I mention The Rolling Stones’ “Let it Bleed” in a previous post (that wordpress ate an is now here), and so I began to think about music and blood. The word “blood” is often a flashy attention-grabber in any title, be it book, film, art, or piece of music. Does music explain blood or its relation to blood? Should it? In this post I look at some (in)famous examples of music about blood, and then discuss a new art installation that goes far beyond all of them. Too often do we get trite cliches, like Sammy Hagar’s declaration that rock music appears to be in his blood, or the promise of blood in a piece like Simon Pomery’s speed reading and drumology experiment that has nothing at all to say about blood. Lots and lots of songs promise blood in the title, but never quite get around to thinking about blood.
Some music makes an effort to at least engage with blood as an aesthetic part of the piece. The Dropkick Murphys, for example, follow AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood…” with another street-fighting hymn entitled “Blood.” After all, if you mention music, you might want to have a reason for it. Long ago, Slayer offered Reign in Blood, a redefinition of the thrash metal genre, which obviously drew on the satanic imagery of blood and featured “Raining Blood,” a genre classic of vivid, blood-dripping apocalyptic fantasy:
From a lacerated sky
Bleeding its horror
Creating my structure
Now I shall reign in blood!
The song even got a Tori Amos cover, so its appeal doesn’t seem to be limited to the genre!
Of course blood is commonly used as a metonymic image for passion. The Canadian hip-hop group Dead Celebrity Status offers another, more intimate explanation of how blood and music are connected:
When you can feel it in your skin, it’s blood music.
When you just can’t hold it in, it’s blood music.
When you just gotta let it out, it’s blood music.
When you wanna show the world what you’re about, it’s blood music.
So blood music, then, is perhaps nothing more than a metaphor for passionate music-crafting, and really not an exploration of blood itself or the relation between blood and music?
Well, it appears that Moscow-based media artist Dmitry Morozov has found a far more literal way in which blood fuels and drives music.
His recent installation “Until I Die” features a set of five battery packs, which each consist of eleven jars of his own blood, treated for color, homogeneity, anti-coagulants, and diluted, with a copper anode and an aluminum cathode. These batteries each produce 0.6 volt, together 3 volts (1000mAh) for a total of 6.5 to 7 volts, which drive an electronic setup around an Axoloti sound module, which then generates sounds–blood music. You should really go on Morozov’s website and check out the detailed images and the live staging, during which he added more of his own blood.
The piece is rich in allusions and commentary. Morozov rehearses and reembodies the history of the discovery of the battery by Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta, and thus inserts time and repetition into the history of science, innovation, and development. Moreover, he offers the human body as generative substance in a technical sense, not just a metaphoric one. His bodily fluid is the electrolyte substrate through which the electrical current can begin to flow. The intimate connection between human and device offers a way to see vitality as a technological feature as well as technology as a human feature.
Finally, he comments on the history of blood transfusion and social interpretations thereof. Not only is the technological intervention of modern blood transfusion laid bare, but connected to one of its earliest practitioners, Russian pioneer Alexander Bogdanov, founder of the Soviet Union’s Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion.
Bogdanov, as Morozov explains, offered a vision of human vitalism as transferable. In the context of Russian cosmism, he claimed that the transfusion was not merely physiological, but also metaphysical, and not just in the well-known sense of the nation state and the individual body, but also in the sense of current ideas of youth and age. Morozov offers the juxtaposition of man and machine as a lens through which to read this earlier occult idea.
Out of all this rich context comes electronic music, driven by the body of a human who is spectator to his own creation. So at the end we have found a piece of music that is quite literally made of blood, and yet the relation between the blood and the music remains obscure because it by-passes the symbolic negotiation of language altogether. Morozov’s exciting installation offers deep thoughts on blood, vitality, and blood transfusion without explaining the blood music itself. And perhaps that is the most honest form of blood music, the kind that never really explains itself.