The Color of Sound
DON'T TELL LISA Gerrard of Dead Can Dance her music sounds Gothic. Ignore the shadowy hordes of black-clad fans who, weaned on Anne Rice novels and still mourning the demise of Bela Lugosi, crawl up through the cracks when Dead Can Dance drift into town. Gerrard, the yin half of DCD whose debut solo album The Mirror Pool saw the light in September on the 4AD label, insists her songs have been misunderstood.
"For one thing, I'm not Goth," she says by phone from Bremen, Germany, where she and her band (mostly members of DCD, minus her main collaborator, Brendan Perry) are wrapping up the European leg of their tour. "When I look at some of the things that are written I just think, 'Darling, give me a break.' That's why I wrote my press release myself."
The single-page autobiography sent out by 4AD recounts her 15-year collaboration with Perry, whom she met while working in an Indian restaurant in Australia. The declining energy of punk rock sent the pair digging for inspiration through Perry's field recordings of African music. There, and in the traditions of the East and the Middle East, Gerrard found her voice: a raw, passionate, unself-conscious spirituality sung in a language she invents as she goes along. The music, meanwhile, utilizes acoustic instruments from around the world in conjunction with synthesizers and guitars to make something that's not quite world beat, not quite trance-like, and not at all rock & roll.
Composed of outtakes from DCD albums (some of which turned up on the recent live album Toward the Within), The Mirror Pool explores more of Gerrard's gentle side, and combines symphonic soundscapes with the international scope of her influences. But Gerrard avoids talk of influences, labels or even specific instruments. Grounded in the moment ("I'm in bed in a hotel room eating an apple, talking to you") and concerned with moods captured within her music, the singer says, "Every sound has a color. This is the architecture, the dresses of the work, and the dress points to what's inside, don't you think? It's what's inside the dress that matters."
And though she won't define the term, she sees spirituality as commonplace in every music. "It exists in integration with people," she says. "It's the kindling of spirits, the kindling that takes place when you create a playground of sound. I feel that my work comes from human experience, and when people are confronted by the work, endeared to it or warmed by it, those are the practical things within the work."
Gerrard's musical education began with a piano accordion when she was a child. "It's so amazing, when you start off playing music you feel that bell ringing, it's your calling, 'I love this.' In this concert, I'm playing one of the songs I wrote when I was 11 years old. I was in Brendan's church (his home is in Ireland) and I picked up this dusty piano accordion that hadn't been played for years, and I knew, I just knew that this is why I've endured ridicule and why I've subjected myself to the past 18 years. It's because of this love of music! You start off knowing everything, and it's like you throw yourself into a hole and then you spend the next 18 years trying to crawl out of it. It's like I've come full-circle," she says.
This solo project doesn't signal the end of Dead Can Dance. Gerrard is touring with several musicians who backed DCD in 1993. Brendan Perry's album will be released in late '96, only after DCD complete another album and a five-month world tour. "I've been working with Brendan for seven months and we've just gone into the studio to do some [DCD] recordings," she says. "The new music is very percussive, and it has a lot of voices, but I'm not going to tell you more. I want it to be a secret."
For now, Gerrard's work walks the line between the darkness of the band's early 4AD recordings and the epiphanies of recent albums. She already regards the recorded version of The Mirror Pool as a thing of the past, and sees this tour as an opportunity for her and the band to enjoy themselves with the material and explore it further, along with a number of new songs.
"This concert is just gorgeous, really," she affirms. "You paint the things you sense more than the things you see. Do you know what I mean?" CP
Lisa Gerrard performs Monday at the Guthrie Theater; call 377-2224 for information.
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