Dead Can Dance, Capturing the Spiritchaser

Interview with Lisa Gerrard

I was dressed in pyjamas when I first confronted Dead Can Dance – the imagescape of 1993’s Baraka was flowing over me with The Host of Seraphim, from Dead Can Dance’s 1988 tome, The Serpent’s Egg, invading my soul. The theatre was full, but I think I had been standing throughout the whole trial. For the images of Baraka are truly a trial for any mortal. Environmental degredation should make any bastard shirk.

“Music is there to pacify, it’s there as a moment of repose, of celebration and I think it is logical to the essentiality of man. It’s a wonderful medium for storytelling.” Lisa Gerrard, one half of the infinitely awe-inspiring Dead Can Dance, belays my belittlement. “I don’t think of ourselves as having a nationality, we’re just people telling stories through the medium of music and in some ways trying to pacify the other man.”

Long, long before it was fashionable to acknowledge tribal and native beats, the mutations of which now come under the thoroughly unauspicious banner of ‘world music’, Dead Can Dance crafted fine, mesmerising orchestrations for the world to behold. Furthermore, and indelibly linked to the gothic sub-culture – brooding, pessimistic, fatalistic – their early, seemingly dark undertones formed the dominion of many of today’s industrial merchants, though none seem to strive for the light that Dead Can Dance always celebrated amongst this ball of confusion.

Lisa Gerrard, based in Eastern Australia’s Great Dividing Range, has an overwhelming aura, well developed past mere Australian nationalism and all its supposedly ocker baggage. Her partner in Dance, Brendan Perry, is permanently based in his resurrected church home in County Cavan, Ireland, a place that Gerrard bases herself for exhaustive periods of composition and writing. I put it to Gerrard that the rolling mountains of the Australian ranges must rejuvinate, replenish, inspire …

“I’d love to spend my time walking around but there’s always too much to do. It’s been really busy over the past four years – I did a solo record (The Mirror Pool), we had the Toward The Within tour, then the video for that and production. So we’ve had to really fracture the recording time for Spiritchaser because of interruptions.”

It is not as if Dead Can Dance composition stops at the three-minutes-thirty mark of popsmithery. More closely allied with classicical grandeur, 1996’s Spiritchaser album sees the percussionary, mantric Dead Can Dance arise.

“Brendan decided that for this recording we would work with very little musicality and just work with percussive pieces and write vocal mantric music. I think it’s the logical progression from the Towards The Within material because we we were working with a lot of live percussionists on that tour. We were inspired to do something very live and very active which would work better in the live context.

“Over the years, when we brought our recorded pieces to the stage, we tended instead to write whole new pieces because things we recorded weren’t as interesting live as they appear on record. Whereas in the studio where we had samples, etcetera, we would always rather work with musicians live.”

Spiritchaser’s rhythmic mantras and native beats will be looked upon as a diversion from the celtic brooding of their earlier works, reaching as far back as 1984, but for Gerrard and Perry the dynamics of Spiritchaser confirms two of their dire needs: the live equivalancy of album material and a further repositioning of simple, natural humanity.

For Brendan Perry, taken from an April interview, the unifying force behind the eight tracks that make up Spiritchaser “is a search for sounds which would convey a sense of animism, to look for alternatives rather than conventional uses of instrumentation, to express an animal nature rather than music that was coming from a technological background.”

Similarly for Gerrard, the manifestation of their guiding and sometimes searing voices is another hail to the basis of human projection. “The artisanship of our voices really has been a labour of love,” she wiles. My comment on the rise of such beat genres as ‘jungle’ is further greeted with a reconnection to nature’s mantic rhythms, something which certainly dominates the scope of Spiritchaser.

With compositions such as Dedicace Outo based on Vodun rhythms from Haiti (Outo is ‘the spirit of the drums’), The Song Of The Stars beginning with words taken from an Algonquian Indian poem and the words to Song Of The Dispossessed from Perry’s adaption of a traditional latin melody, Spiritchaser continues to explore the domant crafts of ancient cultures. Lisa Gerrard disconnects from the line, the crackle of a lounge fire in the background a fine, recorded reminder that the humanity may have computers and synthesizers, but still needs warmth fueled from our natural surrounds.