of the instrumental sounds on the CD are electronic?
Ella: Only a relatively small portion because Michael D. Temple and each one of my other collaborators play several instruments. They record them - violin, piano, guitar, synthesizer, bass, and drums - on separate tracks, modify the sounds applying weird effects, and mix the whole thing down to stereo tracks.
Your lyrics deal with heavy themes like desire, heartbreak, madness and death, but not as events or ideas, but from an intimate, existential and personal place. I'm thinking especially of the songs "I Can't Sleep" (heartbreak), "Violent Silence" (madness), and "Fast Life" (death). What is your process and approach to song writing? Are there any stories you can share about what inspired these songs?
Ella: With my lyrics, I want to express what happens or may happen to many people. This means that I deal with basic principles of human life.
The song "Crossing the Border" is very poetic, in the sense that it could mean many things and the metaphors potentially speak to many people and situations. What the hell is this song about?
Ella: This song tells a story like all my others. Here, a woman (I don't assume the roles of males in my songs because I'm definitely a woman) encourages her partner to go beyond the usual, i.e., to "cross the border" of his boring, everyday life. What this exactly means is up to the fantasy of the listener.
How do you create so many vocal sounds?
Ella: I don't know. I just open my mouth - and out they come.
How did you and Michael Temple meet and start working together?
Ella: One day in 2000, I received an e-mail message from Michael in which he told me that he was really touched by my songs and that he loved my voice. Furthermore, he wrote that he had composed and recorded an instrumental piece especially for me to vocalize on. It became "Dance With Me (Temple Mix)" on the CD. He invited me to have a gig with him at the North By North East festival in Toronto, Canada. He was there with a friend, a stunning guitar player, Brian Farrell. Without having a possibility of rehearsing, we did our gig consisting of mere improvisations without the audience realizing that none of the songs we played had been composed or rehearsed before.
Chemistry is all in music collaboration. They have it here in spades. The CD is a perfect blend of unique music to unique vocals. The bar has been set by such artists as Bjork, Harland, and Karmcoda. It's been raised by the Ella Blame Duo. Oh and the cover art, by Ella Blame, is totally bugged out and perfectly illustrates the music. You have been warned.