“Something wicked this way comes…” Black Sun Drum Korps bring industrial doom to Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”
By: jonathan.horsley Posted in: featured, interviews On: Monday, July 16th, 2012
On 21 September, Scotland’s most enthusiastical audio bloodletters Black Sun will reimagine Shakespeare’s most brutal play as a theatrical work of avant-garde metal. The Glaswegian industrial/doom trio, operating under their extra-war-and-extra-percussion Black Sun Drums Korps handle, will take the Bard’s text, cut it up and adapt it to their own aesthetic. Given how carnal, martial and blood-obsessed they are on record, Black Sun are uncannily compatible with Macbeth‘s text.
The program synopsis is intriguing: “SEX, MAGICK AND BLOOD: Warpaint, masks and animal skins. Light the fires. Witness Shakespeare’s Macbeth text cut-up and reworked to Black Metal standards and industrial percussion. Led by Drum Major Russell MacEwan of Ron Athey & Company (US) and doom-metallers Black Sun (UK) the ‘Korps bring highlander rhythms and industrial witchcraft to Macbeth: A primal and visceral experience for the strong of heart and not to be missed.”
When we asked Drum Major Russell MacEwan what gave him the idea, he replied, “I was very, very drunk at the time and I had what alcoholics call an epiphany….” But he was more expansive by the morning.
How did this project come about and what will it involve?
For this production I am directing quite a few different areas of creative, design and technical personnel. Starting from the beginning I have composers/programmers/circuit benders Darren McNeil and Sara Jansson with whom I have worked in Atomized and earlier incarnations of Black Sun Drum Korps respectively. Sara is also vocalist and guitarist for post-grunge rockers From Our Hearts (Gothenburg, Sweden). I am currently scoring the music with Darren and Sara in terms of heavy percussive sections and more spatial, ghost frequencies to underpin the Shakespearean text. I am lucky also to have label mate John Cromar of Noma (also of Kovorox Sound records, UK) providing data drones, which comprise the machine sound of running laptops through guitar pickups.
My directive is early industrial music such as TEST DEPT with whom I was a member for their Second Coming show in 1990, and also wider industrial artists such as Throbbing Gristle, Coil, Einstürzende Neubauten, Laibach, and Militia (Belgium). I’m not worried about new audiences making links to these artists; I just want a huge spectacle. Industrial music generally is classified in its origins as: musique concrète, fluxus, performance art, electronic music, noise, experimental music, drone.
How are you going to adapt the text?
In terms of the text I am currently exploring automatic writing/cut-up technique made prominent by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Eight albums down the line with Black Sun had made me aware of stupidly heavy repetition in my lyric writing and I was looking for a method to break out of that. I still apply my critical faculties, ultimately, but I like the results so far. I also edit Gifts of the Spirit for Ron Athey and Company based upon auto-suggestion and speaking in tongues, so the cut-up technique is part of my creative approach in a few strands simultaneously. I am working in two distinct methods at the moment – paper, scissors and Sellotape (Scotch Tape) and electronic cut-up with Darren using MAX/MSP signal processors.
Are you doing anything else to promote the production?
I shall be hosting open Macbeth workshops in both cut-up text technique and industrial percussion at the Arches Theatre Glasgow in advance of the presentation at Arches Live 21st September 2012 6:00pm and 9:00pm. More details to follow. Arches Live is an opportunity for me to truly explore method, themes and outcomes in front of new audiences. It shall also be fucking loud and dark.
Black Sun Drum Korps’ MacBeth has already been invited to present internationally which is very exciting. More details when I feel the show is ready to be seen in its entirety. I am also very excited to be invited to play Woodland Gathering II 17thto 18th August 2012, Fellfoot Woods, Cumbria, with Faust, Cindy Talk and Zoviet France (http://www.radioblackforest.com). All that fest needs is some pre-sales to truly get going.
Do you have creative control over costume, stage production, etc?
I have strong ideas about costume, props and staging. I am working with some designers and specialists in those areas so that I am free to have a visually creative overview of the entire production. I’m aiming for a cultish approach mixed in with the ancient Scottish identity, something that achieves the aims of dark magick contained in the text. Maybe some influence by Alexander McQueen Fall Collection 2009 as a continued inspiration and some of the jewelled masks of Martin Margiela 2012.
I shall have a small cast of actors who will deliver the cut up text. The interesting part for me is how chaotic I allow the text to become and how much of a challenge that will be to speak. I think I’ll go for key characters: the Witches, Lady Macbeth and King Duncan. There will be a small presentation of the more extreme use of electronic text cut-up in Macbeth at the Arches on August 1st 2012 as part of Crossing the Lines presented by The Arches & Playwrights’ Studio Scotland. It’s a chance to hear the potential chaos at its limits and gauge how far the final text shall be processed.
The Korps is by nature a participatory beast. How are you sourcing the percussion?
In terms of industrial percussion I am aiming for a huge Korps of twenty-plus drummers. I am researching ideas such as scrap vehicles and metal to be played on. Should be hugely visually stimulating as well as the visceral effect that rhythm has.
Is this something you’ve wanted to do for a while, as an extension of the Korps? I know you’ve always been keen to express Black Sun through other media rather than just the bass, drum, guitar voice.
Like you, since high school I’ve loved the text and I’ve seen a few versions of it over the years and I felt the weight of the story fitted in with Black Sun’s ethos; the doom, the blood, and the folly of human desire for majesty. I’m purposefully not watching too many versions as I’ll start to feel my inadequacies as a mainstream theatre director rather than see it as a vehicle for my vision. I want it to look and sound as fabulous as I can make it.
Of all Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth for me was always the best to study at school — it was certainly the harshest. Which are your favourite scenes, and which do you feel resonate most with the Black Sun ethos?
There are so many scenes I love hence just about dedicating my life to realising it, however Lady Macbeth is a character I feel drawn to at the moment. The scene in which she experiences fits of sleepwalking where she visualises bloodstains on her hands really resonates with me. She is such an interesting anti-heroine with her fantasies of infanticide and suggestion of her own witchcraft compounding that of the other Three Weird Sisters, or witches. All her ambition vicariously placed upon Macbeth himself towards ultimate destruction.
What did you think of Orson Welles’ Macbeth?
From 1948? I like his quote about he saw Macbeth as “a perfect cross between Wuthering Heights and Bride of Frankenstein.” I’ve only ever seen clips online, however I am a huge fan of Kurosawa’s adaption entitled Throne of Blood which transposes the plot to feudal Japan. I watch the DVD in slow motion with the sound turned down and I play Coil’s Time Machines album as soundtrack music. Takes the film to around the three hour mark and it becomes very tableaux like; almost like Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho. Once again, I’m not aiming to create a faithful version. There are at least six straight versions at the Edinburgh Festival this year alone. I think that speaks plenty about how universal the themes of Macbeth remain relevant today and can be endlessly adapted.
What do you think it says about the Scottish character and national psyche? A synopsis for the play sounds like what many Scots would class a good night out.
You mean given our thirst for blood as celebration or commiseration? Absolutely. Glasgow is hugely alive town where its people aim to have a fuck of a good time all the time. It has its negative sides too, like any city. I love Cormac McCarthy’s take “A ritual includes the letting of blood. Rituals which fail in this requirement are but mock rituals.” (Blood Meridian, 1985)
Are you going to record it for a DVD?
I have an A4 pad and a Sharpie marker in which I fill its pages with terrible and brilliant plans for Macbeth. Yes there will be documentation and photographs and video and recordings and texts and scores. I am hugely excited about creating an event of this scale and the possibilities of increasing our audience and touring [it].