What P.R.E. was
Post Romantic Empire was a research project on the inheritance of the Romantic revolution in the contemporary world that was originally supposed to result in an essay within two years time but which finally, ended up becoming something entirely different. PRE is the testimony of how an idea, or rather, the derivations of Romanticism's rhizome can mark the destiny of one or more people. PRE has been set up on the encounters between Giulio Di Mauro and many amazing artists, and it has been shaped by what they had been doing togheter. Factually, PRE has been a project management focused on event organization and artists booking, a recording label, and a photographic safari in the underground. Moreover, in has been a daring journey in the territory of the ineffable. To create one's own world, limitless and possible, and to forget the reason for having created it: this, in short, is the history of the Post Romantic Empire project.
(photo by Giulio Di Mauro)
In the November of 2007 a friend of mine and I found ourselves in New Delhi trying to figure out how to put together a music festival there. After two dust-filled weeks, aware that the festival would never take place, we decided to take a coach for Nepal and crossed the border near Mahendranagar. At that time the Maoists were still only guerrillas and the royal family was still in the palace of Narayanhity. We proceeded carefully through the silences of the valleys which encircle the Therai plane and continued to the northeast, eventually reaching Pokhara. We left the city on a Saturday morning on the roof of a bus full of children and arrived at the point in which the torrent disgorges itself into Phewa Lake. Before us with our eyes we could follow the dirt road that rose along the valley until it became a farm path. We began to walk, and the closer we came to the mountainside cultivated by the massif, the more the summits disappeared above us. After three hours, tired from having crossed the paddy fields too quickly, the path transformed into a flight of steps clambering upward along the other one thousand metres that separated us from the village nestled just below the summit. A thousand stairs of rock wound through the dark wood of sal and oak, and the air no longer smelled of hay and red lilies left out to dry, but black and humid earth. On the moss of a branch in the woods next to me tiny, hungry ants rushed past the flower that held my attention. I abandoned the path in order to look more closely at that white point which had fixed itself to the corner of my eye and discovered a cluster of white orchids, petals sparkling in a rain of fluctuating pearls of light. Gocce di sole nella città degli spettri (1). Jutting out from the weave of tree, creeper and bush everything around us took our breath as if the air in the shade were less oxygenated than that along the path. The old willows wrecked again and again in the hold of the woods held in close confinement all round into the struggle for existence where the streams were constantly taken from their course by the roots of the old trees in the woods (…) (2). However, once past that point of jungle, we realised that our breath was lacking not because of a green claustrophobia but because of the altitude. The effort, beneath the weight of our packs, was no longer pleasant. Overoxygenation expanded space, the looming sky hurt our eyes and our sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (3). The path disappeared into the distance and the growing darkness made it uncertain and slippery. Just as we began to think that the night would take hold of us unprepared and force us to sleep on the living rock, the woods opened: a soft fog rose from the grass and ahead of us the first birch trees appeared like ghosts. Maybe we were exhausted, or maybe, given the absence of strength and the inertia of our numb legs, we were in fact dead. We would have the confirmation when we felt upon us the eyes of certain human beings whose silhouettes we could just make out in the white of dusk. Their expressions were not accommodating and even if this impression was doubtless influenced by a terrible exhaustion, we were happy to see a little girl running toward us, smiling. She took us by the hand and led us to a hut hidden in the fog where she gave us over to her mother who was rekindling the fire in the centre of the clay pavement. We sat down. 'Where are you headed?' – 'To Panchase.' – 'Well, in that case you have arrived. You can sleep here, it will cost you little.' From a cone of shadow behind her the woman pulled a pressure cooker and balanced it carefully on the flame. While the cooker vibrated my friend smoked and I attempted to photograph the fire and the woman and all the dark that surrounded us. Other than a tiny window I perceived the self-propelled dark of a cloud seen from within. In cloud-ships the Gods are wont to travel, and wise cotters have legends that keep them from certain high peaks at night when it is cloudy, for the gods are not lenient as of old (4). Before dawn the fog rose again and outside the hut all was blue.
We exited and silently began the ascent once again, more uncertain but stronger and more alert and with renewed haste: we had to arrive at the peak, now so close, to see the sun come out from behind the Himalayan chain. Wasn't this why we had climbed this far?
It was already tomorrow and the daytime butterflies stretched their wings while the moths enveloped the most humid trunks when all of the sudden I felt a pain at the centre of my left knee, a sharp pain which worsened with every step. I tried not to complain and let my friend go on ahead through a small grouping of twisted, tiny junipers. An eagle was wandering lonely as a cloud (5) and the moment the peaks of Machhapuchhare were bathed in new light, I felt a sharp pain in the other knee – I placed my pashmina on my head and cried for the sensation of danger that the crippling pain brought. Do I have a body? Or have I none? (…) Pondering these questions I sit leaning against the cliff while (…) the red dust settles on my head (6). - We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag (7)- that seemed to glow out with a delicate cool pink (8), and while the eagle planed and ascended, disappearing in the rising sun, I once again began to take photographs. Little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colours and plays of shapes that persisted behind (9). However, as we were descending, the ligaments became even more inflamed and my thighs began to tremble. I had pushed my untrained body too much and thus my muscular structure was beginning to give. My friend said that I needed a walking stick; I prepared one and continued the descent alternating between leaning myself on the stick and on his shoulders. The pain lasted seven hours until the incline began to level out and we found ourselves on a bridge suspended above a rushing torrent that ploughed through the jungle. At the centre of the bridge we let our naked feet dangle, and felt the sunlight through our skin like radiant heat, making a passionate ecstatic pleasure glow not explainable (10). From then on the pain in my left knee did not leave me…
This type of episode can be told in different ways. It can be romanticised, taking care to return every tiny emotional impression to a crescendo, inviting identification and sketching a climax that would allow for the reliving of emotions otherwise destined for oblivion. I could have related the story of the ascent of Panchase as nothing more than a simple outing while on vacation, or, even better, I could have omitted the episode entirely and chosen instead to concentrate on events more relevant to the history of PRE (that same year, for example, me and Francesco D'Orazio organised our first real PRE music festival). Yet it is in the quality of the story, rather than its academic merit, that the imagery in which I had worked for many years really manifests itself. Senseless Acts of Beauty (11). - The emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind (12). Showing one's dreams, and where they go, is the work of memory. To romanticise, today, in a world long romanticised, is at heart simply the following: acting/dreaming, remembering, telling the story. Romanticising today is a widespread and daily practice. Come, I shall show you where dreams go to when they die (13). To create one's own world, limitless and possible, and to forget the reason for having created it: this, in short, is the history of the Post Romantic Empire project. The tremulous logical foundation of Post Romantic Empire was based on an assertion: the human being is a romantic being. Tutto torna nei secoli, nei millenni, se si è generazione su generazione (14). Romanticism as a quality of the spirit whose roots reach back into the profound history of the human species. It is a weak theoretical foundation, simple and therefore too open, but it's nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun arises (15). Everything after the Romantic Revolution is coloured still more brilliantly because it occurs in a society revolutionised by that very consciousness. There was a time when it was explicitly announced: The world must be romanticized. In this way its original meaning will be rediscovered. To romanticize is nothing but a qualitative heightening. In this process the lower self become identified with a better self. (…) Insofar as I present the commonplace with significance, the ordinary with mystery, the familiar with the seemliness of the unfamiliar and the finite with semblance of the infinite, I romanticize it (16). In this context every expression of unbridled and excitable passion becomes an expression of the Romantic and as such also implies abnegation and sacrifice. Passion defines the ego, of which Romanticism was the multiplier. A Passion is a state of emotion, having its immediate cause not in Things, but in our Thoughts of the Things – or – A Passion is a state of emotion which, whatever its object or occasion may be, in ourselves or out of ourselves, has its proper and immediate cause not in this, but in our Thoughts respecting it (17)… PRE, born to tell the story of the passion of the romanticised world, ended in order to make of itself this self-same Passion.
Imagining the Album
An affect or passion of the mind is a confused idea (18).
From 2009, when we announced the end of the project with the PRE Final Fest marathon, three more years were necessary to process all the experiences and to understand just how to pass them on – what to do with all the memories, the sensations, the ideas, the connections.
On a Saturday night in 2002 all of the sudden I stopped dancing, made my way through the crowd and asked the deejay, 'Sorry, but what song is this?' A piano interlude had sweetly turned in on itself for not more than a few seconds and in it I thought I had recognised the main theme of Jörg Buttgereit's film Nekromantik, a soundtrack I had been seeking for years. 'It's "All the Pretty Little Horses" by Current 93,' he said. In little more than a month I had bought all of the cds one could find at the time, and for a year listened almost exclusively to Current 93. In 2003 I did a portrait of Michael Cashmore and then, thanks to Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, I met David Tibet. In 2004, together with Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, with whom Jonny B and I had just founded the label PREcordings, I organised a concert with Current 93 in Turin. From then on I have been their tour manager. In 2009 we organised a festival lasting more than thirty consecutive hours during which Jörg Buttgereit performed the soundtrack to Nekromantik and at whose culmination Current 93 played. Today I realise that back in 2002 I had casually opened a ring-like course, which, without any preparation, I followed through to the end. An excursion within a territory I pompously called Post Romantic Empire. I was looking for a symbolic and didactic name and thought: Post will indicate what continues along pathways that are really just new branches of the same root; Romantic will connect every reasoning to an origin; Empire will define the space and ironically suggest the number of people interested; the acronym P.R.E. will indicate the temporal direction. Obviously the superficial use of the prefix post cost me the benevolence of the cultural anthropology professor who had given me the instruments to imagine a path of studies that at the same time became an ideal in the name of which I sacrificed myself completely. However, if there were really more than a thousand levels to explore, then I could find one of my own and give it the name I wanted! If King Shahriyar, losing himself in a tangle of a thousand stories, had been redeemed and had found love – well then anyone today, in a world without kings but set in a much larger fabric of stories, could try to do it his or herself!
Roger O'Donnell (photo by Julia Ryzhenko)
Matt Howden (photo by Denzil Watson)
What is the P.R.E. Album
The Post Romantic Empire album is the reason why this website has been made. It is an album that contains our sweetest songs.
It is the last album of the concept label Precordings and it is the first one of a new project called Our Sweetest Songs.
O.S.S., that gives the name to this space, is the progression of the collaboration between P.R.E. and Carlo Cassaro's record label In The Night Time.
This album was born from the desire to produce a representation of the concept behind the P.R.E. experience – a personal exploration of the heritage of Romanticism – using music as the only language.
Making the Album
On the surface the idea was rather simple: to choose four significant tracks and then associate/assign them to different composers and producers. The composers would suggest what musicians to invite and the producers would then mix the blind collaborations together.
The songs were to have been: Rimsky Korsakov's "Sheherazade", the traditional folk song "The House of the Rising Sun", Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "Something for Your Mind" by Speedy J.
In 2011, thanks to Klarita Pandolfi, I entered into contact with Roger O'Donnell and asked him to re-imagine "Sheherazade". The moment he accepted, this album was officially born. From that point to today almost two years have passed.
"Sheherazade" represents, if we also keep in mind Rimsky Korsakov's work as a whole, the origins of European Romanticism. This is a duet both from the point of view of the narration (the king and the princess) as well as that of its execution. As Roger O'Donnell was composing and playing in London, Julia Kent was recording in New York. It is a composition in three movements that, although developed along a narrative structure, is pure emotion.
The southern U.S. folk standard "The House of the Rising Sun" was proposed to Baby Dee, Andrew WK and Matt Sweeney during the dilated time of a pre-concert sound-check of Current 93's. "There's nothing easier and at the same time more stimulating for an American musician," was the answer. Baby Dee confronted this re-writing in the best of ways – a jam session in New York where, in addition to Matt Sweeney and Andrew WK, she invited Little Annie Bandez to be on vocals, Sxip Shirley, Sarah Alden, Robbie Lee, Sarah Nowicki and Matthew Robinson. Improvisational magic: from the echoes of the house of the rising sun comes "Little Black Train", a song within the song reinforcing the impression that in reality it is all part of the listener's dream. A moment in time destined to forever repeat itself in different permutations.
From the earliest days of PRE we have collaborated with violinist Matt Howden. It was therefore only natural for us to ask him, a citizen of Yorkshire, to elaborate "Love Will Tear Us Apart", which for us is a neo-archetype of contemporary Romanticism. In 2006 I had met New Order for a photographic session and from that meeting had kept Peter Hook's email address. I wrote him to ask permission to continue with the project and invited him along with guitarist Nat Wason to be part of a virtual jam-session to take place around Matt's re-composition. The presence of one the original authors of the 20th century's most moving song added an unexpected dimension to the entire history of the PRE: that of the real, of the connection to a history not simply perceived a posteriori. We then invited David Tibet to sing, Annabella Lwin to be on backing vocals, Dave Barbarossa and Vin Cassidy to play drums, Massimo Pupillo to play bass and Eliot Bates to play oud. Andrew Liles, who we consider the most formidable sculptor of sound alive, accepted the most difficult job of the entire album: mixing the hours and hours of recordings.
I myself had the opportunity to participate in one of the mixing sessions of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" when I personally brought Andrew another recording, an unexpected gift, which once again would turn our plans upside down. Vin Cassidy had given Carlo Cassaro, my primary collaborator, a recording of Larry Cassidy, whose band Section 25 we had recently promoted in Italy, reciting a selection of Joy Division lyrics. Larry had passed away only a short time before and his reading of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" moved us all profoundly. It is above all for this reason that we decided to suspend the production of the fourth track we had originally envisioned to close the track-list – "Something for Your Mind" (which had been given to Othon Mataragas who did an exceptional job and which we hope to be able to put out in the near future) – in order to substitute a second version, elegiac and open, of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" celebrating Larry's posthumous work.
The idea of revisiting (retracing) famous landscapes of our culture, which are open paths in many minds, is the most complex work I have ever done for the Empire. It is the work that has given my life meaning so far – a work whose meaning, however, I have yet to understand.
Andrew WK (photo by Andrew Strasser)
Andrew Liles (photo by Melon Liles)
Infinite (the NT 7")
Together with this album there is a second, smaller one. Carlo had proposed applying the same method used on the PRE album to a disc dedicated to our departed friend Paul Tired. The songs this time were chosen from among those that had been his favorites. It is no accident that here too we found ourselves face to face with highly meaningful songs: New Order's "Dreams Never End" and CCCP's "Annarella". The recomposition of both was entrusted to Maja Elliott because she is the pianist who moves us more than any other and because butterflies live in her heart. "Dreams Never End" was enriched by the cello of John Contreras and by the generous and profound interpretation of Gitane Demone. "Annarella" was sung by Pueri Cantores Regina Nivis, the children's choir of Carpi. Both songs were mixed according to the binaural sensibilities of producer Matteo Spinazzè.
Dreams Never End, in addition to being one of Paul's favorite songs, is a track with a strong symbolical meaning. It's the first track of New Order's first album, after the death of Ian Curtis, and for this reason symbol of a turning point. A song full of sorrow, but which brings hope at the same time, because dreams never end.
Annarella is the only Italian song in the whole Post Romantic Empire Project. As in the most classic tradition of Italian song writings it's a song which talks about love, but the love of a son for the father he never met, a pure love therefore, pure as a child's song.
In this case, it is a question of real songs more than excursions, tracks that are unclassifiable. Songs of faith and emotion.
The small piece of vinyl and this website are marked by a rose designed for Paolo by graphic designer Michele Elia.
Larry Cassidy and Paul Tired (photo by Carlo Cassaro)
In 2007, after five years spent substaining each other and collaborating on each other's project, Giulio Di Mauro and Carlo Cassaro joined togheter on some double binded events that were organized under the name InThePostRomanticNightTime. Post Romantic Empire and In The Night Time have been two different projects linked not only by a common field of interest, but expecially by a strong friendship. In 2008 we printed a promotional postcard, where we quoted Percy B. Shelley's Ode To a Skylark: "our sweetest songs are those that tells of our saddest thoughts". io sono quel che ho donato ~
Our Sweetest Songs is a new project that rises from the memories of our previous adventures.
Matt Howden, David Tibet, Francesco D'Orazio, Paola Lucantoni & Paolo Innocenti, Giorgio Orbi, Alessio Facchini, Francesco Bufardeci, Klarita Pandolfi Carr, Max Zarucchi (Max 1334), Daniela Cascella, Claudio Fabrianesi, Simone Salvatori, Baby Dee, Maya Elliott, Lory D, Luciano Lamanna & Anna Martino, Lorenzo Macinati, Edoardo Dionea Cicconi, Bruno Dorella & Stefania Pedretti, Martino Nencioni & Richy-One, Andrew & Melon Liles, Alexander Nym, Luigi Montotti (who walked in Nepal), Clara Tosi Pamphili, Albin Sunlight Julius, Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, Paul Beauchamp, Jonny Bergamasco & Alice, Matt Sweeney, Andrew W.K. who's the king of the beaks & Cherie Lily who rules from the peaks, Fabio Sampaolesi, Fabio Quaranta, Fabio Scalabroni, Alex Neilson, Fulvio Stramaccioni aka Whishmaster, Tiziano Tiberti in CLASSIX, Raindogs crew, Gerhard Hallstatt, Giampaolo Felici, Jose Pacheco & Nidge, Joolie Wood, Simon Finn, William Breeze, Ben Chasny, Edoardo Scaramuzza, Othon Mataragas, Ernesto Tomasini, Federico Fiumani, Michael Cashmore & Steffi Thiel, Tony Wakeford & Renee Rosen Wakeford, Michael & Thomas and the whole Wave Gotik Treffen, Luca Valtorta and the XLs, Stacia Blake for her painting and Andy Mason for reproducing it, Ksenia Nefedova, Claudedi & Spectre & D.B.P.I.T., Alessandro Adriani, Valentina Fanigliulo aka Mushy, Enrico Croci, Cosey Fanni Tutti & Chris Carter, i Pueri Cantores (Alessandra, Angelica, Asia, Chiara, Chiara, D., Debora, Eleonora, Emanuele, Eugenia, Francesca, Francesco, Marianna, Marina, Matteo), Enrico Caffari, Tiziana Santini, Elena Cattini, Fabio Sestili, Der Feuerkreiner, Keith Wood, Larry and Vin Cassidy, Netherworld, Giovanni Bottone & Reeks from Inferno, Giulia Baldi, Raffaella Favilla, Andreas Diesel & Dieter Gerten, Michele Elia, Rosario Rivero.
Ernesto & Margherita Di Mauro. Chiara Raffaele.
A very special grazie to Alexander Booth who translated
and to Fabio Saccavino at Grafica Antica.
io sono quel che ho donato ~
1 • Renato Curcio e Alberto Franceschini, Gocce di sole nella città degli spettri (Corrispondenza internazionale, 1982)
2 • Current 93, Let Us Go To the Rose (Of Ruins and Some Blazing Starres // Durtro, 1994)
3 • Bible: Luke 22: 43-45
4 • H. P. Lovecraft, The Other Gods (1921 // The Fantasy Fan: Charles D. Hornig, 1933)
5 • William Wordsworth, The Daffodils (1804 // Poems in Two Volumes: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme 1807)
6 • Han Shan, The Cold Mountain Poems (New York Press, 1990)
7 • Edgar Allan Poe, A Descent into the Maelström (Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine: George R. Graham, 1841)
8 • Bram Stoker, Dracula (Archibald Constable and Company, 1897)
9 • Albert Hofmann, Bicycle day (1943)
10 • John Muir, Studies in the Sierra (Overland Monthly 1874-1875: Overland Monthly Publishing Company)
11 • George McKay, Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties (Verso, 1996)
12 • William Wordsworth, The Daffodils (1804 // Poems in Two Volumes: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme 1807)
13 • Current 93, This Shining Shining World (Of Ruins and Some Blazing Starres // Durtro, 1994)
14 • Giovanni Lindo Ferretti, Reduce (Mondadori, 2006)
15 • Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattarì, Mille Plateaux (Éditions de Minuit, 1980)
16 • Novalis, Fragmente und Studien (1797-1798)
17 • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, On The Passions (1796)
18 • Benedictus de Spinoza, Ethics (1766)