Making Music with the Screams of Mental Patients, Rape Victims and Kids
It’s hard to call what Gulaggh produces music in the traditional sense, it's really beyond most people’s experience of noise. Basically it is the screams of mental patients, rape victims, ex-prostitutes, and little kids with big problems.
Gulaggh don't allow people to take their photo as they want to remain anonymous. In place of a band shot they offered up this drawing that one of their vocalists made in a psychotic state hours before he killed himself.
The band Gulaggh used to be called Stalaggh, and when they were Stalaggh, they released one EP and four albums of… material. It’s hard to call what they produced music in the traditional sense, it was really beyond most people’s experience of noise. Basically it was the screams of mental patients, rape victims, ex-prostitutes, and little kids with big problems.
Gulaggh née Stalaggh are only interested in the bleakest peaks of the human experience. In their current incarnation they’re preparing to release the second album in a trilogy they hope will speak definitively on nihilism and misanthropy.
Not a lot is known about the band, they’re from somewhere in Holland, but they’re not forthcoming as to where exactly. Even the band’s line up is a mystery, there are rumours that they count black metal luminaries among their ranks, but they are unconfirmed. One thing is clear though, they take their anonymity seriously.
NOISEY: Hey Gulaggh. I'm really intrigued by your use of mental patients as vocalists
We have used mental patients on all our recordings. We want the pain and suffering in the vocals to be real and not acted. One of our members works in a mental institution in Holland, so this is how we got access and permission to record. All patients who have worked with us gave their full written permission. It is not an official legal document we have them sign, just a statement that they gave permission to record with us. That is enough for us. One of the patients who suffers from schizophrenia made the cover drawing of the Pure Misanthropia CD. Some of the patients were allowed to leave the institution for a few days, others live on their own under guidance.
Some of them are a lot more intelligent than normal people. The mind of the mentally deranged is far more interesting than the minds of sane people. Living in constant fear and pain causes the soul to fill with hate and despair and will give you visions of the realms of darkness and death. For those people these images feel real. They can transfer their mental suffering into sound for Stalaggh and we can spread their despair and fear across the minds of many others, and make it feel real to them as well.
Even still, how did you manage to persuade the institution to let you work with their patients? Surely this violated some kind of ethical code for them? Didn’t their families or carers object?
The member who works in a mental institution knows the patients well and became friends with several of them. We always tell vocalists who participate on our projects what Stalaggh is all about. Most of them agree with our ideology. Their mental illness makes them hate humans and their society, so it not hard to convince them to become part of our projects.
To persuade the institution to let the patients work with us we let them think we are doing a conceptual piece of art. This is why it takes so much time to make a recording, we have to write a fake proposal. Sometimes it takes over a year to get permission to record their screams. We would get in a lot of trouble if the institution found out what we actually used the screams for.
This is one of the reasons we want to remain anonymous. We now use Luther Feuer (not his real name, but the name of a well-known composer) to write letters to the institution. He tells them he wants to make a classical piece of music based on the screams of the patientsand because of his fame, it works very well. For Vorkuta he had to create a fake piece of music with the screams of the children because the institution wanted to hear the result.
Children have a fascinating way of screaming, and are not scared to scream. Most adults are too ashamed to scream. Children give everything they have and scream a lot louder.
It must have been very difficult to get that happening. How did you manage it?
It took us almost a year to get permission to record the screams of these children. We used Luther Feuer to write a fake proposal to the institution. He had to go there several times to explain why he wanted to use children. He told them he wanted to compose a classical piece of music based on the screams of the children. They gave us only one hour to record there, but we are very satisfied with the results.
What was it like working with them? Were you supervised by the staff? Did they ever interrupt the process?
It was a very fascinating experience. About 30 children were inside one room with three supervisors. Only Luther Feuer and one of our other members were there to record. We just asked the children to scream as loud as they possibly could. The staff members made us stop recording when the children became too emotional and started crying, but by then we already had enough material. We were most impressed by one of the girls, she was clawing the floor with her fingernails until they started bleeding. Her screams were very intense and they are an important part of the Vorkuta recording.
You’ve also recorded the screams of women who were raped and women who were prostitutes.
In the Vorkuta Gulag camp there were many women and children, so it was very important to us to use them for the Vorkuta recording. The screams of women and children create a completely different atmosphere. The women we used are “mentally damaged women,” rape victims and ex-prostitutes who had suffered a lot of violence. It was a really fascinating experience working with them, especially seeing their emotions come to the surface while they were screaming.
Have you experienced any personal conflicts in morality when utilising these vulnerable people like this?
No.We are very satisfied that we were able to achieve our goals and for some patients the screaming was a very good form of therapy. Several of them said recording with us was the best therapy they ever had. They could release all their fear, pain and frustration by screaming. We have been accused many times of exploiting these patients, but we do not care what others say. We know what it was like to work with them and many of them wanted to work with us again.
So did you get to know them personally and hear their stories?
We have been in contact with some of the patients for many years and several of them worked on most of our projekts.On Projekt Nihil we used a patient with a very interesting background. He was a psychopath and he killed his mother at the age of 16. She had over 30 stab wounds. It took him years before he told us why he killed her, he was sexually abused by his uncle from a very young age for many years. His mother knew about this and did nothing to prevent it. She even left him at his uncle's house. He started hating his mother so much that one night when he was 16 he took a knife from the kitchen and stabbed her to death while she was in bed. He spent many years in a youth prison and after that a mental institution for criminals. At the end of his sentence he was allowed to leave the institution a few days every month. He was then able to record with us. A few years ago he was killed in a car crash.
Has it ever been dangerous working with people who might be deranged or even homicidal?
Yes, on the recording of Projekt Terrror one of our members was almost strangled to death by one of the patients. You can hear the sound of the strangling if you listen carefully.
Your second record in the trilogy will feature screams from people who were born deaf. And here I was thinking, “Where are they gonna go next?”
For the second Gulaggh projekt, Kolyma, we will use classical instruments again but it will have a really different sound and approach compared to Vorkuta. Kolyma will be a lot more bombastic in sound. We want to use a full orchestra this time. As vocalists we want to use people that were born deaf. Their screams are almost animal-like because they have never heard their own voice. The other interesting thing is they won't hear the screams of the others, so it will be much more chaotic.
You’ve said that after you’ve finished “the Gulaggh project”, you’ll “cease to exist.” Why is this?
We have then created what we had planned from the beginning and our mission is complete. There is no use to continue.
Follow Toby on Twitter: @jane_tobes