Fernand Péna’s Ode to William Blake

This month sees the release of a two-year project by Fernand Péna, a privately released CD based on Blake’s poetry and titled Ode to William Blake.

Péna, who has been a musician and singer since 1968 in bands such as ETC and Climats Sonores, released his last album – Rien à comprendre (Nothing to understand) – five years ago. This also included two tracks inspired by Blake: “The Mother Said” (drawn from Blake’s lyric “I saw a monk of Charlemagne”) and “Get thee away” (from “I rose up at the dawn of day” in the Rossetti manuscript). Ode to William Blake, however, is – with regard to Blake – a much more extensive and  ambitious work, including some sixteen songs taken from Blake’s poetry.

Many of these take their inspiration from Songs of Innocence and of Experience, but others come from other Blakean lyrics such as “William Bond”. You can hear these, as well as the earlier Blake inspired tracks, at http://www.myspace.com/fernandpna/music. The CD also comes with a selection of Blake’s poetry in the form of a booklet, some samples of which can also be seen on his MySpace page. As Péna remarks of his latest release:

The songs on this disc have been made very spontaneously, therefore very quickly. [Yet] working-out, registering, programming and mixing asked for hundreds of hours. Each song, each note (even the wrong ones!) were only kept after many rejected versions. The respect toward Blake’s ideas was always there. I chose, most of the time, this rasping voice, that is for me the best way to fit with what I feel toward Blake. But this was not systematic or conceptual. As I do it for yoga I avoided overthinking and looked for the most difficult thing: conscience in the instant. I do not pretend to have succeeded in it.

Péna worked previously with David Tootill, artistic director of Southbank Mosaics, whose Project Blake (to install Blake-inspired mosaics in Lambeth) led the singer to compose music for the project. He will also be singing at Tate Britain on November 28 at the invitation of the Blake Society.