Sopor Æternus & the Ensemble of Shadows
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|This article relies on references to primary sources. (September 2014)|
|Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows|
|Also known as||Sopor Aeternus, Sopor|
|Origin||Frankfurt, Hesse, Germany|
|Associated acts||White Onyx Elephants
Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows (Latin: sopor æternus "eternal sleep"; often referred to or stylized as Sopor Aeternus or Sopor) is a darkwave musical project based in Frankfurt, founded in 1989 by Anna-Varney Cantodea. Since the project's beginnings, Anna-Varney's work has garnered a cult following, notorious for its extremely personalized, melancholic and pessimistic nature, drawing on a number of different musical and visual styles.
Cantodea identifies as female. She was assigned male at birth. She has never undergone surgery to change sex and does not intend to. Cantodea's pseudonym is derived from several sources. Firstly, the common name Anna, and secondly the Latin word cantodea, a composed neologism meaning "I sing, goddess". (As a side note, the Latin term for "female singer" is cantrix.) She had been using the stage name "Varney" prior to 1997, that name taken from the Victorian Gothic horror story Varney, the Vampire; or the Feast of Blood.
Cantodea's persona is voluntarily isolated and complicated. She has stated that she does not perform live "in front of humans." Despite this, she currently seems to be acquainted with the pagan and occult author Raven Digitalis, who is one of the "managers" of the Official Sopor Aeternus MySpace profile. She has an affinity for the author Edgar Allan Poe, adapting his poems to music on several occasions; she is also a supporter of several activist movements, including animal rights, pro-euthanasia, LGBT rights, vegan and vegetarian efforts. Cantodea is a very spiritual person, with devotion placed on the Roman deity Saturn. She combined Saturn's astrological symbol with that of Jupiter's to create the symbol of Jusa, an icon that reflects her spirituality and has become an insignia for herself and her music.
Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows was founded by Anna-Varney (then known as Varney) and Holger in 1989, and began as a Neue Deutsche Todeskunst musical project. The two had met in Frankfurt in a Goth club called Negativ, during one of Cantodea's rare outings into the public world. Cantodea and Holger worked together on a low budget in order to purchase musical equipment, and recorded three demo tapes: Es reiten die Toten so schnell..., Rufus and Till Time and Times Are Done. The three demos were recorded between 1989 and 1992, with Es reiten... being the only publicly released cassette. The demo tapes are collectively referred to as "Blut der Schwarzen Rose" (German: "Blood of the Black Rose") or "The Undead-Trilogy". Shortly after the cassettes were produced, Holger left Sopor Aeternus.
In 1994, Varney signed with the DA label Apocalyptic Vision and released her first album, …Ich töte mich…. The album, like the demo tapes before it, showcased darkwave music with a neo-classical bent, punctuated by Varney's tortured voice and the recurring imagery of death, despair, philosophical pessimism and vampires. It is unknown if Varney received financial assistance to produce the record.
Sopor Aeternus' second album, Todeswunsch, was an abrupt change in direction. While the album retained qualities of darkwave music, the album was stripped of its heavy use of synthesizers and drum machines. A companion EP, Ehjeh Ascher Ehjeh, was released later that year. Varney would also record four songs for an Apocalyptic Vision compilation, Jekura – Deep the Eternal Forest; two of the songs appeared under the pseudonym White Onyx Elephants.
Sopor's third album, The Inexperienced Spiral Traveller, was released in 1997 alongside a remix album, Voyager: The Jugglers of Jusa. It was around this time that Varney changed her name to Anna-Varney Cantodea.
1999 saw the double concept album, Dead Lovers' Sarabande (Face One); a project dedicated to the memory of Christian Death frontman, Rozz Williams. Dead Lovers' Sarabande chronicled a nameless protagonist's seemingly futile quest to re-unite with her deceased lover. The album was released in two parts throughout the year, and was the first to be released on vinyl as well as on CD. The following year saw Sopor's sixth album, Songs from the Inverted Womb.
In 2003, producer John A. Rivers was brought aboard to produce the seventh album, Es Reiten die Toten so Schnell. Rivers would go on to produce all new Sopor Aeternus' albums. During the following year, the first six Sopor albums were remastered by Rivers and repackaged with new artwork as a lead up to their eighth album, La Chambre d'Echo. Where Es Reiten... started to re-introduce synthesizers into the group's sound, La Chambre d'Echo became the first album in a decade to prominently feature synthesizers and drum machines, in a nod to Sopor's first recordings. The companion EP, Flowers in Formaldehyde, as well as the career-spanning rarities box set, Like a Corpse Standing in Desperation, followed.
The sound of Sopor Aeternus is rooted in renaissance and baroque music, maintaining frequent use of brass instruments, woodwinds, strings, pipe organs, bells, and guitars. While earlier works used drum machines, later albums feature live percussion. Cantodea's work has shown a progression towards livelier arrangements and more wall of sound production, compared to earlier works; more recent albums have also employed a slightly more mainstream sound, incorporating electronic and slight gothic rock sentiments. Though considered by genre a darkwave band, Cantodea has stated that she ignores this notion and simply creates "...-music for dead children [and otherwise wounded souls], that is all." On several occasions, Cantodea has re-recorded and recycled elements from previous songs; other times, motifs are used; the most notable example is "Birth - Fiendish Figuration", which has been re-recorded at least four times.
Cantodea has clearly stated that she creates her music about herself, solely for herself. Major themes include death, unrequited love, karmic pain, loneliness, sadness, spirituality and failure; more recently, Cantodea has featured occultism, sexuality and romance into her lyrics. A strong recurring theme is transexuality, especially the removal of male genitalia. Several albums feature Cantodea nude with a vagina (which was edited in in post-production). Many allusions to spirituality and Roman deities appear in her lyrics; aside from Jupiter and Saturn, Morpheus, Hades, Uranus and Charon have been addressed by name. Other supernatural figures mentioned include the Sister of Self-Destruction, the Goat, the Old Man and the Lord of the Darkest Side.
- Ich töte mich... (1994)
- Todeswunsch (1995)
- The Inexperienced Spiral Traveller (1997)
- Dead Lovers' Sarabande (Face One) (1999)
- Dead Lovers' Sarabande (Face Two) (1999)
- Songs from the Inverted Womb (2000)
- Es reiten die Toten so schnell (2003)
- La Chambre d'Echo (2004)
- Les Fleurs du Mal - Die Blumen des Bösen (2007)
- A Triptychon of Ghosts (Part Two) - Have You Seen This Ghost? (2011)
- Poetica - All Beauty Sleeps (2013)
- Mitternacht (2014)
EPs and remix albums ("sister albums")
- Ehjeh Ascher Ehjeh (1995)
- Voyager - The Jugglers of Jusa (1997)
- Flowers in Formaldehyde (2004)
- Sanatorium Altrosa (Musical Therapy for Spiritual Dysfunction) (2008)
- A Triptychon of Ghosts (Part One) - A Strange Thing to Say (2010)
- A Triptychon of Ghosts (Part Three) - Children of the Corn (2011)
- Jekura - Deep the Eternal Forest (1995) – a compilation featuring four songs by Sopor Aeternus
- Nenia C'alladhan (2002) – a self-titled side project with Constance Fröhling
- Like a Corpse Standing in Desperation (2005) – a boxed set of rarities and hard-to-find albums
- The Goat and Other Re-Animated Bodies (2009) - DVD of previously released videos
Sopor Aeternus has released promotional videos to accompany their music. Most videos are noticeably abstract, with several layers of footage composited to create a distinctly blurred effect. Deep the Eternal Forest received two versions: one with Varney in white robes, and the second with Varney in black robes. The first six listed here were included as part of the box set Like a Corpse Standing in Desperation, while In der Palästra was included on its own DVD single. A limited CD edition of "A Strange Thing To Say" included a bonus DVD with the video for the eponymous song. The standard CD edition included it as a bonus as CD-ROM material on the same CD. Videos for songs from "Children of the corn" have been released online only. All of Sopor Aeternus' videos have been directed by Anna-Varney Cantodea herself.
Notes and references
- MySpace.com - SOPOR AETERNUS (official)
- Sopor Aeternus Official Italian Fan Club[dead link]
- Sopor Aeternus Official German Fansite
- Apocalyptic Vision on Discogs
- Sopor Aeternus Official German Fansite: Discography[dead link]
- http://www.soporaeternus.de/SOPOR_AETERNUS___The_Ensemble_Of_Shadows.html[dead link]
- Anna-Varney: interview on premonition.org
- Sopor Aeternus German Fansite on tiscalinet.de[dead link]
- http://www.myspace.com/soporaeternusofficial/blog/335165238[dead link]
- Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows: VampireFreaks Interview by DeathWish
- forum.sopor-aeternus.de - Dark Entries interview[dead link]
- Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows Russian Webpage[dead link]
- Various - Jekura - Deep the Eternal Forest