Force of Light is Dan’s homage to Holocaust survivor and poet Paul Celan. The album was released this September on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. It’s made up of eight new pieces, all written by DK and performed by Barbez. Ever since he first read Celan, a decade earlier, Dan had the desire to make a series of songs about Paul Celan. Zorn, it turned out, also a big Celan fan. He immediately agreed to the project.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, Paul Celan was born in 1920 into a Jewish family in Czernowitz, an ethnically diverse city near the border of Romania and Ukraine. In the summer of 1942, the Nazis and their Romanian allies initiated a roundup of the Jews of Czernowitz, and Celan’s parents were deported to a concentration camp in Ukraine. His father died there of typhus, and, shortly afterward, his mother was shot by a guard. Though he escaped the roundup in which his parents were captured, Celan was sent to a forced-labor camp in southern Romania, and he spent nearly two years in a series of labor camps across the country.

Over about a year and a half, the album was recorded and mixed with our dear friend and long-time recording genius, Martin Bisi. Force of Light features Pam on theremin, Peter Hess on clarinets, DK on guitars (electric, nylon, and lap steel), Danny on vibes and marimba, Dan Coates and Peter Lettre trading off on bass, and John Bollinger on drums. Joining the core group were some very special guests: Fiona Templeton reads Celan’s words; Catherine McRae and Sarah Bernstein contribute on violin; and Barbez friend and collaborator from the past, Julia Kent, plays the cello.

“A poem, as a manifestation of language and thus essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the not always greatly hopeful belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land,” Paul Celan told a German audience in 1958.

These are some songs that washed up on land.

Aspen Tree

Aspen Tree, your leaves glance white into the dark.
My mother's hair was never white.

Dandelion, so green is the Ukraine.
My yellow-haired mother did not come home.

Rain cloud, above the well do you hover?
My quiet mother weeps for everyone.

Round star, you wind the golden loop.
My mother's heart was ripped by lead.

Oaken door, who lifted you off your
hinges? My gentle mother cannot return.

Paul Celan (translated by Michael Hamburger)


For reviews of Force of Light please go to our press page.



Force of Light

Paul Celan