The most recent album from Australian duo Dead Can Dance, Dionysus was one of the best records of 2018, and longlisted for the Australian Music Prize (maybe shortlisted too – we’ll find out soon), exploring a world of music that drew from multiple cultures and varied styles in mesmerising fashion.
It was the first recordings from the pair – Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry – since 2012 and only the second they’d released in 22 years. But while DCD were only sporadically visible since the mid-‘90s, Gerrard was composing film scores and recording albums of her own which were complex and fascinating, difficult and thrilling.
In this interview from 2007, she explained to this not half-as-smart questioner why the frequencies of this world can’t be faked.
Lisa Gerrard is briefly away from her country Victoria home - the only place she can compose, cocooned by its silence and isolation - for some business in the cacophonous hustle and hassle of Melbourne. Moments before this interview the singer and composer had been signing an autograph, a rare occurrence for someone who makes what could be called art music.
Even as beautiful and captivating as Gerrard's art music is, with its wellsprings of classical, African and Arabic sources entwined with Celtic roots and darkly atmospheric pop music, it won't get you noticed much around here. Funnily enough though, Lisa Gerrard's lack of public recognition comes despite the fact that her work has probably been heard by millions who saw films such as The Insider and Gladiator, whose soundtracks she has enhanced.
She's won a Golden Globe and been nominated for an Oscar along the way while her work with Melbourne/Europe band, Dead Can Dance, in the 1980s and '90s, and several solo albums have been both influential and critically well received, including her recent album The Silver Tree which takes her astonishing voice into familiar territory of sensuous and sometimes near religious intensity.
"I don't even know what it means [to be famous]," Gerrard says before characteristically beginning to examine the word for more than its surface meaning, breaking down its sounds. "Fam-uss or fay-muss. It's a good sound parse, but I don't know."
Nor does she want to know, declaring herself rather averse to anything which hints of "celebrating the personality, instead of a way of understanding a natural frequency that we respond to through the work".
As is now well understood by film directors who have faced her refusal to compromise, even to the point of walking out on high-paying projects rather than simply make do, for Gerrard now the most important thing is to "protect the art".
"The thing is it is an absolute," she says. "Because you can't lie with the innate absolute: either you can or you can't do this work. If you can't connect with those issues that enable you to unlock the pathway to the heart then you can't make this work, so you are left with deaf ears.
“This is why it's become sort of tricky for me working with cinema, because sometimes you work for hire and they want you to make a certain thing that you don't respond to naturally, that is not a natural sensibility, and it becomes impossible for me to do that. I have to walk away because I have nothing to work with."
If that sounds professionally dangerous, Gerrard doesn't particularly care. Her lengthy explanation for this approach to music and life, peppered with the rhetorical "you understand" (when it has to be said, I didn't always understand completely), is essentially a philosophy for life. This is but an excerpt.
"It's all connected to being able to connect with those frequencies that exist within the original person or in nature or the cosmos and being able to respond and dance in harmony with those things and be inspired and be provoked to describe and unlock the deeper tissue of those experiences, you understand," Gerrard says.
"If that's not there then there is no work. That's why the abstract nature of the work for me is one they can be compared to song forms from nature because they are a direct result of the response to the frequency of that particular environment. If you listen to frogs in Australia and their song forms then they mirror very strongly Aboriginal physicalities because of their deep connection with nature. If you listen to frogs in Africa then you hear an innate response to or similarity to the polyrhythmic nature of the African music.
" I think it's a perfect description at the moment if you listen to contemporary music with the way we've disassociated ourselves from natural images and the connection being one to mobile phones and to computer technology etc. It's a very clear view of where we are in our state of disconnection from things."
The people who don't connect with her music, who don't feel it, is that a failure on her part or on their part?
"I don't see that as a failure. It's like if you are doing a film about Papua New Guinea and you don't go to Papua New Guinea, then it's academic. So if people come to my work and they don't find that they can connect with a frequency that is the natural conduit of that work to the pathway of the heart, then it's because they are within a different environment,” she says.
“They could connect with something that might be a contemporary piece based on mobile phone rings, that is where their connected tissue is. You understand."