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Music as Religious Technology: Die Weisse Rose Discusses Ambiguity, Purity and Death in June

Written by John Færseth.

Credit: John Færseth.

Credit: Veronica Auset.

Since 2001, Die Weisse Rose has been the name of Thomas Bøjden’s project, a project where classical music meets harsh electronics, modern sampling meets ancient drama, and art meets history.

Bøjden likes to compare what he does to the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk – several arts coming together to lift artist and audience into a higher state and make it possible to reflect upon our ordinary mode of being from a state outside of ourselves – according to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the heart of classical drama.

I met Bøjden backstage after a concert at Trondheim’s annual Helldorado Festival to talk about all of this and more.

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What’s in a name?

The name “Die Weisse Rose” usually refers to a German pacifist student group who were sentenced to death for distributing flyers that called on Germans to resist the Nazi regime. However, Thomas Bøjden prefers to see it as something more ambiguous:

“A white rose can mean a lot of things in different contexts. The main reason for using the name “Die Weisse Rose” was that I wanted to have a name that was not static, that could refer to different things in whatever setting I want to use it. But of course, the most obvious one is the Munich resistance group, which I have great respect for as a pacifist movement.”

Music as Religious Technology

On stage, Bøjden does his best to involve the audience, at one time leaving the stage to confront them one by one. “Nicht Schuldig!”, he shouts. “Not guilty!” And indeed, another traditional meaning of a white rose is a symbol of purity and the sacred, as in the novel “Die Weisse Rose” by the mysterious author B. Traven which actually seems to have inspired the German resistance group.

There is definitely a sacral quality to the performance and music of Die Weisse Rose. As he explains, music was originally a form of technology to create ecstasy – in the ancient sense of stepping outside of oneself:

“I have always believed that music should be something religious. It should not be about celebrating the ego or personalities. When I say religious, I don’t mean that it has to be in a strict, organized religious way, but something that can elevate you.

I think the origin of music lies in the sacred. Although it is mechanical, it is also something shamanistic. I think we are, whether we like it or not, mechanical animals that might hopefully be ripped out of the mundane world. Art should not be about the elevation of yourself, it should be about elevation towards something beyond yourself. It should be like the dramas of old.”

Bøjden’s music seems to be very much about duality – the duality between the beautiful and the ugly, good and evil, the pure and the impure. For instance, there is the piece “At the Doorsteps of our Temple”, where melancholy, classical piano music is juxtaposed with harsh, commanding voices.

“The music is actually composed by Friedrich Nietzsche, the voices are taken from the Wehrwolf Radio sender and speaks about freedom, which is rather…interesting. There is also a sample from Lars von Trier’s Europa, where American soldiers are telling a crowd to disperse.

So the song is several very ambiguous things put together. You can never understand something by looking at it from only one point of view; you have to put yourself into the picture, to confront yourself in the mirror, and sometimes what you see in the mirror is something ugly. Other times, something beautiful.”

In other words, the use of ambiguity is a way to make people reflect?

“Hopefully. It should be the aim, as well as an elevation. It should not be about the elevation of yourself It should be about elevation towards something beyond or outside yourself. That is when real introspection happens.”

The Uniforms as a Mask

Credit: Boa Thor.

Credit: Boa Thor.

In the same ambiguous spirit, Die Weisse Rose wear uniforms on stage while using a name associated with a pacifist group. To Bøjden, however, it is rather a part of the same Dionysian inspiration that led the ancients to wear masques in their dramas:

“I have chosen to use uniforms because they strip you of your personality. Hopefully, we become more or less anonymous by putting on uniforms. Also, most forms of popular culture have an element of idolization, where you idolize something or someone, and I have always believed that music should be something religious and should not be about celebrating the ego or personalities. I would rather see Die Weisse Rose as something pure.”

So wearing a uniform is like breaking down the ego?

“Yes. Absolutely. In that moment we become a unity.”

You speak a lot about liberation or freedom. Do you mean this in a political, personal or spiritual sense?

“What I strive for is a state where you forget yourself. But I also believe in discipline, which is another ambiguous thing – you have to be disciplined to reach ecstasy.”

On Touring with Death In June

Die Weisse Rose were personally selected by Douglas Pierce to accompany Death in June on their farewell tour last Spring. What was that like?

“Douglas is a very wonderful and very inspiring person to be around. He and Death In June have had so much influence, while having been influenced very little by the outside themselves.

When I first started getting into DIJ it was like my whole way of viewing art and life was transformed. It was transformed into something from which I never came back. Everything I have been through the last twenty years, every love affair, every heartache, has in some way or another been reflected through this. So this was very much a kind of an affirmation that I must have done something right, after all!”

Are you planning to record any new material soon?

“Yes, I am working on something now. Most of the songs I perform these days are songs that were recorded ten years ago, and certainly a lot has happened in these years in the world, with me and the people around me. I will never end up recording an album every year, I cannot do that. Much of the material is finished now in a straight forward way. What I am trying now is to find out how it speaks to me, to my intuition. It was like that with the first album as well, but I think I trust myself more these days.”

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