5. Stella Maris – Moby When: 2011
“Stella Maris” (Latin: star of the sea) is often used in reference to the Virgin Mary – known in English as Our Lady, Star Of The Sea – and also as a name for Polaris, the North Star. Either way it’s a point of guidance – for lost sailors and lost souls.
The extraordinary Moby track of the same name takes some familiar Moby tropes – appropriated vocal, huge synth chords, a slavering of strings – and blends them into a moving, redemptive piece of music. It’s built from a 12th century plainsong recorded by Trio Mediaeval; a simple but stunning, haunting vocal over a dirge (the original is here and is amazing). Moby distorts and buries the voice beneath those patented, enormous synths, producing an effect that’s akin to half hearing them through ears clogged with water. They’re there but dislocated, distorted, displaced – the purity of the voice struggling to be heard.
There are some records which bypass parts of my conscious, rational mind and cut straight to an emotional truth. This track, by turns breathtakingly beautiful and achingly sad, has the capacity to unlock me with ease. I’ve long believed I’m principally driven by a rational approach to life but, the older (and madder) I’ve got the more I’ve come to appreciate, if not fully understand, that as fallacy. If internalisation was an Olympic sport then, frankly, don’t even show up – I’m taking home that gold medal – and it’s only through external agents that some of the forces at play inside of me find a way out. This is one such agent.
It’s interesting that, effectively, the song has no words – the original piece is in Latin and is rendered largely incoherent in the production anyway. The response engendered – that’s beautiful, that’s colossally sad, that’s like, to nick another Moby song title, the face of god moving over the water – is a gut response to the music. And I can’t deconstruct that. I neither know enough, technically, about how it’s achieved nor have the understanding of why a particularly assembled set of notes and instruments can make the hair on the nape of your neck stand up, or make you cry, or make you dance. “Stella Maris” is not much of a dancer.
As I can’t deconstruct, and in the spirit of National Poetry Day (October 3rd), I thought I’d attempt to construct. This isn’t an attempt at lyrics that the song doesn’t need, rather it’s my closest approximation for how it makes me feel or how it allows me to reference a state of feeling that I am familiar with.
Star Of The Sea
Submerged, sinking, lost, and
Drifting within the murk
Beneath the waves.
Immune to the swell; the rise and fall, the salt’s lash.
But trapped; wrecked.
Drowning, silent, alone, and
Accepting the deep embrace
Of the implacable sea.
Untouched by the storm; the gusting gale, the stinging hail.
But dislocated; numb.
An echoing tone through the depths, penetrates.
A light in the gloom,
Distant but fixed, guiding me home.
It speaks of water becalmed, of skies quiet and clear.
Breaking surface; released.