“I don’t sing for love, for the boys and girls, I sing for the wretched of this world and when this world goes up in fire I’ll be an ash spewed into the light” Clara Engel
By Víctor Tapia
Translated by Laila Pecheny
Clara Engel is a Canadian songwriter and singer who hopes being discovered among an endless internet. Although she has released seven albums and two EPs in just twelve years, there’s no much information about her on the web; and is much less likely to find information about his work in Spanish: just only a small blog has been encouraged a brief of her work.
But her songs still there, waiting for us on a BandCamp. Because of our geographic distance, listening to her songs in a physical format can only happen in a very remote dream. She hasn’t yet signed with any multinational, so her albums have been released by independent labels from different countries. Moreover, some of her LP, such as the Secret Beasts (Tapemancy Recordings, 2011), have been only released on cassette.The costs of such an old format are cheaper than the printing of a professional audio CD. But there is a paradox: Nostalgia helps to create a more favorable reception cassettes; The same goes for vinyl. This ‘nostalgic revival movement’ is also growing in Argentina. This statement is tested by events such as the Cassette Store Day.
It wouldn’t be difficult to suppose that very firsts songs written by Clara Engel are stored on old tapes of her very private collection. She began writing at the age thirteen, with a more than enviable dedication: Every day after school. Reading writers like Simone De Beauvoir and Albert Camus, approached by a teacher whom she remembers as the best teacher of his life, gave her a decisive influence on the development of its letters.
Listening to Engel, is something more than listening to the usual lyrics: Her shocking and deep voice sings phrases such as: “Swallow me and your body will grow into a twisted tree. Your limbs will blossom into rain and snow [..] Swallow me and your brain will bleed a poppy field into the mist of sleep. Your heart´s bright rivers turn to ice and snow”
Such particular expressions are the hallmark of an album such as Visitors Are Allowed One Kiss (Auditory Field Theory, 2015). Clara`s imaginary is obsessed by metamorphosis and magical changes experienced by humans, particularly if they have to do with nature and vegetation:”Once a white owl came down drank the colour from the world. The sun folded on itself, we couldn’t see our hands” “You are carried by swans over land and sea. Nothing moves in the trees, nothing moves beneath […] Over an oil slick beach pitch night in nostril and eye. Red root of your voice, tears bright tendrils of sky, like a mandrake´s red howl”.
Engel’s pen creates totally dreamlike images which allow meaningless and reality combinations make flesh in the music. While his voice and the atmosphere created by the instruments print a grim stories to air, hope always wins through harvesting and the unstoppable growth of nature: “You are carried by thieves of voices and dreams. Close a fist on a sunbeam. Shower of meteor seeds fertilizes the dust. A plough runs trough the fire where no flower could grow”
Toronto, Engel ´s native city
The voice and guitar of Clara, are accompanied by an incredible group of musicians. Fourteen artists parade the disc, with instruments as dissimilar as the accordion, violins and auto-harp. The most outstanding guest is Thor Harris, who plays the percussion in the mythical Swans since 2010. His contribution to the albums is in flute, marimba, vibraphone and xylophone. Other notable guests include: Aidan Baker, who collaborates on electric guitars and bass drones; and the American Nate Greenslit, who deals with percussion on two tracks.
The instruments create an atmosphere that combines perfectly with Engel’s voice and its lyrics always follow a very minimalist concept.There are no great musical progressions or extensive solos: music always accompanies Clara and the main melody from the background. Decisions that successful like the use of the Theremin in the last song (performed by the Iranian Armen Ra) handle to generate a unique atmosphere for a work such as shattering as original. The Canadian composer describes to perfection the peculiar characteristics of her music: “My biggest limitation has been that my music has been rejected for being “too pop” by experimental folks, and “too experimental” by mainstream standards. [..] My music itself is a bit marginal by nature. I tend to write long songs, a lot of them are slow, and I put a lot of emphasis on the lyrics”
Thor Harris, percusionista de Swans
The cover art of the album was designed by Engel herself. She also performs successfully as a plastic artist “I wade in to gather the shards of a shipwrecked sun on the rocks be my guide, in the dark pluck the swollen fruit my overripe heart and kiss it with frost ” Clara only asks us to guide her while trying to rebuild a lost sun. Just by giving attentive play and listening, we can help her someday get that. And if she doesn’t, at least she’ll have made an excellent record on the road; which is even better.