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Zäyn, Lucian
St. Sonmi~451 and the Orison

Addendum November 20, 2009: Do listen to

Parvati, there in your Garden in the Sky
CONSTRUXX: August 2047 Site
Cyberabad! (Marigolds on Black Water)

Sonmi~451 hanahazukashii
Phnom Penh Girls

on the Lucian Zäyn CONSTRUXX MySpace site dedicated to the works of Ian McDonald and David Mitchell:

Today I finally managed to record the vocals on the song ‘Sonmi~451 hanahazukashii’. It  was inspired by David Mitchell’s "An Orison of Sonmi~451", one of the six component stories of ‘Cloud Atlas’, which actually moved me to learn Korean in order to write lyrics in that beautiful language. I’ve since written and recorded two songs with Korean language passages: ‘The Song of the Cicadas’, inspired by the animé Neon Genesis: Evangelion and ‘Phnom Penh Girls’, basically an embellishment on the two line mention of an imaginary ‘ryuuka’ hit song in the futuristic greater Korean realm of Nea So Copros of Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’. I asked myself – how would a song like that (according to the book, equipped with a catchy hook line) sound? So I wrote one – brassy, funky with lots of tinkly chinoiserie reminiscent of ‘Flower Drum Song’, ‘South Pacific’ and ‘The King and I’ scores I loved as a child – underlain with Kraftwerk/Einstürzende Neubauten electronic beats and some Thomas Dolby sophisticated white-boy Funk… It got too long, so I lifted the middle eight out of ‘Phnom Penh Girls’ and wrote ‘Sonmi~451 hanahazukashii’ around it. ‘Hanahazukashii’ is a lovely Japanese word meaning ‘so beautiful as to put a flower to shame’ which is an apt description of the haunting Sonmi character of Mitchell’s novel.

hanahazukashi - so beautiful that flowers are put to shame - Japanese idiom - Kanji and Hiragana

It was that or ‘pijangmi’ – ‘tragic beauty’ in Korean – literally ‘tragic (pi) - figuratively "aged" rose (jangmi)’, according to the kind Korean acquaintance, Hwang Sook Hee, who proofread ‘Cicadas’.

pijangmi - tragic beauty - 'tragic rose' - Korean - idiom - Hanggeul and Hanja

In a book of Sino-Korean characters I came across a beautiful Korean idiom of Chinese origin: hwayong woltae - face of a flower, aspect of the moon - figurative Korean for 'woman of superb beauty'. But 'hanahazukashii' lent itself better to the melody.

hwayong woltae - face of a flower, aspect of the moon - Korean idiom for 'woman of superb beauty' - Hanggeul and Hanja

All soon to be heard in my upcoming myspace presentation – the fates willing!!!!

The night of the 12 April I burnt midnight-oil remixing the instrumental backing which I programmed on my trusty Yamaha Q700 hardware sequencer in 2005 – I should try to get an endorsement deal from Yamaha, the paces I’ve put this piece of hardware (since, sadly, out of production) through in the past eleven (!) years and approx. 100 (!) songs later. After I ended up with a satisfactory backing track I went on to rehearse and hone the Korean and Japanese language passages as I’d forgotten how they were to be phrased, the song having been shelved for three years...  I even had problems with the English lyrics! I never bothered to write down or record the melody… I was quite at sea so I gave up, exhausted, at about five in the morning after hours and hours or trying, disconsolate at being forced to rely on improvisation in the course of recording after all, and faced with the prospect of getting up four hours later at latest. I had to go first thing on that morning, to the local polls to vote at a referendum and help put a stop to the corrupt city mayor’s plan to sell out a plaza in the heart of Düsseldorf to vested interests. It was drizzling on my way to the polls and then to the station where I entrained for a small, picturesque town called Wickrath, where one of my best friends and closest musician associates, Pit Serwotka, lives, to produce and record, as I have on countless Sundays since 1989, at the latest of three successive residences of his. 


Ceti Atlantis

Wickrath grew around a stately baroque chateau, the lovingly restored Schloss Wickrath, set in beautifully landscaped and watered, park-like formal grounds full of majestically tall trees lining the park’s wide avenues and water courses. The complex features stables, art galleries, villas and generously proportioned flower beds and fountains. The town center of Wickrath in turn showcases a lot of quaint, tiny half-timbered houses reminscent of the middle ages. Pit and his wife Dorothe live in one of them with an annex, a glassed-in terrace, and a garden out the back with a view over the wall of the tall, tall treetops of Schloss Wickrath, which is more or less right opposite the house save one corner. The inclement weathered cleared and, as we had lunch in the glass-enclosed terrace – living room, rays of midday sun touched the treetops and slanted down onto the lawn the colour of pale liquid gold. I once helped remove a ceiling and clean out the ceiling space in the bath in the second floor which was infested with rats and completely fouled with rat droppings. The stench was unbelieveable. Pit, Doro and I put in a new ceiling of ytong panels (I think) and sealed the fetor in. The rats are gone and with them the stench - the bathroom, immaculate. German cities are infested with rats. They prowl about the parks and the flower boxes along the thoroughfares and on the traffic islands even in stylish and elegant Düsseldorf - in the daytime, in fact. Thankfully enough, because German post-war building features solid walls, relatively few buildings are infested with rodents – usually pre-war ones with spaces between the walls like Pit’s half-timbered house. So the rodents prowl the streets even in the daytime. A bounteous future source of animal protein?  

After lunch we went upstairs to his attic studio, windows there open to let in the refreshing springtime air and birdsong – the good weather was holding. We were lucky in that the improvised vocals sounded good enough to keep. After a relatively short period of recording the main vocals, Pit started working on effects and we started adding multiple-track vocal harmonies. I had this idea of making the piece sound like a Stereolab effort – remember them? Beautifully layered, brightly melodic and corruscating female vocals with an ebulliently naive French ingenue feel. Instrumental backings like a frenchified and electrified Bacharach’s. They had a couple of hits in the mid-to late nineties, I recollect. The musicians were Army kids who studied in the British comprehensive school in NATO Joint Headquarters Rheindahlen (near Wickrath) which I attended in my late teens when I did my GCE exams – a Filipino high school diploma not exactly accorded any sort of official recognition in Europe. Europe’s loss. JHQ was like a British garrison town transplanted onto German soil. Lots of rolling greenery, ugly houses with really small windows designed to make it difficult for terrorists (IRA at the time) to lob bombs in. Cubbyhole toilets separate from the baths with no (ugh!) washbasin. Really young guard posts armed to the teeth stationed in guard boxes at the gates who meant business. Behind them was a piece of Great Britain that I loved at first sight, magical as an enclave of the Fugue, escaped from Clive Barker's 'Weaveworld'.  The brilliant school and Command libraries and the Thratre, a confection of moderne Fifties architecture, which I loved afforded me grand flights of imagination. There was fish and chips with my Brit friends at the garrison mall. Also a great bookshop where I bought lots of my SF paperbacks and magazines. A Brit village transplanted onto German soil near formerly malarial swamps, now a lush and rolling park-like area criss-crossed with sweeping tree-lined avenues (broad enough for tanks?). Lots of willows, chestnut, birch, plane and oak trees.

During the takes the weather turned drastically and, from an alarmingly louring grey sky, a torrential downpour nearly made the large single attic pane opaque with slashing, vaguely fractal sheets of water. No more vocal recording owing to the rain pounding on the slate-shingled, gabled roof of the attic studio. Visibility Zero. We could have been underwater and I could have sworn that judging by a previous glimpse at the gangrenously greenish-yellow sky, we were having tornado weather. There had been a spate of freak tornadoes of late in the vicinity, not 60 miles away... So much for global warming and climate change, then the German Eifel region is definitely not Kansas! A couple of years back freak tornadoes hit Duisburg and Hamburg, where such things were normally unheard of! Thank the stars there was no tornado this afternoon.

I was hoping that some of the birdsong earlier, and now the beating of rain on the pane (later when the rain started to abate) and on the shingles would find their way into the recording to lay down a subliminal and mysterious aural patina. In the middle of the torrents which started to let up a little, the grey sky was tinged a miraculous if vaguely apocalyptic shade of smoky orange, the treetops of Schloss Wickrath – part of the view through the attic window – touched with vaguely menacing flame. The greyish-orange glow strengthened as the rain finally and suddenly let up leaving leaves and branches apparently dripping sequins of fire. From the other side of the sky behind the house, the westering sun was shining through a rent in the rainclouds making the wall of cloud hanging in the eastern sky glow rufously and menacingly. Out of this smoky, orange-hued cloud cover and behind a veneer of irreality which was a trick of the sunset glow, a double rainbow emerged like a ghostly apparition creating an electrifying scene of spectral beauty. Pit and I watched the bowed ghostly spectra in awed silence through the slanting attic window for a timeless space till first one, then the second rainbow faded.

Moon Dragon of Dueñadeleste (formerly Vladivostok)

Later, since one of Pit and Doro’s cars was trashed in a collision and the other one was being used by Doro to visit friends, instead of being run to the train station by Pit, I walked to the town square to take the bus to Rheydt, the nearest bigger town to make the red-orange double-decker express train back home to Düsseldorf. It was a beautiful walk to the village centre, as part of the way was a stretch along the grand peripheral avenue of the chateau, which was lined by truly ancient trees which stood like Djinns at least seven stories tall, all sere branches in bud and frosted with a pale, mysteriously green mossy patina and smoky sunlight at the tops. The sky, washed clear by the rain, was that fading tint of baby blue shading off to ghostly jade-green at the horizon (like a spring evening in Ursula Leguin's 'Lathe of Heaven' in the aftermath of an alien invasion!), both poignantly beautiful colours seen only on wet, early spring late afternoons shortly before the solar disc dips beneath the skyline. The strangely-shaped puffs of cloud were, as in my song ‘Juhi in the Hour of Mango-tinted Clouds’ – just that – tinted a luscious pastel mango-yellow hue with a faint faint reddish edge of ripeness. Impelled by high altitude winds (it was quite still on the ground) they were curling grotesquely and achingly at the washed out sky. 

Obsessed with celestial events as I am, I searched the heavens above the skyline, the blue fading and fading in the westering light, garlanded now with those eerily animate pastel orange-nuanced clouds and, over a rooftoop behind the bus stop on the quaint town square with its ranks of half-timbered houses, old-world style administrative buildings and the atrocious fifties-moderne brick-faced church on a knoll - the gibbous moon in a veil of mist in a vanishing blue sky, its sweet paper-white light crossing a quarter of a million miles of space to reflect as a magical coin in a clear puddle of rainwater in the gutter - oborozuki - 'The moon in a veil of mist after a fall of rain’. One of at least seventy stylised and fantastically nuanced descriptions of the aspects of the moon in Japanese, that I know of, most of which I have learnt by heart ‘por el amor del arte’ – as they say in Spanish when they mean ‘art for art’s sake’ or, at worst, a vain endeavour. The character for ‘oboruzuki’ is exceptionally beautiful. It is two kanjis.

oborozuki - moon veiled in mist - Japanese idiom - Kanji and Furigana

The first, read ‘oboro’ and meaning ‘veiled in mist’ is comprised of the radical for moon and the ideogram for dragon side by side. The second character, read ‘tsuki’ simply means moon. Put together and pronounced with the phonetic gemmination, read ‘oborozuki’. The character for ‘oboro’ is composed of the ideogram for moon on the left and that of dragon on the right. Then comes ‘tsuki’, the character for moon which was derived in ancient times from the drawing of a crescent. The character for dragon is especially interesting. It has the ideogram for ‘to sit/seat/throne’ over the character for ‘moon’ and is flanked on the right by a sweeping stylised tail – a dragon’s tail. The rationale behind the kanji: ‘a dragon sits/is enthroned on the moon and has a long tail.’

ryû - dragon; tsuki - moon: Japanese - Kanji and Furigana

This unforgettably lambent mid-April moon in the eerie hollow of mist called to mind Christina Rossetti’s celestial gem of a poem:
‘Is the moon tired? She looks so pale within her misty veil.
She scales the sky from east to west and knows no rest.
Before the coming of the night, the moon shines papery white.
Before the dawning of the day, she fades away.’

Let me tell you about the Theodore Sturgeon short story I found this treasure in, some other time. It suffices for now to say that in the story, a Martian temporarily inhabiting the body of a luscious blonde declaims this poem to the moon from a balcony.

A Sky the Colour of Infinity

The sun had since dipped beneath the horizon – or as Gene Wolf in his wonderful ‘Shadow of the Torturer’ would say – the world hurtled up in space to obscure the sun with its earthly limb – and the sky shaded off into an intense and mesmerisingly elegiac blue. Elegiac blue. There can be no better name for this thrilling, deep yet depthless shade of blue which washes over the sky like a slow and silent tsunami in long spring and summer twilights and fires the soul with numerous, nameless and impossible pangs and yearnings. Ralf Aussem, a fellow space-faring soul and musician of considerable genius with whom I had written some of my finest songs and with whom I had staged my most memorable performances, who also, by chance, lives in this Wickrath now enchanted by the blue twilight, once told me that this shade of blue was the colour of infinity. 'Die Farbe der Unendlichkeit'. Indeed, as yet starless, a sky in this colour is certainly depthless and endless, moreso than the nondescript jet black of space or of Abyss which serves simply as a backdrop for the stars, as black velvet, a bed for presenting flawless diamonds on a jeweller's tray.

But let me get back to elegiac blue. I first came upon this term in Clive Barker’s phantasmagorically brilliant bildungsroman ‘Imagica’ (it is a bildungsroman, isn’t it and a cosmic kaleidoscope throwing together and infinitely arranging and rearranging coloured shards of imagineering continuum...) G.K. Chesteron also describes this rare and semi-divine shade of blue sky in one of his Father Brown stories in his inimitably phantastic manner – or, I think in his little known but nonetheless superb ‘Club of Queer Trades’... Father Brown or the detective protagonist of 'Club of Queer Trades' visits a friend in a multi-storied apartment house in a blue gloaming. He describes the then - because set in the fin du siècle - new-fangled apartment house, as one house piled on top of the other then put side by side to form a terrace, and refers to that singular blue sky of twilight above this atrocious pile of houses as not a twilight sky, but as the sky of a world where the sun is blue and this blue sun suffuses the world with its deeply sapphire light. Years ago I wrote a song about this sky and called it ‘Delirious Blue’ because I thought that the colour inspired a strange, subliminal delirium. I performed this song in my second multimedia show to a projection featuring  scenes cut from Liquid Sky – the lysergically virtuoso ones made abstract by the primitive video effects of the eighties where the model goes on the roof of the house and is assumed into the miniature UFO parked on it...

The last image in my mind’s eye before falling asleep that night, after listening to ‘Sonmi’, the glittering prize of this beautiful day, at least a dozen times in a row through headphones, in front of my computer screen and the cursor-swept WaveLab image of the Sonmi wav file, is the eerie attic window view of the double rainbow – seguing into my conception of Edith Wharton’s Mrs. Manstey's View, a phantasmagoria of sunset flame and cloud tints – seguing into the crescent moon viewed through oleander in O. Henry’s Central Park... All views worth dying for as Mrs. Manstey did – as I would.

 A multimedia performance with Idol-Singer (played by Rabea Kimmling)


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