Blakespotting: News about William Blake in February 2019

February was a busy month for Blake-inspired music. Reviews began to appear for the most significant launch of the new year, Fearful Symmetry: The Songs of William Mac Davis, which was released by Centaur Music. Performed by Lynda Poston-Smith (soprano) and Robert Carl Smith (piano), the album comprises a series of eight songs drawn from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, as well as additional pieces that take their lyrical inspiration from Christopher Smart and various other poets and lyricists. World Magazine described it as a series of melodies that “command immediate attention”, particularly as sung by Poston-Smith.

Other releases were somewhat more allusive rather than being direct settings of Blake to music. Thus the new single from These New Puritans, “Anti-Gravity”, was inspired by Blake’s quote that “the imagination is not a state, it is human existence itself” according to reviews such as those in DIY Magazine. Likewise, Hearbreak (for now) by Roman Lewis includes a track, “Rose”, that references Blake’s “My Pretty Rose Tree” and can be heard at Clash. Somewhat more substantial is An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil by Jim Jarmusch and Josef van Wissem. Jarmusch is famous for his Blakean movie, Dead Man, and this new collaboration with van Wissem, according to an interview with Pitchfork, draws upon Helena Blavatsky as well as William Blake to perform an occult meditation on apocalyptic visions.

February also saw a number of live performances, such as the Martha Redbone Roots Project, which played in New Jersey at the Lackland Performing Arts Center, and Mike Westbrook who performed some of his Blakean pieces as well as others at Ronnie Scott’s in London.

In contrast to new musical releases, February was quiet in terms of the literary and visual arts, but previews appeared for a major video game release due in March that makes considerable use of Blake’s words. Plenty of commentators noted that the protagonist of Devil May Cry 5, V, cites Blake throughout the game, The Independent observing that the game is probably the best in series so far, and Videogamer announcing more simply that it is “bloody brilliant”. Theories began to appear on Reddit that the game draws upon The Book of Urizen, but my favourite comment is that, apparently, V has “a dedicated button to recite William Blake poetry during combat“. Less impressive was the new movie Burning Men, a virtual straight-to-streaming release in which the lead for the band Burning Men, Ray, also quotes Blake regularly. According to Cath Clarke in The Guardian, however, the whole experience is rather dreary and depressing.

Finally, Blake made a couple of other, interesting appearances during February. The first was as inspiration for the poet and model Wilson Oryema who, in a poem written for The Guardian‘s fashion section, said that his inspiration was William Blake and Nayyirah Waheed. Blake was also the source for a debut collectino, SS19, from the fashion brand maharishi, which drew on quotations from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell to demonstrate “a balanced interaction of opposing forces” in its new range.

Blakespotting: Enitharmon’s hair

William Blake’s own balding pate is highly unlikely to prove influential in the fashion world any time soon, but his colour print The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy (previously known as Hecate) has become something of an inspiration.

Konstantina Mittas, an avant-garde fashion designer based in Sydney who also has her own fashion label, launched her Spring/Summer collection this week at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week, with hairstyles drawn from Blake’s 1795 large colour print. According to a hyperbolic account at Styleicons.com.au (worth visiting for the marvellous photos, if not the prose), Mittas sought to “create a collection that reveals a paradoxically furturistic world of myth, ruled over by the Greek Moon Goddess, Hecate”. Of course, it is really Enitharmon rather than Hecate who is the subject of the painting, but the connection between Blake’s mythical character and the Greek goddess was one that had been well-established in popular imagination for more than a century.

Whether Hecate or Enitharmon, Mittas has made a good choice. In Europe, it is the “nameless shadowy figure” whose “snaky hair brandish[es] in the winds of Enitharmon”, and generally when Blake does describe the hairdos of his characters they are snaky, flaming, covered in fire, which must surely appeal to some manufacturers of certain hair products. Anyone who has read it is unlikely to forget the following description of Orc from plate 77 of The Four Zoas:

Howling & rending his dark caves the awful Demon lay
Pulse after pulse beat on his fetters pulse after pulse his spirit
Darted & darted higher & higher to the shrine of Enitharmon…
Then bursting from his troubled head with terrible visages & flaming hair
His swift wingd daughters sweep across the vast black ocean

You can see more Konstantina Mittas designs at http://www.konstantinamittas.com/.