Lars Graugaard & Thomas Hejlesen – Tears of Dionysius

Posted: 21 December 2015 in Albums

30th October 2015

Christopher Nosnibor

Explorations of sexuality are certainly nothing new, and while every generation likes to think it’s reinvented sex and sexuality, it is of course, what’s ensured the survival and expansion of the human race since it first evolved into its own species. We know we’re by no means the only primates to enjoy recreational sex, but we are, of course, the only ones capable of making art.

Graugaard’s Tears of Dionysius is an unusual project, an audiovisual work which juxtaposes high art with low. The visuals are a collection of anonymous black and white movies, compiled and sequenced by writer and film-maker Thomas Hjlesen, the texts composed by Graugaard ‘after Friedrich Nietzsche’ (taking ‘Geburt der Tragödie’ – ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ which dissects the dichotomy between the Dionysian and the Apollonian as its basis) and the score composed by Graugaard for 18 players and performed by Caput Ensemble, along with Gudini Franzon and Stina Ekblad. As such, its ambition and scope on a purely technical level is vast, and in terms of its theoretical philosophical context, it’s equally immense. In many ways, the enormity of the project proves to be the audience’s greatest challenge. Quite simply, how does one assimilate a work like this?

Graugaard’s score is magnificent. ‘I ask again and again, why are you so sad’ is a bold neoclassical piece which has the drama of ‘Mars’ from Holst’s Planets suite, which stands in contrast with the blurred, grainy images. Hands grabbing, squeezing, kneeding, flesh, malleable, dough-like, the figures become almost abstracted and cloud-like at times, and it’s often difficult to be certain exactly what you’re watching. The effect is akin to a merging of Henry Moore’s figures with the style of Lucian Freud and the rape scene in A Clockwork Orange.

‘When Your Shadow is All Over Me’ – a jumble of limbs, pumping male buttocks toward the lens, then cut to a torso, a male and female abdomen in rhythmic slow-motion, something more akin to jellyfish floating through the deep than the actuality of copulating bodies – cut to a close-up of a woman’s pubic thatch, rising and falling in a slow rhythm. The music is sparse, creeping, cinematic, eerie. In a way, this corresponds with the strange detachment of the nature of these anonymous films: there are no faces in shot. We hear the voice of Stina Ekblad narrate the relationship between Apollo and Dionysius while a penis fills the screen plunging in and out in a fluid motion.

When we do finally see a face, during ‘No Matter How Hard We Try’, it’s a high-contrast image of a man’s forehead and eyes in close-up, slowed to almost a still. Against a soundtrack of unsettling discordance, how do we read those eyes? Freeze. Saturate to fade.

‘You Are in the Arms of an Angel’ finds scraping strings teeter on the edge of a dark abyss over a stuttering loop of a lesbian kiss. Again, the film quality reduces the features to washed-out whites and shadows, the eyes deep hollows, the mouths vortex-like black holes, expressions of lust transformed to anguish and agony.

The drama and tension rises on ‘Nobody Seems to Know Where We Go’, and I’m reminded of JG Thirlwell’s most ambitiously orchestral works. There is, of course, an element of irony that such an overtly cinematic soundtrack should be aligned with the low-grade, short-focus (as opposed to wide-screen, panning) shots which occupy the screen.

At the 24-minute mark, two women, ghoulish with contrast and oversaturation, sit, smoking: it’s every bit as strange and alien as the flickering hands exploring contours of breasts, large dark nipples and stockinged legs. Strings and piano motifs skip and dance lightly, while the looping of the footage, the repetition of scenes at variant paces lock the performers into some kind of perpetual sexual hell in which there is no release, no climax, no resolution, merely the same endless stroking and grappling. Looking for a distraction, I become fixated on one of the girls’ teeth, but the degraded, blurred image makes them look sharp, ghoulish. Mammoth orchestral strikes build to a thunderous crescendo as her partner kneeds away at her tits, a gentle gesture transformed into an act of brutality through its repetition and the alteration of context.

At times, it’s like watching animated x-rays locked in some brutal final battle, and Graugaard’s soundtrack is no less unsettling. Instead, the juxtapositions and the overt incongruity render the experience jolting, unsettling.

Despite the origin and initial purpose of the footage which features here, Tears of Dionisius is most certainly not an erotic movie: detached and abstracted from its original context, we’re presented with something dark, mechanical, inhuman. Instead of arousing, it unsettles, and implicitly reverses the lens position to cast its gaze on the viewer. Is this desire?

The soundtrack only heightens the effect, its sonic pathos building dramatic peak upon dramatic peak. Surging strings and teetering horns which would be at home in 60s sci-fi movies soundtrack images of pulsating vulvas and slow, deep masturbation. It is unsettling. The soundtrack functions in almost precisely the opposite way a soundtrack conventionally functions, not subtly complimenting the images on screen, but incongruously reminding the viewer that there are essentially two entirely separate projects being presented simultaneously here. And within that dissonant space, the viewer is challenged to consider their own desires, and their own place as observer / voyeur / listener / critic.

Time and space collide as old visuals are overlaid with a contemporary score which in fact recalls a previous time, but not the time in which the images were shot. And those images… for all of the pornography that pervades daily existence now, and forms a desensitizing backdrop to 21st century life in the western world, the footage is powerful, and sears itself onto the retinas. It’s an infinitely complex work which functions and resonates on almost countless different levels, and challenges the viewer without mercy. All of this makes for a true work of art, and one which demands comprehensive and considered engagement.



Tears of Dionysius, part 2 from Lars Graugaard on Vimeo.

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