Italian poet and vocalist Antonella Eye Porcelluzzi has partnered with Michael Schaffer, a fellow-poet, painter and musician, on a new disc based in part on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. She and I talked about the origins of the project, spirituality and economics.
The notes that accompany the new album stress an emphasis on both life and death, yet there seems to be a real heaviness to the work. Is that intentional?
A magazine wrote about the “pop” qualities of The Secret Circle which made Michael laugh. But I know there is a pop part of me. The tension between the pop and the esoteric can be very creative. When we called the record The Secret Circle, it was not meant to cut people out – as some critics noted – it was a reference to the concentration and knowledge required to understand certain concepts.
That can be so huge that the circle stays a secret, or better: restrained. So our proposal is an invitation to knowledge. Each of us knows and experiences limitations. And some heaviness is necessary, it comes with doing the work.
Besides the question of a pop sensibility, there’s also an implication of westernization. My work is basically personal, it must pass through myself to be true. The truth counts more than conformity to any set of standards. It’s a choice I made at the beginning of my career: to use myself as a medium, a channel. In this way, I’m a kind of witness within the work.
That brings to mind your cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love.” Her work reflects a similar kind of tension between popular and esoteric art.
She, Donna Summer and Madonna are the women who’ve inspired me most professionally. Mix Dante Alighieri with Madonna – that’s me.
I define punk as the discipline of mixing. There’s no contradiction, just a force to be mastered – energy coming from it, like a source.
I pick what interests me. Art is my supermarket, and my cuisine.
How did you and Michael Schaffer come to work together?
I had released two albums, on my Bandcamp page. One is very experimental with hip-hop influences – Bad Recordings. Another features poetry with the group Les Oiseaux. In November 2017, Ivan Murlika contacted me to make a drone album with him. One month later, The Velocity of Velocities was born.
I found that album so good that I started searching for a label to promote it. I experienced all possible reactions, labels accepting and then letting the project down, labels refusing. Some advised me to renounce it, telling me stories of musicians who went crazy trying to promote their music without success.
At the beginning of the summer of 2018, Michael Schaffer of Opa Loka Records answered my mail. He was willing to release the album and make a CD out of it. Later on, he told me that the track about Therese d’Avila had convinced him.
We started talking about religious, historical and political themes. He described his gnosticism. I remember a Christmas, I was with my family in Italy, and he gave a speech in his town about the Character of Christ according to Nag Hammadi. We talked about mystic ideas and arguments, and about books we were reading,
He released a disc under the name Indian Tree Pie (I’m there, I’m inside) which I loved. So we started talking about a collaboration between us.
I proposed The Tibetan Book of the Dead in the summer of 2019. I know this book and its tradition well, and I was surprised to learn that Michael didn’t. But he was curious, and we started talking.
In September 2019, I recorded my voice by selecting some parts of the book. He started composing, and directed me to record more, including traditional African sounds and vocals which I collected in Marseille. He sent me his compositions in October.
There was a problem with the song “The Womb,” which we used to call “C song.” The relationship between his music and my voice didn’t convince him. He tried different methods to find a solution but he was not satisfied. This went on until last April.
Funny story: he sent me files with my vocals distorted due to a rendering error. I want to release this error-album one of these days; I call it the devil version of our album.
I find the spirituality of your work fascinating. But for me, it’s a purely aesthetic thing. I left spirituality behind years ago, and it was liberating. How does yours make your life better? What am I missing?
I come from an atheistic family, so no pressure!
Faith and love go together for me. Osho (a.k.a. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) wrote that you cannot merit grace, it comes on you. The potential of a believer’s life is limitless in my opinion.
But I think the most distinctive thing about me is my brain – the education I received, especially considering that I’m a woman and that I don’t come from the upper class. My brain was formatted by many universities, including the Freie Universität Berlin where I worked as a researcher in economic policy.
I’m with you – differences are meant to be celebrated. and an openness to different perspectives can have such a positive impact on work.
My field was money, the theory of money and the policy of central banks. Economics is one of the most fascinating domains I know. It’s always changing, demanding creativity and intuition to be understood.
Pain is another important theme.
I was talking about pain with a friend, the necessity of bearing it. He avoids pain. I don’t. I’m not a masochist, I don’t look for pain and I don’t love pain. But if it’s there I have to go through it.
Creation is a question of pain and the transformation of pain into joy. It’s the price we pay to get the job done.
The theme of pain is a good introduction to the images the dead must bear in their vision of the intermediary state – monsters made of fear, which the lama says are illusions. If the dead succeeds in understanding the illusion, and its relation to their soul, the door to paradise opens for them.
I understand you’re working on an experimental techno project.
Mrs Dink (Meagan Johnson) and I are releasing a vinyl EP, Love or Death. It will be released as a limited edition by Completely Gone Records in California.
I’m recording vocals. I love the music we make together. Meagan is a fantastic person.
For me, it’s about a relationship with rhythm. Someone told me once that experimentalists don’t give a fuck about genres. I like to dance, and I love the idea of people dancing to my records.