An interview with Sara Bonavanetura and an Open Letter to Carla Bozulich
italian version click here
When, on July 15th, I opened my email account after a few days away from the computer, I would have never expected for such a precious thing to be hiding in the pot of all those useless Facebook notifications. It was a girl, Sara Bonaventura, who was asking us of Artnoise if we were interested in writing a review on Carla Bozulich’s music video Deeper than the Well.She also wrote that in case we we’re in, she could have put us directly in touch with Carla for an actual interview. That’s weird, but my first instinct was exactly the same I had at seventeen while listening to Evangelista for the first time: shut everything off and pretend nothing happened. Interviewing Carla Bozulich was something that definitely scared me, but then I thought about how much Evangelista influenced the growth of my music culture, and I couldn’t turn down the offer.
So, as to avoid the formalism of an interview, I thought to go for a double correspondence with Sara and Carla. Sara immediately accepted and told me Carla was on board too, despite her upcoming tour. So we agreed everything to be done by September, but right at the beginning of the month Sara informed me that due to the tour’s tight schedule, Carla hadn’t been able to work on her reply yet. Nonetheless, we decided to publish all we had anyway: my letter to Sara, her reply and my letter to Carla. By doing so, we hope to motivate Carla to write us back – at worst mine will be left as an open letter – and to answer those questions anyone who happened to run into that holistic experience her album is, would like to ask her.
I can finally write to you. First of all I want to thank you once again for having given Artnoise and me the chance of making this double interview, but I also wanted to thank you for your patience. I’m sure you won’t be surprised if my first question to you is how did you and Carla meet. A predictable one, I know, though necessary. That’s true, because as soon as I watched the video of Deeper than the Well, Carla’s first one, I instantly had the feeling you two shared an impressive likeness, a natural affection on the artistic level. Deeper than the Well is maybe the most uncommon track in the whole album, Boy: while the others follow – then destroy and deconstruct – the classic song-form, Deeper than the Well lies on the power of reiteration, not of the structure verse-refrain, but of a fragmented sound that expands itself in an hypnotic vortex. It is, in other words, one of those tracks Carla bends completely to her own voice and narration, shaping the indistinct magma of tones.
Well, the video you made is extremely coherent, not only in the feelings it conveys, but also in its style. That too is deprived of any narrative linearity and it recomposes itself in an explosion of both evocative and hypnotic images, a mix of different techniques: animation and concrete images, realistic scenarios and expressionistic shades. And this stylistic exuberance and cohesive variety are the elements you and Carla share.
Both her tracks and your videos are a kaleidoscope of different styles and these are not merely juxtaposed, but always reshuffled in something original and extremely solid. Obviously this blend, this absence of linearity create a sort of disorder of reality, an alienating feeling identical to that the two protagonists of the story experience. The development of the harmony between music and images and the addition of a mystic sensation are carried by the archetypical figure of the snake and the parallelism between body and space. The truth be told, this mysticism is a recurring element in your collaboration with Carla, and this since the first video you created for her, the marvelous Winds of St. Anne.
I watched this video right after you pointed it out for me, but as soon it was over, I had a weird feeling that the drawings of The Little Prince, the book we used to read when we were little, had been somehow twisted and distorted by the evil hand of a vicious classmate. Among the videos you realized for Carla, this is the one I love the most, especially for your skill to represent the errant spirit of Anne with just few stylized lines. Whoever watches the video is unlikely to forget her: hands in the pockets, glancing down, the bangs caressed by the wind. And they surely won’t be able to forget the prison engraved in the mountains, the demon’s uvula represented by the face of Anne herself, and the horrific menace to be hit by a storm of evil spirits. In this particular case you only used the animation mean, but this is what helps the watcher to reach an even higher degree of abstraction.
The miscellaneous style is what instead characterize the other video you produced for Carla, Tremble Dragonfly. On this occasion you chose to translate into images one of her most charming songs, creating a kind of short film, so independent it could stand by itself (the bottom line “The End” says everything) and someone who doesn’t know Carla’s work could think the soundtrack was made especially for it. This the most intimate video of the three, perfectly blend with the music as usual, and it’s able to express the contrast between beauty and fear, anguish and desire, those themes so dear to Carla. And once again, the parallelism between body and nature is perfectly represented.
Well, besides asking you to tell us something about each one of this works – they all keep infinite stories – I’d be interested to know what is the creative process you embraced with Carla. How do you guys reach this sort of telepathy? Is it an instinct you have, or is it part of a longer exchange of opinions and points of view? I regard this as a really poignant aspect of your works, because they give me the impression they have the same person standing behind music and images. Furthermore, I wish you could also tell me something about the different cultural and imaginary backgrounds you mix together. How do the various combinations take form? Are these only aroused by the immediate suggestions music instills you (as it always happen with Carla’s songs), or is there a previous, careful research process that leads you to your creations? Do you follow any cultural coordinates or is it the combination itself that shows you the way? In closing, I think it’s right to ask you how much did the meeting with Carla influence your productions, and what did it mean to you?
This is the last question – I hope I didn’t bore you too much – and I’m so very grateful for everything you did.
Look forward to hearing from you,
With deep affection
First of all thank you for your kind words. They are very precious. You beautifully reviewed both albums and videos. Sincerely thank you! I tried my best, translating as soon as possible and I feel sad cause we are late, with the tour starting. I would give Carla a bit more time. But I write you a couple of lines she drop me for the press at the end of the interview. It’s time to close this intro and start to describe my journey with her.
Carla always gave me total freedom to interpret her songs.
The first time she asked me to do a video was during Myspace times. I became a fan of her page after the first listening of her album Evangelista.
Everything started so. Maybe I posted her some pics of my drawings or some of my videos, I do not even remember.
But I perfectly remembered one of her first messages, always straight to the point, where she asked me to do a video for Hello Voyager, she just let me choose without saying which track. I felt like I was dying. I was living in Berlin that time and undergoing a deep crisis. But I accepted maybe also because of that and I proposed a video for Winds of Saint Anne. She said ok but she never heard back from me. I was so unsecure and helpless that I drew the whole video without sending her any preview! That was my first official video you know! I drew around three hundreds cells by night: my first animation, very rough, unrefined, dirty, but authentic; a flow of drawings, pretty consistent with the storyboard which usually I do not follow. In a rush I drew also cells with a lot of mistakes that are not part of the final version. Eventually I was even more unsecure. But the first person who saw it was Carla herself, like a box of surprise, not knowing any gradual steps. She loved it and appreciated it. In a difficult moment for me, her words had been very important for my self-esteem. Something that sometimes happens with her: she pops out in hard times and she works everything out with a few striking words
Everything started by chance at the beginning. But I always say, chance is not by chance.
For Tremble dragonfly it was a bit different. I had already met Carla when she asked me to do a video for her upcoming album, Prince of Truth. Her idea was to try a premiere with Pitchfork. But unfortunately I did not respect the deadlines. Since this is not my job and I have a big limit: the need of a total artistic freedom with cushy deadlines. Otherwise insomnia is back. Like with Tremble Dragonfly that made me sleepless. I made little animation for that (I work frame by frame so it takes a long time), I used old vhs footage done with my family (most of these takes had been shot in the Australian outback) and so I filmed even the new takes with the same camera, but in closer locations (the Piave river). The female protagonist of this little metamorphosis is my sister (I had no time or budget for other actors). What you have written, on a parallelism between body and nature, was the spirit of the video indeed. Tremble is a strange ring connecting the other two videos. Slow and sweet, like a pause; the inter-text -the End- was a sort of provocation. The allusive ending of the dragonfly swallowed by a hummingbird, elegant and chintzy, responded to an idea of a catharsis, not a proper end, but an eternal journey, since the dragonfly is a very ancient symbol of metamorphosis.
The errant spirit is something that Carla and I have in common, so even in Deeper than the well you may travel. But this imaginary trip on the road was not conceived from the very beginning! Carla wrote me, that the song was already chosen and the time was poor. I had already listened to the single and I liked it so I accepted. But maybe this one has been the most complicated video for a couple of different reasons. Carla had in mind to edit something she filmed, alone, but then she changed her mind and involved me. She had a huge footage, in lo-fi, shot with her laptop or mobile in New Orleans. She wanted to do something with this and so she sent me a lot of stuff via wetransfer. I made a lot of post-production but I felt like a story was missing. I’m not bound to a narrative style, but I have to figure out a plot about a few visual ideas. I had the idea of a journey, as a trait d’union to her footage, especially to a few scenes that I really wanted to keep, like the Brakhagey window we both loved. Then Carla made some shooting in Berlin, out of that we kept just a few sequences with JHNO, again massive footage to skim through. Besides this we have the snake’s animation inspired by her belly tattoo. I do not know why but Carla wanted to use the exact frame you can see at the beginning of the video, I know her undressed womb had barely been photographed and Carla was very afraid of the naked scene being an official video and so I thought about the animated snake moving as a superimposion, becoming a narrative leitmotiv then (animated with .ca a hundred colorful drawings). The turning point: Carla seemed very convinced and we started foreseeing a similar story. We worked together on the final montage, in Treviso, my hometown, cause she was guest by common friends on tour in the Usa (the band Father Murphy). Editing together is always a bit hard, but a part from an uncertain beginning, we found a perfect balance thanks to the Joshua Tree! We worked a lot, by night as well, but I found out that Carla cooks pretty much better than me!
I was forgetting, these videos had been accepted also by the Constellation Records, which has a well know straight ethics; otherwise they would not be on line.
This is the chronicle.
What I would add is something concerning the method… I do not have! Or better, as I was saying I always draw a sort of storyboard, that I partly follow, because I have new ideas while drawing or editing. Everything starts listening to the music in deep trance. Over and over. And images started to emerge. Even because my relationship with music is not technical, I never practiced it, but visionary. At this very moment I sketch a storyboard, not a very traditional one and maybe just for some key frames or so. This means risks of wasting and mistaking, but it is also what gives me a chance to improvise, which is always stimulating. Otherwise animation could be very boring and editing totally automatic. On the other hand I really would love to discover anything anytime. There is a iconological research in my works, I am art historian so it is part of me, but I try to characterize it.
Inspiration can come from anywhere; not only from written sources, it may derive from direct experiences as well. I absorbed different visual inputs, both in a critical and in a unconscious way, during my life and due to my studies. The method is there: between action and abstraction.
What is important is that meeting Carla was crucial to me. She is a great artist but also a great woman, a tough and sweet capricorn, strongly fragile, determined and humble, authentic to the core. A big exemplum. A woman that gave me the right suggestions in gloomy times and helped me to believe in myself. Rare as a night meteor.
Here below a few lines that Carla wrote for the press. They have not been entirely published yet. Thanks for everything.
This collaboration begins with a gift from a girl who I did not know as the artist that she was. She made a video for “Winds Of Saint Anne” just to give to Evangelista. It was beautifully drawn by hand. Animation is the most difficult kind of film in some ways.
Last year in December I listened to my new album, Boy, in New Orleans. But in my heart I was in Joshua tree and Berlin and Bari. So I had a dream that it was time again to travel. I dressed in a hurry with sex on my mind. Wherever there is sex, violence can be close behind. There should be a video for Deeper Than The Well, I thought, as I ran out the door of the collapsing hotel.
I know the song is funny. To “fuck up the whole world” is, in American, to say to DESTROY the whole world. And to me, that is as real as crazy love and equally funny.
Sara Bonaventura seems to understand me in a crazy psychic way. And she likes the song. Her work is a way for me to get high without drugs. To laugh without smiling. Love. A lot of that. Thanks, girl.
I have to tell you I’m kind of thrilled. This is my first important interview, I couldn’t think of any better than this to begin with, really. I got in touch with you with Evangelista when I was 17 and I think I won’t ever forget that listening. A very few album deeply freaked me out like that, leaving me stunned for a long while after. The first reaction was to remove the album, after 10 minutes, to switch into something else. I did it indeed, but I did not want to listen to anything else. There was something in that sound, repulsive but at the same time terrific and captivating. What really freaked me was that totally absorbing sound: not just the hearing was involved, but every sense, like if the sound had awaked something in my consciousness, something still unknown to me. I faced the album after a day, the whole album this time, let myself be driven and overwhelmed by suggestions, sensations, images and emotions that Evangelista throws ruthless to the listener. What really hit me is the authenticity. In a way it was like there was no filter between waht you were feeling and what the listener was perceiving. It was like if you got rid of that filter between the idea at the base of your work and the final product. And it is from here that I would love to start.
Going deeply into your artistic career I noticed that the authenticity, like the impulsivity, are fundemental elements of your personal way to make music. So I wonder: do you have a method, a specific approach? It often seems that your songs are recorded in a single collective session, direct take, being so impetuous. But a careful hearing reveals a complexity, if not in the structure at least in the creation process, of pieces full of patterns, sounds and noises. Especially this on going interaction between music and noise (drones) is connotative of your albums. Thinking of Evangelista I incipit, with that bell and that squeaky wood and your preaching starting at half of the song. But in every album track there’s a background noise, a noise that seems disturbing but enriches the meaning indeed. There are songs, like Nel’s Box, coming out of a magma of drones and sounds, reverberations that you slowly shape. How does this approach to the song start? How is a song born, how does it grow? Are you starting with the drones, singing and playing over them or you add them afterwards when the song is done? And then there are songs where your singing seems a counterpart opposed to the instruments. Do you start a song first with an instrumental outburst and getting control over the instruments after?
Sorry if I insist on Evangelista, but after years I am very fond of this albums, that instills different sensations any time I listen to it. There is an entangled mix of beauty and fear, distress and desire, dread and tenderness and the listener is so involved that at any listening something different is perceived; like if your experience, suddenly, becomes the listener’s one, with no filters, total empathy.
What was the personal history of that album, beyond the music? what were the suggestions behind the album and what are the suggestions still alive now? Is it really a coincidence that both Evangelista as well as Hello Voyager finish with the word “love”?
Today, after 8 years with Evangelista, after several experimentations, you have decided to change direction and restart a solo project, realizing what you have called a pop album, Boy. What do you mean with pop music and what could it be? Many people have been interpreting this definition of Boy as a pop album as a provocation. I don’t see it this way. It is like if you had collected all those elements characterizing your music putting them in a new form more songlike, apart from a few episodes.
In Evangelista and in the following albums it was like if the music was following your voice, adjusted to your voice, your stories, your declamations, free from any predefined plan; in Boy your songs seem to follow a scheme, closer to that of a song, verse-refrain, but just to warp it and deform it. It seems that the more traditional song structure has been chosen to increase the emotional impact, to create more intensity, to underline the juxtaposition of conflicting feelings (I’m especially thinking of Drowned to the light and Lazy Crossbones). Is this waht you meant for pop album?
Then I had an another question, maybe banal. If after Evangelista you had decided to form a band because you were missing the company of it, why you decided now to release the album with your own name? Simply because of the contingent situation (the fact that you realized this work almost alone) or because you wanted to shape this album with a more personal mark?
By the way I think that Boy is one of the albums that better represents you, proving your eclectic heterogenity as a stylistic choice. You were never stuck on a genre, always combining different genres, even with the Geraldine Fibbers, not only in the album context, but sometimes even inside a single song, but always with an unbelievable consistency. There is not a simple juxtaposition of different styles, but always a re-contextualization, a personal rethinking. In this way Boy is a sort of a sum up of your career and your personal way to make art, because this crossbreeding of diverse genres and music traditions always marked out your music, now adjusted to the potentialities of a song structure.
But I think that this heterogenity in music reflects a cultural one. There are so many cross references to very different imaginary and cultural suggestions. How does this combination of diverse cultures come? Are you influenced by the spaces where you play or record your songs? Moreover, are you influenced by other arts, visual arts in particular?
This last question make me think of an another one. I wrote to Sara as well, about the video she has done for you, revealing I had the impression of a sort of intuitive understanding between you. What do you think of her art? And how do her videos affect you?
With this last question I wanted to say good bye with a big hug.
I hope I did not bother you with this letter.
I would love to do a good interview, and I’m looking forward to reading an answer.
Best wishes with really great respect,
Translated by Clara Banci and Sara Bonaventura