Painting Petals On Planet Ghost
The trio of Painting Petals On Planet Ghost brings together the special talents of brothers Maurizio and Roberto Opalio (My Cat Is An Alien) on acoustic guitars and various percussions + sound effects and their long-time friend and collaborator Ramona Ponzini who sings and/or reads poems in traditional Japanese (Ramona also plays Japanese percussions in Praxinoscope, her duo with Roberto Opalio, and is a full member of Black Magic Disco with the Opalios and JOMF’s Tom Greenwood).
When their debut album was first released as an LP by Time-Lag in late 2005, the label had this to say about it: “Silence, space and ritual are hugely important here, with notes and words hovering frozen in time… while the My Cat Is An Alien moniker might leave some folks scratching their heads, here the Painting Petals On Planet Ghost name nails it: fragile, beautiful, cosmically isolationist, and totally spooked…”.
Developing a more acoustic-based and “quiet” form of trance music, the soundworld of Painting Petals On Planet Ghost still maintains some strong connections with the one that has been perfected over the past few years by the Opalio brothers. It is a different brand of cosmic meditation, for sure, but it follows a parallel route from the one usually trodden by My Cat Is An Alien.
Still, one should keep in mind that listening to Painting Petals On Planet Ghost remains a totally unique experience – its level of intimacy and otherworldliness having been reached by very few other artists… on the planet, that is!
As they now have a second album entitled "Fallen Camellias" that is just out on A Silent Place, I couldn't resist seizing the opportunity to interview the band for the very first time.
Ramona: The project comes out of the need to combine the most lyrical and melodic soul of brothers Maurizio and Roberto Opalio with a work of research I have been conducting into Japanese poetry as a source of texts which are apt to be set to music.
Maurizio and Roberto: For us, Painting Petals On Planet Ghost also came as a pretext for working on the song form, an aspect that by our own choice does not belong to the My Cat Is An Alien project, yet an aspect we're as much intrigued by as we are by the art of instantaneous composition.
Maurizio and Roberto: PPOPG is a project completely on its own, a universe “other” and somehow antithetical to MCIAA, Praxinoscope and Black Magic Disco. We wouldn't be surprised to see people who are not into MCIAA's musical aesthetics fall in love with PPOPG instead. This second album “Fallen Camellias” also shows that we can easily write proper songs based on killer bittersweet melodies instead of developing ecstatic free-forms in long improvised structures (anyway, don't worry “alien-minded” adepts, 'cause we're sure you'll feel completely at ease in this parallel universe!). Actually, the presence of lyrics hasn't influenced the method of composing, because we could have even applied the same texts to improvisations, but in this case we aimed to create proper songs. Of course we cannot deny that the idea of using important (and almost unknown here in the West) poetic texts of the Japanese literature has thrilled us quite a lot!
Ramona: My interest in Japanese culture and art was born out of the reading of authors like Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata and Jun'ichiro Tanizaki above all, which led me to deepen more and more my knowledge of Japanese literature so as to make it the subject of my own studies. In the last few years, though, I mostly focused on ancient literature, particularly on poetry, which I consider to be the highest literary expression of Japan. By a strictly musical point of view, the bareness of the instrumentation accompanying the pieces of the Noh or the Bunraku Theater, or the music for shamisen, has represented for me the natural extension of that poetic minimalism that was typical of a tradition based on the use of an ultra-concentrated quantity of lines, from which comes out such a plurality, in some cases even an ambiguity, of meanings.
Ramona: Some of the lyrics in the first PPOPG album are taken from the Kokinshu, an anthology of poems from the 10th century, a period of great cultural flourishing for the Empire of the Rising Sun. “Sakurabana” is a text by the poet Ki no Tsurayuki which speaks with masterly skill of the deciduous nature of human things through one of the key symbols of the Japanese culture, the cherry blossom, that falls to the ground as soon as its beauty reaches its peak. For “Hasusame no furu ha namida ka” I have selected just the incipit of a writing in which the spring rain is associated with the tears of pain due to the end of the cherries' blossoming time. These lyrics as well as “Haru no hi ni” are taken from the anthology's section called "Spring" which takes the cherry blossom as its main subject. The text of the album's opening track is instead by myself and can be translated into "I can hear the sound of cherry blossoms falling”: it conceptually sums up the heart and soul of the debut album.
Roberto: As we were saying before, this is the point: in this just-out “Fallen Camellias” we focused on the melodies, the structure and the arrangements of each single song; I personally wanted to curate the artistic production, taking care of every single detail, aiming at the idea of perfection I had in mind, and I must admit I achieved my goal, also thanks to my brother Maurizio's incredible technical skill at the mixer board. My idea was to create a handful of very intimate and melancholic songs with the same mood which would affect some stuff from the second half of the '60s - from Vashti Bunyan to Marianne Faithful and Nico - but at the same time I also wanted both the starting point and the final result to sound totally fresh and somehow “never heard”, I mean something that could neither be straightforwardly referenced to the past, nor be compared to anything else in the present, even less to the overused “free-psych-folk” scene... and so it was. The PPOPG of “Fallen Camellias” sound exactly like nothing else but PPOPG... we shaped the Japanese singing by giving it a melodic capacity that naturally does not belong to that language, adding further wordless vocals overdubs by Ramona and me, besides some field-recordings, in order to give the music an even more contemporary imprint. I don't know if "experimental folk" is the right definition, but for sure what came out is a collection of songs representing an ideal bridge between the ghosts of the western primitive folk-blues, the hypnotic oriental transcendence, and the pure essence of post-modernism.
Ramona: Actually in “Fallen Camellias” I exclusively used texts by the greatest Japanese poetess ever, Yosano Akiko. After the ancient poetry classics, my studies took me to the discovery of a woman who, through her works, has given new life not only to poetry from a linguistic point of view, but above all to the poetic way of feeling, that had been stuck in intolerable and worn-out clichés for a couple of centuries by that time (I refer to the beginning of the 20th century; Yosano Akiko's first anthology "Midaregami" is from 1901). She was the poetess of love, passion and individualism. The total fusion between life and art inclined her to do something that any traditional poet of the time would have deprecated (and did), that is to give a poetic expression to the most intimate yet vehement human passion, whose determined and feminine poetic ego's supremacy is impossible to find in the works of any other preceding and following poets.
Maurizio and Roberto: There's no denying that we have a beautiful obsession with the creation of original artworks, because we consider visual expression as an integral and inseparable part of the music itself. Maybe it's why we work in painting and art installations, photography and videos too... Anyhow every time we have a new musical work it is natural for us to relate it to a specific artwork; as for PPOPG there's no doubt the beautiful drawings and pictures of flowers taken by Ramona represent the graphic imprint of the project. Surely the flower she made using copper gold ink for the 50-copy edition of the "Oounabara" lathe-cut 12-inch is a good example. Thus, regarding the “Fallen Camellias” cover artwork, the choice of the flower pictures taken by Ramona with a Polaroid instamatic last year in Japan has been very important, because those pictures helped define the mood of the whole record. In the same perspective we conceived a split 7-inch which will be out in May on the American label Somnimage, whose first 50 copies will come out with an original polaroid photo signed by her and taken last year near Tokyo.
Ramona: PPOPG and Praxinoscope are for me the two sides of the same medal: while in the former I'm involved mainly as singer, in Praxinoscope I act as a musician, particularly by giving shape to so many little wooden percussions, bronze bells and windchimes that I found during all my stays in Japan. The main difference between the two roles is that in PPOPG I work with song forms, while in Praxinoscope I am inside the living fluxus of the pure improvisation, though of intimate nature. Yet I can preannounce that the double CD concept My Cat Is An Alien/ Praxinoscope which will be released in November 2008 by Important Records will reveal a new aspect of Praxinoscope's sound, a wilder and an even more suggestive one (as you'll find in some forthcoming ultra-limited only-vinyl editions on Opax Records too). For me the Praxinoscope project which I share with Roberto is pure catharsis. As for Black Magic Disco, well this is still another story: when Tom Greenwood invited me and the Opalio brothers to be the line-up for the Jackie-O Motherfucker European tour, I had never performed on a stage before. Every live show was a total improv, where I would recite and sing Japanese lyrics while playing my percussions. If you want to listen to the document of my live debut on a stage, then play the first track of the Black Magic Disco CD/LP; that was the first date of the tour...
Roberto: The mysterious, "alien" element is always there. It's not by chance that parts of the new album (like the first one) have been recorded in mystical locations hidden up on the Western Alps, so that you can hear cries of birds and peculiar animals of the Alpine caves in between the acoustic tunes and field-recordings; we were totally immersed in the wilderness of nature, and we would hear the voice of what I'm used to calling “the Great Void” whispering our names... We're speaking of strong emotions that you cannot describe with words, but all is in the music.
Maurizio, Roberto and Ramona: We know that Keiji Haino really appreciates the project, and this is enough for us.
Roberto: Actually, all is open to any possible development. No plan has been arranged so far. This is the way we see things: seize the poetry... Here and Now... "Who knows where the time goes?"
-- Francois Hubert (6 May, 2008)