Thursday, 21 November 2013


Title: Passing Through The Interstellar Gas
Format: CDr released on the Catgirl Records/Sleepless Nights labels (Germany) in 2013, cat ref NIGHT#004.  The plain silver CD-r disc is in a clear wallet and comes sandwiched between two A4 size colour inlays and 3 picture cards.
Edition: Limited to 20 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Just A Game  0.50
02. A Sign In Space  3.04
03. The Turk  2.26
04. Fortuna Y Gloria  2.54

Blessed with a title bound to cause sniggering at the back of the classroom, this is the latest release from Ceremony of Innocence and once again Hugin provides the music whilst Nick Diak provides both the lyrics and vocal parts.  Since Nick's involvement there's been something of a resurgence on the COI front, presumably brought about by his enthusiasm meeting Hugin's ever prolific outpouring of music, and how nice it is to see another of Hugin's less well-known projects with a few new releases to its name.

It so happens that the new COI site that Nazgul brought to your attention a while ago has a track by track commentary by Nick on what each song on this release is all about, which is as handy a way as any of breaking into the EP proper (at least from a lyrical perspective).  But before we go there, let's quickly consider that intriguing title.  Interstellar Gas - it turns out - is nothing to do with intestinal gas.  Which in some ways is a pity, as Nazgul had a ready store of fart-related jokes just waiting to be deployed.  However, putting that disappointment to one side, Nazgul discovers that in addition to stars, our Galaxy contains interstellar gas (mostly hydrogen, you'll be keen to learn) and dust. Some of the gas is very cold, but some forms hot clouds (fnarr, fnarr!) called the gaseous nebulae, the chemical composition of which can be studied in some detail. The chemical composition of the gas seems to resemble that of young stars, which accords with the prevailing theory that young stars are formed from interstellar gas.

Can we possibly have a pair of young stars on our hands with Hugin and Nick, both being imperfectly formed and shaped from hydrogen-based gas molecules?  The sane mind can only boggle and shrink back from such a thought...!

As usual with a release on the Catgirl label, the contents of the release include two large anime-style A4 covers and a handful of colour inlay cards.  Recent Catgirl releases of Bonemachine music have been chock-a-block with rude pictures, which always come as a bit of a shock when prised from their packaging.  What on earth (or indeed, off-Earth) might they have put into a COI package, Nazgul wondered?   As the photos show, it's a bit of risque anime in this instance, with the lyrics for the songs handily being printed for your edification.  The cover image for the EP is rather distinctive too with its chess-theme, the reasons for which will become apparent in just a moment.

So now, shall we hear from Mr Diak about these songs along with some thoughts from Nazgul as we go...?  No?  Well, you suit yourself then - the rest of you come with me on a quick whizz through the galaxy:

Just A Game

"Alex was a sneaky person with this intro!  Many times when he is working on a song for an upcoming release for one of his projects, he sends me an mp3 to check it out. However, he did not with this! So I had to wait until the Passing Through the Interstellar Gas EP was actually released before I could hear it - the nerve!  Regardless, the intro is catchy!  It sounds like a cross between the opening of an Anime and an RPG video game.  In fact it is almost a little *too* catchy to be an intro - the song really started to pick up near the end, and then it ends!  A full length instrumental would have been awesome to hear as well.  It's a nice way to start the EP off methinks."

Almost too short to review, this is a brief introduction and reminds us which project we're about to listen to here.  Typically in the current COI mould, it's upbeat and 'poppy' and sets the scene for...

A Sign In Space

"My third set of lyrics, composed in March 2013.  These song is a retelling of the first half of the story "A Sign in Space" by Italian author Italo Calvino, and appears in his work Cosmicomics.  It is one of my favourite stories of his - about a being named qfwfq who witnesses some amazing things out in the universe.  In "A Sign in Space", he exists so long ago there is basically nothing in the infant universe - so he creates a sign for a myriad amount of reasons.  After so many eons he comes back to his sign and it has been vandalized by someone else.  So he winds up more-or-less competing against this other entity, creating the notion of art in the process.

There is a lot of influence in the neofolk scene drawing inspiration from the likes of Ernst Junger, Stefan George, Carl Jung, Nietzsche, and so on.  I wanted to draw subject matter from and honour someone completely different, hence one of the reasons I chose Calvino, who tells the most amazing stories. However, I felt I got too ambitious with this song. I am still feeling out what my capabilities are in regards to both song writing and conveying the lyrics via spoken words, and I believe I faltered in many regards: too long of lines, tripping over the "S" sound, too many syllables, and not as much word play as I would like to have had. I personally don't think I did the subject matter great justice, however I am still learning the process and learning what my strengths and weaknesses are."

Despite Mr Diak's misgivings, probably the best song on this EP in Nazgul's opinion.  Here the lyrics and music combine to best effect, with some catchy passages on the synths and sung/spoken parts that flow nicely with the beat.  Probably one of the most cohesive and catchy songs that the 'new' Ceremony Of Innocence partnership has spawned, and one that grabs your attention like a Alien Facehugger.

The Turk

"My 4th song I've written lyrics for, composed in April 2013 shortly on the coat-tails of "A Sign in Space".  Alex had a specific instrumental in mind and wanted me to compose a song that was 4 verses, 3 lines each.  Constraint writing can be quite fun and the outcome unique, an example being the novel Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. So I wanted to pen a creative song within these constraints.  The natural suggestion with the 3 line constraint would be to do each verse haiku style, but I felt this would've been too constraining (and perhaps cliche), so while the verses may inherently sound haiku-esque, that's purely incidental.

The Turk was a chess playing automaton that existed in the late 1700s to the early 1800s.  Many people would play chess against the Turk, believing it to be a machine, but the reality was that there was a person hidden inside.  I found the topic fascinating and used that as my stepping stone for subject matter.  The perspective of the song is of a chess player playing against, and subsequently losing to, The Turk.  He is also unaware that The Turk is an illusion, and believes it to be a real automaton.  The verbiage of the song reflects this, I keep referring to The Turk as an "It".  There is some strange irony at play in the last verse in that The Turk wins the match, which seemingly reaffirms the question of Man vs. Machine, with the machine winning, as we are seeing in our lives with the advent of more and more amazing technology.  Of course, the secret irony is that the machine is really a man!  Regardless of the Man/Machine winning, the narrator states that he would gladly play again, showing either respect to either our technology or our fellow man.

Another bit of symbolism - The Turk wins the match with the rook, the chess piece that is not considered "alive", as everything else is: the king, queen, pawns, knights, and bishops.  One further tidbit to point out is the phrase "a-piped in thought". For the longest time, when I heard Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, I always thought he said that phrase during this verse:

"He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought."

Since Jabberwocky is full of made up words, I always thought Carroll coined the term "a-piped", which when I visualize, I imagine a man with a big pipe, smoking away in deep contemplation. So when I actually read the text and saw that this was not the case, I've rushed to claim it as my own made up word.  I think it's rather clever!   One last musing - when I composed this song I had only the historic Turk in mind.  When I shared the song idea to both Alex and Marcel P. of Miel Noir, both responded back the same fashion of: "that's an episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles!"  How two Germanic musicians independently know about the plots of a short-lived show on American television leaves me flummoxed!"

Certainly an interesting theme - Chess, and against an pseudo-automaton no less!  Musically and lyrically this is actually very well done, although Nazgul has to note that the tempo of the lyrics and music do seem to be at odds with each other on occasion.  This gives the song a strangely disjointed feel.  The very first line is delivered much faster than the tempo of the music, but later the position is reversed with the pace of the music out-gunning the spoken delivery.  It takes a bit of playing to get used to, and one wonders if some fiddling about with the speed of the vocal delivery has been a bit overdone, but quibbles aside it's a decent listen and takes us to...

Fortuna Y Gloria

"My 5th set of lyrics, written in May 2013.  The genesis of the song came about a Sunday night.  It was extremely hot, my girlfriend's and my friend was over all day for one last hurrah before he moved away, and I was hit with a huge case of insomnia.  So in this state my mind always races feverishly, from financial woes to work blues to whatever the case may be.  While our friend was over, we watched Journey 2: The Island starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, an actor I hold in surprisingly high esteem.

So while laying there at Oh-Dark-Thirty, I was reflecting on the movie and how fun it was to watch, and how fun it would be to go on an adventure.  Then of course other adventurous movies were coming to mind, such as the Indiana Jones movies and one of my guilty favourites, The Ark of the Sun God.  Then my mind strayed to perhaps writing an adventurous song, and before I knew it, I had an English draft in my head.  I hit upon the idea that perhaps it should be done in Spanish, that the song is about an adventurer exploring the jungles in deep southern Mexico (Mayans perhaps?), and finding ruins and a cave full of beasts and traps and in the end, finding a treasure!  I scaled the song back so I could translate it to Spanish as best as I could (I speak passable Spanish for a gringo!).  I told Alex of my lyrical idea and he jumped at the opportunity to try and record something different.  He was very proud of his instrumental, I think in part it was diving into territory he hadn't dived into before.  My Spanish accent isn't the greatest, but I did my best and I think the end result is a pretty well done song, especially when it was quite experimental from the both of us.

What I think is particularly clever is that the ending of each verse becomes the starting point of the next verse. I have found that I am discovering interesting ways to link verses in my song writing, such as what I did in "Our Fire Burns" without relying on rhymes."

Hells bells, just as Nazgul is starting to get a rudimentary grasp of some of Alex's German lyrics now there's Spanish to contend with!  Ay Caramba!  A nice Spanish guitar intro, and just before you're tempted to grab your castanets and cry 'OlĂ©' the synths kick in and normal service is resumed.  Another good song, different again in feel from those preceding it, and making for a solid end to an interesting EP.  

I think you will have independently concluded by now that this release is somewhat different from Hugin's usual project releases: Themes of chess-playing automatons, beings named qfwfq, and adventures worded in Spanish are not the typical content of a release featured in Honour and Darkness!  Couple this with a soft part-spoken vocal delivery from Nick, then add in Hugin's keyboard flourishes, and you have quite the oddity.  It's inexpensive, interesting and ultimately well presented by the label, and that gives you three good reasons to invest some time and money into finding out a little more about it.  It's also very limited in its edition, so best not hang around too long before seeking out a copy. 

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