The Umbersun (1998)
Whereas Hieronymus Bosch depicted a musical Hell in his triptych "The Garden of Delights" ELEND have put to music a pictorial Hell in their "Officium Tenebrarum" trilogy.
The Austrian/French project ELEND was formed in 1993 by composers and multi-instrumentalists Iskandar Hasnawi and Renaud Tschirner. The line-up was soon completed by female vocalist Eve-Gabrielle Siskind in 1994. As a trio, the band recorded their first album Leçons de Ténèbres, which was released in November 1994 on the French label Holy Records.
In April 1995 ELEND gave their first and until the present day only public performance, headlining a festival in Reims, France. A second soprano, Nathalie Barbary, joined the band later that year.
ELEND's following album Les Ténèbres du Dehors was released through Holy Records in March 1996. Eve-Gabrielle Siskind left the band the same year. The critical and commercial success of the first two parts of the "Officium" gained them esteem on the international music scene and aroused the interest of Music for Nations, which signed ELEND for four albums.
Sébastien Roland entered the band in early 1997 as additional keyboard player, sound designer and engineer. Before the recording of the final part of the trilogy, the mini-album Weeping Nights was released by Holy Records in June 1997. Originally conceived to contain only remixes, it became an independent album when the band decided to add new songs deliberately different to those of the "Officium".
The quartet finally recorded the last part of the "Officium" trilogy, entitled The Umbersun / Au tréfonds des Ténèbres, in Autumn 1997 at Wolf Studios, London.
In Christian liturgy the "officium tenebrarum" was a group of three masses held on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the Holy Week preceding Easter Sunday. Originally, the texts of Jeremiah used therein were psalms on the destruction of Jerusalem appearing in the New Testament. Practised in Roman Catholic liturgy since the 8th century they became quite popular as masses in 17th century France under the name of "leçons de ténèbres" (lectures or lessons of darkness) or simply "tenebrae", and can be considered as an independent genre of French Baroque music.
The whole sequence was called "office des ténèbres" ("officium tenebrarum"). Its ceremony involved the extinguishing of all lights, with the exception of a single candle left alight and concealed behind the altar. At the end of the office the silence of the officiant was answered by the audience with screams and tumult, thus representing the disorder and confusion that appeared at the death of Christ. The last candle was then shown as evidence of the saviour's resurrection.
This welcoming of light was inverted in ELEND's own "Officium" by being reshaped as a descent into utter darkness. The decision to transform their own "Officium" into a dramatic and epic unfurling was completed by referring to the Christian theme of the first archangel's rebellion and fall and to the symbolic process of denomination in Catholic theology.
The Umbersun was produced by ELEND and Dominique Brethes (The Beloved, Morcheeba, The Levellers,...) at Wolf Studios in September and October 1997. Thirty vocalists of the Joyful Company of Singers, an internationally prized professional British choir specialized in the interpretation of contemporary and classical 20th century composers (such as Gustav Holst, Johnathan Harvey, Percy Grainger, Samuel Barber) participated in the recording.
The choir was divided into an "angelic choir" (Latin and Hebrew verses sung by the sopranos), and an "infernal choir" (English verses sung by the altos and basses) commenting on the action like the Choruses of ancient Greek tragedy. In addition to being a gradual movement from turmoil and fury to silence (and thus starting like an immediate continuation of Les Ténèbres du Dehors) the album is structured like an original "leçon de ténèbres" by its division into three "leçons", each of which is followed by a "répons"; and a "nocturne" introduces or concludes each of the three movements. Musical themes referring to each other and reappearing at regular intervals have been woven together in a unity of symbolic significance: the last piece of music closing both the album concept and the "Officium Tenebrarum" cycle refers to the first one not only by name, but also by its key which is identical to the dominant key of the first track; the three "leçons" have a structural leitmotif which appears in the form of a Byzantine choir (basso continuo sung by the basses and extended melismas interpreted by the solo soprano) in the middle of these songs; the second movement of the album (the three central tracks) is based on the "Revelation to John". A dodecaphonic choir symbolizing the invocation of God before his appearance in the title track is its recurrent motive. As the name of God was not to be pronounced, only the consonants of the sacred name were allowed to be used ("tetragrammaton"). By singing the name of the Hebrew consonants Y H V H (Yod, Hé, Vaw, Hé) the angelic choir calls upon his Lord .
ELEND's work can best be described as very dark and oppressing symphonic music. Although similar to classical composers they have adopted a different approach to composition. Their method of structuring pieces of music does not follow any dogmatic rules and their use of arrangements reaches peaks in terms of orchestral density and vocal diversity. They have kept the traditional instrumentation of post-romantic orchestras but taken the limits much further by multiplying the number of instruments in each section and extending it by integrating modern elements such as ambient and industrial sounds and percussion instruments. Moreover, the vocal quality of the work can be heard in the various choir parts (ranging from classical contrapuntal choruses to dodecaphonic scores and atonal clusters), in the narrative voices, Gregorian chants, and evocative screams or solo vocals.
Whereas the first mass of the "Officium" was marked by despair and the second one by rebellion and violence, the last one is placed under the sign of death. As always stated by the band since the beginning of their career, the last part of the trilogy had to be, like in the Catholic "officium", the darkest mass of the cycle. The Umbersun remains ELEND's darkest album up-to-date; the "Officium Tenebrarum" is now complete.