I welcome you to mysterious world of sacred Agarttha, a mystic mythological center of those who stand with one foot in this mortal world and another one – beyond, a place of legacy of the past and a land of eternal ascension. Agarttha is also a name of spiritual drone project of Francesca Marongiu, which new LP “A Water Which Doesn’t Wet Hands” was released a month ago by King of The Monsters records. Let’s follow Francesca in her pilgrimage to deep underground of vibes and sonic tides.
Hello Francesca! How are you? Did you already get new Agarttha LP?
The release has been delayed for almost two months because of pressing plant problems. By the way finally LPs are in Mike Genz's hands (King of The Monsters' boss) and I received my copies. The album was released on June 25th.
How am I? I'm enjoying the Italian tropical weather, working, and preparing a new live set for the next Architeuthis Rex gigs. Me and Antonio (the other half of Architeuthis Rex) are spending a long time working and playing music at home. In the morning we started to call our cat "Agalloch" without any apparent reason. Everyday things like this happen in our house, we've got to get out sooner or later before we'll start doing worse things like call our dog Tony Iommi and teach him how to build a custom spring reverb!
Wikipedia may kindly suggest to everyone that Agarttha is “mystic center of sacral tradition which placed in East”. Do you believe in existence of this sacred land beyond Himalaya Mountains or is it only a symbol for you?
There're many ways to interpret Agarttha. The one you mentioned is from the Buddhist tradition. From the seventeenth century Agarttha has been described as the city placed inside the Hollow Earth. There were some curious theories about that, disavowed by Newton's law of universal gravitation and other studies.
By the way there were several legends in which Agarttha was said to be housed by UFOs or people who had escaped from the chaos and evilness of the world. From time to time it has represented Hades, the hell and other kind of dark places. Someone in the nineteenth century went on the North Pole to find Agarttha's door.
By the way at the moment I'm quite satisfied to represent it like an imaginary landscape and a symbol too, its "anima mundi" interpretation interests me in particular.
It’s said that the album is inspired by the namesake book of Polish pioneer in alchemical studies Sendivogius. I know that I’m cheating but what is a subject of the book?
Sendivogius can be considered a watershed between ancient and modern chemistry. He discovered the potassium nitrate using a modern approach in research and his whole work has been considered a fundamental step in the discovering of oxygen at the end of the eighteenth century. His alchemy was definitely more practical than the one of Paracelsus and it excluded spiritual involvements in general.
The choice to use that title could appear as a contradiction because of the huge importance I gave to the spiritual aspects of alchemy in the album. By the way it mirrors an important element of Agarttha's music. After a first approach that deals with the substance of inspiration and writing, there's a level concerning sound and musical matter. In the new tracks I'm recording I'm trying to balance these two elements as much as I can.
Last but not least, I think that title perfectly encompasses all the main themes of the album. In a personal, metaphoric way the water which does not wet hands could be the one of the lake painted by Lambsprinck in the first of the tableaux of his namesake book (and in the first track of the album). The alchemist surfs the water's limbs from side to side, from the ego to the self. Obviously these drawings deal with the individuation and the struggle to reach it. The water is in general important in the whole album because it's an unavoidable element in the various stages of the alchemycal course.
What kind of archetypes did you research on “A Water Which Doesn’t Wet Hands”?
In “Atalanta Fugiens”, an alchemical book of the early seventeenth century, there's a drawing which nicely explains one of the central archetypal figures of the album. She's Sophia, holding fruits and flowers (symbols of her great creativity), followed by the alchemist. The man wears the intuition glasses and is guided by the lamp of the conscience. He holds a walking stick which represents the inner authority. The entire album is a journey and every time you can meet several overlapped figures. In music, like in dreams, we can use the phenomenon of “condensation”, so in my album Sophia is often overlapped to the figure of Cassandra and her terrible premonitions.
Storms As He Walks in the Winnebago Cycle is a thunderbird which accompanies an hero called “Red Horn” who is bright and strong but needs its help to become responsible. I think to “it” like something closed to a Seraph, which can give protection to the voyager.
Last but not least there're two archetypes acting in the album background and they're often fighting: Athena and the Dragon.
The Dragon/Ouroboros is the ego which wants prevail on the inner self and which has to be sacrificed. Athena is the Strength which can help the searcher to overtake the dichotomy ego/inner self and guide him towards the philosopher's stone.
Do you have some concrete elements in your music which correspond to special archetypes?
I didn't think about it while writing the album, by the way various people who listened to it told me that it owns a really strong imagery. I think this is the real magic in music and I don't want to disclose it, don't want to explain it. I could say that when I play Indian bells it isn't just me which is doing that but a whole world made of ancestral and personal memories. And that's absolutely true.
If we try to dissect your singing, dividing it into smaller parts - what we will find? Do you see any clear influences of modern scene in your music or does it appear in natural way as a result of some real spiritual practice?
The real voice is always a "spiritual voice" to quote a Sainkho work which inspired me a lot in the first years I approached music.
One of my vocal coaches used to tell me that great music has a universal breath, but that's something you can't learn from someone. You can try to add overtones to your voice every time so you can use different colors and express overlapped feelings. I'm really not interested in all those singers' vices and I love clean voices rich in significance, free, expressive voices. Some of them are really "universal" just like the ones of Joan La Barbara, Patty Waters or Buffy Sainte Marie. Others are able to express their inner soul without sacrificing the universality of a harmonic sound like in Nico, Jarboe, Anne Briggs, to cite just some among my favorites.
I think that when you're singing you've got to forgot how to sing and just think to the words you're saying like if they were a bit distant, to avoid stealing space to the other instruments. Voice has to be always a bit "rear" in spite of his strength because I want to touch the whole listener, not just his mind and his ears. I think John Balance was extremely great in doing that, just like Brendan Perry, Genesis P. Orridge and Michael Gira.
I’m thinking about cultural backstage of Agarttha’s “A Water Which Doesn’t Wet Hands” and wondering what is your occupation? You know – some bands often answer “we play that stuff because we like the old band which played like this”, and your project looks and sounds as something deeper and really elaborated. How did you come to this exploration which we can hear onto LP?
After many years of listening, I'm really hungry to make music. Calligraphy can be so boring, I mean, obviously it's really easy resemble to someone else without trying to do it, but to copy someone else as a starting point is masochism in the best case, eh eh.
In the album I found traces of some of my favorite bands and I'm really proud of it. For example, the instrumental part of "The Sphynx" reminds me the rhythm section of "Mass Production" by Iggy Pop. I wasn't searching for it, but "The Idiot" really influenced me, so that influence showed up in this track really spontaneously. "Visions of Alina" has that Seefeel-like way but obviously I'm not able to emulate a huge band like Seefeel so nobody will ever told me I copied them!
I guess that your video for “Storms As He Walks” is official one; what is the story behind it? Why did you choose to base it on film of Soviet film director Sergei Parajanov? Does a subject of his film “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” somehow connected with song’s conception?
I really like that movie, there's a sense of tragedy and grotesque often reflected by nature. Sometimes it's psychedelic too. The warm analog photography becomes extremely vivid and the characters become excessive. The direction is totally crazy, for instance often the shots are crooked. Along with nature there's the everyday life of simple Armenian people with their touching traditions and odd habits. There are several aesthetic points in common with Agarttha, like my love for Russian landscapes and for wood buildings just like the one for their jewelry. All this is an amazing corollary to the ancestral, delicate and extreme feelings expressed in the movie.
May I ask you to comment other songs of “A Water Which Doesn’t Wet Hands”?
Ok. Let's go back to the water… "Melusine" is a water spirit and in the album she represents Alina, an 8 years old girl Jung patient which dreamed about death archetypes for a while before dying of an improvise illness. Her story captured the attention of Jung because she couldn't know for real the subjects of her dreams but her unconscious did. That could represent a sort of evidence of the universality of the archetypes. I imagine her swimming in her unconscious every night dreaming about things like the birth of the humankind or these drunken women falling in the water and rising reinvented and sober. Both lyrics of "Melusine" and "Vision of Alina" are about that.
"The Sphynx" is a homage to Ted Hughes. Premonition, fatality and death are central in the album and so in some of his greatest poems. The Sphynx could remember "The Gypsy" in "Birthday Letters," which predicted death to Sylvia Plath but more in general all the people closed to death in Hughes' lines: nature is their only companion which comments their suffering through a wolf moaning or a tree shaking, like if it could be the only possible answer to that losses which made Nietzsche "go about in silence as through among tall black cypress-trees".
There's a verse which says: "Only the eagle-hunter, beating himself to keep warm and bowing towards his trap started singing (two, three, four thousand years off key)". I think this nicely sums up his poetic work and Agarttha's music too.
Last but not least (yes, we've finished..!) "Chymische Hochzeit" has been inspired by "The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreuz" and refers to "mortificatio" which is one of the necessary steps who'll bring the alchemist to find the philosopher's stone. The queen and the king lie in a bare representing the opposite (the ego vs the inner self ), they'll die and will reborn united. Fire is an important element which helps death to make is work properly. In this track Reto Mader (Ural Umbo, Sum Of R, RM74) plays the piano and a guitar, the result is definitely a gloomy marriage.
By the way what is Storm As He Walks? Is it a label or a kind of artists’ family?
It's a label owned by me and Antonio. We're just starting and we like to define it as a sort of family too. Our first release was a Sum of R LP. One of the members of the group, Reto Mader, has several projects on Utech Records, which released the last two Architeuthis Rex albums. Our next releases will be from people of our neighborhood too: Mike Bjella (GOG), Gates and OKO.
Was it difficult for you to find a label which is ready to release qualitative yet underground music in vinyl format? What was your way to King of the Monsters Records?
No, it wasn't. Mike contacted me after watching the Storms As He Walks video. I was honored because he released albums of some artists I really admire like Gog, Servile Sect, Sutekh Hexen. He usually produces quite heavy stuff. It made me laugh that in 1995 he released something for the Locust, which I definitely idolized more than ten years ago.
I think probably Mike arrived to me via some common friends of our "neighborhood." I mean actually there's a very interesting scene among some of the labels I definitely prefer like Utech, KOTM, Handmade Birds, Anti-Matter, Merzbild, Ivory Antler, Land of Decay and some others, all the artists inside them are connected in some way.
Francesca, I see that Agarttha is your second project as your main work is your duet with Antonio Gallucci – Architeuthis Rex, it has (let me simplify it) a “drone” base too. How long did you work with Antonio? And what are general differences between these projects?
Architeuthis Rex evolved a lot through the years. It started as Antonio's solo project in 2007 and as you said it had a drone background but mainly it dealt with a peculiar use of percussions and an extreme work on sound dynamics. “Dark As The Sea” is a homage to that kind of psychedelia celebrated by Crash Worship or in a stunning soundtrack like "The Invasion Of The Thunderbolt Pagoda" by Angus MacLise.
Since I joined Antonio in 2011 many things have changed. In our release on Utech Records, Urania, we celebrated our common fascination with sci-fi movies and 70s gloomy soundtracks atmospheres. The project is always changing. We've just finished to mix of our new album. This time everything is definitely more doomy and narcotic. In several tracks, Francesco Gregoretti (One Starving Day, Grizzly Imploded) added drums, which helped to make the album more aggressive, gloomy, and more sophisticated. Antonio and I are more experienced in playing psychedelic music, while Francesco is more jazzy and comes from the improvisational scene so I think the result has been quite surprising and definitely interesting.
The difference with Agarttha and Architeuthis Rex is probably that in Agarttha, I can sing all the time and be the real boss! Antonio and I both need a private projects where we can play our own stuff. Whereas Agarttha is my solo project, Kapustin Yar and throuRoof are Antonio’s solo projects.
Interview by Aleks Evdokimov
Interview by Aleks Evdokimov