|Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows|
Anna-Varney Cantodea (as photographed by Joachim Luetke in 2003)
|Also known as||Sopor Aeternus, Sopor|
|Origin||Frankfurt, Hesse, Germany |
|Associated acts||White Onyx Elephants
Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows (Latin: "Eternal Sleep" ; often referred to as Sopor Aeternus or Sopor) is a darkwave musical project based in Frankfurt founded in 1989 by Anna-Varney Cantodea. Since the project's beginnings, Anna-Varney's music has gained notoriety for being extremely personalized, melancholic and pessimistic, drawing on a number of different musical and visual styles to be incorporated into her work.
Despite years of media attention in Europe, not much is known about Cantodea and her personal life. All known information has been attained from interviews and publications in print. What is established is that Anna-Varney Cantodea is a pre-operative transwoman, and has decided to remain as such, citing "spiritual conflict" if gender reassignment surgery is performed. Her assumed name comes from the common name Anna, as well as the Latin word cantodea, meaning "female singer". Cantodea had been using the pseudonym Varney prior to 1997, with that name coming from the Victorian Gothic horror story Varney the Vampire or The Feast of Blood. Though not publicly stated, Cantodea is believed to be in her 50s, as the booklet for Les Fleurs du Mal states "SOPOR: Sedating the heart since 1952."
In several interviews, Cantodea has stated that she spent nearly three decades of her life in extreme states of depression, despair and loneliness, brought on by a number of experiences and illnesses in her past. Reportedly, Cantodea suffered beatings at the hands of her parents and peers in school. At the age of six, she was subject to an out-of-body experience whilst under sedation due during a tonsillectomy. By twelve, Anna had started becoming suicidal, and in her adulthood, she had an ailment with cancer-like symptoms, nearly causing her to go blind. These events led to her discovery of the "Ensemble of Shadows"; a group of spirits that Cantodea has said came to her in dreams and provided musical inspiration. The appearance of these otherworldly spirits provided the name for the musical project.
Cantodea seems to be voluntarily isolated, as she has spoken of fear, disgust, or sadness when in the presence of most individuals. She has stated that she does not perform live "in front of humans." Despite this, she currently seems to be acquainted with the pagan and occult author Raven Digitalis, who is one of the "managers" of the official Sopor Aeternus MySpace profile. She has an affinity for author Edgar Allan Poe, recreating his poems through song on several occasions; and is also an avid supporter of several activist philosophies, including euthanasia, LGBT rights, veganism and vegetarianism. Cantodea is a very spiritual person, with devotion placed on the Roman deity Saturn. Saturn's astrological symbol is combined with that of Jupiter's to create the Symbol of Jusa, an icon created by Cantodea that reflects her spirituality and has become an insignia for herself and her music. Much of the artwork presented in Varney's albums include astrological imagery.
Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows was founded by Anna-Varney Cantodea (then known as Varney) and Holger in 1989. The two had met in Frankfurt, Germany, in a Goth club called Negativ. The two had met on one of Cantodea's rare outings into the public world. Cantodea and Holger worked together with what little money they had to purchase musical equipment and recorded three demo tapes: Es reiten die Toten so schnell..., Rufus and Till Time and Times Are Done. The three demos were recorded between 1989 and 1992, with Es reiten... being the only publicly released cassette. They are collectively referred to as "Blut der schwarzen Rose" (German: "Blood of the Black Rose") or "The Undead-Trilogy". Shortly after the cassettes were created, Holger left Sopor Aeternus.
In 1994, Varney was able to sign with Apocalyptic Vision to release her first album, "…Ich töte mich jedesmal aufs Neue, doch ich bin unsterblich, und ich erstehe wieder auf; in einer Vision des Untergangs…" The album, like the demo tapes before it, showcased darkwave music with a neo-classical bent, punctuated by Varney's tortured voice and the recurring imagery of death, despair and vampires. It is unknown if Varney received financial assistance to produce the record.
Sopor Aeternus' second album, "Todeswunsch - Sous le soleil de Saturne", was an abrupt change in direction. While the album retained qualities of darkwave music, the album was stripped of its heavy use of synthesizers and drum machines and was replaced by a more organic and melancholic approach, resembling music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. A companion EP, Ehjeh Ascher Ehjeh, was released later that year. Varney would also record four songs for an Apocalyptic Vision compilation, Jekura - Deep the Eternal Forest; two of the songs appeared under the pseudonym White Onyx Elephants.
Sopor's third album, The inexperienced Spiral Traveller (aus dem Schoß der Hölle ward geboren die Totensonne), was released in 1997 alongside a remix album, "Voyager - The Jugglers of Jusa". The two albums became famous for publicly being denounced by Varney as "the worst album[s] I have ever recorded." It was around this time that Varney changed her name to Anna-Varney Cantodea; Anna being a common female name, and cantodea, the Latin word for "female singer".
1999 saw the double concept album, "Dead Lovers' Sarabande"; a project dedicated to the memory of Christian Death frontman Rozz Williams. "Dead Lovers' Sarabande" chronicled a nameless protagonist's seemingly futile quest to re-unite with her deceased lover. The album was released in two parts throughout the year, and was the first to be released on vinyl as well as on CD. The following year saw Sopor's sixth album, "Songs from the inverted Womb".
2003 saw a second rebirth for Sopor Aeternus, both on record and in life. Producer John A. Rivers, known mostly for his work with Swell Maps, Dead Can Dance and Love and Rockets, was brought aboard to produce the seventh album, "Es reiten die Toten so schnell" (or: the Vampyre sucking at his own Vein). The record coupled Rivers' cavernous, wall of sound production techniques with material re-recorded from Sopor's demo tapes with great success, breathing new life into the project. Rivers would go on to produce all new Sopor Aeternus albums.
During the following year, the first six Sopor albums were remastered by Rivers and repackaged with wholly new artwork as a lead up to their eighth album "La Chambre D'Echo" - Where the dead Birds sing. Where Es reiten started to re-introduce synthesizers into the group's sound, La Chambre D'Echo became the first album in a decade to prominently feature synthesizers and drum machines, in a nod to Sopor's first recordings. The companion EP "Flowers in Formaldehyde", as well as the career-spanning rarities box set Like a Corpse standing in Desperation, followed.
Around this time, Cantodea became more engaging with her fans and with normal society; first, by crossdressing heavily (starting with a photoshoot for 2003's Es reiten...,) appearing more and more feminine each time. Cantodea re-imagined herself as "The Goddess", adopting the persona of a well-mannered yet sassy widow. With her newfound personification, her online presence grew exponentially with an official website, which included personal messages to fans. Her official website would eventually prove to be a prelude to a foray onto MySpace, where she promotes new releases, sells records and infrequently blogs. Her ninth album, Les Fleurs du Mal - Die Blumen des Bösen, fully embraced the feminine persona.
According to the band's official ReverbNation page, The Goddess "... is currently in seclusion ... - writing beautiful new music(k).". Due to a lack of a time/date marked to the status, it is unknown exactly when this was posted, but a new album is expected late 2010-early 2011 although no new offically release date has been set.
The sound of Sopor Aeternus is rooted in renaissance and baroque music, with main use of brass instruments, woodwinds, strings, pipe organs, bells, and guitars. While earlier works used drum machines, later albums feature live percussion. Cantodea's work has shown a progression towards livelier arrangements and more wall of sound production, compared to earlier works; more recent albums have also employed a slightly more mainstream sound, incorporating electronic and slight gothic rock sentiments. Though considered by genre a darkwave band, Cantodea has stated that she ignores this notion and simply creates "...-music for dead children [and otherwise wounded souls], that is all." On several occasions, Cantodea has re-recorded and recycled elements from previous songs; other times, motifs are used; the most notable example is "Birth - Fiendish Figuration", which has been re-recorded at least four times.
Cantodea has clearly stated that she creates her music about herself, solely for herself. Major themes include death, unrequited love, karmatic pain, loneliness, sadness, spirituality and failure; more recently, Cantodea has featured occultism, sexuality and romance into her lyrics. A strong recurring theme is transexuality, especially the removal of male genitalia. Several albums feature Cantodea nude with a vagina (which was edited in in post-production.) Many allusions to spirituality and Roman deities appear in her lyrics; aside from Jupiter and Saturn, Morpheus, Uranus and Charon have been addressed by name. Other supernatural figures mentioned include the Sister of Self-Destruction, the Goat, the Old Man and the Lord of the Darkest Side.
Sopor Aeternus has released a few promotional videos to accompany their music. Most videos are noticeably abstract, with several layers of footage composited to create a distinctly blurred effect. "Deep the Eternal Forest" received two versions: one with Varney in white robes, and the second with Varney in black robes. The first six listed here were included as part of the box set Like a Corpse standing in Desperation, while "In der Palästra" was included on its own DVD single. All of Sopor's videos have been directed by Anna-Varney Cantodea herself.