Erika Dagnino | Narcéte | Slam Productions

Erika Dagnino: poetry, voice | Stefano Pastor: violin, doublebass | Steve Waterman: trumpet | George Haslam: baritone sax, tarogato

Narcete poems by Erika Dagnino translated into English with the assistance of Emilia Telese and Anthony Barnett. Music by Stefano Pastor, George Haslam, Steve Waterman. Liner notes by Gennaro Fucile translated into English by Marco Bertoli. Photos by Erika Dagnino. Artwork by Stefano Pastor. Recorded by Stefano Pastor on July 2011 in Campo Ligure, Italy. Mixing and mastering by Stefano Pastor. Produced by Erika Dagnino and George Haslam.

Tracklist: 1. Chant I [5:31] 2. Chant II [3:45] 3. Chant III [6:03] 4. Chant IV [4:19] 5. Chant V [5:04] 6. Chant VI [7:02] 7. Chant VII [4:55] 8. Chant VIII [5:23] 9. Cant IX [4:10] 10. Chant X [3:20]

I don’t know who invented sleep
and why they didn’t give some to me

Steve Dalachinsky


What can we inscribe within the circle today? Knowing that everything can be drawn: from edges to curves, from the rigid to the sinuous. For example DNA segments, bruised by the molecules’ collisions, contaminated by the remains of courtly codes. For example a wooded landscape, A destiny bent by a congenital pallor.

The hole doesn’t become unusual again, nor has it ever been.
Behind the opaque stains like the marks of an ending, the breath is held:
may the footprint of each shape not be idle nor sated in its dampness.


In motion or still, near the rustling, near the croaking colour of the river
bed: stream and path; and the unstable side of the mountain. We can look
at it: nothing subtends the sky. Except femurs and hips scraped like nettle
Maybe to get justifications or to know how to wait.

End of the river bed. The paving arranges the shadows of pets and human bodies. The nooses for the hanging, hanging necks and wrists. All disappears when you get in the shadow of the first building.


Half of my name looks like the way “Narcissus” is pronounced. In its halves it whispers bows with barbs strewn with narcosis, A portico shades the sleeper, still without his baptismal remembrance. Not even a photo to make the font smaller. Narcissus looks at himself; the rough mountain impends over his shoulders.

The elders, and not just they, say that one pain drives out another, that each head (as each body) is nothing but a fixation. After one, another. And so on. There is nothing left but formless noise, of someone who owns soaked hammers.


May the rat poison be removed from your sight, from mine the senseless shrivelling of the earthworm. May be, just for now, now that eyes and hands find a reason to guess crossings and possessives. Now that they dare to mime them. Each mime is deferred, immediately deferred, forever and ever with no rest. It may be that we call indifference that of the unhappiest. Or maybe it is a word valid only for the unhappiness of a people.

Sanded gestures deferred mimes, measured indifference, the homecoming has taken its direction already. But before sleep can disfigure the idea of absence, skin shares its circle touching snails and sticking fingers. All this to stay away from the asphalt and from every hearth.


Past the second or the third building, an open window. Nobody in that room declares their details. The decree guards privacy, lawful keeper of the materials apt for face expressions and postures. So the backing seems to come from the night sky and from the glowing light bulbs. Only the whiteness of elastic half-circles suggests smiles and their plastic and papier-mache opposites, hanging on the other side of the nape of the neck. The breaking of two threads deceives: one was making fun of the androgynous, the other was regretting Hermaphrodite’s soaked pillow.

“Don’t wake up again, don’t wake up yet”. The human meetings are illusions of symposiums in the latest fashion, where we do not learn to die.


You can hear words multiply; the variations thicken with words, the words thicken with religions. Flowered styles and chromatisms between axiomatics and not, sacredness. And this is just the next building. You go on. Under the twilights and the crawling shadows

till the squeaking of this entry, angular like the crosses in its gardens. Let the keys’ loan be allowed without interest, or let the excoriating side of the wall be climbed without sanctions, because the siren announces the closing. Here the photos make fathers smaller, decorated with frames for the audience. Nearby, the artificial and the natural flower appear.


Staying there humming and hawing, who knows how many closings there were, one after another; closings after openings and vice versa. The prayer needs more than drowsiness. After your prayers you should go back to life: always straight on, turn left, turn right, turn your shoulders. You will reach the streets, the shortcuts, the horns, the halts , et cetera. In front of you the varnish of signs which imply gestures of dropping wrists: God’s finger marked me with the X and Y of mortality.

Some thunder claps, and then rain falls. It’s raining in the puddle; puddle-mirror and puddle-washtub for some John’s dusty feet: “I want her, whom all others resemble”. It is still early to indulge in the dream again. An ointment is prescribed so that happiness won’t dry out. The puddle looks like a lake. Love is a drowned with martyr fingers. With those rings that insist on imitating the tragic shape of a lifebuoy.


The moon is high again at night. It easily lends its associations to the round image, to the abyss of the withdrawing border. Each closing circle has never really been opened. Or it was as a rat trap. The agitation squeaks, drawing labyrinths of heartbeats. Even Death is forced to cover them, hurrying to coincide with the carnal sides of the exile. He, who is searching the meaning, cannot be late anymore.

What can we expect? Darkness magnifies agitation. Having climbed the stairs, having heard Destiny screeching on the banisters, I fall down supine. It is me again, Narcete. Back to my dwelling. With my arms like the tough six-legged animal struggling in a room. The tiles multiply the directions taken and the solitude. The position saves me from the sight of the diagonals, of the lines that cut my back. I am afraid. It is time to invoke the faking of a dream.


The fingers touch sea rocks, transfixed by flowers verging on vermilion; the radially arranged petals sweat. Scattered monstrances look like fruits on flowers that look like monstrances. Sounds perspire. The sounds scatter streams of slimy fogs. Agitation magnifies darkness.

In the sand, a foot crashes into a dead crab, twinges spray like sea-foam against the pinches of agony. A sign signals waters that flow to quench the immortals’ thirst. Others to avert human evanescence. I am awakened by the tingling arm which together with the palm was my cup. Narcete is not thirsty anymore.


In my ears, blood hums twelve beats. After midnight, what is the right time to ingest fatalities? Sometimes mud draughts flow from bottlenecks to throats; lungs delight in floating, hardened like a deserted land looking upwards, accidentally surrounded by tide flows. If it were so, a boat could be there drawing oscillations.

The boat stands on its side, drawing its oscillations while drifting, like the extraction of an inheritance removed from memory. It does not land, it cannot be driven ashore. The tie cannot be tied, that one entwined for a possible mooring.
The lines of rigidness tighten quickly; the pallors of the hands are hardly crossing.

1 Lautréamont I. L. D. (conte di) Les Chantes de Maldoror. Poésies – Lettres, trad. it. Canti di Maldoror. Poesie – Lettere, RCS, Milano, 2002.
2 Ionesco E., La soif et la faim, trad. it. La fame e la sete, in Teatro Completo, vol. II, Einaudi-Gallimard, Torino, 1993.

Erika Dagnino

The quartet we are about to hear

presents us with the most unusual of outfits — unusual not so much in its aim to link poetry with jazz music (or vice-versa, if you wish), hardly anything new, as for the peculiar path it takes in reaching such goal: namely, a gradual and thoughtful testing process of the project through different «live» situations. Give credit for it to the friendship and mutual regard among the artists. Haslam and Waterman go back a long time, same as Pastor and Dagnino; plus, this was not the first time Haslam and Pastor, Dagnino and Haslam have worked together. Credit is also due to a shared interest in «music and poetry», following a tradition of long standing in both Italy and Great Britain.

Right from the start, this record gives a whiff of concept album, a format which harks back to the Sixties/Seventies and records such as Tommy, The Who’s «rock opera». Indeed, what we have here is a collection of Erika Dagnino’s poems, read by the poet herself. The spoken word acts as a narrative thread for the musicians, who are called up to ornate and introduce the text, and at the same time to dissimulate, conceal and contradict it, all to the purpose of creating a single lyrical flow.

Upon a first listening, the record may sound like a further episode in the long but sporadic relationship between poetry and music, jazz in particular; what with being there a text, a poet and a group of musicians who, for all their contemporary eclecticism, come from genuine jazz stock. To put it differently, this is an instance of «Jazz & Poetry», that source of joy and torment for both poetry- and jazz-lovers, means of expression which, like a comet, runs an orbit of its own, spinning now and again around planet jazz. Sometimes the distance between the two bodies can be quite sizable: just think of Ken Nordine’s word jazz; at other times, the two orbits brush, as it was the case with the Beatniks in the Fifties (e.g., with jack Kerouac’s bop prosody) or with the «black pride» still worded today by Amiri Baraka.

Things are not exactly what they look like, though. Erika Dagnino’s text has a life and a music of its own; likewise, the music woven by Haslam, Pastor and Waterman has no need of anything more: it springs out, it comes and goes, now feverish, now quiet, dancing to the rhythm of the blues.

None of the two elements here finds itself subjected to the other, and this is the key to this work, a happy junction of different voices where instrumental improvisations and words stand respectful of each other. Each of the four artists contributed evenly to the final outcome; in a careful succession of sounds, words and silence. — Gennaro Fucile


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5 thoughts on “Erika Dagnino | Narcéte | Slam Productions

  1. Both lyrical and free in nature, the etched, post-Coleman/Cherry interplay of Pastor, Waterman and Haslam offers appropriate, now provocative, now abstractly swinging frames for the philosophically inclined musings of Italian poet Dagnino. As far as can be imagined from the mellow “dream deferred” blues of Langston Hughes (but not that far from the protestation of Kenneth Patchen) her 10 post-Beckett-and-Cage prose-poem “chants” (printed in the sleeve) are delivered in the sort of impassioned yet flat English which should appeal to followers of the Fluxus art movement.

  2. Erika Dagnino is a poet and performer Genoese with Stefano Pastor conducts research in the field of music that combines, in one creative soul, jazz and poetry, words and notes, in what could be described as a journey of introspection between sound, silence and interpretable meanings.

    In Narcéte are joined by British musicians Steve Waterman and George Haslam and give life to ten passages with strong connotations chamber and experimental, artistically fascinating and in which you feel a strong desire to combine contrasting atmospheres and timbral balance. Intentions clear already in the first track, where it triggers a sort of spiral between horn and violin ending between verses describing imaginary situations and abstract ideas enunciated by Dagnino. The music offered hardly takes shape in a linear fashion, and even when this happens, as in “Chant II,” especially felt the desire to deconstruct all certainty gained, while there are various steps melodically difficult and inhospitable, as the striking “Chant IV “.

    A very interesting work as a whole, which must be given the right level of attention and to which we must approach with an open mind and ready to welcome meanings far from the usual.

  3. The sonically intense Narcéte is a multi-disciplinary collection of chants released by four artists of the avant-garde. This quartet uses an odd combination of instruments to weave their contrapuntal sonorities into a conceptual blanket of sound. The spoken word artist, Dagnino, has had her poems translated into English for this special recording. Dagnino’s word painting juxtaposes her stimulating poems with the fast paced, yet subtle interactions of the ensemble. Phrases like “rat poison” and “unhappy people” reveal a humble author whose poems are not created to be brilliant literature, but do create an overwhelming effect when mixed with the ensemble. However, the topical nature of each poem stretches the imagination into areas of religion, mortality, and androgyny. Most of the chants begin with an instrumental introduction before the poem begins.

    The ensemble usually finds itself in very fast paced improvisations that are frequently tonally centered in some way, but allow the instruments to venture out. “Chant III” introduces a bass line that appears to be walking, and an adventurous trumpet language that suggests bebop, but the music often derives as much of its influence from Western Art Music as it does anything else. The timbre of the tarogato is very course and almost sounds like a plastic saxophone, but the effect is awe-inspiring and creates just the right temperament for the performance.

    The recording quality does seem to bog the experience down a little, though. One high spot comes when the word “mortality” in “Chant VII” leaves the listener hanging on the edge before painting a macabre, yet somehow attractive, vision of a thunderstorm where “Love is drowned with martyr fingers.”

  4. Erika Dagnino in ten “chants” (…) the possibility espressiv (a) due in magmatic channel of African-American notes, expressive field open to all possible forms. The voice of Erika Dagnino (…) is dry and declaiming (in English), not singing voice. Her poetry Narcéte divided into ten “Chants” is wrapped, transfigured, pierced and accompanied by an excellent education with the violin and the bass Stefano Pastor, skilful in the electronic processing of sounds, Steve Waterman trumpet, sax and Tarogato George Haslam.

  5. The long association of the poet Erika Dagnino with violinist Stefano Pastor and now along with two other British musicians, George Haslam on baritone sax and Tarogato and Steve Waterman on trumpet produced a different result, that is to get along with other recordings in which verses and notes come together in a plot that emphasizes both to the arts. She has always been very special in her expressive form, in her verses that are always looking for the sound conflict, the unconventional shape and the distance from languor and licentiousness of her colleagues affected by sentimentality.

    The shows are still here, with reasons beyond the obvious, already with the opening verses of The Chant describing unusual reasons, the circle in which you can inscribe something and strips of DNA swollen and dull spots. Reads in English, and everything still sounds fresh, bright, even in the other language words assume new rhythms. The whole is surrounded by the sounds of the instruments, and overjoyed to weave in plots of liberty, themes that appear suddenly, to improvise without having to give them a limit or boundary.

    The baritone sax is serious in his ways and violin Pastor departs from those of classicism, while the trumpet of Waterman is lyrical, relaxed, almost to represent the more sensitive side, more receptive to the group’s sentiments expressed in an indirect way, present but of underground lines. The booklet with the poem of Dagnino in English and Italian and liner notes by Gennaro Rifle contains everything you need.

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