Joe Renzetti - "Talking To The Dead"
By Marcus Pan
Joe 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
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.
Post: Joe Renzetti,
14 Moss St., San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: (415) 861-4345