BU interview x07


Nicola Catalano on Walter & Sabrina and "We Sing For The Future", Blow Up magazine, December 2007 (translated from the Italian. NB some passages have been translated from Engish to Italian and back to English again):

Our songs are songs of proletariat fight, revolution and sacrifice. Come and sing for the future, the victory of the revolution is on the horizon.” [from “We sing for the Future”]

The surname is an important one, even though is hidden under a phantom duo, whose name evokes the inoffensive rock’n’roll of some couples like Jan & Dean, John & Jackie, Bruce & Terry and similar ones...

However, it’s a completely different story and, since Sabrina is just imaginary, Walter Cardew is the only member of the duo. As we said before, he has an important surname, as his father, like Horace’s father too, is Cornelius Cardew, who is considered one of the most significant contemporary composers by many people. Born in 1936, after a high-level education and his studies at the Royal Academy of Music, he moved to Rome and Köln, where he met Petrassi and Stockhausen, whose he even became assistant between 1958 and 1960. Cornelius also thaught in prestigious universities and founded important improvisation groups, such as Scratch Orchestra and AMM. At the beginning of ‘70s he was disgusted by the “posh” character of avant-garde music and espoused the thesis of Lenin and Marx and then the Maoism too. By doing that, he definitely closed with his past (especially if you consider the essay “Stockhausen Serves Imperialism” of 1974). From then onwards, he devoted himself to the political-popular song and in particular to an intransigent activism that also produced the birth of the Revolutionary Communist party of Britain. He died prematurely on 13th December 1981 in tragic and mysterious circumstances, as he was killed by a hit-and-run driver just near his house in Leyton in East London. This is briefly Cornelius Cardew’s personal and artistic story, whose details we also tried to ask to Walter Cardew and his colleague Stephen Moore, the “virtual” Sabrina, who approves the original material of the group together with Walter. What came out from it are some unexpected, and even shocking, comments, a polemic discussion, as you are going to find out soon...

What do you remember of Cornelius Cardew and those particular years? Do you think that what you do now is somehow influenced by it?

WC As far as I’m concerned, I have no problem about it. I mainly have some contrasting feelings towards my father, both for his work and political choices. To be honest, I don’t think his importance has got so much to do with his compositions, but mainly with his activity as a musician, organizer and intellectual. I also believe that the music I produce with “Walter & Sabrina” is quite independent and I don’t think I have been overshadowed by his personality.

SM In my opinion Cornelius Cardew has been mainly overestimated; he used the politics to hide the fact that he couldn’t succeed in the world of cultured music. Most of his works are really naïve. Somehow he thought he could throw a lot of rubbish on working classes as they were too stupid to understand it. You have to consider that when he was young, people were expecting him to become a real celebrity. He managed to cheat people for a while with his graphic scores, which were musically very poor and quite amateur from the design point of view. He was a self-conceited, maybe arrogant, person, who used to amuse himself by drawing with some felt-tip pens. Nevertheless, I used to like some of his works, (like We Sing for the Future), since when I heard them at some political meetings, maybe even sung by Cornelius himself sometimes. I used to like the tune, the way he combined those odd words, exactly like in our songs.

WC Cornelius was a person you somehow felt you wanted to deal with, he was charismatic and charming. I suppose all boys feel this way towards their fathers, especially when parents are divorced, but I could see other people who thought the same about him. When I was a teenager, I used to go to some of the Scratch Orchestra concerts and I even went on tour sometimes. Of course, it was all great fun and extremely exciting but I was too young to understand and have a real opinion.

When I was fourteen, I started to play with him in the Progressive Cultural Association band ­ that has actually been the only time we worked together ­ and even in that short amount of time, I could realize how deep he was as a musician. Actually, I could say that he was a musician and a guide at the same time, which was just his main strength; I could easily imagine how people working with him wanted to always give their best and how highly they considered his opinion. As regards the political aspect, I developed this interest partly because I strongly wanted to play in the band, and I knew it was a political band. After his death, I was very active for few years in organizing the group and in some general political activities. I think I even spoke at a political meeting, but actually I was very different from Cornelius from that point of view. Maybe my questions were childish, but I always thought his answers were vague and insincere (I recently got this feeling by reading some of the interviews he gave during that period). What he used to talk about few years before was far more interesting; I also never believed that he accepted the Marxism as a total and complete answer for all aspects of life. I think that basically he showed a failure or a reluctance in understanding the reality.


We could expect anything from it, but such a critical and cruel reaction, which makes the continuation of our story even more interesting. And since what appeals us here, apart from briefly telling the historical events, is mainly the present, we can now talk about “We Sing for the Future” (4t ­ 25:49), the new album of Walter & Sabrina, released with the usual extra video just few weeks ago by the personal label Danny Dark Records. Exactly like the CDs released just before it - “Chioma SuperNormal. The Dark Album” and “Rock’n’Roll Darknss” (BU #108), a bit less than the first “Play Pop Play Classical” of 1994 which we’ll talk about later on ­ the brand new work is peevish and evasive with an arrangement of the classic of 1981, the last song wrote by Cornelius Cardew before he died. The arrangement seems to completely change the meaning of the original, as it turns the optimistic faith in the future world into a dark and cruel universe, which has no future, and where everybody feels desperate and lost. An inexorable drip of voices which are thought to be elaborated by a band of little monsters under sedatives, moving as in a secular oratorio and melancholy Dowland madrigal. The fact that we are living sad days is also underlined by the bitter mood of the following piece (Sad Days Bad Days) and the next two, all original and signed, as usual, by Walter and Stephen. Many musicians are involved in this: Celia Lu (soprano), Mette Bille (alto), Walter Cardew himself (voice, percussions, brass, harmonica, trumpet, bells), his brother Horace (sax and clarinet), Stephen Moore (voice?), Dave Baby (Jew’s harp), Mizuka Yamamoto (violin, viola?), Ben Davis (cello?), Enrique Galassi (double bass?), Androniki Liokura (piano?), Anna Thomas (flute?), Julia White (oboe, shenai). The whole is developed with even more harshness comparing to the idiosyncratic art-rock of the works which were reviewed then, and which clearly form the esthetical and political landmarks of the band, even if they have been repudiated.

Your music has become gradually darker album after album. Is this because you want to somehow represent the present or are you simply getting older and therefore becoming more disillusioned? In other words, can we still sing for the future if we can hardly see one? This is an issue mainly related to the young generations...

WC I think Stephen will have more things to say about it, as he writes the lyrics and also deals with the more general aspects of our albums. I can only express few random thoughts... Maybe our albums become darker and darker because the real darkness of the world becomes more obvious day after day. Also, couldn’t we say that also all past generations were scared of the future? Personally I don’t think about the future so much because I don’t have children and I don’t intend to have them. I believe that the world flows as it has always done, nothing stays, civilizations come and go. Sometimes I think that western civilization, as we know it, is about to end and that it will probably be replaced by an Islamic empire, but who really knows? According to my experience, all previsions about future society made by anthropologists, sociologists, scientists, environment experts etc. are usually deceptive.

I understand why many young people are not happy about the world which has been created for them by adults and “Chioma Sings Tales of Danny Dark” [the album produced under the label of Danny Dark Group] talks specifically about how some teenagers live today. However, at the same time I strongly believe that the album doesn’t have anything to say about their future or past. I am not sure I am interested in offering precise solutions or general rules. I think that what we partly do is to represent life exactly as it is now.

SM It’s true, every generation that becomes adult have the feeling of bad times and impending death. Maybe isn’t this exactly how I feel now? Didn’t people feel the same just after the first world war? And what used to happen in Germany in the years just before 1933?

“Chioma Sings Tales of Danny Dark “, “SuperNormal” and “ Rock’n’Roll Darkness” have become a kind of a whole, even if they were not conceived like that. They have become a trilogy of the Darkness. They represent the awareness of bad times that are about to come.

“Chioma Sings Tales of Danny Dark”, starts a process of awareness of the hell in the world, which means that the world itself is the hell. It’s an attempt of finding again an artistic and social interaction after the deep distress of “Sadness and Life” [the album released simply under the label of Sabrina], of emphasizing what is maybe achieved in “We Sing for the Future”.

“SuperNormal”: life, existence itself is the hell, there is no way of escaping from it. Free, powerful, good people, even saints, live in the hell, exactly like the prisoners, sinners and weak people live in that hell which “free” people call hell or vice versa. There are some fragments of Cornelius talking in the live section called “Inside”.

“Rock’n’Roll Darkness” is a surrealist interpretation of “SuperNormal”, which tries to have real life, real time ­ I think. It’s the dream in which and of which “SuperNormal” lives. Maybe was it “SuperNormal” while dying...?

“We Sing for the Future” definitely tries to step into the light, outside the darkness of the dark trilogy. If “Rock’n’Roll Darkness” was a dream, “We Sing for the Future” tries to be an awakening. It’s a bit like when you are half-asleep and having a nightmare, which is becoming so horrible that you feel you must wake up. You know it’s just a dream but you are still scared, you can’t move, you can’t talk, and you try to scream loudly to wake yourself up. It takes a huge effort not to fall into this oneiric adventure, it’s horrible.

As regards “We Sing for the Future”, this album includes a very particular version of Cornelius’ famous piece. Originally it was a song of hope in the future and life, now it appears desperate, almost cruel. Did this happen accidentally or did you do it deliberately?

WC The trouble is that the hope which the song used to communicate was groundless, it was an utopian dream. Actually, people like Cornelius, who always want to find valid and efficient solutions, inevitably end up by making things even worse. However, we found it moving somehow. Our interpretation is not an ironic criticism of the original version or a political criticism. It’s rather a song of sympathy towards all those people who hope in something better and want a better world. We didn’t mean to make it cruel, even though we did want to give the idea of sacrifice and difficulty, which are part of all real fights.

SM Yes, you are right, we deliberately made it that way. It’s about feeling sad, maybe ashamed, but then everything I write is probably like that. It’s about what happened in Irak and its consequences. But it’s not as dark as the darkness trilogy, it’s an attempt to look at the world outside, to open the hatches and scream, to invite people to discuss. Very bad things are happening and the darkness trilogy was the discovery of it, the story of them arriving, taking roots and germinating. “We Sing for the Future” is like being on an improvised stage, exactly like Cornelius used to do with his megaphone.


You can refer to the mentioned number of the magazine for further details on the two middle albums, and we can skip the other two projects, Danny Dark Group and Sabrina, just mentioned by Moore (you can find some tasters of the different publications of the label in a special audio-video format at a cheap price on). Therefore we can now move to the first album produced by the label Walter & Sabrina and let the two protagonists of this chat talk about it (the interview is actually much more complex than it looks like, as it has been simplified because of the reduced space we have...). They will clarify (under the interviewer’s questions) the contents of the videos which are normally enclosed in all the latest publications.

“Play Pop Play Classical” was released in mid ‘90s and (like the title itself suggests) has two separated parts, which respond to two different inspirations: on one hand a kind of evolved and ungraceful pop, very popular in the United Kingdom (as regards this, you can think of the solo albums of Slapp Happy Peter Blegvad and Anthony Moore), on the other hand the gently popular experimentation of Obscure (such as Christopher Hobbs and similar), even though things tent to mix with each other when developing. The musicians who recorded it formed an ensemble completely different from the one of today (apart from Cardew and Moore, also David Harkin, Justine Abri, James Hamilton, Stuart Noble, Dawn Williamson, Roger Maxwell, Adam Furness, and the Singers from AB Fine Art Foundry). The pieces of the album moves between the two landmarks: they are songs and instrumental works that foreshadow the harshness of present times only vaguely (“Loving you is like drawing blood out of a stone” is the last bitter verse of “My Bleeding Heart”), and prefer to use different tones, suspended between awkward noise-pop and light abstractions avant.

Your videos always include explicit images of sex and bodies, although they are not erotic or pleasant at all. They rather give an idea of sadomasochism, lost innocence, an image of human body as an object to sell and a clear separation of male and female roles...

WC Again I think that Stephen will have more things to say about it, but I can still express some general thoughts...
Maybe our videos aim to give back what is already inside people watching them; if our videos upset you, isn’t that because you can see something of yourself reflected in it? Maybe it’s a way for the listeners to face what they find upsetting and unpleasant inside themselves. There is definitely the idea that people do and think what they are said to do and think, so that they keep on following some negative rules of behaviour, even if they rationally realize how destructive they are, by generating a spiral of perdition.

SM You are absolutely right. When a person doesn’t believe in any god and has no reason to live, then he becomes just an item to exploit. I express this concept very clearly and sex communicates it in a very sensual way. If this upsets and annoys people, I then reached my aim, as I feel upset and annoyed myself when I realize that life is completely casual, that we live it with the only hope of suffering the least possible, and then it’s over. My uneasiness comes from the fact that most of what we call cultural is only an attempt of hiding such a brutal concept. Maybe art can mitigate this pain only when becomes more complex and awkward.