I spent two and a half years in Spain, in a lovely Mediterannean town called Sitges outside of Barcelona.
I returned to the US in July 2003
1. Constance Demby in Spain: A New
2. Dancing with the Devil ( click on title to read article )
In the fall of
2000, Constance Demby, the queen of symphonic space music, pulled
up her American
roots and moved her studio and cat, bags and body permanently to Spain. Those who know her were not surprised at her choice of country, for the romantic, artistic, and emotional scope of that land seemed to fit the depths of her passionate spirit.
For most New Age music fans, Demby will always be remembered for her groundbreaking Novus Magnificat with its benediction of cascading starlight and its sacred avalanche of massed choir and orchestra. Many albums feature her two custom bowed steel instruments, the space bass and the whale sail, which pull the emotions to body-centered archetypal depths. On the stellar level, Demby plays the bright flurried tones of the hammered dulcimer, and since the mid-1980s, she has used keyboards with its unlimited range of samples. She'll often layer in her voice, which can dip into primordial territory.
Whatever her choice of instrument-and in a live concert, she can use them all-Demby is a determined composer. Her music is meant to move you, to transform, to be emotionally cathartic and spiritually uplifting. The gypsies would have a word for her type of music-"duende."
This May, Carol Wright spoke by phone with Ms. Demby who was finally settled in her terrazo home near Barcelona.
NAV: What's new?
Constance Demby: Well, what is new for Constance Demby is that she has moved from her home country to a foreign land, Spain, where she is very happy. So there is a new country, there is a new album, and there is a new record company-Scott Hartley's First Light Music. And there is touring coming up.
NAV: Wow, what
direction to go first? Well, why Spain? Was it a retreat from
the U.S. music scene? A pull to a romantic land or. . . ?
Demby: I had been in Los Angeles for a few years, and though it was great for the industry contacts, but I never felt completely at home there. Somehow I couldn't fully relax, sink in and call it home. Just something in the air that wasn't right for me, personally. Loud rap music poured from every doorway in the malls and from the windows of passing cars. People are numb to this sonic assault, and they don't seem to notice that their sonic atmosphere is polluted.
And although I am not in the pop music genre, pop's extremes, the performers' artifice, fake emotions, and over-production did seem to define the overall American culture. Is that what music's supposed to be about? Music is being written for "non-musical" reasons, to sell something or to jump aboard the latest youth-pop groove or style. You can't count on your talent, sincerity, and authenticity being recognized and rewarded. It's no news that the music industry can be, well, brutal in this regard.
I feel also like we are all coming out of the other side of a decade of general tumultuous change in the world. Those who had sensitive nervous systems could feel the chaos in the air. It was the decade of processing society's shadow, and it's been like a rocky boat. Hopefully, the ship will have some smooth sailing, and I will dive off the side of the ship and submerge myself into deep waters and bring out lots of new albums.
NAV: Why did you
go to L.A. in the first place? It's not known to be kind.
Demby: I originally moved to Los Angeles from Marin County because I felt the call to meet those in the film and music industry. I did meet a lot of wonderful people there, such as Scott, Suzanne Doucet of Only New Age Music, my film representative Maxie Cohen, my screenplay writer Rosie Schuster, who used to write for Saturday Night Live. We are putting together some deals for a film I've written, a sci-fi interdimensional adventure, that's also a musical (or is it a musical interdimensional sci-fi adventure flick?). I also had some wonderful conversations with Steven Simon, producer of What Dreams May Come. It's a fascinating environment in which to meet folks in the industry.
After about a year-and-a-half of L.A., some friends visited from Spain and mentioned how this reviewer there, when he writes about New Age music, says that Constance Demby was the finest of the genre. When they said that, something in my heart just lept. I said, "I'm coming to Spain. I'm going!" It was a spontaneous gesture from my heart, and within a couple of weeks, I realized that this comment was not just an impulse, but that I would indeed move to Spain. Not just to tour or visit, but to take the leap of faith and live there.
So, I wanted a new adventure. We get so set in our ways and our habits and companions and business. And we never think, ya know, I'm going pick up, crate up the studio, fly the cat over, and just do it.
So at the end of 2000, after a grand garage sale, I was off to Barcelona with but a few contacts and no real place to land. There were many memorable days of conducting my business from phone booths on the sidewalk. I've moved locations a number of times, and I had some difficulties getting my studio to operate on Spanish current, but I'm all settled now in a four-story home.
NAV: Where do
Demby: I live in a little pueblo called Sitges about a half hour train ride from Barcelona. Envision narrow lanes and old whitewashed buildings. People walk in the streets, and there's a beautiful boardwalk on the Mediterranean with charming restaurants and shops. Ancient castles and old churches. Art museums and Gaudi's intriguing buildings in Barcelona. Ceramic tiles line the streets, tiles designed by Salvador Dali!
I have a wonderful four-story house on a hill covered with terrazas, porches. On the top floor is my studio. After hours of recording, I walk out on the terraza, and see the whole town, the cars and the trains going by. And the Mediterranean is all blue and sparkly. I drink in this sight and think, God, I'm glad I'm here! Then I go back and dive into the recording studio.
NAV: What album are you
[note: after this article was printed in NAV, the "new" Faces of the Christ was retitled, Sanctum Sanctuorum]
NAV: What was the visual
inspiration for your Faces of the Christ soundtrack?
NAV: Some people don't even
know what you're talking about. What do you mean by "listen
Demby: Ambient is the kind of music you can listen to for atmosphere in the room. Frontal listening is full absorption, complete immersion, like a meditation. Turn off the lights, turn off the phone, get comfortable, turn up the sound system, and travel with the music. It's a journey. On my website, I've posted a number of letters from fans who have had pretty amazing experiences with Novus and Aeterna with healings and deep emotional work and releasing. You get those results with frontal listening.
NAV: What follows Faces
of the Christ?
Demby: Well, first we're putting together new enhanced covers and mastering for all the Sound Currents older catalogue. Then, we will release a compilation album (not titled yet) and my first film score entitled I Am. So, the album I've been waiting to do is three albums away. I've also been filmed playing my sonic steel instruments in Antoni Gaudi's famous Parc Guell structure; the footage will be included in a Discovery Channel feature entitled The Power of Music.
NAV: So, you have another
big new creation coming?
Demby: She, the big mother album, is very elusive. I wish I could start her next week. She has been with me for years, but she has her own timing. But once I start composing this, the energy of the music will just overtake me.
NAV: Do you disappear in
to your music?
Demby: Oh, yeah. Today, I didn't go to sleep until 6 a.m., got up at 10 a.m., got my coffee and went upstairs. And when I came down to eat breakfast, it was 8 o'clock at night. I had been drinking sounds and eating notes. When I compose, the sound and music is so nourishing and regenerative. The needs of the body are not even considered because I am so focused and completely enveloped. One note leads you to another, and you can't wait to go upstairs and turn on the equipment and see what you did yesterday. As soon as you open up those computer files, you're gone! Gone, gone, inside the music and the music is all around you. I think I could stay in my pajamas for weeks!
NAV: You have been with Hearts
of Space for so long. Why the move?
Demby: I met Scott while in Los Angeles and right before I left for Spain, we put together a deal. I was released from Hearts of Space, and now I'm in a new cycle with a new record company. Artists go through cycles with their record companies, just like husbands and wives with their marriages. Some of my albums-Novus Magnificat, Aeterna, and Sacred Space Music-remain on their original Hearts of Space label. Set Free will be a Sound Currents recording as soon as we work up a new cover design. Attunement is a recent Sound Currents album I recorded at a salon in December of 1999. I think people will be amazed that this solo concert was recorded live, with no studio overdubbing.
Since I left the United States, my career has really opened up. It's always said that if you want work, just leave town. There is no place more unappreciative than your own hometown. I guess now I'm an exotic foreigner, and I have a lineup of visitors and industry people, foreigners, who are all coming long distances to see me here in Barcelona. That just didn't happen in the states.
NAV: What about live concerts?
Demby: The audiences in Spain are very appreciative of my concerts. The first one was in Esplugues de Llobregat in December. I mentioned to a friend that I'd really like to play for the people of Spain for the Christmas season. Within two days, a wonderful man who has been a fan of mine for years called and said he would like to produce a concert for me. Wow, that was fast! The next one was at the Mercat de les Flores in a packed room. Both before and after, I looked into the audience, and everybody was smiling. There just seems to be love in the air. It was a really exquisite concert and I got a very nice review in Spanish. (click on review to read in English or Spanish.)
In July, I'll play at the Tarragona Music Festival in July. Michel Huygen and I will play a double bill in a castle in the Pyrenees in the late summer. And we're looking at various locations around Europe.
NAV: Have you been able to
absorb the Spanish music and language?
Demby: I've been so busy getting settled, I haven't had time to take the Spanish classes I want, nor to attend many live concerts, nor to travel much. However, the culture is in the architecture, the fountains, and even in the rounded street corners.
The Spanish are a loving people, a warm people, not as pressured or stressed out as in America. Here in Spain, time and money and production, the hurry-up-and-work, the hurry-up-and-produce pressures are not the same. I knew I was going to find something like that here, a lifestyle that is closer to the earth, not so production-crazed and stressed and pressured, where everybody is so distracted.
Even though I don't speak much Spanish, I've picked up a lot, have conversations and understand a fair amount. Simply by listening and copying what you hear you can get along pretty well. So I'm at home here. It has to do with the vibration and frequency and the feeling in the air. Something that I'm sensitive to. It's somewhat maddening to try to maintain the convenience and efficiency of the American business environment, but that is balanced by other things. Spain is closer to the earth, another wonderful quality. Even the vegetables taste better here. It's "authentico, authentico."
NAV: How's your American
Demby: Miss Muffet is enjoying the attention of several new Spanish suitors. They all line up regularly outside my door for their "kitty krinkles" because they know the American woman is a big-hearted sucker who will always feed them.
Novus Magnificat (1986)
Sacred Space Music (1988)
Sanctum Sanctuorum (2001)
Faces of the Christ (2001)
Set Free (1989)
Skies above Skies (1978)
Light of this World (1987, comp.)
Journey with the Masters
C. Demby at Alaron (tape)
Heart Meditation (tape)
The Beloved (tape)
Live in Tokyo (video)
August 24, 2001
Dancing with the Devil
This weekend I danced with the devil in Sitges at the "Festa Major," which translates as the "best festival." Indeed it was. The proceedings are overseen by St Barthelomeu, who fought with the devil, which I'm guessing must have been his own personal "dark night of the soul."
It began on Thursday
night with the most spectacular, most artistic fireworks display
I've witnessed. We watched from the fourth floor terraza, as breathtaking
explosions of colors and sparkles of light showered the entire
area. I heard later that the man responsible for these amazing
displays is so respected for his art that he creates the fireworks
for presidents, including the presidents of the US.
Friday night, the real heart of the festival took place. The streets were packed, as Sitges has a reputation in Spain as being one of the best locations to experience it. I was warned about the danger of these fireworks, as they occur right in the jampacked streets with thousands of spectators right nearby, so my excitement was high as I went down to my friends house on the Paseo, the boardwalk on the Mediterannean. It started with four giant puppet figures about 30 feet high dressed as Spanish and Moorish Kings and Queens. Underneath the skirts and robes is a very strong man, who gets replaced every few minutes, dancing and supporting the figure which must have weighed hundreds of pounds, the huge character veering and careening, circling round and round in the narrow streets.
Next we heard the pounding of the drummers approaching, and we all ran across the street so we could duck into the doorway when the fireworks began. Following the drummers were several people representing the devil in hoods with red horns sticking out and big coats to protect them from the fireworks. They held a staff over their heads that held several loads of sizzlers in them, and when the sizzlers were lit, they whirred around in rapidly rotating arcs sending multitudes of sparks into the narrow streets, creating total madness and mayhem, with people screaming, running and laughing, some dancing right in the danger whirring all around them. God it was exciting!
Then the next bank of drummers rounded the corner, followed by a giant figure of something or other, one of them was a big eagle, and these emitted even bigger louder explosions of fire and crackles, booms and sizzles. Then came the fire breathing dragon, with another bank of drummers. More groups of hooded horned devils approached with the penetrating sounds of the traditional catalan gralla horns . Now the fireworks circling round were accompanied by loud, whirring, high pitched sounds that increased the excitment. I felt a few sparks hit my skin, and it wasn't all that bad. I saw all the young men jumping and dancing and screaming and hooting right in it and under it, and I just couldn't resist! I put my jacket over my head and arms, and ran into the street dancing and screaming and laughing right in the fire, surrounding by the most brilliant exploding showers of lights falling all around and over my head, with the danger and the drums and the horns and the smoke and sizzles and crackles. And while my friends watched from the protection of the doorway, I danced with the devil! Whew-weeeeee!!!
It went on and on with more and more of everything, ending with stick dancers, maypole dancers, the statue of St Barthelomeu held by a bunch of old church guys, with the whole shebang making it's way up to the main square where the ancient church is. We got ourselves another cerveza and made our way up the stairs through the crowd, just as they were lighting the big giant figures -- right in front of us all, and again the crowd screamed and ran from the danger, everyone just hysterical and laughing as we all bumped into each other on the stairs. While the church bells rang, we followed the pounding drums into still another square where the King and the Queen danced for us again, careening and almost falling into the crowd while everyone roared and screamed. I'm telling you, these people know how to have a good time! Then the drummers took over and really pounded us and revved up the intensity, the sound reverberating thru the square and the stone structures. At one point the thousands of people in the square all crouched down for several beats, and then we all jumped up together with our fists in the air, shouting "Foc-a-la-Bestia!!" Fire to the Beast!! over and over, up and down. At the end, the crowd looked up to the balconies and rooftops where more people were watching. We were all burning up with the heat and the humidity, and they shouted out "Agua! Agua!" (water, water) till someone on a rooftop squirted bottles of champagne at us while we all screamed.
Afterwards we wandered back down to the beach where a band was playing and all the citizens were dancing, and this goes on till around 4 or 5 in the morning. The festival ends Sunday night, when they will attempt to break a Guinness World Book of Records by lighting "palm" fireworks across the sea all the way from the old church down to the TerraMar for the hoped-for longest string of fireworks ever lit anywhere.
The wonderful flavour about this fiesta is the mix of Catholic and Pagan. When they do it again in Barcelona in late September, they have a wider street, with apparantly hundreds of fire-breathing beasts, and huge gates of hell. At the beginning of the fiesta, all the devils run out of the gates, cause it's their big night out where they get to cause mayhem. Then at the end of the night, they all have to run back into the gates of hell, to stay for another year. I'll likely be going again.
There's very few countries in the world that would allow this kind of event with this level of danger, much less in such narrow streets packed with so many people. One year a palm tree caught on fire, and every year people get burnt, but there are Red Cross trucks all over town, and everyone knows beforehand what they're getting into. But here, in this wild and wonderful country that loves to party and celebrate one festival after another all year long, there simply are no restrictions, and no one would ever dream of suing anyone or putting any kind of a damper on it. C'mon, it's a Festival!! And we've come to the festival to purge and scream and beat the drums and be in the fire and the danger and have a real ritual and dance with the devil in the streets! I'll never forget it. It's the best thing that's ever happened here yet.
Reporting from Sitges, Spain,