CD Review

Joe Renzetti - "Talking To The Dead"

By Marcus Pan

Talking to the DeadJoe Renzetti hails from San Francisco. But his music is from somewhere far away - another place and another plane. This year (1999) he released his concept album Talking To The Dead. Using electronic soundscapes, ambient rhythms and choral melodies, Joe's "soundtrack to the spiritual dreamscape" is a beautiful work of aural art. What makes it so is not purely its music. Joe Renzetti is a fan of the paranormal and the spirit world. The cover of Talking To The Dead itself is a 1991 photograph of a ghost in Bachelor's Grove Cemetery taken by Mari Huff of the Ghost Research Society. Now surely many of you will scoff - and there are many things I may debunk or try to as well. But regardless, there are things we don't understand. And Joe takes this misunderstood dread and surrounds it with ambient dreamy sounds. He sculpts your fears into something beautiful.

The music on Talking To The Dead is very soothing, yet the concept behind it is very scary. It opens with Zygote, which moves forcefully yet slowly and takes you with it into the dreamscape that Joe would like to build around you. It is a strong opening track with drums that begin to pound tribally through you until you are ready for the next song that continues y our travels through his world. Talking To The Dead is a three part song and contains the only lyrical parts of Talking To The Dead. A didgeridoo sweeps you with it into the story of a man who, in his foolish attempt to contact the dead, is now tormented by what he has brought back. The story opens on the album's third track and continues in the sixth and finishes on the eleventh.

The fourth track is a song called Raudive Voices. I hadn't heard of the famed psychologist Konstantin Raudive until I reviewed a CD label-sampler from AlterCulture records (Distention) recently. Using reel to reel tape, Raudive recorded what he believed to be - and many agree to be - voices of the dead. AlterCulture's band Raudive Voices is a failed industrial experiment of turning the work of Konstantin to music. Joe Renzetti's attempt at the same, the song Raudive Voices, is brilliant. It is slow, soothing and while you know you are hearing what is said to be the voice of a dead man (Joe used a sample from Raudive's tapes that is said to have recorded the voice of long-dead musician Chopin), the fear of the spirit world is subliminally lying just under the sounds of the music.

Konstantin Raudive wasn't the first to record what was said to be spirit-voices on a tape. George Woods and Betty Greene did so as well in the 1940s through 1960s. It is from these tapes the inspiration and vocal samples came from for Renzetti's The First Odyssey. The voice you'll hear below the tapping cymbals and breathing melodies is that of famous British stage actress, Ellen Terry. Recorded in 1964 from whatever place her spirit traveled, her monologue about the spirit world's beauty and vastness remains today to be a primary example of the best ghost-recordings available to us.

Fear. It is probably one of the most powerful motivators and weapons. But when sculpted and controlled it can be quite invigorating. Nothing can match the adrenaline rush of the scared-to-death-but-have-to-keep-going scenario. One of the most frightening pieces on Joe's Talking To The Dead is about a supposedly true story that took place in the New Orleans French Quarter. In 1832, Madame Delphine Lalurie built a grand townhouse there. She was said to be cruel and mean to her slaves, but nobody knew to what extent until a slave-child who was trying to escape was cornered by Mdme. Lalurie on the roof. The child was whipped mercilessly, so badly that she threw herself off the roof and plummeted to her death in order to avoid continued blows from Lalurie's whip. The cook protested this by setting the kitchen on fire - the flames spread further.

The fire was quickly under control by the fire brigade, but during the investigation a heavy and barred door was found sealing off a room in the attic. Investigators forced it open. At this point I'm going to let Joe tell you what was seen there - I'm blatantly borrowing this from the story section of his web site (you must go see his website - it's one of the best sites I've seen). I couldn't explain what was in that room any better - nor do I want to.

"The dark room held more than half a dozen chained and bound slaves. They were dead, dying, or pleading for death. They had been the subjects of cruel surgical experiments from Dr. and Madame Lalurie. Some were fastened to the walls with chains. Others were restrained on operating tables. Still others were confined in small metal cages. Laying everywhere were human body parts and pails containing organs and severed heads. Along the back wall were specimen jars containing grizzly remains of slaves. The remaining living slaves were so mutilated they barely looked human. One woman had all her limbs removed reducing her to a trunk and her skin was surgically removed from her skull. Another woman in a cage had every bone in her body broken and reset at obscene angles giving her a crab-like appearance. A large male hanging on a wall was the victim of a crude sex-change experiment. Others has their faces so mutilated they resembled gargoyles."

Dr. and Madame Lalurie fled never to be seen again - but the sights, sounds and occurrences that began not long after their disappearance is said to continue to this day. And this story is the inspiration and background for Lalurie, a frightening yet beautiful song if ever there was one.

Be sure to swing by his World Wide Web home. His website will give you background and more stories that inspired the work on his "soundtrack of the spiritual dreamscape" concept album that makes it so much more enjoyable - and it's an excellently designed site. So check that out and I guarantee it will help you enjoy the work on this CD much more than a casual listen can do. Joe Renzetti sculpts your fears into something you can relax to - indeed a strange proposition. Relax to fear? Talking To The Dead is subliminally frightening - and consciously beautiful.

Contact Information:
Post: Joe Renzetti, 14 Moss St., San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: (415) 861-4345