Here are some pictures from the whirlwind quasi-tour promoting A SPECTRAL HUE. 3 cites (DC, Baltimore, New York), a variety of venues (from the Library of Congress to a DIY performance space plus a Skyped book club visit in Dallas) and a whole lot of meeting readers and other writers. I’m open to talk to classes, book clubs and readings. Thanks to everyone who set up the events, and those who attended!
I just got tickets to see the goth-world-neoclassical band Dead Can Dance in April 2020. This might be the seventh or eighth time since I’ve seen them. I’ve also seen solo tours from the Dead Can Dance members Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. Their somber, majestic and beautiful music has been a constant in my life. I discovered their music (and Cocteau Twins) around the same time I found the writing of Tanith Lee. Lee and DCD are forever linked in my mind.
They are indirectly responsible for my official coming out. I remember back in the late 80s debating whether or not to attend the local LGBT youth group. I was still in the closet (but not to myself). Joining a youth group was a big step for me. I had stood outside the place where the weekly meeting had been held a couple of times and been too chicken to go.
Then, one afternoon, I saw a guy wearing a homemade Dead Can Dance t-shirt. It was like a sign: I would be OK. I joined the youth group, and began the process of coming out.
Thank you, Brendan and Lisa.
I’m looking forward to seeing them live. This time, they’re delving deep into their catalog, performing older and rarely played tracks.
In addition to the reading on Oct 18 at the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division reading with Trebor Healey, I will also be reading for the Enclave series held at the actor Alan Cumming’s cabaret spot on Oct 20. The event now has an official poster.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was a fan of ‘goth’ music, particularly the brand of melancholic, elegant and often female-centered ‘etherealwave.’ I adored the music of Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil—the whole 4AD label aesthetic of refined darkness. It was (and still is) a rarefied sound, full of poetic abstraction and shrouded in mystery. Azam Ali’s new album, Phantoms, recalls this dark and dreamy sound, though it’s filtered through the prism of darkwave, electronica and trip hop.
I’ve been following Ali’s music from the beginning of her career. She started out in the World/New Age duo Vas, where she put her own spin on glossolalia-styled vocalizations, a technique that Lisa Gerrard and Elizabeth Fraser mastered. Her next band Niyaz crafted elaborate electronic soundscapes using mystical Sufi poetry as lyrics. She also released an album of interpretations of sacred music (Portals of Grace), an album of Persian lullabies (From Night to the Edge of the Day) and was a member of the dark rock band Roseland (!) Ali’s voice is a beautiful instrument, a supple alto that can soar effortlessly into crystalline soprano heights. Her singing blends Persian, Indian and classical Western styles in a way that reminds me of the work of Sheila Chandra. An undercurrent of gothic melancholia runs through most of her work, even the more ‘world’ music pieces.
This gothic strain is front-and-center on Phantoms. (There’s even a cover of a Cocteau Twins song, “Shallow Then Halo,” from their gothiest first album Garlands). Ali’s lyrics are full of images of bleakness and regret, when you can understand them. Ali’s singing and enunciation treats English words as onomatopoetic devices, and she seems to be more interested in their phonemic qualities. Her use of her voice as an instrument really highlights the sleek electronic settings of the songs, which Ali programmed and produced herself. The sonic sculpture is as alluring as her voice, which is quite an accomplishment.