By JASON DEAN
In 2006, brothers Lucas and Jason Ajemian transcribed the Black Sabbath song 'Into The Void' backwards and arranged it for a classical orchestra. The piece, entitled 'From Beyond,' was scheduled to be performed 4 times in association with New York Is Deadon February 13th at their space in Chelsea.
When I first heard about Black Sabbath growing up in a tiny rural New York town, they were the first band that truly scared me. I don't know if it was the stories I heard from kids on the back of the bus or the actual fear from the religious elements in our tiny town. Could there be any truth to this? Other people were scared too, and your parents didn't want you to listen to it. This was in the late 80's, and they had already been around forever.
I had nightmares of evil Ozzy, blood dripping out of his mouth, a bat head falling onto the stage as a bloody body tried to fly out of his hands. I was in the front row and he leaned down to take the puppy out of the hands of a group of fans next to me and showed it to everyone as he twisted it's neck off. What the hell was wrong with people?
If it wasn't bad enough the music alone was considered evil enough to make crowds force a band to kill innocent puppies to perform, but they also were working in a much sneakier way, including hidden messages that when played backwards would be able to subliminally affect your subconscious and before you knew it, you would be in that crowd, throwing puppies to Sabbath.
I talked with Lucas and Jason outside the space on 15th street between performances, with my friend Pete Matthews from Feast Of Music. Pete writes about classical/experimental music and I knew he'd want to witness this event I couldn't find listed anywhere. On the sidewalk Lucas told us Jason was living in Chicago in a rectory when Lucas had the idea first transcribe the song in reverse. Jason hand-wrote the score on sheet music and they collected a loose group of friends to rehearse and record the song for a vinyl 10". A show was then arranged where Jason had printed the score on backlit glass for the 6/06/06 opening. Lucas said he chose classical instruments to give the whole thing the air of formality or even ritual, and strings could really mimic the guitar staccato.
This was the second live performance of the piece and I walked down a hallway into a small back room where hundreds of 4x6 photographs were taped in grids on the walls. A semi-circle of instruments and amps were arranged out from the back corner of the space. Jason got up on an overturned paint bucket facing the performers to conduct. It was an amazing kind of familiar melody, that I kept trying to work out backwards as it was being played but quickly gave into the weirdness. For this arrangement Individual musicians played each separate part of the drum kit. A cymbal on a stand was played with mallets to get that crash sound decay where every hit was quiet at first and ended with a hand-muted crash. Another person was just playing snare in another section, and someone else played the high hat. The percussion players would keep looking at each other for clues for changes.
Then Lucas sang phonetically in reverse, lit by a single light on the music stand. Looking something like a midwestern preacher in a black suit, he was contorting his mouth making these foreign sounds, taking this song to another level of evil. Just when it seemed completely chaotic and couldn't possibly be making any kind of sense the backwards chorus would start, and after Pete and I saw it the fourth time it had completely become it's own individual piece.
I thought later about the tiny element of danger involved, that we were tempting fate. No one actually believed that through the backwards uttering of the song we were going to summon something, but I started to believe for a minute that if we did and the whole gallery burst into flames... well we were asking for it.
"From Beyond" was performed on February 13, 2008 at New York Is Dead.
All images are courtesy of the author.