Medievalism and Exoticism in the Music of Dead Can Dance
By Kirsten Yri
Current Musicology, No.85 (2008)
Introduction: In 1991, the alternative rock band Dead Can Dance released an album that caught the attention of music reviewers by constructing an aural allegiance to the Middle Ages. Suitably called A Passage in Time, the album was described as imitating medieval chant, troubadour and trouvere music, Latin hymns, and courtly songs and included Dead Can Dance’s hybrid medieval songs as well as performances of actual medieval repertoire. Released and widely distributed by Warner, the album was in fact a compilation of material from their earlier The Serpent’s Egg (1988) and Aion (1990), both carried by the independent label 4AD.
Both Dead Can Dance’s newly composed renditions as well as their performances of medieval music were modeled after historically informed performances and thus drew on the sounds of medieval music as it was constructed in the early music revival of the 1960s and 1970s. In modeling their songs and sounds after historical recordings of medieval music, Dead Can Dance also adopted some of the ideological parameters of these performances and historical reconstructions. Examining the output of Dead Can Dance agains these performance practices reveals similar preoccupations with the Middle Ages as simultaneously “naive, “pure”, and “uncorrupted” by modern conventions, or “distant”, “exotic”, and strangely unfamiliar or “archaic”.