• An der Trauerfeier war im Sinn Nietzsches die sonnige Stille dieser Natureinsamkeit; das Licht spielte durch die Pflaumenbäume an die Kirchmauer und bis in die helle Gruft hinein; eine grosse Spinne spann ihre Gewebe über das Grab von Ästchen zu Ästchen in einem Sonnenstrahl. — Harry Graf Kessler

   • What was Nietzschean in the service was the sunny stillness of this natural solitude: the light playing through the plum trees on the church wall and even in the grave; a large spider spinning her web over the grave from branch to branch in a sunbeam. — Nietzsche is Dead

Cry’ Me A Shiver

It’s not true that Cryogénie are best experienced live. That would imply their music can be experienced some other way. It can’t. The live experience is the only experience. And it’s guaranteed unique. These French avant-gardists aren’t the only band to hand out earplugs on the door, but they don’t do it for the conventional reason: that they play so loud.

In fact, they don’t play loud. They don’t play soft either. In the conventional sense, they don’t play at all. Here’s an interview from 2008 with Tïurbeau magazine:

Tïurbeau: I’ve got your latest album in front of me now. Words fail me.

Alexandre: And us too.

François: As usual.

Tïurbeau: Then one has to ask: why do you bother to release albums?

Alexandre: We see it, you could say, as a little ritual, something solid, something material––

François: Something permanent.

Alexandre: Yes, something permanent, to mark the occasion, that will remain with our audience. Often, we hear, they will buy an album after they have attended a concert, as a souvenir, almost. And they will truly play it!

Tïurbeau: They will play thirty-seven minutes of silence?

Cryogénie, Nix Sonica (2008)

Cryogénie, Nix Sonica (2008)*

François: Yes. The silence creates a space, a kind of opening in the present, for memories of the concert.

Alexandre: Yes, for memories, exactly so. Although, of course, in one sense we have pride in the irreproducibility of our music, in another sense we are recording every moment we are on stage. On the brain.

François: On the brains of the audience.

Alexandre: We are recording memories.

Tïurbeau: And the albums are designed to trigger the memories?

Alexandre: Trigger?

Tïurbeau: Bring the memories back.

Alexandre: Ah, yes, exactly so. The albums are a focus for memories of a concert.

François: Almost talismans.

Tïurbeau: In a magical sense?

Alexandre: Yes, why not? For us, experience is the ultimate magic. In the moment, but also in memory.

Tïurbeau: And does this relate to the sensory restrictions of your concerts, the way you try to turn down some senses in order to heighten the sense you are seeking to stimulate?

François: Yes, exactly so. Earplugs.

Alexandre: No aftershave, no perfume.

François: And please shower carefully before you attend.

Alexandre: Yes, shower carefully. And we ourselves, we will take care of the light. Remove it, make the scene very dark. You are not at a Cryogénie concert for pleasing your ears, your nose, eyes, mouth. Non, vous êtes là pour la chair!

François: Oui, pour la chair.

Tïurbeau: For the flesh.

Alexandre: Yes, the flesh. And how do we stimulate the flesh when we may not use another mode, not exploit another sense? No vibration, no infra-bass even. Then what?

François: Yes, this was the question we faced in our formative days.

Tïurbeau: And the answer…

Cryogénie, Rois du Froid (1996)

Cryogénie, Rois du Froid (1996)**

Alexandre: The cold!

François: Cold.

Alexandre: Please remember a question in the Gay Science of Nietzsche: Ist es nicht kälter geworden?

François: “Has it not become colder?”

Alexandre: And we want, if you attend a Cryogénie concert, for you to say: Ja! Oui! Yes! Kälter, kälter! Plus froid, plus froid! Colder, colder!

Tïurbeau: The triumph of the chill?

François: Yes. Triumph of the chill!

Alexandre: I don’t understand.

François: [Explains briefly in French]

Alexandre: Ah, yes, a triumph.

Tïurbeau: And with the concept came the name?

Alexandre: Yes, and so we had our name also. Cryogénie. With several meanings. Cryogénie is “creation of cold”, but also, for us, “genius of cold”, “spirit of cold”. Remember the concept of ritual. Our concerts, you might say, are rituals of cold, invocations of cold.

François: And: “If it’s too cold, you’re too old!”

Alexandre: Yes, so it’s said. Of course, in truth we welcome all ages, but if you are in poor health, perhaps better not to attend.

François: Nevertheless, visits to the pharmacy surely increase after we have passed through a city.

Tïurbeau: How cold do you go?

Alexandre: Ah, we prefer not to speak of that. No numbers, no statistics. You are there for the music, not to watch le thermomètre.

François: We get cold enough for our purposes.

Tïurbeau: That sounds rather sinister!

François: Yes, perhaps so. But would that not be the ultimate experience, to die pour une grêlodie, for a grêlodie?

Tïurbeau: Grêlodie?

Alexandre: It’s a joke, un calembour, a mixing of words.

François: A pun. In French, grêle is “hail”, you know, the little balls of ice, and mélodie is “melody”, of course, and so you have grêlodie, for a tune as performed by Cryogénie, a tune of ice, a tune of cold.

Tïurbeau: But not literal hail?

Alexandre: No, not literal. Though sometimes the breath of our audience will freeze and fall as a kind of snow. It makes a sound, that, a very delicate sound, le chuchotement des étoiles, comme on dit en Sibérie.

François: Yes, the whisper of the stars, as they say in Siberia. But of course, no-one will hear it, if they have followed their instructions.

Alexandre: Earplugs in!

Cryogénie, Blanchette (2003)

Cryogénie, Blanchette (2003)***

François: But the snow, the breath-snow, can be felt on the skin as it falls. This is acceptable, though it is an indirect effect of our music, not something we have planned for.

Tïurbeau: I have felt it. In the middle section of “Frissonique”, particularly.

Alexandre: Yes, and in “Bruitmal”.

François: When the framplifiers are cooking, as you might say.

Tïurbeau: Framplifiers? Can you explain for the benefit of our readers?

François: It is from froid and amplificateur. Framplicateur, framplifier. Amplifiers of cold, or generators of cold.

Tïurbeau: That is one of the most widely discussed aspects of your music, isn’t it? Your equipment.

Alexandre: Yes.

François: Yes, certainly.

Tïurbeau: But you’re rather secretive about it, aren’t you?

Alexandre: Yes!

François: You discuss, we are sphinxes.

Tïurbeau: Silent?

François: Yes. We have our – what is the term? – our trade-secrets. It’s not in our interests to expose our techniques. Nor in yours, we think.

Tïurbeau: You want to preserve that air of mystery?

Alexandre: Yes, precisely so. The experience is more strong when you don’t understand.

François: Like magic.

Alexandre: Yes, magic. We perform a ritual. The invocation of the cold. We invoke the cold and we throw the cold, we throw it on the audience.

François: Waves of cold. Cryorrhythms. Chords of cold, congelations, grêlodies, chills, thrills, rivers of shivers. That is the Cryogénie experience.

Tïurbeau: But there’s some serious technology behind the experience, isn’t there?

Alexandre: Yes.

François: Yes.

Tïurbeau: And you’re saying no more?

Alexandre: Yes, no more.

François: It’s not in our interests to explain. Or yours.

Tïurbeau: Nothing?

Alexandre: Nothing.

Tïurbeau: Not even a little?

François: Well, maybe a little. We had problems, in the early days, with unwanted noise, from the equipment.

Alexandre: Just a little.

François: I mean, if you think of a refrigerator, there is noise, of course. And we didn’t want noise, we wanted silence, pure silence.

Tïurbeau: A blank canvas, sensorily speaking?

François: Yes, a blank canvas, for us to paint with cold. So there was that problem to solve. The noise, unwanted noise.

Tïurbeau: And you solved it?

François: Yes, I think we did.

Alexandre: I think so.

Tïurbeau: But the earplugs are still necessary?

Alexandre: Yes, necessary, we think. Because, of course, with silent equipment there is still the movement of people, our movement on the stage, movement of the audience.

François: And the whisper of the stars, with some other effects. There are many things to create noise at a concert. We cannot eliminate them all, or we choose not to, because the earplugs are in themselves symbolic. To use them, you say: “See? I choose to close this door, this sensory mode.”

Alexandre: And you give yourself to us, to Cryogénie, to exploit another sense.

François: To submit you to our chill.

Tïurbeau: Esclaves du froid?

François: Yes, very good. Slaves of cold! But equally we are the slaves.

Alexandre: Yes, esclaves du froid. I like it. Perhaps we will write a song of that title one day.

Elsewhere Other-Engageable:

Rois du Froid — Cryogénie’s official site

*Sonic Snow.
**Kings of Cold.
***Little White One.

Whip Poor Wilhelm

Nietzscheans are a lot like Christians, just as Nietzsche was a lot like Christ. They’re often very bad adverts for their master, and their master would have been horrified to see some of his followers. Or perhaps not: Nietzsche believed in amor fati, or acceptance of fate, after all. He also thought that the omelette of the Übermensch wouldn’t be made without breaking a lot of human eggs. But I’m sure amusement, rather than horror, would have been his reaction to Bertrand Russell’s very hostile chapter about him in A History of Western Philosophy (1945). Russell wasn’t everything Nietzsche despised – I’m not sure a single human being could combine everything Nietzsche despised – but he came pretty close. He was liberal, humanitarian, altruistic, philanthropic, philogynist, and English (kind of). If Russell had liked Nietzsche, Nietzsche would surely have whirled in his grave. But Russell didn’t, and certainly not from the perspective of the Second World War, when he wrote A History of Western Philosophy and Nietzsche still seemed heavily implicated in Nazism.

He wasn’t, of course: the naughty and nasty Nazis misinterpreted him very badly. But he’s much easier for Nazis to misinterpret than Marx is, as proved by the respective status of these two philosophers in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Russell doesn’t so much misinterpret him as mutilate and muffle him. I would have thought that anyone, Nietzschophile or not, would acknowledge the intellectual power and range of Nietzsche’s writing. I have never felt so strongly in the presence of genius as when I first read one of his books. In Wagnerian terms, he combines Wotan with Donner, infusing the subtlety and cunning of Odin into the strength and energy of Thor. I can’t read him in German and he himself said he’d have preferred to write in French. But enough of his power comes across in English even for Russell, I’d’ve thought. Not so, and not so for many other Anglophone readers, who dismiss Nietzsche as meaningless and trivial. You might as well call the sun dull and thunder quiet: Nietzsche blazes and bellows with meaning. He also, unlike many of his followers, has a sense of humour. Russell did too, but his polemic refuses to acknowledge Nietzsche’s jokes and playfulness:

His general outlook remained very similar to that of Wagner in the Ring; Nietzsche’s superman is very like Siegfried, except that he knows Greek. This may seem odd, but that is not my fault. In spite of Nietzsche’s criticism of the romantics, his outlook owes much to them; it is that of aristocratic anarchism, like Byron’s, and one is not surprised to find him admiring Byron. He attempts to combine two sets of values which are not easily harmonized: on the one hand he likes ruthlessness, war, and aristocratic pride; on the other hand, he loves philosophy and literature and the arts, especially music. Historically, these values coexisted in the Renaissance; Pope Julius II, fighting for Bologna and employing Michelangelo, might be taken as the sort of man whom Nietzsche would wish to see in control of governments. (Op. cit.)

Yes, but he justifies his likes, loves, and loathings in some of the most original, exhilarating, and interesting books ever written. Perhaps the problem was the one diagnosed by Lytton Strachey in Eminent Victorians (1918) when he discussed the antagonism between Newman and Charles Kingsley: “The controversy was not a very fruitful one, chiefly because Kingsley could no more understand the nature of Newman’s intelligence than a subaltern in a line regiment can understand a Brahmin of Benares.” Russell was the subaltern, Nietzsche the Brahmin. If Russell was clever, Nietzsche was cleverer. If Russell had read widely, Nietzsche had read wider. Russell was undoubtedly better at maths, but there have been lots of good mathematicians. Nietzsche could have echoed what Beethoven is supposed to have said to an aristocrat who offended him: “There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven.” Without Russell, I don’t think the world would be a very different place: other people would have thought and written pretty much what he did. It’s difficult to say how different the world would be without Nietzsche, but one thing is certain: it would be less interesting and contain less iconoclasm. Nietzsche thought and wrote things no-one else would have or could have. As a philosopher, Russell was a competent but replaceable journalist, Nietzsche a brilliant and irreplaceable poet. He appeals to writers and artists partly because he confirms their self-importance, but the confirmation hasn’t always been wrong. I think a Deus ex Machina is likelier than the Übermensch, but either way mankind will be surpassed and Nietzsche was the one to prophesy it, not Russell. Born earlier, living shorter, he saw further, wrote better, and will be remembered longer. His moustache was bigger too. Russell was wrong to whip poor Wilhelm, but Wilhelm wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Nietzsche c. 1875

Nietzsche c. 1875

Bertrand Russell in 1907

Russell in 1907