Oh, come to me in dreams, my love!
I will not ask a dearer bliss;
Come with the starry beams, my love,
And press mine eyelids with thy kiss.
–Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Disrupted: that is what we are at this moment in history, a time when roads extending from places both dark and bright cross in a divisive tangle of possible avenues. In such a mess, it can be difficult to know which trajectory to follow, which promises hold water, and which means of metaphorical transportation will get us to a place of rest. Music, however, has offered and sustained a viable way of navigation, if only because its territories are more often intangible and therefore primed for the lanterns of interpretation. Wherever we choose to hang those lanterns, we know there will always be shadows hungry for their illumination.
This is what it feels like to wander the nuances of The Waking Dream, the latest album by French singer Muriel Louveau. Based in Paris, Louveau grew up on a farm in Brittany, where she dove into fascinations with literature, singing, and poetry. Having since worked in a variety of mediums, including theatre, modeling, and music, she has treated every stage of development as an opportunity for self-reflection and, more importantly, development of a language uniquely hers. Thus, her vocal work takes on as much in the way of the body as of the soul. Regardless of her chosen outlet, music has always been the blood of symbiosis running through its veins.
Although Louveau’s influences range from Kathleen Ferrier to Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, the flora she cultivates can be found in no other soil. I recently spoke with her via video chat to gain insight into the multifaceted lens through which she views the world and her place within it. To the question of what currently defines her as a singer, she professed her love of poetry. With all the question marks hanging over our future, it’s one place she can find answers—or, at the very least, more productive interrogations. Her latest album is, in fact, inspired by the writings—poetic and otherwise—of Mary Shelley, whose Frankenstein was penned in 1816, a “year without summer” beset by famine, global pandemic, and the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.
In addition to quoting Shelley, Louveau weaves extra-linguistic impulses, drawing breath through throat like thread through needle in ambient environments—not necessarily to connect the then and the now, but as an empathetic process. One feels this sense of unease (if not also disease) acutely in the album’s two “Incantations,” wherein water and machinery serve their purposes as the connective tissue of experience. Held in the embrace of a rhythmic chirr, her singing evokes physical contact to relay metaphysical messages (or is it the other way around?). Dancers Mei Yamanaka and Emily Pope have internalized this music to delineate the realm of the self as palimpsest for natural wonder:
“Les Limbes” likewise treats the voice as gravity-laden and the corporeal self as buoyant, turning the vagaries of human experience into a reflection of their own inability to articulate mourning. Hence “Mirroring,” in which the ink of mortality runs dry on the paper of its denial.
“Making this album had a cathartic function for me,” says Louveau. “It was a work of transition, connected to this moment. While the material existed in some form before the pandemic, as I wrote, I took it as an opportunity to dive deeper and explore my fears. Sometimes, artists can have intuition, and in my case it was about feeling tragedies. What pushed me to complete and release this album was the loss of my mother last year. The tsunami of grief that followed prepared me: there was a synchronicity to this loss and external events.”
If fear of pandemic is internal, then this album reflects that inner experience as a mode of living. In “Silent Steps,” for example, Louveau’s breath acts as a cyclic presence, the very foundation of cognizance. Melodies whisper as if to mock us with their unrequited song, a typewriter no longer functioning and thus left to embrace the solitude of quarantine. Even the birdsongs in “What is a poet?” turn the forest into a mirror rather than a doorway, so that we are left regarding our own reflections as reminders of the rivers at our backs.
As Louveau says of the creative process, “I sometimes have these premonitions in dreams and don’t always understand them. It takes time to realize the connection with events taking place in reality.” Said mysteries are the figures that populate and animate our subconscious, where the cricket melodies of “Spirits” sing a lullaby for the self, for the world, for the stars without a voice.
The album’s title is therefore a prescient one, as it illuminates in sound what Shelley in words rendered as “Psyche’s lamp.” In its light, feeling dictates language. It is not a matter of being forced by circumstance but allowing old souls to carry the secret of their age in peace. It is also about taking the absence of light seriously. “If you face the sun,” says Louveau, “it can blind and kill you. There is a geography of the dark.” In much the same way, this music is born within and without words. Both are as ambiguous as they are true. And so, in these sounds one can find a home knowing. “Especially now,” she adds, “I don’t think the birds sing differently, but maybe we hear them differently.” Perhaps, then, we can look at these vignettes as more than ephemeral experiments, but as indelible knee-prints of a world deferring to nature. Because silence is also a form of singing.