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Postmortem: Tale of Tales' The Graveyard
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Postmortem: Tale of Tales' The Graveyard


November 27, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 8 of 10 Next
 

Appendix II: Spotlight on music composer Gerry De Mol

We first approached Gerry De Mol out of the blue after hearing a song from his "Kleine Blote Liedjes" album ("Little Naked Songs") on the radio. At the time, we were looking for a composer to work with on 8, having decided that Pergolesi and Beethoven were a bit too heavy-handed for the game. As it turned out, Gerry was the perfect match for 8.

Not only did he make simple moving songs with minimal orchestration and unexpected instruments, he also had this entire other life of being a "world musician" with Oblomow. Gerry is an expert player of all sorts of exotic string instruments and many of his compositions refer to Middle Eastern traditions (which 8 referred to as well, in its visual style).

We were unable to find sufficient fundng to produce 8 at the time, but when we needed a song for the options screen of The Endless Forest, we asked Gerry. Then later when we developed Abiogenesis and need more music for live performances in the Forest, we asked him again to make a whole bunch of songs. We have returned the favour by creating a 2D game for his "Min en Meer" album.

The choice for Gerry as composer for the song in The Graveyard was clear from the beginning. Very few musicians have the courage to make art about the mundane and even fewer have the talent to be witty while doing it, and incredibly moving at the same time. Gerry is a rare artist and the perfect match for the ambiguous atmosphere we wanted to project with The Graveyard. Let's see how he feels about this...

The song you created for The Graveyard (entitled "Komen te gaan" or "Come to go"), is about cleaning graves. Where did the inspiration come from?

"Komen te gaan" is a quite regional euphemism for dying, means as much as "arriving to the departure", has a nice paradox in itself. The inspiration comes from where I grew up. I lived very near the local graveyard (so we had a lot of neighbors, all quiet people) and as a kid we used to play in the graveyard.

At one time, when the "old graveyard" was nearly full, they created a new graveyard with asphalt lanes that meandered round nicely trimmed lawns, but no grave was dug yet. The place was big and it came out to be an ideal terrain for practicing rollerskates. My best friend's grandfather was the gravekeeper at that time, now 40 years ago. Graveyards are ideal for playing hide and seek as well.

Also, my mother's father died very young, so more than once a week my mother visted the graveyard. Once a year all family graves where cleaned for All Saints (1st of November) -- the blue stone was thoroughly cleaned with a bottle of acid. But my strongest memories are from the days just before All Saints, owning a pub alongside the graveyard, my parents and grandmother sold Chrysanthemums in the days leading up to November 1st, which spread a sweet smell for weeks through the house.

In most cultures, cleaning graves is a way of taking care of memories and people who are not there anymore. Most people talk to the deceased when doing that, it's got the power of a ritual which is very personal and soothing.

Could comment a little bit on some of the lyrics? Perhaps illuminating some things that might have been lost in the translation?

From year eight to year forty
Yes, Irma was still young
‘t Was a German with consumption
Too big a heart, too weak a lung
Van ‘t jaar acht tot het jaar veertig
Ja die Irma was nog jong
‘t Was een Duitser met de tering
Te groot hart, te zwakke long

What was "a German"? What are you referring to?

She reads from the grave, the girl Irma died in 1940. Germans were all over this place then, apparently she knows the story. Irma (about her age, I suppose) met a German, she had a big heart, fell in love, but the German had consumption, she caught it and died from it because of her weak lungs. Apparently very swiftly.

Renée, she had fibroids
Auntie Mo, while she was asleep,
Fell down into a dream
And was never picked up again
Renée, die had een vleesboom
Tante Mo is in haar slaap
Doodgevallen in een droom
En nooit meer opgeraapt

Just a list of how they died. One is mysterious, Auntie Mo. By lack of information or vocabularly, when people walk the paths in a graveyard commenting on who they pass by, use expressions like "he fell dead", "he suddenly died", "she never woke up". It struck me as quite possible that, the old lady can think that someone dying in her sleep for no apparant reason might have died from something that happened in a dream.

Look that's Emma, stillborn,
Take care you don't step on her
Her portrait is long lost
A little blue cross, never baptized
Kijk da's Emma, doodgeboren,
Zie da' j'er nie' over loopt
Haar portret al lang verloren
Een blauw kruiske, nooit gedoopt

Why a blue cross?

I remember a very touching place in a hidden corner of the old graveyard at our place. There were some light blue crosses lined up, no photo, just a name and one date. Not two. They were the little babies that were stillborn, they had no right to a proper grave or a proper funeral because they were not baptised in time. Maybe this made me see very early the cruelty of religions to people.

And Roger, that was cancer
grew too big for his own good
When ivy gets too tall, there's
Too much shadow. Pruned away.
En Roger, da' was de kanker
die heeft zichzelf overgroeid
Als een klimop te hoog wordt hangt er
Teveel schaduw. Weggesnoeid.

Roger is the only persona who really existed. Cancer happens when we overgrow ouselves literary.. and sometimes also in a figurative sense.

Acid on granite
White bubbles, yellow foam
Steel wool to clean the rust
Scratch away the year and date
And a chisel for your own name
For when we come to go
Zoutzuur op arduin
Witte bubbels, geel schuim
Staalwol om het roest te wassen
Jaar en datum weg te krassen
En een beitel voor je eigen naam
Voor als we komen te gaan

"Acid on granite" is not exactly a correct translation is it?

No, I have a Brother who is a geologist, here's what he had to say on the subject: "Arduin seems to be called Belgian Blue Stone in English, a kind of Limestone. The specific kind of acid is hydrochloric acid or hydrochloric or muriatic acid. The yellow foam is a result of chalk settling on the blue stone. Therefore the cleaning is caused by the acid taking away some micrometer from the blue stone. The acid, however, will not bubble yellow on granite unless someone has peed on your grave". Which is a soothing concept, I think.

She thinks of a clean grave for herself, the tools she had to clean the graves she visited, all you need now is these tools and a chisel to engrave her own name somewhere as she knows her death is imminent.

From between Jesus's legs
I would like to pluck those webs
I'd wipe the sand between his toes
If I could still bend over
Van tussen Jezeke zijn benen
Zou ‘k die webben willen plukken
‘k Wreef het zand tussen zijn tenen
Als ik me nog kon bukken

Who is the "I" who is speaking?

It is the old lady, she sees a neglected figure of Jesus on the graveyard with webs between his legs and sand on his toes (happens from raining) and still would like to clean the guy, but she can't. The cleaning has become a memory, as well as the people. When the rituals of death become memories, I suppose we enter a kind of peace.

I want a cherub made of china
a black marble bedspread
stone flowers will suffice
to keep me nice and warm
‘k Wil een engelke van porselein
en een sprei van zwarte marmer
‘t mogen stenen bloemen zijn
om mij aan te verwarmen

What are these stone flowers and how do they keep you warm?

Some graves are terribly kitchy as everybody knows. Some people put little nude cherubs and awkwardly colored stone flowers on graves, it removes the need for the maintenance by bringing flowers and creates maybe an aura of indestructability.

She, who has been cleaning graves all her life, suggests that she is happy with having her monument, but essentially does not want to be a burden. Flowers are a gift from the heart, but she is happy with stone ones, to paradoxically keep her warm. Meaning -- again -- she does not expect too much anymore.

Acid on granite
White bubbles and yellow foam
Steel wool to clean the rust
Scratch away the year and date
And a chisel for your own name
For when we come to go


Here is calm, here is safe
Maybe next time
Next time perhaps, I will stay
Then I'll be here no more
No more
Zoutzuur op arduin
Witte bubbels en geel schuim
Staalwol om het roest te wassen
Jaar en datum weg te krassen
En een beitel voor je eigen naam
Voor als we komen te gaan


Hier is het rustig, is het veilig
Misschien volgende keer
Volgende keer misschien, dan blijf ik
En dan ben ik hier niet meer
Niet meer

She finds calm here, I particularly am fond of yet anythor paradox in the text that next time, maybe she would "stay", meaning she's "not here anymore".

You first made another mix of the song but we thought it was too heavy; now that you can see the finished project, do you agree? Or do you still prefer the first version? and if so, why?

I do not particularly like the first version more than the other. I like to blend in projects, so this version works very well with the game. I'm very happy with the result and like to present it to people as an empathy machine with old people, so I'm proud of being part of it. For my MySpace I considered putting on the earlier version, but I decided against it, so apparently I like this version as much. The first version would have been okay if the person was a man, it's got more coarse singing, it's slower and lower. The singer [in that version] is more a persona, as now it's more of a storyteller. Therefore this is better for the game, I suppose.

Is the music of "Komen te gaan" inspired by any kind of traditional music? What other ideas did you have that didn't make it?

It has no specific ethnic roots. It's a bit of a slow death march for optimists made light and with a deliberately struggling rhythm that always seems to come too late. It's more inspired by the movements of an old lady who thinks she will move her foot, but the foot reacts just a bit too late. So does the rhythm and the little banjo solo.

Things and directions do not react as you would want to any more when getting older, so the solo gets lost in itself -- as does the lady, I reckon. I would have liked to keep the harmonium from the first version, but it swept away all the relative lightness. What I would have liked to have done -- but time lacking, I did not -- was create a slow polyphonic seemingly religious yodled version of a very popular pubsong coming from within the chapel. The text goes: when we're dead, the grass grows on our tummy. Maybe later.

You work with musicians from all over the world and your musical inspirations come from many different cultures. Yet you always write songs in Dutch. Doesn't this limit the exposure of your work?

Maybe, maybe not. But I do not think there is any choice. If you want to obtain a certain level of significance and subtlety in lyrics, you cannot but do it in your own language. I learned that you either have to be yourself or choose a persona and a style and a statistically measured least common denominator in taste to become famous. Creating exposure instead of expression. As I'm too old, too ugly, and too male for the latter, I'm stuck on the former way of expressing myself: trying to be or become myself.

What projects are you working on at the moment? Any new albums coming up? Any games?

I'm working on a solo album, hoping to release it soon, but I have no deadlines. I might suddenly make it in a week, or it can stay on the shelf for years to come. I'm in a writing period now, which makes it more difficult, with over 40 new songs to choose from. And then there is this doubt whether printing CDs is still a good idea. Looking for new ways of creating things and having a bit of an income as well.

I'm touring with a show I created called The Portable Paradise, in which three singers sing about their lives (from a book I wrote with migration stories of singers from all over the world). Touring in November, it's a new way of working with film and live music and storytelling. The music is from myself, Ethiopia, Armenia, and some other inspirations.

I'm performing on my own in small theaters and house concerts (great fun to do) and performing in two theater pieces at the same time. One based on the poetry of Flemish poet Pat Donnez for which I wrote some music and perform on stage. The other a new project by theater maker Michael De Cock with Senegalese actor Younous Diallo about the boat migration from Senegal to Tenerife, a horrific story in which I use the sea, some water, a guitar, a rope and a motor as instruments.

Where can people buy your music?

They can hear it on MySpace and I'm planning to put some of the music on iTunes. Older CDs can be obtained on my site www.gerrydemol.be.


Article Start Previous Page 8 of 10 Next

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