Nov 052013

Nothing is more fearful, or more fearsome, than death. Nothing of such importance is more unknowable or more frightening. No wonder the subject is of such central importance in music of all kinds, but especially in the realm of extreme music — which is an artform that can plumb, and exorcise, the intensity of loss, despair, horror, rage, and fear, like few others. Death becomes metal.

To find any kind of grace in the extinction of life’s spark requires the suspension of disbelief, or the eye of an artist. Bodies move after life, in the constriction of the sinews or in the transportation of the hollow remains to some kind of resting place. There is no beauty in such motion, not really. Certainly not when the face is beloved or even only familiar. It can be perceived as beautiful, but still terrible, only when the ultimate silence is a kind of reprieve, or when the shape of death is distant, when it is the flesh of a stranger that becomes mere sculpted alabaster matter.

Filmmaker Pedro Pires has found the shape of this awful beauty in his short film Danse Macabre, which I found last night through a link from an acquaintance. It’s not easy to watch if you have lost someone close to you, especially in the case of a suicide. In fact, it’s wrenching. It’s also NSFW, because the imagery of dead flesh is naked, as it always is eventually. But it’s powerful and powerfully realized, and it’s metal even though it’s not music (though the accompanying music deepens its effect).

Scenario and Director: Pedro Pires
Concept: Robert Lepage
Original Idea, Choreography and Interpretation: AnneBruce Falconer
Artistic Direction: Catherine Chagnon
Images and Editing: Pedro Pires

Danse Macabre from PHI Centre on Vimeo.

  6 Responses to “THE POETRY OF DEATH”

  1. That really is a profound and eloquent introduction there Islander. I take my hat off to you, sir, for capturing in word what follows in film.

    A distinctly disquieting piece of art as well. I’m amazed at how well the actors remain motionless – at least, I’m presuming they’re actors, as if they’re not I find it hard to believe the film-makers could have got consent from people or families to do some of those things with the bodies. There doesn’t seem to be any mention in the credits or the film’s website of which or any names.

    As a bit of context, I found it a discomforting watch despite the fact that I’ve actually worked with bodies, as I work at Anatomy Department at a medical school – in fact, one of a dwindling number of schools that still use cadavers (many are opting for models these days). So in various courses in my student years we’d be working with embalmed body parts. Also, although I’m not involved in teaching medical students anymore, I used to be a part of the neuroanatomy course for a few years, where we’d work with a small group of medical students to dissect the brain out of cadavers and go through the course dissecting further to learn different aspects of brain anatomy.

    It really is quite something to work with bodies like that – it’s strange that death is kept away from sight so much in our society – and the experience of working with and learning from someone else’s dead body is both disturbing, particularly at first, but also strangely wonderous; to see all the incredible detail of the body and that it once was a person with all the thoughts, feelings and experiences of life, and it strikes you that one day you’ll be an inanimate grouping of tissues just like the one you’re studying.

    • Thanks for the compliment. I also assume the video was made with an actress, maybe the AnneBruce Falconer listed in the credits? Had no idea you had the kind of work experience described in your comment. Fascinating, but yeah, I can imagine it was disturbing too.

      • Actually they were making a documentary about it too in some of the classes, where they followed both the people who donated their bodies, and the medical students going through the class. There’s a trailer on youtube:

        If you’re super keen there’s a ‘documentary length’ version of it (about 1 hr 30 min) and a shortened version for TV tha’s online here:

      • Yes, it’s AnneBruce Falconer indeed, she’s a choreographer and actress, according to what I read on the Internet. I really enjoyed watching this video, but didn’t feel uncomfortable at all, rather contemplative. I’ve been touched by the beauty of the scenes, and was totally transported by this artistic point of view of the becoming of human, and by the study of inert movement. There has been many studies of the concept of motion itself in contemporary dance, and I think this video, which implies a choreographer — the word is meaningful — is related to this kind of aesthetics, but in a very macabre perspective.

        I’ve not experienced much related to death and have lost few relatives, but I’ve always been intrigued and perplex about it. I’ve been raised in the idea that dying is like leaving for a long, long journey, and that makes me think that death is what makes life worth being lived. The limit defines the object and gives it meaning. That’s also why I like all kind of death-related aesthetics like those you find in extreme metal sounds, ideas and imagery. It’s not a kind of morbid fascination because I wouldn’t, say, pick up the corpse of a dead raven to have the smell of death in my nostrils like Mayhem’s ‘Dead’ allegedly did. But I’ve always had this aesthetic interest.

  2. beautifuly disturbing, a very interesting piece. my Mom passed away from cancer a couple years ago and my Dad committed suicide a month later. it hasn’t ever made me sensitive to death or even more intrigued by it. if anything it’s just made me more reflective on the ominous power of loss.

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