Number 2: Evil 1

 

“Evil” was conceived on my 38th birthday, July, 1995, when I was given a singing bowl. That’s overly dramatic and inaccurate but let’s just hang onto it as a creation myth. What happened on my birthday was a mixture of pleasure at having received such an odd and intriguing gift and bewilderment (what am I supposed to do with this?). I didn’t even know what a singing bowl was or how or why it was used.

brass singing bowl
Brass singing bowl.

Before I ever started recording I had several compositions in mind. Perhaps the first (maybe dating back to October 1994), and still unfulfilled, was a waltz of dry leaves to accompany my two poems addressed to Rilke. Another would have been something involving water sounds and a poem called “The Naming” (composition number 3, coming soon). Another unfinished idea is a fugue built around a cinquain called “The Book” (I have the basic melody but nothing more—maybe someday someone with musical training will pick up where I left off). Also unproduced was a pulpit sermon accompanied by organ (more black gospel than Lutheran monotone) of a sonnet in praise of the penis. Possibly the last of my plans was “Evil”.

The relentless drone of the singing bowl combined with one of my poetic explorations on the subject of evil (written circa 1992) and the opening vocal of KMFDM’s song “Blood Evil-Mix”—something had to come of it. I think some time before the actual recording I thought I wanted a chorus of singing bowls and the grind of a mortar and pestle to make evil truly relentless.

Draft 1:

 

Even on this novice recording, March 17th, 1996, I was definitely bouncing tracks. (That makes me seem brave and daring. The fact is, I was so afraid to do anything with the machine that I spent a week looking at it and reading—and then re-reading—the Fostex manual. Of course, once I turned it on I was, like evil, relentless.) I recorded the mortar and pestle on one track, the singing bowl on another, and a kick drum from a Casio CTK-530 on the third track of the cassette, then bounced them to track four as a submix. Then I used another tape trick to run the tape slower for one recording of the bowl performance (therefore raising the pitch on playback) and running the tape faster for yet a third performance (making it lower at playback). Then I read the poem on the final track, trying to make my voice low and rough in imitation of KMFDM (who did it all with effects, I’m sure…probably guitar amp distortion).

After this first draft the concept and arrangement changed little, though I did rework it a couple of times to advance or ridicule some of the thematic material (“Evil 2” and “Evil 3”, respectively). On draft 2 (April 8th, 1996) I used a padded drum stick (Sportstix, I think is or was the product name, a practice stick with an imitation basketball or soccer ball on the tip to pad the blow…still my primary thwacker because it minimizes the attack; what you record is the sustain and decay of the object vibrating) to whack my futon (on later drafts I sampled the sound and no longer had to keep anyone else awake as I went thump thump). The futon seemed to be the dullest sound I could come up with, so it went with the relentlessness of the drones (don’t you think of evil as dull and relentless, kind of like an army of slugs eating your garden?). But to add excitement I also used a stainless steel stock pot as a gong.

The piece was rerecorded several times both analog and digitally in an attempt to get the vocal right. Did I know about proximity effect on these early recordings, in which your voice is deepened if you’re too close to the mic? It comes into play whether I knew it or not. (On these first recordings I was using an Audio Technica Pro-25 dynamic mic designed for kick drums and bass amps. I think I had a foam cover pulled over the screen but not a pop stopper, so there are some strong plosives and windy exhalations.) Some of my notes indicate that I tried pitch shifting with the tape and, later, a vocal transformer called the Boss VT-1 to get the growl I wanted. I finally gave up on that particular affect and just went with my voice and whatever I could deliver in the performance. Draft 8 is more or less definitive, recorded to ACID Pro on a computer sometime in 2010. I’ve removed the gong and added some sort of synth drone near the end.

Draft 8:

 

Evil is a person,
or a people,
reduced to a black hole:
the balance and dynamic
of a star,
the symmetry
of a solar system,
the gift
of its radiance
collapsed
into an uncontrollable
greed.

Evil is a fragment,
one little piece of a person,
or a people,
that grows
beyond recognition of its source,
that grows
to dominate the whole,
that grows
until it is the person,
or people.

Evil is self interest,
consuming, conquering,
with no concept of any other self,
no sympathy, no compassion,
no friendship.

Evil is the judgment
in the name of the father,
in the name of the mother,
the children, the ancestors,
in the name of society
and propriety,
in all the names
that mask the inner truth,
in all the names
that hide bigotry,
avarice and voracity,
the rejection or punishment
in honor’s name
that’s really in my name.
Or your name.

Evil consumes.
It does not give
or take
or ask any questions.
It mutters no truth
that can give peace—
only words
that ripen fear,
putrefying doubts,
turning difference
into not wine
but a flavorless poison
masked by a heady aroma.

Evil cannot be entered
except
the way a mouth is entered,
a stomach is entered,
an intestine is entered.

Here’s draft 2:

 

And draft 4, August 18th, 1997, the first draft recorded on a Roland VS-880 digital 8-track portable studio (also known as a digital work station, I think…those were heady words back then). I used a guitar amp simulation on the voice on draft 4 and the VT-1 on drafts 6 and 7.

Draft 4:

 

And draft 7, the last recorded on a Roland VS-880 (July 4, 1999):

 

 

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