side with the devil

gil sanson

However much I have frequented the mystics, deep down I have always sided with the Devil; unable to equal him in power, I have tried to be worthy of him, at least, in insolence, acrimony, arbitrariness, and caprice.
E.M. Cioran


The only successful philosophies and religions are the ones that flatter us, whether in the name of progress or of hell. Damned or not, man experiences an absolute need to be at the heart of everything
E.M. Cioran

I am increasingly aware of the increasing creep of what I might call something wicked  into some very strong music coming my way – and like the dark carnival in Bradbury’s fantasy novel and Disney film of my youth, a wickedness intended for meditation, not merely for catharsis. In the two works considered here, with their considerable titles – Gil Sanson’s Ese Maldito Yo/El Ocaso Del Pensamiento, and Robert Curgenven’s They tore the earth and, like a scar, it swallowed them –  we are invited to meditate on the horror-show of living history, specifically the violence and terror endemic to state power and colonialism. A meditation conducted, in both instances, via electronics and field recordings, music abstract enough, if you choose not to read the available texts about the specific events that catalyzed their creation, to be heard as a sort of heightened, archetypal doom.

For Sanson, who has engaged in a deeply personal and immediate way with the chaos in the streets of Caracas in 2014, the titles from that bleak sage Cioran affixed to his two pieces  – That damned I, and The Twilight of Thought –  overlap well with the bleed-through of black metal riffage and the howl of outrage against the insolence and caprice that murdered many on both sides of the state of siege gripping his home. Curgenven, whose ambitious piece comprises 12 years of location recordings gathered from countless remote areas of his native Australia, integrated with his beautiful string, dubplate and pipe organ music into an unsettling cinematic experience of Empire’s shock and awe, offers a meditation on avarice that will leave you winded and shook. Sanson and Curgenven sound out the dark stain of plunder and the preservation of plunder with widely divergent materials, but with comparably disquieting results.

This is music whose force and febrility insists we gaze perturbed at whatever is conjured; the risk is that the listener is left enervated, even more bummed out than before the encounter. The other possibility is suggested in this passage from Ligotti’s The MedusaThe sinister, the terrible never deceive: the state in which they leave us is always one of enlightenment. And only this condition of vicious insight allows us a full grasp of the world, all things considered, just as a frigid melancholy grants us full possession of ourselves. We may hide from horror only in the heart of horror. Bruno Bettelheim’s treatise on fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment, sucked every trace of Disney from the Brothers Grimm, insisting that even very young children, allowed to process tales of death, abandonment and society’s dark forces, might be aided in grappling further on with the worlds Cioran, Ligotti, Sanson and Curgenven limn darkly, if beautifully.


Let that last be stressed – there is a terrible beauty in these works, even transient moments of sweet relief and serenity. Both Sanson and Curgenven offer passages that ventilate their claustrophobic worlds, dark ribbons to be sure, but beautiful. As dire as the picture on offer may be, it is offered by composers who, to my ears, remain uncynical, undeceived, as Ligotti has it; we aren’t bludgeoned or crushed by this music.  We are invited into the heart of horror because it is ineluctably in the heart of our world – this is what it sounds like when you side with the devil.

Gil Sanson
Ese Maldito Yo/El Ocaso Del Pensamiento
Lengua De Lava | 2014


Robert Curgenven
They tore the earth and, like a scar, it swallowed them
Recorded Fields Editions  | 2014

Photos: the streets of Caracas, Gil Sanson’s hometown, Spring 2014 // Australian colonialists inspect abducted Aboriginal children at the birth of that nation

Illustration by Harry O. Morris, in Ligotti’s The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein

E.M. Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations

Thomas Ligotti, The Medusa

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