Updated: Jan 10
Free time does not sit well with some, especially those whose very being is made up of galvanic, imaginative energy that refuses to take rest. Belgium composer Nicholas Lens and alternative emperor Nick Cave, like millions around the planet, recognised plans of grandeur to minuscule ideas would not go ahead and were forced to halt by a power that could not be defeated in that period. Endeavours to entertain the mind for the pair resulted in the making of record L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S, released December 4th.
Gearing up for one of Cave's favourite pastimes: physically and spiritually connecting with followers, his widespread tour of North America and Europe, side by side with his Bad Seed Brothers, was postponed until 2021. While exploring Belgium by bike and sensing the calmness and air clarity, Lens let his mind drift to a familiar place. It was tranquil; it was serene; it reminded him of a life-affirming trip he took to the ancient Rinzai Zen temples in Yamanouchi, Kamakura. Nicholas recollects,
“The initial idea for L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S was born in the natural silence that rises from the rainy and vivid green forest that surrounds these 13th-century temples. And because my memory works in musical phrases, writing L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S has become my method of remembering the peace I found while visiting Japan as well.”
The profoundly artistic duo of Cave and Lens had collaborated before in 2014's opera Shell Shock. Nicholas required a Wordsworth like no other who was a keen student in opera: Nick provided the most desirable option. For this project, the mystic being willingly agreed to write 12 litanies, but, in typical Cave fashion, was not altogether clear on what the artistic practice was. What is a litany? he typed, as he discovered that it was a series of religious petitions; it soon dawned the unparalleled creator had been writing litanies all his life.
Nick wrote lyrical pieces that observed the human cycle of life, ending at rebirth, acting as “petitions to a divine maker demanding some sort of cosmic acknowledgement”. To Lens, the title infers “a pure form of poetry… a lyrical form of minimalism which might lead to a trance-like state”, and he acknowledges that both men have uniquely different ideas about what L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S means.
Several tracks commence with the gong, and with this instrument known for its healing qualities, the album signifies movement through life: birth, flowering, fragility and new beginnings. The DIY production value of each eleven members of the orchestra, recorded separately in Len's house, adds to its beauty and spacious and airy feel.
We open with Litany of the Sleeping Dream; its syncopation acts like a young ballerina's footsteps. A female voice saturated in surrealness sings the words: "The world and she are breathless beautiful", as the delicate dancer twirls under silvery snowflakes. Woodwind melody declares a lullaby quality, and the listener's soul instantly grasps that this is going to be a orangey hued, snow-topped journey of wonder.
For Litany of Transformation, the strings and piano dance with each other in a mischievous mood, swelling to woodwind and strings, with the effect of a clock measuring time running all the way through. Spoken singing describes how we discover our true self through the situations that we face: "I once got married, our marriage broke down, I drifted a while from town to town". The bells at the finish signify completion.
Nick's voice calls out, "You will rise now, I watch you grow, you will rise now," in Litany of The Yearning, underscored with sombre, continuous string notes, heading to Litany of the Forsaken where the tone lifts, but the baseline adds richness. The words are placed in an engaging rhythmic fashion exploring matters of the heart. They do not deny how wonderous desire can be, but truthfully state: "Love comes and goes, and I am all alone, I am nothing ever less, never ever lasts for long."
Ending on Litany of the First Encounter, it generates the effect of a baby fawn enthusiastically taking its first steps on the earth. "A child" repeats in innocent harmony. The twelve articles sit equally in this campaign, and it would not work if only one was taken away. There is an eerie ambience, yet it is not frightening, and uplifting in parts. To link imagery to it, whether that be live, graphically or recorded, would add another element for the senses to behold. This work of art from Nick and Nick can stand alone, head held immensely high, but has scope to develop if wanted; a pleasurable thing to acknowledge.
Article by Beverley Knight