In an October 31st post on his blog, Tom Ellard, mastermind behind the Australian electro-industrial group Severed Heads, wrote, “I would like to present music as more than just sound. I need advice.” It is hard to tell if this plea is meant to be answered: after two months, nobody has commented on the post and, on the Severed Heads website, it is presumably the author himself who states that the blog is something that “you should under no circumstances read.”
Perhaps Ellard knows that the best person to give him such advice is himself.
Just look at the 1983 music video for the song “Dead Eyes Opened” to see the kind of multi-sensory, mixed-media music-art that Ellard is capable of:
In the video’s description on his own YouTube channel, Ellard details the complex method (using such devices as a UMatic videocassette editor and a Fairlight Paintbox) to achieve the monochromatic glow that seems to burn at the edges of the high-contrast black-and-white images of people dancing. The process visually mimics the layering of drum machines, synthesizers and other distorted, buzzing sounds that characterize Severed Heads’ music which, like the images in the video, seems to glow with an anxious, electric energy. The result of the “Dead Eyes Opened” project is a stunning sense of unity between the visual and the auditory.
Upon a deeper investigation of Severed Heads’ expansive collection of music (from 1979 to 2008), it becomes clear how important a tight sense of unity is to Ellard’s work, and his Halloween blog post may be symptomatic of the anxiety of perfectionism. “Dead Eyes Opened,” for instance, features an audio clip of the early 20th-century British crime writer Edgar Marcus Lustgarten. Lustgarten speaks in a paced, meticulous manner, describing: “the head, a woman’s head. He had severed it from the trunk (…) as the head of Emily Kaye lay upon the coals, the dead eyes opened, and Mahon fled out to the deserted shore.” The image of a severed head slips into the song seamlessly and the fact that it is Lustgarten (and not Ellard) who speaks the words creates a sense of distance that prevents the imagery from feeling heavy-handed.
Another exemplary Severed Heads track is from the 1988 Bulkhead album, titled “Twenty Deadly Diseases.” Again, Severed Heads evoke the macabre, without slipping into a seriousness that is too heavy to enjoy. This track is more complex and layered than “Dead Eyes Opened.” It features stamping drum machines, arrays of eclipsed buzzes and Frankenstein’s monster-grunts. All this, combined at a frenetic pace recalls the oddly appealing chaos of soundtracks to campy 80’s horror movies.
“Severed Heads website” http://www.sevcom.com
“YouTube channel” http://www.youtube.com/user/TomEllard
Article by: Weston Clay