An Examination Of Devil Doll With Mr. Doctor
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Modified at: 2023-02-01 12:22am
Mr. Doctor (AKA Mario Panciera) himself provides a little commentary on the one-of-a-kind musical entity that is Devil Doll, as well as the inspirations behind it (this is basically an interview he did around 2008 with a Japanese magazine, except that it has been dissected into smaller fragments for easier reading). The list features seven different sections: "Artist", "Musical Influences", "Literature", "Films", "Lyrics", "Recordings" and "Life After Devil Doll".

~ARTIST~ Every musical idiom – Metal, Gothic, Prog-Rock, Classical or whatever – has its charm, as it puts the emphasis on a particular aspect of Music, such as the Energy for Metal, the Atmosphere for Gothic or the Structure for Classical or some Prog-Rock. But what really matters is Music itself, with its enchanting, magical power which transcends senses. A piece of music is remarkable or unremarkable regardless of its idiom: the problem only lies in the sensibility of the listener, who can open his horizons to odd, unheard, demanding sounds, or can remain stuck to the limited idiom of his tribe, to its stereotypes, which are the strict borders of his ignorance. In ancient Hebrew, the word Knowledge and the word Love, where one and the same word – because you can only love, appreciate, understand and be filled by the energy and the vibrations of what you KNOW. With a statement like – It’s not my TASTE – many hide their inability to transcend the narrow limits of their musical horizons. Exactly what Devil Doll has always fought against.

Devil Doll does not belong to any genre as it is the faithful mirror of what I really am. It is no movie, no fake, no façade, no architecture. It is not done to please anybody or to sell records. I have no time nor interest in posing, and I despise a following of poseurs. All I care about is the amazing daily opportunity to open new doors, walking beyond the limit of my previous limit. If I think and talk and act and create in metres, I want to think and talk and act and create in centimetres, always re-setting my sensibility on the strength of new magnifying lenses. Hence, there’s no risk of riding a formula, as I am one and the same ever-changing merrily Tormented Man.

~MUSICAL INFLUENCES~ My mother was a classically-trained piano player whose lone influence in my love for music was that she introduced me to the Classical-classics – she was particularly fond of Beethoven – in a peculiar way: music could only be listened in silence and in total obscurity. As a little child, I was sitting in the dining room – where the stereo-player was – she was switching off the lamp, as music AND light were not allowed to co-exist. It was like to be in a Cinema – with my closed eyes visualising the suggestions inspired by a soundtrack made by Beethoven: the second movement of his "Seventh Symphony", with its martial, funeral-like procession, was an early favourite. She was not an adventurous listener, so I did not have the pleasure to experience anything but the obvious ones – Bach, Mozart, Brahms and Vivaldi.

I subsequently turned to Dvorak’s "Ninth Symphony"...

Gustav Holst’s "Planets" (I consider "Mars" the very first Hard Rock piece ever composed)...

Or Samuel Barber’s "Adagio".

Personal influences which thrilled me when I started Devil Doll were Dmitri Shostakovich's "Eighth String Quartet" or "Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk", Prokofiev's "Aleksander Nevsky", Bela Bartok's "Concerto For Orchestra" and Charles Ives' "Fourth Symphony", whereas Kryszstof Penderecki and Witold Lutoslavski enhanced my interest in the universe of timbre.

A brief but intense spell with some British symphonists of last century – Arthur Bliss, William Alwyn, Arnold Bax, Benjamin Frankel, Humphrey Searle – led me to an in-depth exploration into the world of soundtracks, as these composers had also been responsible for many immortal film scores, most significantly "Odd Man Out" (Alwyn) and "Things To Come" (Bliss).

Apart from Bernard Herrmann, whose entire oeuvre I still find eminently inspiring, I never cared much of most of the famed American film composers, or at least of their widely acclaimed sub-symphonic scores.

Among the Europeans, Ennio Morricone’s remarkable talent was much more influential for me on little films such as "Who Saw Her Die/Chi L’ha Vista Morire?" (which is bizarrely built on spine-chilling children choirs) than on those over-acclaimed soundtracks plagued by the dull warbles of his female vocalist Edda Dell’Orso.

And I cannot forget Nino Rota’s score for Fellini’s "Casanova", which features a track entitled "Il Duca Di Wurtenberg" that is possibly the most extreme piece of Devil Doll-esque music I have never written.

Rock music has also been a great influence, primarily for its effectiveness: it goes straight to the point like a scalpel in a plastic surgery operation. I adored Teddy And His Patches’ 60s Psych-Garage single "Suzy Creamcheese", graced by an uncontrolled primal energy which easily compensated for its compositional rawness and technical ineptitude.

At the same time I found abrasively effective the eccentric and only-apparently simple songs written by Arthur Lee for Love’s third album "Forever Changes"...

And a few Prog-Rock diamonds such as "Red" by King Crimson...

Or Peter Hammill’s "In The Tower/The Black Room" (from his "Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night" album)...

Or the "Shintokumaru" album by your own J.A. Caesar/Seazer’s.

My guiding light is (and always was) the charm and stupefaction I feel in front of a great work of Art, the trembling of my body when filled by the germs of someone’s inspiration, and the emotion, the challenge of creating, of pulling out of myself the Unknown. Art is the greatest adventure we are allowed to experience in our brief apparition on the stage of life. I have always listened to a wide range of music, but I cannot say I was “directly” inspired by any artist in particular. In Classical music I always admired Mussorgsky’s unorthodoxy, unpredictability and disrespect of rules...

And a few other Russian composers such as Shostakovich (the second tempo of his "8th String Quartet and Chamber Symphony op.110/110a" electrocuted my imagination at least as much as the beginning of his "5th Symphony" must have remained stuck in Morrissey’s mind, when he sampled it for 11 minutes on the opening song of his “Southpaw Grammar” album)...

Prokofiev (whose exceptional melodic ingeniousness influenced me, but must have pleased Sting too, as he borrowed the theme of Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kijé” for his hit “Russians”)...

And Mosolov (whose mid-1920s piece “Iron Foundry” is pure Prog-Rock à la Magma, Art Zoyd, Univers Zero).

Early in my Devil Doll days, I was also into Ives (his "4th Symphony", in particular)...

Weill (the “Threepenny Opera” and “The Seven Deadly Sins”)...

And Eisler (a few of his songs, which I also performed and recorded, and the “German Symphony”).

Among the Classical conductors, my favourite was Fritz Reiner, whose interpretations of Dvorak’s "Ninth Symphony", Prokofiev’s “Aleksandr Nevsky” or Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness’s "Second Symphony Mysterious Mountain”, are unsurpassable. Concerning Pop and Rock music, there are a few albums spread throughout the last five decades which I find truly terrific, although I often find more inspirational tiny sparkles of genius lost in bad records, than uniformly good albums which are unable to engrave my soul.

~LITERATURE~ Along with Symbolist poets and the Avant-gardes of the 20th century (Surrealism and its precursor Lautreamont, in particular), I was inevitably shaped by European writers such as Franz Kafka...

Oscar Wilde...

Luigi Pirandello...

Or Graham Greene.

At the same time, I developed an interest for the literature which dealt with imagination, with the hidden and the supernatural: after reading Lovecraft’s inspirational essay “Supernatural Horror In Literature” (1927).

I was carried away by Sheridan LeFanu’s “In A Glass Darkly”...

By the slow but atmospheric Gothic novels of Charles Maturin...

And ‘Monk’ Lewis...

By Edgar Allan Poe (who made me understand from where Baudelaire’s most charming metaphors originated)...

Henry James’ “The Turn Of The Screw”...

Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan”...

And Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”.

Later I went on to read and love M.R. James...

And Ambrose Bierce...

And, among the writers of the second half of the 20th century, Charles Beaumont.

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~FILMS~ No other movie has images as stunning as F.W. Murnau’s “Faust” (1926): lightning, composition, camera work are all flawless. Possibly the greatest film director ever, Murnau would create his artistic masterpiece, “Sunrise” in 1927, before prematurely passing away in 1931, aged 42.

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Jean Cocteau’s “Orpheus” (1950) sports a clever metaphoric concept and is at the same time graced by an intensely poetic dialogue: a rare happy-marriage between Philosophy and Poetry. Besides that, the highlight is Maria Casares (chosen by Cocteau after her unforgettable performance in Robert Bresson’s “Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne”, five years earlier), wonderfully portraying “Death”.

Jean Cocteau had previously filmed the slower but wonderfully visual “Beauty And The Beast” (1946), assisted by Renè Clement, whose “Forbidden Games” (1952) also deserves a honourable mention.

Angelo Francesco Lavagnino’s funeral march which opens and closes Orson Welles’ “Othello” (1952) is among my favourite pieces of music-with-images, but throughout this amazing film the immensity of Welles’ talent as a director and as an actor, shines even more brightly than in his deservedly-praised “Citizen Kane”.

William Dieterle’s “The Devil And Daniel Webster” (a.k.a. “All That Money Can Buy”) (1941) offers an oblique reinterpretation of the Faust myth, set in rural America. The film’s climax is a visually powerful trail decided by the oddest jury you will ever see on this (or any other) world.

A friend of mine keeps saying that my eyes remind her of Richard Attenborough’s in John Boulting’s “Brighton Rock” (1947) and although the character he portrays is among the most loathing human beings I can think of, his glaze is so terrific that I am inclined to take the comparison as a compliment. “Brighton Rock”’s ace sequence is the finale, a crucial moment in every work of Art, here so ingenious and breathtakingly unexpected. to remain engraved onto the viewer’s brain. Forever.

The most eminently personal, intimate, ineffable of feelings, love is mis-portrayed in most films as a nauseating cocktail of sugar, tears, flesh and unexpected events. Incarnated by a magic performance of actress Celia Johnson, in David Lean’s “Brief Encounter” (1945) love is finally skeletal, divested of any fake and frighteningly pure.

Thorold Dickinson’s “Queen Of Spades” (1949) has an elegance and a technical virtuosity in a class of its own, enhanced by the eccentric vibrations generously supplied by two majestic actors of the calibre of Dame Edith Evans and Anton Walbrook.

There is no other film I have seen more times than Carol Reed’s “Odd Man Out” (1947). I adore it so intensely that I would kindly ask to be buried with it, whenever Time will call my name. I had previously found James Mason a competent actor, but hardly a first-rate catalyst of strong emotions, but his performance here is so powerful, passionate and intense, that I was forced to revise my opinion on him. In 1948 Carol Reed would film another recommended film, “The Fallen Idol” and in 1949 would complete an extraordinary trilogy with his most famous opus, “The Third Man”, but he would never recapture the intensity and the pure artistry displayed on the more imperfect but superior “The Odd Man Out”.

“The Day Of Wrath” (1943) has been one of the main inspirations behind “Dies Irae” and its director, Carl T. Dreyer is my favourite filmmaker along with F.W. Murnau. There is only a way to appreciate Dreyer: to empty yourself and let him flow into your veins with his angular, elliptical, cathartic universe made of a different notion of time and of infinite shades of physical and spiritual grey. The x-rayed human portraits of “The Passion Of Joan Of Arc”, the nightmarish “Vampyr” and the tormented souls of “Ordet” are also recommended viewings.

Georges Franju’s “Les Yeux Sans Visage” (1959) (debut 1960 red.) is not a masterpiece, but has the most poetic ending I have ever seen, punctuated by Maurice Jarre’s inspired theme music and by a delicate performance by Edith Scob, a young actress whose melancholic eyes defy description. Her alien charm also graces another Franju-directed film, “Judex” (a 1963 remake of Louis Feuillade’s 1914 serial of the same name), which is an embarrassingly chaotic disaster of a movie, but includes an incredibly powerful sequence – a masquerade ball with all guests wearing giant bird heads – which MUST be seen to be believed.

~LYRICS~ I always write lyrics first: and it is the most complex, delicate and difficult aspect of the whole project. Lyrics themselves ARE music. Every word has a specific sound with a subliminal effect related to the chosen succession of letters. But every word beside its sound has also a meaning, so the creation of a “word-sound” has more strict boundaries and more tortuous paths than the composition of the music. Furthermore, words are naked: bad lyrics are always there, in their embarrassing emptiness which cannot be hidden behind an ingenious orchestration or a spellbinding arrangement. I also believe that in Art, a concept can be the starting point: it fascinates ratio and feeds it, but in its essence it is nothing more than an attractive façade or a suitable wrapping. Being architectural, once you catch it…the game’s over. A conceptual Art is a contradiction in terms. With a paradox, I could say that in Art, nothing is more stupid than Intelligence as the mechanisms of making Art and of absorbing someone else’s Art – same as in Love, in Faith and in Magic – are ruled by Induction, not by Deduction It’s the primal power of poetry, impalpable and ever-metamorphosing in the succession of its metaphors, which pulls ever-different inner strings, miraculously opening unseen perspectives of perception. I often find pleasure in adding references and quotations, which work transversally as a series of key-words recognizable by twin-spirits or by whoever wants to “go in-depth”. Some references are more obvious or even openly declared in the sleeve notes – such as Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson and Emily Bronte in "Dies Irae" – whereas some others are more subtly present, from Franz Kafka and Ambrose Bierce to Rainer Maria Rilke and Luigi Pirandello, just to name a few poets and writers from different cultures and styles.

~RECORDINGS~ Our original set featured five long compositions which we recorded on my 4-track Teac: Four never made it onto any record, but the fifth, "The Mark Of The Beast", was recorded properly and preserved on a single-copy vinyl, which was meant as an "Aural Painting", complete with a hand-painted cover. I penned a long composition (which later was to be titled "The Mark Of The Beast") which had a filmic structure, in the sense that the lyrics and the musical themes were developed as in a screenplay, without resurfacing anymore throughout the composition. At the same time, I decided to break the banks of musical genres, incorporating any kind of music which could better carve out and express the deepest feelings of the story.

"The Girl Who Was… Death" was the first long-player to be distributed, because our debut album, "The Mark Of The Beast", had been thought as a sort of “aural painting”, hence it was pressed in one single copy, to which I made myself the hand-painted artwork. One of the most memorable parts from "The Girl Who Was… Death" (introduced by an arpeggio of guitar followed by the lines “Who Are You Looking For… What Are You Looking At…” and by a breathtaking violin solo) was in fact transposed from "The Mark Of The Beast": The lyrics are different, but the music was basically the same, although instrumental and vocal parts were reversed, in the sense that the instrumental parts of "The Girl Who Was… Death" were sung on "The Mark Of The Beast" and vice-versa. Recorded first-take-live-in-the-studio, "The Girl Who Was… Death" is Rockier and more immediate than any other Devil Doll album. Patrick McGoohan’s esoteric TV series "The Prisoner" was its loose inspiration. "The Prisoner" was McGoohan’s personal obsession as Devil Doll was mine: ONE man was in full control of the whole project, creating the concept, being the main actor, the screenwriter of the chief episodes, the director of some of them, the executive producer, the one who had even whistled the theme music to the series (later arranged by Ron Grainer) and the only person who knew what the whole thing was about, as the series, which had started as a bizarre spy-story, progressively metamorphosed into the realm of a nightmarish allegory on Man, at the same time Prisoner and Captor of Himself.

"Eliogabalus" was almost entirely performed by the Italian section of Devil Doll and featured the title-track, plus "Mr. Doctor", a composition which I had originally called "The Black Holes Of The Mind" and was inspired by the confession of an early Devil Doll fan, who told me she had been raped for many years by her older brother, a respectable “Doctor” who had eventually taken his own life jumping under a high-speed train. Among the crimes featured in the lyrics, the killing of “my brother” came from a dream I had, with “the unnameable who gave me the axe” being my mother. The rest of the story came from criminal cases found when I worked as a doctor in Law specialized in Criminology. The lyrics of "Eliogabalus" were about the most unknown of all Roman Emperors, Eliogabalus, who had been put to power when still a young boy because of his god-like beauty. He surpassed even the wildest borders of eccentricity and depravity and was soon killed. The Roman Senate ordered that no trace of his existence should ever left to posterity, hence his memory was obliterated by history until much later, when a brief profile was included in Aelius Lampridius’ "Storia Augusta". In the Devil Doll track, I wanted the mad Eliogabalus as the symbol of the diverse or deformed who’s watching the world from behind the mirror. Where I always was. "The Black Holes Of The Mind" was played live many times before its recording (the only Devil Doll composition whose live performance pre-dates its studio recording) and the finale was taped late at night in a lousy bar just up the recording studio: you can still hear the cashier thanking the customers who buy cigarettes and pay. During the recordings of "The Black Holes Of The Mind", I desired to also record "Eliogabalus", a brand new track I had finished the day before entering the studio, so it had never been rehearsed. Furthermore, I had not thought of how to perform my vocal parts, but time was tight, so it was completely improvised.

It is the most intense and claustrophobic of all the albums, and was recorded in dramatic circumstances during the cruel Yugoslavian war. Of the Italian half of the group, only drummer Rob Dani and pianist Francesco Carta dared to cross the Yugoslav border: the others quit the day before the beginning of the recordings, but Michele Fantini Jesurum joined at the last minute. He had been my school mate for eight years at secondary school and a master improvisator at the Pipe Organ, in the wake of his best friend and mentor, the old French organist (and a living legend of the instrument) Jean Guillou. "Sacrilegium"’s story was set in a pre-2nd World War Europe, with its smell of decadence, doubt and impending death, which was not dissimilar from the street atmosphere of those days. The social setting was mirrored by the suicidal personal anguish I was experiencing those days. As a result, my vocal performance is filled a desperation and a “no-tomorrow” lack of mental oxygen, which would be very hard to recapture.

As a companion to our sparse live performances, I wrote and filmed a silent movie entitled "The Sacrilege Of Fatal Arms", a Dreyer-esque symphony of death whose soundtrack incorporated most of the music of "Sacrilegium" (although in a remixed form), plus thirty minutes of material specifically recorded to fit the images. The film and the soundtrack open with our rendition of the "Drina March", a war song which had become the anthem of the cruellest faction during the recent Yugoslav war.

After the release of "The Sacrilege Of Fatal Arms", I started to record an album which was going to be entitled "The Day Of Wrath". In the middle of the recordings the studio was completely destroyed by a fire, whose origin is still shrouded in the mist of post-war vendettas. I saved my skin but not the tapes, of which only an unmixed cassette survived. We were consequently forced to re-start the work in a different studio. "Dies Irae" resurfaced from the ruins of "The Day Of Wrath" and is the most complex and artistically rewarding of the five albums reissued by Belle Antique. The concept acts on two levels: a series of paradoxical philosophic questions connected with love, life and afterlife, culminating with the killing of the loved person in order to guarantee her eternal life. Every passage is crystalline in its logic, though elliptically expressed in the flashes of poetic metaphors. The second level is personal. The lyrics, the artwork, the music feature over five hundred references, quotations, tiny clues which could reveal (to the most careful and prepared listener) all the influences which have fed my soul through the years. From a lyrical viewpoint I was particularly delighted by the way I managed to describe the killing (“and the virgin blade kisses, freeing, your white throat”) and by the last monologue of the man in a strait-jacket followed by the orchestral grand finale. From the musical viewpoint I still have a preference for the frightening “Incubus” section. In fact, I had composed and recorded two of them, one should have been featured on the European version of the album, and the other on the American pressing which was cancelled at the last minute. The material we recorded for "Dies Irae" filled altogether over 700 minutes of master tapes: the tiny clips which are part of the “Incubus” were in fact long compositions of which only a few seconds have been randomly chosen, illogically, as it happen in the worst nightmare, which is uncontrollable by reason.

~LIFE AFTER DEVIL DOLL~ I immediately made my second silent film, whose soundtrack incorporated 90 minutes of music from the "Dies Irae" sessions. I was tempted to release both, but the project was shelved when I started to compose a soundtrack to back Jean Epstein’s 1928 silent film "The Fall Of The House Of Usher". The project was recorded, but was not performed as I decided to interrupt the collaboration with the Slovenian National Cinematheque, which had commissioned the work. Since then I have never stopped to write and record Devil Doll music, but in the past ten years I have lost interest in releasing the recordings. The stupefaction of the birth of a new composition is still the prime motivation, the rest is inessential.


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