Rereading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I’m thoroughly depressed that I don’t possess the ability to write in such an elegant style. Every word in that novella seems ‘handpicked’, chosen with a special consciousness designed for ultimate economy, clarity, and beauty.
I’m upset because I’m so impressed with Conrad as a writer. My only comfort is that I’ve discovered how to even further enhance the experience of reading Heart of Darkness. That is listening to Animal Collective’s spooky, twelve-minute song, Two Sails on a Sound, while reading Conrad’s most famous novella.
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Heart of Darkness is a story told by a mysterious man named Marlowe, while he sits with his fellow seamen on deck of a ship. The setting is isolated; the ship is floating on a river. Marlowe’s story reflects this isolation as he describes his journey into the heart of Africa, where the colonialist-Europeans have made slaves of the Africans.
The African slaves are emaciated and sick. The Europeans running the various command and trading posts along the river are well-fed and often oblivious to the suffering they’re causing the native peoples of the land. Marlowe’s story builds tension as he speaks of the mysterious Kurtz. Kurtz is the top ivory trader in the land, and he holds down the last post on the river. He has an ignominious reputation. Kurtz seems to be a brutal man without scruples.
To stick with simplicity, I’d like to quote Wikipedia’s description of the “three levels of darkness” that are explored in the novel. ” — the darkness of the Congo wilderness, the darkness of the Europeans’ cruel treatment of the natives, and the unfathomable darkness within every human being for committing heinous acts of evil” (source)
How does Animal Collective’s Two Sails on a Sound fit in?
Ephemeral, distorted voices in the song come across like Marlowe’s own, describing a tale of slavery, debauchery, and murder in the heart of Africa. Marlowe tells his story while sitting on the wooden deck of a ship. It is the 19th century. The other seamen either listen to Marlowe’s “uneasy” tale, or they sleep.
Insects, such as crickets, chirp in the background. The wild call of a large bird darts throughout the quiet pulsing rhythm of low piano keys. A creaking and shuddering of something material reminds the listener of wood'”more specifically, of a wooden ship lolling lightly in the water.
The ethereal voices are suspended for a few minutes as the rest of the sounds continue. New, strung-out voices return, only this time the voices are more powerful, they’ve gained momentum, but they sound as if they are pushed through lips shrouded by heavy gauze.
Scattered throughout this ensemble is a haunting, high-pitched whine that seems to ‘approach’ the listener’s proximity, only to then slightly drop in pitch and steal away.
The two art forms together create the perfect, mysterious, and dark harmony that Joseph Conrad could never have fully imagined. And for that I feel privileged to share with the world. Joseph Conrad, meet indie rock, avante-garde, neo-psychedelia Animal Collective.
Book and song instantly become lovers! Like opera and death metal, entangled and sweaty, but not caring. Wishing never to be separated.
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